Best projectors for living room: The Best Home Projector for a Living Room of 2023

  • by

The Best Home Projector for a Living Room of 2023

We independently review everything we recommend. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more›

  1. Electronics
  2. Home theater

By

Geoffrey Morrison

Updated

Photo: Michael Murtaugh

FYI

We tested the Dangbei Mars Pro 4K laser projector and added it to the Competition section. We also updated What to look forward to with new projectors we plan to test.

While the price of big-screen TVs has fallen, front projection is still the most cost-effective way to enjoy your favorite movies and TV shows on a huge screen (100 inches or more)—but few people have a dedicated room for a true home theater projector.

If you’re looking for a projector that will work great in your living room, the Epson Home Cinema 3800 has the best combination of brightness, picture quality, and features. It has more light output than most similarly priced projectors do, yet it still offers great contrast to deliver a punchy, beautiful image.


  • Who this is for

    These are for people who want a big-screen movie experience at home, and plan to use the projector in a brighter room.

  • Price range

  • The specs

    We focused on projectors with high brightness, a better-than-1080p resolution, and support for high dynamic range video.

  • Objective testing

    We measured each projector’s contrast, brightness, and color accuracy using color and light meters and Calman software.

Read more

Our pick

Epson Home Cinema 3800

This projector combines high brightness with accurate color, great contrast, and good setup tools to fit in a variety of rooms.

Buying Options

$1,600* from Walmart

$1,600 from Amazon

$1,600 from Dell

*At the time of publishing, the price was $1,700.

The extremely bright Epson Home Cinema 3800 projector offers a clear step up in picture quality over budget 1080p projectors, and its native contrast ratio—the difference between the darkest and brightest parts of an image—is much higher than that of most projectors around the same price. It can’t compete with the best 4K home theater projectors in overall performance, but its high brightness makes it a better choice for use in a living room or family room where you can’t block out all the light. The Home Cinema 3800 also has accurate colors, producing lifelike greens, blues, reds, and everything in between. The image isn’t technically 4K and doesn’t look quite as sharp as what you can see from some competitors, but it’s still highly detailed. And this projector’s higher zoom (1.6x) and better lens shifting give you increased placement flexibility, which may matter more in a living room than in a dedicated theater room.

The research

  • Why you should trust us
  • Who this is for
  • How we picked and tested
  • Our pick: Epson Home Cinema 3800
  • Flaws but not dealbreakers
  • Other good living-room projectors
  • What to look forward to
  • The competition

Why you should trust us

I’ve written about and reviewed projectors and TVs for 20 years for a variety of publications, including CNET, Home Theater magazine, and Sound & Vision magazine. I also wrote most of the early projector reviews for Wirecutter. I’m ISF and NIST trained, and I have my own test gear (including a spectroradiometer, luminance and illuminance meters, and test-pattern generators) to measure the accuracy of a projector. I’ve also used a projector as my main “TV” for over 15 years, so I understand what makes a good all-purpose living-room projector.

Who this is for

If you have the space and you’re looking to upgrade your entertainment system to get a more cinematic big-screen experience at home, but you don’t want to completely darken your room, a bright, living-room projector might be exactly what you need. Today’s projectors can offer significantly more light output than those from just a few years ago, which means they are no longer confined to basements or other dedicated theater rooms where you can completely control the amount of light.

The projectors in this guide deliver a step up in performance over the 1080p picks in our guide to the best budget projector for a home theater. They all have a better-than-1080p resolution (their makers call them 4K, but that’s debatable—which we’ll discuss) and support high dynamic range (HDR) video playback, just like the best TVs—and they’re often brighter than budget projectors (especially the smaller portable and pico-style models). They’re ideal for a mixed-use room, where you’ll watch, say, a movie on Saturday night and a football game on Sunday morning.

For those who want the absolute best, most theater-worthy performance—and have a fully light-controlled room—we recommend one of the options in our guide to the best 4K projector instead. High-end home theater projectors usually aren’t as bright overall, but they produce much deeper black levels and higher contrast ratios, both of which are evident in a dark room.

As bright as today’s living-room projectors can be, they still look better if you can minimize stray ambient light falling on the screen. Our picks below are bright enough that you can still see what’s going on if you have some light in the room, but the ability to lower the lights, draw curtains, or close blinds will improve the image quality. For instance, if you have a Super Bowl party, you can leave the room lights on so people aren’t tripping over one another, but you should still close the curtains. If you prefer to have more light in the room, you might consider buying a special ambient-light-rejecting (ALR) screen to mate with your living-room projector.

