Optoma HD20
Optoma HD20

Cheap home theater projector

The Optoma HD20's black levels aren't the deepest you'll find, but they're deep enough to please most viewers and the HD20 packs enough brightness for use in a living room. Picture quality is excellent overall, providing great colors even without calibration. Value is tough to beat, as this 1080p projector sells in the same range as some 720p models.
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*Est. $700 Estimated Price
Epson Home Cinema 8350
Epson Home Cinema 8350

Best home theater projector

Critics love the value and performance offered by the Epson Home Cinema 8350. Blacks can't beat those of more expensive projectors, but colors are pretty good, and a bit of adjustment can get them close to perfect. Brightness is good in most modes. There are no installation worries thanks to the generous amount of lens shift and zoom.
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*Est. $1,300 Estimated Price
Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020
Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020

Cheap 3D projector

The Epson Home Cinema 3020 offers a brilliant, vibrant picture. Blacks aren't the darkest, but this video projector benefits from color that's near perfect right out of the box and plenty of brightness. 3D performance is excellent as well, making the fact that this is among the least-expensive 3D video projectors available just icing on the cake.
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*Est. $1,600 Estimated Price
Sony VPL-HW50ES
Sony VPL-HW50ES

Best 3D projector

Experts just can't stop raving about the Sony VPL-HW50ES. Image quality is solid across the board, from "outstanding" contrast and black levels to razor-sharp definition and near-perfect color calibration right out of the box. Its 3D performance is excellent as well. The price tag is the biggest downside, but if your budget allows it, this is one terrific home theater projector.
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See a side-by-side comparison of key features, product specs, and prices.

Projectors Runners Up:

Optoma HD33 *Est. $1,400

4 picks including: About.com, Amazon.com…

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5020 *Est. $2,600

4 picks including: CNET, Sound & Vision Magazine…

Epson MegaPlex MG-850HD *Est. $680

3 picks including: About.com, Amazon.com…

Optoma HD23 *Est. $1,060

2 picks including: ProjectorReviews.com, BestBuy.com…

Panasonic PT-AE8000U *Est. $2,800

2 picks including: Amazon.com, ProjectorCentral.com…

Viewsonic Pro8200 *Est. $900

2 picks including: Amazon.com, ProjectorCentral.com…

Optoma HD66 *Est. $650

1 pick including: Amazon.com, ProjectorCentral.com…

Projectors produce the biggest pictures

While flat-panel LCD and plasma TVs are perfectly fine for those perfectly satisfied with "small-screen" entertainment (say up to 65 inches or so before prices start to skyrocket), if you want a jaw-dropping TV image of 100 inches or more, a home theater projector is your first and best choice.

The great news is that projector prices have fallen over the past few years. Sure, videophile-grade home-theater projectors can still cost $5,000, $10,000, $25,000 or more. However video projectors -- including 3D projectors -- with very, very good picture quality now cost not much more than mainstream LCD TVs and plasma TVs of the same picture quality -- and that's before you factor in the much larger screen sizes those home theater projectors can produce.

In addition to falling costs, home theater projectors have become much easier to use. The cheapest projectors can still be a challenge to place in a room that's used for other purposes -- such as a living room -- but most offer enough flexibility to make placement a snap. Brightness levels have gotten to the point where pitch blackness is not a must -- in fact, many can deal with even moderate ambient light and still look pretty good. While any home theater projector can benefit from professional set up, many now look near-perfect out of the box and/or come with easier to use controls that make tweaking things near child's play.

That's not to say that home theater projectors are for everyone. Certainly, look to LCD or plasma TVs if you have no interest in watching a 100-inch or larger TV picture, and we have separate reports that cover LCD TVs and plasma TVs in detail.

You also need to supply more of what makes a TV a TV. For starters, home theater projectors rarely have TV tuners. That means you'll need a programming source. Options include a cable or satellite TV set-top box or a Blu-ray player. Many projectors have some type of built-in sound, but in most cases you'll want to pair your projector with an outboard home-theater sound system to get audio on a scale that does the big picture justice. Finally, you'll need something to project that big image onto. Yes, a white or light-colored wall can do, but for best results, that means a projection screen.

This report focuses on video projectors, including 3D projectors, with enough resolution to display high-definition signals from a cable box, satellite receiver or Blu-ray Disc player. Lower-resolution projectors are also available. These are best for business presentations or watching the occasional DVD because their resolution is too low to do justice to HDTV or Blu-ray discs. Those projectors are covered in our separate report on portable digital projectors. That report also includes coverage of very small pico or pocket projectors; these handheld projectors are ideal for watching content from mobile devices on something other than their typically tiny built-in screen.

To find the best projectors, we consult projector reviews from well-respected experts, such as ProjectorCentral.com and ProjectorReviews.com, among others, as well as user-written user reviews at Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and elsewhere. We look for projector reviews, ratings and opinions that reflect how well a home theater projector performs, but also how easy it is to set up and use, how well its features (such as 3D in the case of a 3D projector) perform, and if it provides good value for your dollar. Analyzing that data, we've selected the projectors that we think our standouts in their categories.

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