Best Cheap Projectors 2023 Edition (Under $100)November 9, 2023
It’s November 2023 and for the past 2 years around this time I’ve purchased every cheap LED projector on Amazon to help you wade through all the dishonest marketing and confusing specs and help you get the best value budget projector. I’ve got a brand-new batch for 2023 that I bought using my own money, and I’ll test their brightness, contrast, fan noise, input lag, power draw and overall image quality, and as always there are no sponsored reviews on this channel.
But, before we get into the testing, I’m going to start this video by telling you all the reasons you might NOT want to buy one of these projectors.
Why you shouldn’t buy these
First, the biggest complaint that I see in my comments section is about focus. Good focus is the result of high quality lenses, and you can imagine that when you sell a projector for $50-100 there’s not a lot of budget for optics, and unlike more expensive projectors that can deal with less than ideal placement, these budget LED projectors need to be positioned in the exact center of where you want your screen, and if not the focus won’t be great.
Second, some of these projectors are LOUD. They work by shining an extremely bright, focused LED array through what is essentially a cell phone LCD screen, and if that display gets too hot it will melt and the picture will never be the same, so to prevent that they use powerful fans to blow as much air onto the screen as possible… which ends up being really loud, especially if you’re buying the cheapest fans possible to save on cost.
And third, even though this batch of 2023 projectors are about 3 times brighter than the ones from 2021, they’re still roughly only 10% as bright as a typical home theater projector, so turning off the lights and shutting the blinds is a must, and these have zero chance of working outside in your backyard until the sun is completely set.
The great news is that if those things aren’t dealbreakers for you then some of these projectors are pretty amazing for the price, and a couple of them have no business being as good as they are.
The first thing I tested was brightness and I measured each projector using the ANSI lumen standard where you take individual brightness readings from 9 sections of a pure white image, average those measurements and multiply by the screen size in square meters.
The best brightness in this new batch of projectors came from the VAMVO with 383 ANSI lumens, which is the most I’ve ever measured from a sub $100 projector, 2nd was the Zoaybu with 334 ANSI lumens, and 3rd was last year’s overall pick the Happrun with 243 ANSI Lumens.
Testing this way also lets us calculate the brightness uniformity which can be an issue with LED projectors where the center of the image is very bright, and the corners are significantly dimmer. The best brightness uniformity came from last year’s overall winner, the Happrun, with 73% uniformity, second was the much dimmer WEWATCH, but third was actually the VAMVO, which remember, was also the brightest projector, so that’s pretty impressive.
The last test I do with my lux meter is for contrast where I project an all black screen and measure the black floor, which is important for watching a projector in a dark room because higher black floors will look more gray than black and also lead to significantly worse contrast. The lowest black floors were from the TOPTRO with 0.14 lumens, the TMY with 0.17 lumens, and third was the WEWATCH, also with 0.17 lumens, and when you divide the maximum brightness by the black floor that gives you the contrast ratio, which is usually a good indicator of perceived picture quality.
The top contrast ratios were from the TOPTRO at 1201:1, the Zoaybu at 1017:1, and third was the E Gate at 980:1.
Along with brightness and contrast, resolution is also extremely important for overall picture quality, and unlike previous years when I had a mix of 480p, 720p and 1080p native resolutions, all the projectors in this 2023 video are 1080p native, or at least claim to be on their Amazon listings.
Side by Side Quality Testing
But we don’t need to guess which projector will have the best image, the best way to find out for sure is to do side by side comparisons. For this test I used two 100” 1.1 gain white screens in my completely light controlled garage and recorded both projectors at the same time and used the same camera settings in every round with my Sony A7iv camera in Manual mode and the order of the projectors was based on how much I paid for each projector after coupons and discounts.
Round 1 was the $55 Ysametp on the right vs the $58 MOOKA on the left and even though these two projectors had similar brightness and contrast based on measurements alone, in my side by side testing the MOOKA was clearly better in brightness, color and contrast.