Other great projectors

How we picked and tested

In deciding what models to call in and test, we first compiled a list of newer projectors that could input a 4K signal, had HDR compatibility, and supported at least HDMI 2.0. We focused on the $1,000 to $3,000 price range, which covers the gap between our budget projector guide and our premium 4K projector guide. In this price range, most projectors have at least a greater-than-1080p resolution (more on this later). Since we were looking for projectors that didn’t need to be used in a dedicated home theater, we wanted at least a claimed 1,500 lumens of brightness, ideally more.

Using the above criteria, we called in contenders that had the features we wanted for a reasonable price. After adjusting their basic picture settings so that they would look their best, we checked their color and color-temperature accuracy using a spectroradiometer and Calman software, and we measured their contrast ratio using light meters. We then placed them side by side and connected them to the same source using a Monoprice video splitter. We watched a variety of 4K and HDR content on a 102-inch, 1.0-gain screen, blocking off one or two projectors at a time to see how they compared.

Arguably the most important attribute in judging picture quality is contrast ratio, which refers to how dark the darkest parts of the image are compared with how bright the brightest parts are. “Native” contrast ratio is what the projector’s image-creating chips and light source can do on their own, while “dynamic” contrast ratio is what the projector can do with the aid of an iris or lamp that automatically darkens the entire image for dark video content and brightens it for bright video content. Native is what you see at any given moment; dynamic is what’s possible across different scenes. Generally, native contrast is far more important. Dynamic contrast can, for example, help make black letterbox bars seem less noticeable during a dark scene, but the projector achieves this effect by making the entire image darker.

There’s no government-mandated way to measure contrast ratio, so manufacturers can generally make up whatever number they want on a spec sheet. This is why the measured numbers you see in our discussions below are much, much lower than what the manufacturers claim, as they would be with any projector measured in the real world.

I measured each projector in its most accurate picture mode, measuring its projection onto a 1.0-gain screen (luminance) as well as measuring directly at the lens itself (illuminance). I measured a full black image, and then with the same settings I measured a 100% white window (15% of the screen). I repeated these steps with different iris and lamp settings to get average native- and dynamic-contrast ratios.

I also tested each projector’s light output, aka brightness. I performed this test with each projector in its most accurate picture mode, since having a bright picture doesn’t mean much if it looks terrible. I also made note of how bright the projector could get for situations where maximum brightness is necessary. This typically meant using the projector’s Dynamic or Bright picture mode.

I also wanted to make sure the colors from each projector were accurate, per HDTV standards. We wanted reds looking red, greens looking green, and so on. A projector with accurate color looks far more realistic than one without. This aspect doesn’t have the top-line, headline-grabbing interest of brightness and contrast ratio, but it’s still very important. I measured each projector’s color with a spectroradiometer. All of our picks were quite good in this regard, at least in their accurate picture modes.

Additionally, I checked detail and noise using various test patterns and watching actual content. No projector in this price range is “true” 4K—as in, they don’t have imaging chips with 3840×2160 pixels. Instead, they rapidly shift the pixels they do have to produce multiple pixels on screen. This isn’t as big of a deal as it seems, and we’ll talk about it more in each pick’s discussion.

I also watched HDR content, though it’s important to note that projectors can’t display HDR as well as TVs can.

Lastly, I checked the projectors’ input lag, a test important to gamers as it determines how quickly pressing a button on a controller results in the action happening on screen. Any game that requires precise timing—be it a first-person shooter, a platformer, or a racing game—will be less annoying, and you’ll score better, on a display with low input lag.

One thing we didn’t factor into our decision was audio quality. Each projector we tested has built-in speakers, but they’re small and low powered. Since we assume these projectors are intended for a more elaborate setup than an occasional movie night, we think they’re best paired with a receiver and speakers or a soundbar.

Our pick: Epson Home Cinema 3800

Photo: Michael Murtaugh

Our pick

Epson Home Cinema 3800

This projector combines high brightness with accurate color, great contrast, and good setup tools to fit in a variety of rooms.

Buying Options

$1,600* from Walmart

$1,600 from Amazon

$1,600 from Dell

*At the time of publishing, the price was $1,700.

