If you’re the type who loves going to see the big blockbuster releases on the day they come out, you’ve probably been missing the experience of a big screen in a pitch-black room. While projectors are nothing new, many people think that they require a large dedicated room, expensive equipment and a complicated installation/setup process. But that’s not actually the case. This is where the best short-throw projectors come in.
Even if you are working with a small apartment or small room, a short-throw projector can deliver that immersive experience in a painless and affordable manner.
If this sounds like music to your ears, keep reading.
What is a short-throw projector (and why do you want one)?
You might hear the term “short-throw projector” and think that it would be used in a radically different context than a standard projector. But at the end of the day, a short-throw projector provides all the same functionality. The big difference is that it doesn’t have to be as far away from the wall you’re projecting onto.
But don’t mistake this as a gimmick, or a luxury lacking utility. If you have a smaller space, such as an apartment, or a smaller room that you want to use for movies, a short-throw projector can be great for recreating that home-theater experience with minimal fuss.
Your average short-throw projector can give you a 100-inch picture when placed 3-5 feet away from the wall. Compare this to a standard projector, which often needs 10-13 feet, and you can immediately see the benefit of having a short-throw projector.
But there is also the class of ultra-short-throw projectors, which can give you a 100-inch picture when placed just inches from a wall. These projectors are considerably more expensive than their peers, but if you have the money to spend, you can get the big-screen experience without having to reconfigure your living room.
Aside from the aforementioned reason of working with a smaller space, or simply not wanting your A/V gear dominating your living room, the big draw with projectors, in general, is picture size. They provide bigger picture images at a cheaper cost than what you’d get with virtually any consumer-grade TV. This is especially great for movies, or for watching something with more than a couple of people.
Where do you place a short-throw projector?
Well, you have options in this regard, but the main thing is just making sure that you have anywhere between 10 inches and 8 feet, depending on the short-throw projector you’re using.
If you want to get really slick with it, you can mount a short-throw projector from the ceiling, which offers the benefit of not having your gear eat up floor space in front of your TV. But the installation process is a fairly involved one and may require the services of a home theater pro.
If you’re more interested in maximum convenience, you can just place a short-throw projector on a table or console and configure it from there.
What else do you need to use a short-throw projector?
At a bare minimum, you need a blank, light-colored wall that is big enough to display the picture size you desire. You also need a video source, such as a streaming box, a cable box, a Blu-ray player or a gaming console. And finally, you’ll probably want surround sound to complete the experience, so if you don’t have speakers or a soundbar, you may want to consider grabbing something.
That said, most short-throw projectors have built-in speakers and some have smart software that will let you download your favorite streaming TV and Movie apps directly to the projector.
But if you want to get as close to a movie theater as possible, consider a hanging a screen for your short-throw projector to beam onto. Unless your wall is perfectly smooth and white, you’re not going to get the brightest, sharpest and most vibrant image possible, especially if you’re not in a totally dark room. A dedicated screen, however, will provide a reflective surface that will give your video a little extra pop. And in the scheme of things, they’re not overly expensive, typically costing $100-$300 depending on what you’re looking for. The biggest hassle will come in the form of having to hang it up and configuring the short-throw projector to stay within its boundaries.
What specs matter with a short-throw projector?
A good short-throw projector shares many of the same qualities as a TV, which means that you want to look for some of the same specs. These include:
- Resolution: While 4K can provide noticeably more detail than 1080p, the difference between a good 1080p projector and an entry-level 4K projector is a little less noticeable, especially if you’re not in a pitch-black room. For most people, a 1080p short-throw projector will be more than suitable, and there are even 1080p projectors that can provide a modest bump in picture quality by downscaling 4K content, depending on the source material. Most of the projectors on our list are 1080p.
- HDR Support: This is less important in a sub-$1000 projector since most of them don’t get bright enough to take advantage of HDR’s benefits. But if you’re eyeing a more premium projector, HDR is a “nice to have” feature.
