The Best Cheap Projector (2018 Buyer’s Guide)
If you need a cheap projector so your kids can stream Netflix at your summer camp, or in the backyard, the DBPower T22 may be just what you’re looking for.
It’s not for home theater aficionados, but you’ll get a bright enough picture during nighttime viewing with about a 100 inch screen.
You’re going to sacrifice picture quality and brightness by spending less than $200. The upshot? You also won’t be too freaked out if one of your kids dumps fruit punch all over it.
If you want a crisp picture at 720p HD and can spend a bit more, the lunchbox-sized Nebula Mars II has “single second auto-focus”, runs on Android 7.1 and built-in apps for Netflix and Hulu. The Mars II has a handle at the top and a four-hour battery life, making it more ideal for taking it on the go.
Is buying a cheap projector worth it?
This review is for people who are looking for a projector that will be adequate enough for nighttime viewing, and are on a tight budget. If you can afford more than what the DBPower T22 costs, I will suggest two more projectors to consider if you have a slightly larger budget of $600 or under.
Why top out at $600?
Projectors are notoriously expensive. LG announced its first 4K projector priced at $3,000 earlier this year at CES. That’s a price point more appropriate for a home theater enthusiast with a dedicated room for watching movies or streaming TV. Competitors such as BenQ and View
So if you’re serious about buying a projector with full HD (1080p) resolution or even 720p, you’re going to have to spend the same amount of money as you would if you were buying a quality TV.
The advantage with buying the best projector that you can afford over a new TV is twofold. Ideally, your projector is portable and can be taken anywhere you go with minimal setup. And you’ll have a more theater-like experience with a much larger screen than a television. I’m talking about at least 120 inches or more.
What can I do to improve my projector’s performance?
No matter how much you spend on any projector, there are a few things you can do to get the best performance out of them.
- Watch in the dark or at night. You can watch a projector with the lights on, but you’re going to get a muted picture compared to watching it in the dark.
- Use a projection screen for crisp color and focus. You can certainly get by with using a smooth wall. But you’ll have a noticeably better image with a screen, which isn’t that expensive.
- Use external speakers. Even with projectors that cost upwards of $600 or more, the internal speakers are inferior compared to some of the wired and Bluetooth speakers that are out there.
- Check your outputs: these days you’re going to want ports for HDMI, audio, VGA, USB and maybe even a MicroSD card slot. The point is you can have a lot of ways to get to your media, whether it’s using a Roku Streaming Stick or a USB flash drive that has a movie or two.
- Most projectors require setup time, and extra cords. Be aware that you might need a pretty long extension cord, and maybe even an extra HDMI cable or two depending on what kind of audio or video equipment you’re going to connect to the projector.
How I tested DBPower T22
The best way to use this budget projector for streaming is by plugging in a Roku Streaming Stick. That’s how I did most of my viewing during roughly four weeks of testing.
I streamed live TV using my Philo account, along with some movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Overall, I was pretty happy with its performance considering its price point. The manufacturer sent me the DBPower projector for review purposes.
DBPOWER T22 specs
This projector comes with a remote control that is responsive with powering the projector on and off, and navigating its menu.
The case is a plastic that feels a little thin. The buttons at the top of the projector worked fine, but had that thin plastic feel as well. Using the remote was a nicer experience for operating the projector, so that’s what I stuck to.
At the front, there’s an adjustable leg that’s essentially a thick screw with a flat stopper on the bottom. The stand provides a solid, flat foundation. If you don’t use the leg, the T22 has four rubber pads at each corner of the projector.
On the left side of the projector, there’s a memory card slot, AV output, VGA port for connecting a PC or laptop, headphone jack, USB port and HDMI port. DBPower says that the projector supports 720p and 1080p resolution and can throw up to a 176 inch screen.
DBPower T22 performance
I was most interested in how I could use this for streaming live TV and on-demand services that are commonly used like Netflix and Hulu. The Roku Streaming Stick worked the best. I also tried an 2nd generation Amazon Fire TV, but the interface wasn’t as smooth.
I did all of my testing indoors, using my office and a white sheet as a projector screen with about a 11 foot throw. That gave me a screen of about 120 inches. There are two rings above the lens that will adjust the angle of your projection and the focus. One ring adjusts keystone correction. The other is the focusing ring.
The menu is primitive, but functional. You’ll be taken to a screen where you’ll choose what port you’ll be using to watch your media. So if you’re streaming from a Roku Streaming Stick, then you’re obviously choosing the HDMI port.
You’ll only be able to use the DBPOWER T22 in a pitch dark room, or wait until night time if you’re using it outdoors. The picture was bright enough to watch, but not as bright as a projector that would be slightly more expensive.