So in round 2 it’s the MOOKA again on the left and the $59 Happrun on the right, which was the overall winner of last year’s video, and it was a lot closer than the last round, and certain scenes favored the MOOKA, but I started to notice that the MOOKA had some refresh rate issues that led to screen tearing, which was a dealbreaker, especially with the Happrun’s image quality being basically equal.
That made round 3 the Happrun on the right against the $59 Pericat on the left, and this was no contest with the Pericat having less than half the brightness of the Happrun.
So onto round 4 where the Happrun on the right goes up against the $59 HOWWOO on the left, and this was the closest round yet, but I noticed the HOWWOO crushed a lot of shadow detail, so even though the HOWWOO had a slightly higher contrast ratio I still liked the overall image from the Happrun more.
In round 5 it’s the Happrun on the right and the $60 HOMPOW on the left, and the biggest issue with the HOMPOW was the lens and no matter what I did I couldn’t get the whole screen in focus. So even though the HOMPOW’s color and brightness were pretty good the Happrun’s much better focus earned it another win.
Round 6 was the Happrun on the right and the $64 Groview T6 on the left, and this was the closest round so far. Judging purely on the Dolby Atmos test I preferred the Happrun in about half the scenes and the Groview in the other half, so as a tiebreaker I played Gemini Man to judge color accuracy and shadow detail, and the Happrun was the clear winner because while the Groview produced a very watchable image, it wasn’t all that close to what the video was supposed to look like and the colors were too cool, and a bit undersaturated.
So round 7 is the Happrun on the right and the $69 PURSHE on the left, and again in this round both performed pretty similarly. However, I thought the PURSHE crushed a bit of shadow detail and was slightly dimmer overall. I still sent this one to the Gemini Man tiebreaker and again, the Happrun just did an overall fantastic job with color while the shadows on the PURSHE were a bit too harsh and skin tones were too pale compared to the reference video.
Round 8 then put the Happrun on the right up against the $69 WEWATCH on the left, and no tiebreaker was needed with the Happrun being over twice as bright with much better color saturation and accuracy.
So round 9 was the Happrun on the right vs the $70 VAMVO on the left and this is the first round where the Happrun has gone up against a brighter projector with the VAMVO having over 100 more lumens, and aside from being slightly oversaturated I thought the VAMVO was superior in just about every way; It had better contrast, better color, and better brightness, so this was an easy pick so after 8 rounds of domination the Happrun finally got taken down.
At this point I’m going to speed through a few rounds because the VAMVO absolutely outclassed the $79 TMY in round 10, it embarrassed the $79 DBPower in round 11, and in round 12 the $88 TOPTRO’s high contrast wasn’t nearly enough to compete with the VAMVO’s brightness.
Round 13 was a bit closer with the VAMVO on the left and the $89 E Gate on the right, and while the E Gate’s brightness was actually lower than the Happrun’s, it had a significantly lower black floor, leading to a better contrast ratio, and I thought that the overall color and tone mapping was very good during the Dolby Atmos video. I also thought it did a really decent job during the Gemini Man tiebreaker, but the color on the VAMVO was much more true to the source, and the extra brightness really helped to pull out the highlights, so ultimately the VAMVO moved on again.
Round 14 had the VAMVO on the left vs the $99 YOWHICK on the right, and I wish I could get my money back for the YOWHICK, which had terrible brightness, terrible contrast, and wasn’t even close to competing with the VAMVO.
So, the final round of sub $100 projectors was the VAMVO on the left and the $99 Zoaybu on the right, and the Zoaybu is quite a bit more advanced than the rest of the projectors in this video. Not only does it have motorized focus and digital keystone, but it also has respectable brightness with good contrast and judging strictly by the Dolby Atmos test video the Zoaybu was the clear winner, but switching over to Gemini Man reveals some serious issues with the contrast on the Zoaybu being set too high and the brightness set too low, and unfortunately the Zoaybu’s custom picture settings don’t work at all and changing brightness, contrast, and saturation has no effect on the resulting image, which is honestly such a shame because otherwise the Zoaybu would be awesome.
