Best Projector Under $500: Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

Digital projectors are something every movie lover, video gamer, educator, or business professional has looked into at one time or another. But when it comes to finding the right digital projector, the technical jargon can be difficult to crack in order to find out which projector is right for your situation.

If you’re on a budget or just don’t want to break the bank, but still want a great digital project, our “best projector under 500 dollars” reviews will cut through the jargon and help you find the best gaming projects, movie projectors, or even the best projector for outdoor movies. With this simple guide well will explain what you need to know to make the best decision in choosing a projector and give you our picks for the best projectors under $500.

Click on the items in the table of contents below to skip directly to what you would like to know, or continue to read the whole article below.



What Settings Should I Look For?

What is Contrast Ratio?

One of the things you will see manufacturers advertise about their projectors is the “contrast ratio.” You will see numbers like “20,000:1” or even “1,000,000:1.” So what are these numbers? Is bigger always better?

The contrast ratio is a measurement of the difference between how bright the whites are of a display versus how dark the blacks are of that display. The greater the ratio, the brighter the whites will appear in relation to how dark the blacks will appear.

So what does this mean for finding the right projector? Unfortunately, very little. That’s because there is no standard of measurement used to determine contrast ratio. Different manufacturers have different ways of determining this ratio, so the numbers do not really tell us much.

The only thing contrast ratio will tell you is how bright and dark different models within the same producer will compare. Otherwise, there are better things to look for.

What is Resolution?

Now we are getting to some numbers that are actually meaningful in purchasing a projector.

Resolution” refers to the number of pixels (little squares of light) that a projector can cast. The more pixels, the clearer the image—the fewer pixels, the less clear the image. While this is generally true, it’s also the case that the clarity of the picture also depends on the distance you are away from the image. The farther away you are from the image, the less the resolution matters.

What is Aspect Ratio?

Aspect Ratio refers to the shape an image takes when projected; for example a square or a rectangle. Different aspect ratios project different resolutions. The earliest projectors came in what is called “XGA.” This is an almost square image (4:3) with a resolution of 1024×786. This means an XGA projector casts an image in a relatively square shape with 1024 horizontal pixels and 786 vertical pixels.

What do those numbers mean in real life? Well, at that ratio and resolution, an XGA projector is really good for businesses, churches, or any applications that just needed to use PowerPoint. The resolution just isn’t high enough for movies or video games, unless you aren’t picky about “crystal clear” images. The pictures will not appear blurry, but they could be clearer.

As we review each of the projectors below, we’ll help you understand what each resolution and aspect ratio is best suited for.

What are Lumens?

The last major bit of information that manufacturers give you for their projectors are the “lumens.” A lumen is a measurement of light output. This will tell you how much light is being projected by your device; the higher the lumens, the brighter the image.

Higher lumens might be something to consider if you are going to be projecting images when there is a competing light source; for example, during outdoor events, or in rooms where it is inconvenient to turn off the lights when the projector is on.

What is the Best Projector Under $500?


ViewSonic PJD5555W WXGA DLP Projector, 3200 Lumens, HDMI

ViewSonic PJD5555W WXGA - Best Projector Under 500

The ViewSonic PJD5555W is our top pick for outdoor movie projectors under $500. At 3,200 lumens you can be sure that this projector will deliver the light you need for great evening and night time movie viewing.

This model comes in a WXGA 1280×800 resolution which is great for high definition and 3D Blu-Ray discs. It’s “plug and play” operation makes it easy to operate: simply plug your computer or other devices into the projector and it will automatically detect and display with the optimal settings. You can always override these to customize as you like.

It does come with 5 preprogrammed view settings to make it quick and easy to set the projector up with a variety of options.

ViewSonic uses their SuperColor™ technology to give a wider color range than standard projectors for fresh and vivid images, exactly what you want from your High Definition and 3D Blu-Ray movies.

Another nice feature of this model is ViewSonic’s cable management hood which wraps around the back side of the projector to hide unsightly cables, yet keep them accessible. This is especially nice if your projector will be featured in your home or outdoor movie theater and you want to keep things looking sleek and professional.

If you are using this projector while traveling, ViewSonic has equipped it with smart technology speakers that work with your computer and remove the need to carry extra speakers with you. This is really handy for those business presentations that require sound.

It also comes with a 3-year limited parts warranty and a 1-year lamp warranty with free exchanges services for the first year. ViewSonic really goes the extra mile to make sure your device is covered should anything happen to it.