- Connectivity: All of these projectors have all the ports you need to connect a streaming box, Blu-ray player, video game console or cable box, which will be the only thing most people will need. But some have the ability to connect to the internet via WiFi or Ethernet to download streaming apps directly to the projector. A few even have ports to connect older, non-HDMI gear.
- Sound: While most of these projectors have built-in speakers, in the majority of cases, you’re going to want to opt for a separate audio solution, especially if you want surround sound. But it’s worth noting many of these projectors lack any sort of digital audio out. If you’re planning to use a streaming device that lacks its own audio out, and you don’t want to bother with a receiver or HDMI audio extractor, this may be something to consider.
But there are some other specs which you’ll only come across with projectors, and they are just as important. These include:
- Brightness: When it comes to projectors, brightness ratings are subjective at best, and arbitrary at worst. But the spec you generally want to look for when it comes to brightness is the rating for ANSI Lumens. This will give you a ballpark sense of how bright the entire picture gets, and not just the white light. For a traditional lamp-based projector, you’ll want something with at least 1500 ANSI Lumens, but if you want to use the projector during the day at all, you’ll want a short-throw projector rated for at least 2000 ANSI Lumens if not 3000. It’s also worth noting that for short-throw projectors with Laser or LED-based lighting, they can often deliver a brighter perceived image.
- Throw Ratio/Distance: A projector’s throw ratio will indicate the distance range needed for projecting an image up on the wall. For the sake of this piece, we used the throw ratio to calculate how much space you’d need to project a 100-inch image on the wall. But all of these projectors can throw smaller picture sizes (and many can go bigger). For the most part, you’ll want a short-throw projector with a throw ratio that is less than 0.83:1 (which means that you need six feet to project a 100-inch image). Anything higher than that undermines any benefit to having a short-throw projector.
- Light source: While all of the projectors on our list used a DLP-based processor, there are differences in the light sources they use. It’s still more common for short-throw projectors to use a metal halide or mercury vapor lamp, but more and more premium models are turning to LED and Laser light sources which can provide extra brightness and color depth. They also last longer than a traditional lamp (~20,000 hours compared to 5,000 hours), but unlike a traditional lamp, you cant replace a Laser or LED light source once it burns out. Replacing a traditional lamp can be slightly expensive depending on the projector (~$50-$300), but even replacing a couple of bulbs will still be cheaper than replacing an entire projector. That said, most people will probably move on to another short-throw projector before this becomes a factor.
Ultimately, finding the best short-throw projector can be tricky because needs and priorities will differ between people, and the feature tradeoffs between projectors are really pronounced. One projector might have excellent brightness, but display colors that aren’t accurate. Another might throw a 100-inch image from three inches away but will cost twice as much as other projectors while not offering dramatically better picture quality.
But that didn’t deter us from figuring out which projectors are worthy, and which one will provide the best overall experience at a decent price. For the most part, our picks are under $2000, and many are under $1000. But for those considering going all-in, we have a few options for you as well. Take a look at our picks for the best short-throw projector.
1. BenQ HT2150ST Short-Throw Projector
BEST OVERALL SHORT-THROW PROJECTOR
For someone who wants that movie theater feel at a reasonable price, the BenQ HT2150ST is the best overall short-throw projector. Nominally a gaming projector, the HT2150ST has become a go-to for movie aficionados on a budget (even though it’s more than capable for gaming with its 16ms response time). As a 1080p, DLP projector rated for 2200 ANSI Lumens, it doesn’t promise to be the brightest, highest resolution or the shortest-throwing of the projectors, but this short-throw projector, complete with its 6-segment RGBRGB color wheel, has some of the best color depth and accuracy for the price.
While you will need a receiver or a video source with a digital out to connect to surround sound and a moderate amount of space to place the projector (roughly 5.5 feet for a 100-inch image), there are no out-and-out dealbreakers here. If you’re planning on using this mostly at night, or in a dark room, we think you’ll be pleased with its all-around performance.
2. Optoma GT1090HDR Short-Throw Projector
If you’re willing to take a step up in price, the Optoma GT1090HDR is a worthy choice that will perform great in any setting it’s used in. Rated for 4200 ANSI Lumens, this 1080p laser DLP projector is one of the brightest on the list, which means that you can place this in a brighter environment and still get image quality that isn’t totally dull or washed out. In addition to being able to project a 100-inch picture from 3.6 feet off the wall. And while the GT1090HDR is only a 1080p projector, it does support HDR 10 and will downsample content from 4K video sources, which could offer improved picture quality over regular 1080p content in certain scenarios.
But there are a few considerations here. Despite having some more advanced features than the BenQ HT2150ST, the Optoma GT1090HDR only has a four-segment color wheel, which means that in a dark room, the colors of the latter won’t be as vibrant as those of the former. The laser-based projection lamp also means that it will last longer before it burns out, but you won’t be able to replace it like you would a standard lamp. And like the BenQ HT2150ST, it lacks a digital audio out. It’s also considerably more expensive, but as we said before, projectors are a game of tradeoffs.
3. Viewsonic PX800HD Ultra Short-Throw Projector
BEST ULTRA SHORT-THROW PROJECTOR
OK, so we’re sure you’re wondering “but what about all those ultra-short-throw projectors?” They’re definitely out there, but it’s often a luxury reserved for the prohibitively expensive 4K models. That said, there is one model that has risen to the occasion and it’s the Viewsonic PX800HD. This DLP projector will give you a 100-inch image from 1.6 feet off the wall while handling movies and video games with equal aplomb. With a brightness rating of 2000 ANSI Lumens, it’s best used at night or in a dark room, but it should be functional in brighter environments as well.
Thanks to its six-segment RGBRGB color wheel, the depth and accuracy of the PX800HD will be comparable to the BenQ HT2150ST, though the latter may have the slightest edge in image quality due to its slightly longer throw distance. It also has input options for analog and digital video sources alike but lacks digital audio out. If space considerations are your top priority and you’re not dealing with an overly bright room, the PX800HD is the best short-throw projector for the job.
4. Optoma CinemaX P2 4K Ultra Short-Throw Projector
BEST 4K SPLURGE
On the other end of the 4K spectrum is the Optoma Cinemax P2. While our picks up until this point have been comparable in price to mid-range or premium TVs, the Optoma CinemaX P2 is a full-featured ultra-short-throw projector that makes no compromises in performance, and it has the price tag to prove it. This 4K DLP projector can throw a 100-inch image from 10 inches away and has a brightness rating of 3000 ANSI Lumens, which being a laser projector, means that you can use this day or night without issue. A six-segment RGBRGB color wheel, along with support for the DCI-P3 wide color gamut means that HDR 10 content will leap off the screen with detail once you dial in the settings.
To sweeten the deal, the Optoma CinemaX P2 is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant for controlling playback with your voice and houses a 40-watt, Dolby Digital 2.0 NuForce soundbar. About the only things missing from this are proper versions of your favorite streaming apps that can display in 4K HDR. This thing is not for the financially faint of heart, but if you’re serious about your movie nights and want no compromises, this is the best short-throw projector.
5. ViewSonic X10-4KE 4K Short-Throw Projector
BEST AFFORDABLE 4K PROJECTOR
Acquiring a short-throw projector that offers 4K resolution doesn’t need to drive you into bankruptcy. The ViewSonic X10-4KE is a relatively affordable piece of kit for the features provided. In addition to 4K, this DLP LED projector offers HDR and Rec. 709 support, which means that you’ll get deep and accurate colors in the right setting. Because it’s only rated for 1000 LED Lumens, HDR content likely won’t pop with the X10-4KE, and most movie watching will be best in a dark environment. And it requires nearly six feet of space from the surface it’s projecting on for a 100-inch image.