So, judging strictly on picture quality, the best projector under $100 was the VAMVO, but there’s more to consider.
Fan Noise Testing
As I mentioned, these projectors tend to be pretty loud, so I measured the fan noise from 12” behind each projector and found that the quietest projectors were the DBPower and TOPTRO at around 43 decibels, and the Happrun at 44 decibels. The VAMVO also performed very well with a louder, but lower pitched fan noise at 46 decibels, while the high performing Zoaybu was much louder at 50 decibels, which is right on the edge of what I would consider acceptable and will definitely be noticeable in a quiet room.
Input Lag Testing
I also measured input lag for gaming and found that most of the projectors without digital keystone were exactly the same at around 20-22ms of input lag, while the DBPower, TOPTRO, Zoaybu and Ysametp were double and triple that amount.
USB Playback Menus
The last test that I did was for people who want to use these projectors for Halloween and Christmas projection decorations which are ideally played off of a USB thumb drive, but the issue is that most of the projectors display the filename and other icons when each new video plays and only the HOMPOW, MOOKA, YOWHICK and VAMVO didn’t show filenames between clips.
So, all things considered, which inexpensive projector should you buy?
Overall, I don’t think my recommendation has changed from last year and the Happrun H1 is the best value for the price when you consider the total package of brightness, color, fan noise, input lag, focus and speaker quality. The price fluctuates between around $50-80 depending on sales, and at that price point there isn’t a better projector.
The VAMVO performed really well, and had better brightness, contrast, and color than the Happrun, and sound quality was also better. However, the biggest issue with the VAMVO is that while I picked it up for $70, that was using a $60 off coupon which appears to be gone now, and while I do think the VAMVO is easily worth $10-20 more than the Happrun, I don’t think it’s worth $50-80 more, especially with its louder fan and overall larger size.
Similarly the Zoaybu is $199 with a 50% off coupon, and at $99 it’s got some advanced features that you generally don’t find on projectors under $100 like motorized focus and digital horizontal and vertical keystone making it the only projector in this video that can be offset to the side of the screen and still produce an acceptable image. I also thought the Zoaybu’s built in speakers were better than any of the other projectors in this video. But keep in mind that the Zoaybu’s custom image settings don’t work, and the input lag is not acceptable for gaming, so those are two big strikes against it.
The other problem with spending $99 on a projector is that at that point you’re very close to being able to buy the Groview JQ818C, which is usually between $120-150, and it is SO much better than all of these projectors. Adding the JQ818C to the charts you can see it would be the brightest by over 100 lumens, has nearly double the contrast of the next closest projector, and has great color saturation. Putting the Groview JQ818C up against the top performing VAMVO makes the VAMVO look like a toy, and honestly the Groview JQ818C just has no business being as good as it is for the price.
So unless the Zoaybu fixes its custom picture settings or the VAMVO goes back on sale my final recommendations are the Happrun H1 for $65 or less, and above $65 you should probably save up for the Groview JQ818C, and those happen to be my exact same recommendations from 2022, which I guess is good for everyone who already bought one of those, but bad because it means we didn’t see the same huge jump in performance and value this year as the year before.
As a reminder there are no sponsored reviews on this channel, but I do have links below for all the projectors in this video, and as always I do appreciate when you use those links since as an Amazon affiliate I do earn a small commission on the sale at no cost to you.
I’d also like to thank all of my awesome patrons over at Patreon for their continued support of my channel, and if you’re interested in supporting my channel and want to get in on my monthly giveaways check out the links below. If you enjoyed this video don’t forget to hit that thumbs up button and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel and as always, thanks for watching The Hook Up.
Best Under $65: Happrun H1
Best Under $150: Groview JQ818C
Best When On Sale: VAMVO – Check For Coupons!
Most Advanced: Zoaybu
Other Projectors in order of ANSI Brightness:
Groview T1: https://amzn.to/3Qx0ixt
E GATE: https://amzn.to/3u776uj