While watching live TV, the resolution looked like it was hewing close to 720p but got a little grainy at times. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video both gave me a crisper picture without any problems. I’ve included a couple of pictures. The first is streaming a Van Morrison concerts on Philo. The second picture is streaming Netflix.
The best way to summarize the picture quality is this: You’d probably be hard pressed to find too many kids noticing that this isn’t a top of the line projector. So again, this is an inexpensive option, and might be a good one to buy if you’re concerned about the projector getting damaged.
To get the best picture quality with this projector requires a learning curve. The keystone correction and focusing ring are both manual adjustments that sit right against each other.
It takes a little practice getting both adjustments correct. Part of your success with getting a clear picture will depend on the angle of your projector and how it lines up with your screen.
This can be a hassle if you want to quickly turn on a projector and start watching something.
Audio: Use external speakers
The internal speakers had a tinny sound to them, and I wouldn’t recommend using them. The sound is a lot better if you have some external speakers to plug into the A/V port, but the projector doesn’t have Dolby support.
And you’ll ideally not be sitting near the projector once you turn it on. The fan can get a little noisy, but it isn’t that noticeable while using external speakers.
Because I was in my office, I ended up connecting my desktop PC speakers — ProMedia 2.1 Computer Speakers. That setup would be too big for lugging to a summer camp or backyard, but I was impressed with the sound while I watched a Van Morrison concert on AXStv.
So if you have a decent pair of portable speakers that you can plug in to the DBPower T22, you should be happy with the sound. If you expect to get what you pay for, then you’ll probably be satisfied with the DBPower T22. This projector has an Amazon rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars by roughly 159 customers.
Let’s say you’re someone who is determined to spend only $200 or under because you’re looking for something to bring to a camp so your children can watch Netflix. If all of the DBPower 22’s shortcomings sound like it’s too much of a sacrifice, then here’s a couple more suggestions for a cheap projector that will cost you a little more.
Nebula Mars II: Autofocus, pain-free setup
If you’re looking for the best portable projector that you can quickly setup and start watching, get the brand new Nebula Mars II.
It has the fastest setup for a projector in its class because of the “Single-Second Autofocus” feature is the biggest upgrade from the previous generation. The original Nebula Mars had manual focus.
The Mars II costs $539, but you can get a discount when you apply the code NEWMARS2 at checkout.
The Nebula Mars II just hit the market in time for summer. This projector is a follow-up to the award winning predecessor that came out a few years ago. And it’s designed so that you can turn it on and quickly pick something to watch on Netflix or Amazon Prime. You can project a screen size up to 150 inches, and as small as 20 inches. The two 10W speakers are surprisingly good.
The Mars II uses DLP projection technology, but has only 300 ANSI lumens. That’s brighter than the Coke-can shaped Nebula Capsule, but slightly less than the first generation Nebula Mars at 500 lumens. So the Mars II will be good for a dark room and nighttime viewing, but you’ll notice a faded picture in daylight.
Still, the Mars II has a 720p HD picture and operates on Android 7.1 software. You won’t be able to cast Netflix or Hulu using your smartphone. You’ll have to rely on Mars II’s Android built-in software for that.
But there’s casting of other media from a smartphone using Miracast.
And the Nebula II has plenty of ports to stream from. So you can watch movies and other media from a USB drive, DVD player, Xbox One, or a streaming stick with a HDMI plug.
Nebula Mars II specs
The Mars II runs on a Quad Core A7 Smartphone chipset, with 1GB RAM and 8GB of memory. It’s WiFi is 802.11 a/b/gn. And there’s Bluetooth 4.0 Dual Mode. There’s support for OTA, and mpeg4 runs up to 1080p.
In the box, you’ll get a power adapter, remote control and a 12-month warranty.
The Mars II also has a remote control app that you can install on your smartphone. If I had to buy a portable projector for streaming and watching movies – especially on the go — I would pick the Mars II for its pain free use. You can buy the Nebula Mars II at Amazon.
Optoma HD142X: impressive 1080p picture under $600
The Optoma HD142X is another entry-level full HD projector that will get you a bright and clear 120-inch screen for about $550.
You’ll also be trading away the auto-focus on the Mars II for manual focus as well, but the upshot is you’re getting a more powerful projector. Get a longer extension cord if you plan on running the Optoma HD142X outdoors.
The HD142X doesn’t have any analog AV or PC inputs, which is surprising because you can find them on most projectors. So if you have an older DVD player or computer you were hoping to use, sorry. Instead, there’s 2 HDMI inputs.
To help you with picture quality, the Optoma HD142X has built-in test patterns. That’ a big plus when you’re using a manual focus, and moving your projector indoors and outdoors on a regular basis.
If you’re willing to spend even more, then looking over projectors by BenQ are worth a look, especially the BenQ HT2050, which is a 1080p DLP projector as well.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble