Technology

Avoid (Most of) These Ultracheap Mini Projectors


$80 at Amazon

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Meer YG300-Pro

Ultracheap projector if you really must

$56 at Amazon

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Elephas JingHuier

A projector for the price of a video game

Can you get a projector for under $100? Technically, yes. They do exist. Are they any good? In a word, no. No, they are not. Most ultracheap projectors are barely watchable. However, we did find a couple that can create a reasonable, TV-size image, as long as you’re watching them in a dark room. Most of the best projectors we review here at CNET fall in the $500-to-$1,500 range, but if that’s beyond your budget, you can watch TV and movies on something as cheap as $65. If you can spend a little more, there are some gems for just a few hundred bucks.

Even going as high as $250 or so, AAXA P8 and the Vimgo P10, did surprisingly well in my comparison tests. They delivered big, perfectly watchable images for less than the price of a cheap phone

Even among the sub-$100 projectors, some are notably better than others. We tested several, using the same tests and measurement gear we use to review “real” projectors, and got some interesting results. Here’s how they looked.

The Auking M8-F on a blue background.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The AuKing M8-F is a sort of “best of the worst” option in the sub-$100 category. It is by no means what we’d call good, but against some pretty abysmal competition, it’s decidedly not bad. Its light output, contrast ratio and color are all as good, if not better than the other ultra-budget projectors we tested.

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Geoff Morrison/CNET

Saying the Hision is one of the best projectors in this roundup is a little misleading. It is one of the least bad projectors in this roundup. It can create a watchable image, mostly, and is bright enough to get that image to roughly at least TV-size. It’s even 1080p resolution. And thus end the superlatives, such as they are. The AuKing M8-F’s image is a little better, and it’s a little cheaper, but both are far better than the other options below.

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Geoff Morrison/CNET

The YG300-Pro isn’t good. It’s half as bright as the Hision, has a worse contrast ratio and worse color (and that’s saying something). It shares many of the same issues, including abysmal uniformity. Some colors, like red, are very undersaturated, making for a lifeless, cold image. It’s 720p, so the pixels aren’t the size of paving stones at least.

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The Elephas JingHuier is half the price of the more “expensive” options on this list. However, it’s easily twice as bad. In its favor, the design features a friendly, round focus knob and a rather pleasant curvy design with a yellow front. Unfortunately, it’s the second-dimmest projector we’ve ever reviewed, putting out a nearly invisible 33 lumens. The image isn’t the worst I’ve seen, but it’s so close.

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The MissYou YG300 is very bad. Terrible. It’s unquestionably the worst projector, and probably the worst display, that I’ve ever seen. The image is a smeary, joyless mess of washed out colors and sadness. The color red is barely a suggestion. It puts out enough light to imperceptibly brighten a shoebox. Every one of its 23 lumens — the lowest I’ve ever measured — seem to struggle their way to the screen, then resent being there. Reviewing the YG300 made me question my life choices as a projector reviewer.

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We need to talk about picture quality

A stack of ultra-cheap projectors.

Geoff Morrison/CNET

The projectors above, except perhaps the Hision and AuKing, look worse than pretty much any modern TV, no matter how cheap. You definitely need to recalibrate your expectations for what you’re getting here. I’ve used the word “watchable” a lot in this guide which is somewhere between generous and Olympic-grade hyperbole. Here are a few key reasons why:

  • Light output
  • Contrast
  • Color
  • Resolution

In every measurable way, spending $150 more will get you a vastly superior product. The best cheap projectors we’ve reviewed are substantially brighter, better looking, more accurate and more detailed. I hate recommending anyone pay more for something, but in this case, it’s well worth it. Unless you’re considering these as a disposable toy, I’d advise getting something else or saving up and getting something better.

One of the understandable points of confusion are the specs and marketing of these projectors. They’re filled with… shall we say, “gifts for fiction”? One of them claims 8,000 lumens of brightness. I measured 141. Another claimed a resolution of 1080p. I measured 240, which is the same resolution as VHS tape. Lots of marketing will twist the truth to sell you a product, but these projector descriptions were especially bad.

Why you should spend more than $100 on a projector

I’m all for spending as little as possible to get something cool, or at least useful. We’ve reviewed several inexpensive projectors recently that aren’t bad for the price. The ones in this roundup, however, are decidedly not good, even for the price. They’re exceptionally dim, so they can’t create a very large image, and it would be generous to call their color and contrast “marginal.” 

What do you get with slightly more expensive projectors, starting at around $250? Picture quality is an obvious one, in terms of resolution, detail and color, most noticeably. Spending even a little bit more gets you significantly more light output, which means the picture is easier to see and you can create a larger image as well. Some have built-in batteries so they can work completely wirelessly. Lastly, many more expensive projectors have built-in streaming. This means no external device is needed to watch Netflix.

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Watch this: How to buy the best home theater projector

If you’re considering one of these $100-ish projectors to have on hand for the kids to occasionally watch a show in a room without a TV, the TV is absolutely a better option. It will be easier to use, easier to watch, and can be seen with the lights on. It’s not even that different in price. We recently spotted a deal on a 32-inch TV with streaming built in for $90. It’s less portable, for sure, but infinitely more useful.

If you were considering these projectors for something inexpensive and portable for camping, the Meer and MissYou can technically run off a battery. But then they’re even dimmer, if you can believe it. Don’t expect to create an image much larger than the smallest of TVs. If it doesn’t break your budget, something like the AAXA P8 is way brighter, or the Anker Mars II Pro which is good all-around for a bit more.

The lenses on 4 ultra-cheap projectors.

Geoff Morrison/CNET

How does CNET test budget projectors?

The same way we test more expensive projectors. For specifics, check out how we test projectors.

Ultrabudget projector FAQ

Do these ultracheap projectors actually work?

Surprisingly, yes! Not well, mind you, but they do create an image on a flat surface for $100 or less. 

Can you stream Netflix on one of these projectors?

Yes, but with some significant caveats. Generally speaking, the easiest way to stream to these is by using a streaming stick connected to their HDMI inputs, which does work. These projectors don’t have built-in apps, despite their marketing images implying otherwise. Don’t expect to be able to mirror your phone’s screen and watch Netflix that way. There are copy-protection restrictions that make this unlikely to work. 

Can I connect a gaming console (Xbox, PlayStation, etc.)?

Technically, yes, anything with an HDMI connection should work. That said, it’s worth noting that with the exception of the Hision and AuKing, these are extremely dim projectors. You won’t be able to see much, if anything, with the lights on. Even with the lights off, a 50-inch image will still be hard to see.

Yes and no. You technically don’t need a screen. Any smooth, flat surface will work. A screen will improve the image, however, as they typically have no texture, and many can reflect back more of the light toward where you’re sitting and less elsewhere. This means the projector will seem a little brighter. That said, a screen isn’t going to make a $35 projector look like a $3,500 projector, or probably even a $350 projector. If you have the budget to add a screen, you’re probably better off getting a better projector now and saving up for a screen later.

As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castles, epic 10,000-mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.

He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines and a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.