The lamp is rated at 10,000 hours of use so you know this projector will function for a long time before any replacement lamps are necessary.


ViewSonic PJD5255 XGA DLP Projector, 3200 Lumens, 3D Blu-ray Ready HDMI, Black


ViewSonic PJD5555W XGA - Best Projector Under 500

This ViewSonic model is a great option for those wanting a quality projector that works in higher light situations, like classrooms or offices.

With a native XGA ratio of 4:3 and a resolution of 1024×768 the projection will be relatively square, but with good resolution for viewing less than 30 feet away. So this model is decent for home theaters and gaming. However, because of the aspect ratio, you will still have unused resolution when viewing High Definition and 3D images. It will still project high color quality images in HD and 3D, just not as high performing as other models.

At 3,200 lumens you will get a lot of light out of this model, making it great places where you cannot turn off all the lights or black out all the sunlight. This makes this particular model great for business and education.

This model also comes with the cable management hood to hide the cables and internal speakers for quality sound presentations. It also comes fully backed up by ViewSonic 3-year parts, 1-year lamp warranty. The lamp is also rated to 10,000 hours usage so it will last for many hours of viewing!


Epson VS240 SVGA 3LCD Projector 3000 Lumens Color Brightness


Epson VS240 SVGA 3LCD - Best Projector Under 500

The only Epson model on our list, the VS240 is a good option for a general use, or home theater and video games if you don’t need the highest resolution. With an SVGA native resolution it won’t have quite the same color resolution as higher priced models, but Epson’s 3LCD, 3-chip technology offers colors that are 3 times higher in brightness than other models of the same resolution

With 3,000 lumens this model will get the job done in any standard lighting settings. It comes with all the standard connection options you would expect: HDMI, 15-pin computer, S-Video, USB-B, and USB-A.

At 8.2 lbs., it isn’t exactly lightweight compared to other models on our list. So this might not be the best option if you need it to be portable and travel.

Epson’s projectors come with a 2-year limited warranty and 90-day lamp limited warranty. While not quite as good as the ViewSonic warranty, Epson is a trusted brand in the industry and they will stand behind their products.


Optoma S316 Full 3D SVGA 3200 Lumen DLP Projector with Superior Lamp Life and HDMI

Optoma S316 Full 3D SVGA - Best Projector Under 500

The Optoma S316 is a great all-purpose projector that will be best for business, education, churches and the like.

The Optoma is an SVGA (Super Video Graphics Array) projector with a 4:3 aspect ratio and an 800×600 resolution. This means that the image projected is relatively square.

The resolution is high enough for movies and video games, but some of the projection will be unused because of the different aspect ratios of high definition pictures. So, it can be used for home theater if you are not concerned with having the highest resolution possible for under $500.

The projector will work with HDMI and 3D images, but not at their highest settings. If high definition imaging is important to you, this is not the best option.

The model also features wireless capability with the purchase of an optional adapter. This makes it convenient if the projector must be mounted in an inaccessible location.

Like most projectors on the market today, it comes standard with a VGA cable (this is the kind of 15-pin cable you use to plug into a computer or laptop), a remote control for distant operation, and a carrying case. At 5.2 lbs., this model is relatively lightweight for portability should you need to be able to use it in multiple locations.

ViewSonic PJD5155 LightStream XVGA Home Entertainment Projector HDMI


ViewSonic PJD5155 LightStream SVGA - Best Projector Under 500

With an SVGA aspect ratio of 4:3 and a resolution of 800×600 this is the lowest resolution of the ViewSonic projectors on our list.

However, this makes it the perfect model for all around use where high-resolution imaging isn’t a necessity. It still uses ViewSonic’s SuperColor™ technology to give you lush images for your business presentations or classroom PowerPoints. It will also work with HD images and 3D, but given its lower resolution, the images will not be “crystal clear” like it will be with other models on our list.

At 4.8 lbs. it is light enough to be portable should you have need to use it in multiple locations, another great option for schools and businesses.

This model also comes with ViewSonic’s smart sound technology so you do not have to carry extra speakers around for your presentations and PowerPoints.

Like all ViewSonic projectors, you can be sure that any problems you might have will be supported by their 3-year parts and 1-year lamp warranty.


There are a lot of options out there for quality digital projectors. You should now have the basic information you need to make an informed decision and choose the best projector under $500 to fit your situation!


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