The Epson Home Cinema 3800’s combination of high brightness, great image quality, and good placement flexibility make it the best living-room projector for most people. Its exceptional brightness allows you to enjoy a massive image, a tremendously bright image, or some compromise between the two. Although the Home Cinema 3800 didn’t deliver the sharpest-looking picture in our tests, the image was still quite detailed. The projector offers low input lag for gaming, and it supports the HDR10 and HLG high dynamic range formats. The Home Cinema 3800 also has better setup tools than similarly priced competitors, as well as a built-in speaker and Bluetooth support to wirelessly send audio to an external sound system.

One of the Home Cinema 3800’s biggest strengths—and the main reason it works so well in a variety of rooms, even those without absolute light control—is its extreme brightness. In its most accurate picture mode, Cinema mode, the Home Cinema 3800 put out 57.44 foot-lamberts (196.8 nits) on a 102-inch, 1.0-gain screen. That translates to roughly 1,772 lumens. If you’re willing to forgo color and color-temperature accuracy, the Dynamic picture mode puts out a remarkable 93.4 fL (roughly 2,882 lumens). This isn’t the mode you’re likely to use most of the time, but it’ll do for watching the occasional midday sporting event in a well-lit room. For comparison, movie theaters are often 15 fL, and TVs from just a few years ago would have been considered bright if they were more than 50 fL (though modern HDR TVs are far, far brighter).

So, yeah, the Home Cinema 3800 is exceptionally bright—the brightest projector we tested in this group, and sometimes almost too bright (like, for watching movies at night in the dark). However, you can always lower the brightness. The Eco lamp mode, which is not only quieter but also better for lamp longevity, is roughly 30% darker. In this mode, the Home Cinema 3800 is the same brightness as the BenQ TK850i in its brightest mode and only slightly dimmer than the Optoma UHD35.

The Home Cinema 3800 has two HDMI inputs, plus a USB port that can power a streaming stick. You also get custom-installation-friendly connections such as an RS-232 port and a 12-volt trigger. Photo: Michael Murtaugh

Different projector manufacturers use different technologies to produce an image. Pretty much all projectors priced under $2,000 use DLP or LCD technology. The Home Cinema 3800 was the only LCD projector in our test group; the others were all single-chip DLP designs. In this price range, LCD projectors generally have better contrast ratios than DLP projectors do, and the Home Cinema 3800 is no exception. (For further detail, read more about the difference between LCD and DLP technology.) Not only was the Home Cinema 3800’s contrast ratio the best of the projectors we tested for this guide, but it was better than that of nearly all the budget 1080p projectors I’ve tested, as well. I measured an average native contrast of 1456:1. That may not seem like a lot, but most less-expensive 1080p and 4K projectors have a contrast of less than 1000:1. This means the projector can produce deeper shadows while at the same time generating bright highlights, so the image has more depth and punch. Although none of the projectors we tested for this guide looked washed out, the other models’ images did look flatter than the Home Cinema 3800’s. Even the BenQ TK850i, which had the second-best contrast ratio in our test, measured about 30% lower in contrast ratio.

The Home Cinema 3800’s out-of-the-box color accuracy in its Cinema mode was also excellent, the best of the projectors we tested for this guide. The primary colors of blue and green were spot-on accurate, with red being only very slightly orange. The secondary colors of cyan, magenta, and orange were also accurate. The result was a very natural-looking image, whether I was looking at tomatoes, grass, or cloudless skies. According to our measurements, the Home Cinema 3800 also had an accurate color temperature, which indicates how cool (bluish) or warm (reddish) the overall image looks: Darker images were right on the D6500 standard, while brighter images were very slightly cool but not enough to be noticeable when we were watching actual content.

No projector shines bright enough, nor has the dynamic range, to do HDR the way it’s meant to be done. However, the Home Cinema 3800 does a decent job of converting an HDR image to something it can display correctly, without overly clipping any highlights that are too bright. There isn’t really any performance benefit to this, but unlike many less-expensive “HDR-capable” projectors, the Home Cinema 3800 doesn’t add noticeable processing artifacts that make an HDR image difficult to watch.