But there are other perks to be had. The ViewSonic X10-4KE is a compact projector that has a painless setup process and is easy to stash away when you’re not using it, and it even comes with a handle to lug it around. It also has voice controls that are compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant. But if you want to use this as more than just a projector, the built-in Harmon Kardon audio can also serve as a Bluetooth speaker for your phone, tablet or laptop, something many of the best short-throw projectors don’t do. If true 4K on a budget is really what you’re after this is the one.
6. LG CineBeam HF85LA Ultra Short-Throw Projector
BEST SMART TV FEATURES
If you’re looking for a projector that can replace your TV for day-to-day use and don’t want to bother with a separate streaming box, the LG CineBeam HF85LA is the best short-throw projector that’s capable of throwing a 100-inch image from 1.5 feet. With LG’s WebOS smart TV interface integrated into the projector, you’ll have access to most of the streaming services you know and love. It even has an integrated TV tuner for those who want to connect to cable or an antenna. Rated at 1500 ANSI Lumens, LG says that this will be comparable to non-laser projectors with higher brightness ratings. And like the Viewsonic X10-4KE, you can even use it as a Bluetooth speaker.
Courtesy of Amazon
7. Optoma GT1080HDR Short-Throw Projector
BEST FOR GAMING
The Optoma GT1080HDR may not have the same laser projection lamp or brightness rating of our runner up, the Optoma GT1090 HDR, but it does have one feature that makes it the best short-throw projector for gamers: an eye-poppingly low 8.4ms response time and 120Hz refresh rate, which will make any associated lag nearly imperceptible.
The GT1080HDR will still provide plenty of brightness (it’s rated for 3800 ANSI Lumens), which will allow it to perform well outside of a dark room, and is also well-equipped for movie watching, even if you aren’t likely to get the same depth of color as our top pick. Like the GT1090HDR, it can throw a 100-inch image from 3.6 feet and downscale content from 4K sources, which can provide a bump in image quality. It also supports the Rec. 709 standard for color accuracy. Those wanting to pair this with a nice set of speakers should take note that this projector only has analog audio out.
8. ViewSonic LightStream PJD7828HDL ‘Shorter-Throw’ Projector
If you’re trying to walk out of this having spent as little money as possible and have some extra space in your living room to play around with, the ViewSonic LightStream PJD7828HDL is the best short-throw projector for you. Coming in at under $650, this DLP projector is the most affordable option you will find on this list as long as you can deal with the fact that it needs 9.5 feet to throw a 100-inch image up on the wall.
Rated for 3200 ANSI Lumens, there’s enough brightness here to work in most viewing environments, though like most of these projectors, a dark room is still optimal. With a 16.4ms response time, The ViewSonic Lightstream is more than suitable for gaming and it has a full array of legacy inputs to handle nearly any video source you could ever want to throw at it. (One thing it does lack, however, is digital audio out.) While this isn’t quite “short-throw,” it still beats most long-throw projectors, and given the price and versatility, we think this is a solid pick.
9. Samsung ‘The Premiere’ 4K Ultra Short-Throw Projector
Samsung just released its top-of-the-line ultra-short-throw projector, The Premiere, which promises 4K resolution and HDR10+ support. While its 2800 ANSI Lumens rating falls just behind our splurge pick, the Optoma CinemaX P1, it will only require 4.4 inches to project a 100-inch image (which is the best of any projector on this list), and comes with support for the emerging Filmmaker Mode standard. Samsung also says its triple RGB laser lamps will cover 147% of the DCI-P3 wide color gamut.
Rounding out the features: a smart TV interface that provides access to services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+, along with a 30-watt, 2.2 surround sound system built into the projector. All of this will come with a $6499.99 price tag, although there will be a cheaper $3499.99 model that only has a 2200 ANSI Lumen rating, a single laser projection lamp and a max projection size of 120 inches, instead of 130 inches. It’s not cheap, but there’s a chance that this could be the most technically impressive among the best short-throw projectors.