Epson’s remote is backlit and offers lots of buttons to take you directly to different inputs and picture adjustments. Photo: Michael Murtaugh

The Home Cinema 3800 is small enough to set on a coffee table and light enough to move around easily (though you can also put it in a ceiling mount). Lens shift of any kind is rare in this price range, so the presence of both horizontal (±24 degrees) and vertical (±60 degrees) lens shifting makes the Home Cinema 3800 practically a unicorn. This functionality, combined with the 1.6x zoom lens, gives you a wider range of placement options in comparison with the other projectors we tested, including putting the projector on a shelf or stand behind a couch.

Unlike some competitors, the Home Cinema 3800 doesn’t have any built-in video-streaming services, but it does have two HDMI 2.0 inputs and a USB connection that can output 2 amps of power, so it can run a streaming stick if you want to connect one directly. It also includes dual 10-watt speakers, an analog audio output, and Bluetooth support (with aptX).

If you’re a gamer, note that the Home Cinema 3800 had a low input lag of 28.4 milliseconds in our measurements. This means there’s less of a delay between when you press a button on a controller and when that action appears on screen. As far as projectors go, this is one of the lowest input-lag figures you can find.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Like most “4K” projectors in this price range, the Epson Home Cinema 3800 doesn’t have a true 3840×2160 resolution. Instead, Epson uses what it calls “4K Enhancement (1920 x 1080 x 2)” technology, which “shifts each pixel to achieve double Full HD resolution on screen.” There’s a bit of wordplay in that claim, since true 4K is actually quadruple the resolution of Full HD, not double. On the Home Cinema 3800, the result is an image that is unquestionably detailed but, when viewed side by side with images from the DLP projectors we tested, less sharp. This isn’t as big of a deal as it may seem, since the Home Cinema 3800’s improved contrast and color make for a better-looking image overall.

The lamp life isn’t as long as that of the other projectors in this guide. Epson rates it at 3,500 hours in its brightest mode and 5,000 hours in its dimmest (though still very bright) mode, Eco mode. If you watch four hours of video per night, for example, the Eco mode will give you over three years of viewing before you’d need to replace the lamp, which as of this writing costs $100. It’s less expensive than most projector lamps, so the fact that it doesn’t last as long isn’t a big concern.

Other good living-room projectors

If you want a 4K laser projector (and are willing to pay more to get it): The Optoma UHZ50 is a step up in picture quality from our pick, along with the commensurate step up in price. With two times the resolution of the Epson Home Cinema 3800, plus the inherently sharper image you get from 4K DLP technology, the detail is excellent. The laser+phosphor light engine produces a bright, colorful image. It also means you’ll never need to replace a lamp, and it allows for fast power-on and -off, more like a TV. The UHZ50 has 1.3x zoom and a small amount of vertical lens shift—but the Epson is still more flexible in these areas. Overall the UHZ50’s image quality is better, but not as much as the price implies. You can read more about it in my CNET review.

What to look forward to

There are several new living-room projectors that we plan to test:

BenQ has announced the TK860i, which is a lamp-based 4K projector with a claimed brightness of 3,300 lumens. It uses BenQ’s new HDR-PRO technology to improve contrast and HDR tone mapping, and it supports the HDR10+ format. The projector comes with an Android TV dongle and will cost $1,800 when it starts selling in June.

Epson’s Home Cinema 2350 is a smart, gaming-oriented projector with built-in Android TV, a 120 Hz refresh rate, and low input lag under 20 milliseconds. This model is a step down from our current top pick, the 3800; it uses the same PRO-UHD pixel-shifting technology for a better-than-1080p resolution but has a lower claimed light output of 2,800 lumens.

Optoma has introduced the UHD35x and short-throw UHD35STx. (The UHD35x replaces our former pick, the now-discontinued UHD35.) Both versions are 4K DLP projectors with a claimed light output of 3,600 lumens, a 240 Hz refresh rate, and low input lag of 4 milliseconds for 1080p video.

ViewSonic’s X2-4K short-throw projector is a 4K DLP model with an LED light source and a claimed brightness of 2,900 ANSI lumens. ViewSonic heralds this projector as being “designed for Xbox,” with Xbox-exclusive resolution and refresh-rate combinations, plus 4.2 ms input lag and a 240 Hz refresh rate for smoother gameplay. It is due out in July with a selling price of $1,600.

The competition

The Dangbei Mars Pro is a value-oriented 4K laser projector with built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and speakers and a supplied Android TV dongle. It’s a solid performer for the price: The image is sharp, bright, and clean; the form factor is smaller than average; and the fan noise is minimal. But in our tests, it was just average in its contrast ratio, black level, and color accuracy, and there are no advanced picture adjustments to fine-tune the image—not even color-temperature presets. While this model is highly affordable for a 4K laser projector, we’d still like to see more refinement for roughly $1,400.

We compared the LG HU70LA directly with our picks, and it was simply too dim and a little too expensive—but it’s still a very good projector. Like many other single-chip DLP projectors we’ve tested, the HU70LA has a contrast ratio that’s quite low. Its LEDs do let the HU70LA create far deeper, more vibrant colors than our picks can produce, so in our tests it almost held its own against the far brighter competition, especially with HDR content. It has streaming apps built in and even has an antenna connection (it’s the only projector we’ve seen with one). Overall, if you hate the idea of replacing a lamp or you want deeper colors than what’s possible with the other projectors we tested, you may want to check out the HU70LA.

We also tested the pricier LG HU810PW, which uses two lasers and a phosphor to create light. The result is a fairly quiet, bright projector with great color. However, the contrast ratio is well below average for a DLP projector. So with anything but fully bright scenes, the HU810PW looks washed out and flat. For a little less money, the Optoma UHZ50 4K laser projector (mentioned in the Other good living-room projectors section above) offers a better picture overall, though with slightly less zoom and lens-shift functionality. You can read more about it in my review at CNET.

The soon-to-be-discontinued BenQ TK850i was an above-average performer in our tests, but the Epson outperformed it in brightness, contrast, and color accuracy. The DLP-based TK850i looked far sharper than the Home Cinema 3800, especially with motion. The 850i is less convenient for most people, compared with the Epson, as it offers only ±30 degrees of vertical lens shift and 1.3x zoom.

The soon-to-be-discontinued BenQ HT3550i (which I tested independently from the work I did for this guide) is the home theater counterpart to the TK850i and has many similar features and specs. It offers excellent color (far deeper than that of the TK850i) but does so at the expense of light output, which makes it far dimmer. Color is great and important, but the other projectors here offer very good—and usually highly accurate—color while being much brighter for living-room use.

The Optoma UHD35 is a former pick that offered good brightness and detail, but had lower contrast and fewer setup tools than our top pick. It has been discontinued and replaced by the UHD35x, which we plan to test.

We did not test the Epson Home Cinema 3200, which is a cheaper sibling to the 3800 and has a similar design. It’s rated at 100 fewer lumens, which isn’t a big deal, but it has only 40% of the rated contrast ratio. Although manufacturer contrast-ratio numbers are never accurate, that much of a difference and the lower price imply that this projector doesn’t offer the image quality of the 3800. If you can’t afford the 3800 and don’t want a DLP projector, the 3200 is worth considering.

We also did not test the older and more expensive Epson Home Cinema 4010 because it uses HDMI 1.4 and is not as bright as the 3800 for living-room use.

We dismissed the ViewSonic X100-4K because its claimed brightness was below our minimum criterion of 1,500 ANSI lumens. Like the LG HU70LA, this DLP projector uses an LED light source instead of a traditional lamp, and it does not appear to be bright enough for living-room use. Plus, reviews we’ve seen say its overall performance is average at best.

This article was edited by Adrienne Maxwell and Grant Clauser.

Meet your guide

Geoffrey Morrison

Further reading

  • The Best Projectors

    by Wirecutter Staff

    We reviewed every type of projector to find the best projector to fit your needs, whether it’s for a home theater or a home office.

  • The Best Gear for Building Your Home Theater

    by Grant Clauser

    We researched and tested to find the best-looking and best-sounding home theater equipment that will take your personal setup from functional to enjoyable.

  • The Best 4K Projector

    by Adrienne Maxwell

    The Epson LS11000 4K laser projector delivers a big, beautiful image and has most of the features you need.

Wirecutter is the product recommendation service from The New York Times. Our journalists combine independent research with (occasionally) over-the-top testing so you can make quick and confident buying decisions. Whether it’s finding great products or discovering helpful advice, we’ll help you get it right (the first time).

  • About Wirecutter
  • Our team
  • Staff demographics
  • Jobs at Wirecutter
  • Contact us
  • How to pitch
  • Deals
  • Lists
  • Blog
  • Newsletters
  • Make a Plan: Moving

Dismiss

AAXA P8 Portable Projector Review: Teeny Price, Tiny Size, Totally Bright

$225 at Walmart

$224 at Best Buy

$249 at B&H Photo-Video

Don’t like

  • Not powered via USB
  • 540p resolution
  • A few bugs in the menus

The AAXA P8 is small and cheap even compared to other portable projectors I’ve reviewed. The Nebula Capsule is almost as minuscule but it’s a whopping 20% more expensive. Impressively, the P8 has a full-size HDMI input, Bluetooth and a headphone jack. Disappointingly, it’s not powered by USB, so you have to use the included power adapter, which adds bulk to an otherwise minuscule package. It also lacks a battery. The image quality is fine, given its price and size, but like its bigger brother, the P6X, light output is its main strength.

The P8 is a lot brighter than it has any right to be. I measured 230 lumens, which is around half what the P6X puts out but a huge 2.5x what I measured with the Capsule. Plus, there are a handful of streaming apps built in, which is definitely convenient. So overall, for the price, you get a big image from a tiny, tiny projector.

Pico pico

  • Native resolution: 960×540 pixels
  • HDR-compatible: No
  • 4K-compatible: No
  • 3D-compatible: No
  • Lumens spec: 430
  • Zoom: No
  • Lens shift: No
  • Lamp life (Normal mode): ~30,000 hours

The P8 is not an HD resolution projector. It’s barely more than standard definition with 960×540 pixels. As a result, the pixels can be quite obvious and visible with all but the smallest of projected images. Today the cheapest TVs have at least HD resolution but projectors are a different animal. Given the size and price of the P8 it’s neither unexpected nor a deal breaker.

AAXA claims 430 lumens of light output, and I measured approximately 230 on the P8. To put that in perspective, the similarly sized and priced Anker Nebula Capsule puts out 85, while the more expensive Xiaomi Mi Smart Projector 2 only managed 162. The P8 is even brighter than the more expensive Samsung Freestyle, which puts out 197 lumens despite its $800 price tag. The bigger P6X puts out 437.

There’s no lens shift or zoom: Focus is achieved via a small wheel on the side. 

The LEDs are rated for 30,000 hours. You’re far more likely to lose the P8 between the sofa cushions before the LEDs die out.

Ins and outs

The AAXA P8’s back panel, with an HDMI input and headphone output. On the side are the USB inputs.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

  • HDMI inputs: 1
  • USB ports: 2 (A and C)
  • Audio output: Headphone output/Bluetooth
  • Internet: 2.4GHz/5GHz
  • Remote: Not backlit

There’s a full-size HDMI input, which just makes the P8 easier to live with compared to some projectors that use micro- or mini-HDMI and require an adapter. Surprisingly, for the size and price, there are a handful of built-in streaming apps. Netflix and YouTube are the headliners, joined by Twitch, Vimeo, Haystack News and Tubi. 

If you dig into the P8’s menus you can find the much-dreaded Aptoide store. This is a semi-offshoot of the Google Play Store: There are some apps you’ll recognize and a lot that you won’t. Worse, the majority of them don’t work as you’d expect. Aptoide is common among lower-priced projectors.

Like all inexpensive projectors it uses a mobile version of Netflix, more like what you’d find on your phone. This means the interface is less user-friendly using a remote, which you have to use since there’s no AAXA app. It also means you can’t cast to the projector from your phone since Netflix thinks the projector itself is a source. So, oddly, you could theoretically cast FROM the projector TO another display. I didn’t test this, but that’s what it says on screen. It says a lot of things on screen, like other error messages, pop-ups that are difficult to get rid of, and more. I did, eventually, get it running, so it’s in there. Just don’t expect the smooth experience like you get on most other devices.

YouTube works as you’d hope, though, letting you pick what you want on your phone and cast it over to the projector (oddly, labeled “ATV_229” not P8 or AAXA). 

Action shot of me moving projectors around my lab. Which is yellow.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

There’s a single 2-watt driver. I didn’t expect much deep bass and room-filling sound out of something the size of a tweeter but this speaker is pretty quiet. Fortunately there’s Bluetooth or a headphone jack if you prefer analog, so you can add an external speaker (which I highly recommend).

Another disappointment is the inability to power the projector using USB. Instead, it comes with a standard power adapter wall wart. There’s a USB-C input on the side, but it doesn’t power the unit. A projector this small, powered off a USB battery pack, would be amazing. I’m sure we’ll get something like that eventually but in the meantime you’ll need to lug the adapter around to use the P8..

The tiny remote is as long as one of my fingers and squeezes in all the necessary buttons, but hard to use in the dark as they’re all the same size and shape.

Picture quality comparisons

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

I pitted the P8 against the AAXA P6X and the Anker Nebula Capsule. The Capsule is a likely competitor for the P8, at roughly the same price and more or less a similar size. One’s a cube, the other’s a cylinder, but both are “pocket sized.” The P6X is both a little larger and a little more expensive. It’s in the price ballpark, though, and really it’s only slightly larger. I connected them to a Monoprice 1×4 distribution amplifier and compared them side-by-side-by-side on a 102-inch 1.0-gain screen.

The P6X is so much brighter than the other two it almost seems like a different class of projector. It has 437 lumens vs the P8’s 230. The Capsule is barely visible in comparison, with only 85 lumens. In fairness, the P6X is more expensive and larger. Larger being relative when we’re talking tiny projectors. Picture quality isn’t that much different between the AAXAs, other than the brightness. Which is to say, it’s not great, but given the price and size, not unacceptable.

Focusing, pun intended, on the P8 and Capsule, the comparison is closer… eventually. The P8’s picture quality out of the box is abysmal. It’s so over-sharpened it looks like the “before” image in an exposé about the evils of edge enhancement. Thankfully, there’s a modicum of picture adjustments, something that can’t be said of the Capsule. Switching to the User picture mode and dialing the Sharpness down from “cartoon” to “this is as good as SD looks” does wonders for the overall image.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

With that done, and the color temp in the warm mode, it gives the Capsule a run for its money. While the Capsule doesn’t have any picture adjustments, it looks fine out of the box. It could look better, I’m sure, with some tweaking, but we’ll never know. Does the inclusion of picture settings mean the P8 can look better than the Capsule? Sort of. More that it brings them in line and they’re both equally “off” just in different ways. Colors aren’t accurate. Color temperature isn’t either. It’s not quite cartoonish, but neither look particularly realistic either. 

One unexpected aspect of the P8’s performance is its contrast ratio. I measured an average contrast ratio of 558:1, which is significantly better than anything under $1000 that I’ve measured in recent memory. So it looks far less washed out than the Capsule, which averages just 192:1. So that, combined with the added brightness, does push the P8 in front in terms of overall image quality.

Do these videophile particulars matter for sub-$300 projectors? Probably not. I’d say other aspects are more important, which brings us to what I think are the two most important differences between the Capsule and the P8: brightness and batteries.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The P8’s brightness is borderline remarkable for its size and price. It puts far more expensive projectors to shame. At ~50-inches this is bright enough to see with some lights on. Even at 100 inches, it’s a usable image. Other than the P6X I don’t know of another projector this size that can do that. I’m not saying you should use an inaccurate, 540p projector as your main TV… but for $250 you could do worse.

The Capsule can’t compete on brightness, but it does have a battery. The P8 does not. That’s a game changer, or maybe a different product category. You can put the Capsule in a backpack and watch a movie on the side of a tent. I think, for a lot of people, that’s the main use for a projector this small. The P8 just can’t do that — not without a very long extension cord. The P6X sure can, though, for a bit more money and a larger unit.

Tiniest of the tiny

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The P8 is literally a pocket projector. You can fit it in your pocket. But it’s far brighter than other projectors this size. It even has built-in Netflix and YouTube as an added bonus. I wish it recharged via USB-C, making it truly off-the-grid portable. But if off-the-grid portable is what you want, the P6X is only a little bit more expensive (and larger), or the Capsule is just as small but far dimmer than both.

It’s a pretty specific niche the P8 fits into: tiny size, tiny price, huge brightness and no battery. An anomalous amalgam of attributes that somehow works. It’s hard not to like 230 lumens for less than $250.

rating of projectors in 2023 [TOP 10]

Has a full screen size range from 66″ to 107″
Stunning 3500 ANSI lumens of brightness
Runs reasonably quiet in eco mode
Good visibility in daylight, no blackout required 9040 0 One year warranty
Excellent juicy picture
Not bad seen in daylight, blackout is not necessary
Cons
The width of the displayed image can be adjusted only by the distance at which the projector is installed.