WELCOME TO OUR ANNUAL GAMING PROJECTOR BUYER'S GUIDE!
In this guide, we will discuss a wide variety of projectors designed to thrill and delight gamers. When we are reviewing projectors as well as when choosing award winners for this guide, we consider several different projectors from different manufacturers and how they are best used in different situations.
Before kicking off this guide, we should quickly touch on how the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted many aspects of our social lives. Since March 2020, many of us have avoided crowded favorite activities like concerts, movie theaters, even dining in restaurants. Prioritizing smaller social groups and “bubbles” – we are far more likely to invite small groups of friends and families to our home for blockbuster movie nights, big-ticket sporting events, and yes, especially red-hot gaming sessions. While we at Projector Reviews are greatly looking forward to an eventual return to more normal activities with throngs of people, we think that a great many people are looking to invest in equipment and technology that can enhance a fun, small group night at home with a completely immersive big screen “wow” experience.
When you think of a projector, you might think of an elegant board room with an executive in a fancy suit presenting to colleagues or a very dark, windowless room in a home used as a theater room. Neither of those two scenarios seems like a fun place to get your game on with your best buds. But projector manufacturers like BenQ continue to innovate – offering brighter projectors, thumping on-board sound systems, and gaming-friendly options like special modes to optimize audio/video settings for the ultimate cinematic gaming experience.
We wish to thank BenQ for sponsoring the 2021-2022 Gaming Projector Report and Buyer’s Guide
There are even very compact units small and sturdy enough to toss into a backpack and take the games to a friend’s house. Projectors are no longer relegated to darkened home theaters or fixed ceiling installations in an office building, opening up a seemingly endless number of entertainment possibilities, especially for gaming.
There’s nothing quite like the immersive experience of projector gaming. Video games have evolved to a point of portraying reality in a way that looks more real than our own at times. Skin tones, hair, the texture of clothing – all these things have become so realistic. With such a beautiful advance in rendering abilities, it’s almost a crime to play these games on a computer monitor or a “tiny” 60-inch LCD TV. 4K or not, the size really can’t do the video game justice. When you experience gaming with an exceptional gaming projector, the combination of high-quality images, whopping screen size, and booty-shaking audio make you feel like you are actually IN the game.
Playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order on a 100-inch (or larger) screen, allows the player to be fully immersed in the world of the game. Whether you’re into first-person shooters, third-person RPGs, or any other style of gameplay, there’s nothing quite like having your screen extend to the edge of your peripheral vision. Until we reach the days of Ready Player One levels of immersion, projector gaming is as good as it gets. And that’s pretty darn good!
FEATURES TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A GAMING PROJECTOR
To get the best gaming experience, you want a projector that’s faster, louder, more visually dynamic, and tuned for gaming content. When you’re shopping for the ultimate gaming projector, you should consider these main features: input lag, optimized game modes, realistic color, 4k/HDR, audio capabilities, and brightness.
Do you like first-person shooters? Imagine you are playing Call of Duty on a big immersive screen. The action is practically life-sized and completely immersive. Although it’s just a game, your heart is actually racing from the adrenaline. You carefully creep around a corner and you see your opponent, thanks to lag…he doesn’t see you. BAM – headshot! You totally pwned that guy and you get all the bragging rights, nice work!
This kind of stellar reaction time is why input lag is the most important factor to consider when purchasing a gaming projector. Input lag is a term that relates to the gaming speed performance – that is, the amount of time between when the game system sends out a signal to the moment it is received by the projector and perceived by you on the screen.
Reducing input lag is critical to serious games for serious gamers. Split-second decisions determine whether you live or die. Gamers need to ensure that nothing gets in the way of their decision-making, including the gear they use for their gaming setup. Serious gamers are used to seeking out the highest performing equipment they can find. The same goes for their display solutions.
Projectors have been moving to fill the gap that large-sized displays just can’t, due to screen size limits and price. There has been a growing movement away from traditional TVs/displays in favor of gaming projectors but, historically, the downside of a projector has traditionally been input lag.
The range of acceptable input lag speeds are as high as 50ms to as low as 16ms and there are three categories these speeds fall into: Acceptable, Good, and Optimal.
A casual gamer might be satisfied with Acceptable input lag (above 33ms). This kind of gamer isn’t generally competitive, just playing for fun. A casual gamer tends to play offline and likes single-player games. If a casual player does play online with other people, they stick to low-stakes games with friends and family. This kind of player likes games like Animal Crossing and other Nintendo Switch, RPG games, or first-person shooter games that don’t play against other gamers online.
No serious gamer will be happy with a 50+ms input lag. We’re talking the hard-core, competitive gamers who are super good at Call of Duty Online, and games like it. They might even be professional gamers – the ones you’ll find at competitions, or who make their living streaming on Twitch. Good input lag is in the 33ms to 40ms range. Any projector that is within these speeds will be suitable for all but the most competitive gamers. Good input lag at 33ms to 40ms will put you behind just over 1 frame per second on a 30fps game, and 2 frames behind on a 60fps game. This isn’t enough to make a difference for most people – again unless highly competitive, such as a career gamer type, or those who play a lot of online maps.
Anything below that 33ms mark can be considered “really good” or “great,” but truly Optimal input lag is 16ms to 20ms, with 16ms being the aim for manufacturers who are positioning their model as a gaming projector. Every projector in this Buyer’s Guide is going to be a total speed demon, with a minimum speed of 26ms in HD. You want fast? Say no more, fam.
Extraordinary color powers spectacular, realistic images. Some projector manufacturers also have extensive experience designing dedicated gaming monitors. For example, BenQ has been innovating in the gaming monitor space for years, engineering monitors specifically tailored for gaming. BenQ knows that not everyone uses a PC just to watch funny dances on TikTok or crunch Excel spreadsheets for work so they have worked to design gaming monitors that improve screen tearing, input lag, ghosting and lets games shine with accurate color. BenQ understands gamers and what they expect and leverages their knowledge designing outstanding gaming monitors like the MOBIUZ series to deliver outstanding gaming projectors.
The ability to accurately and faithfully reproduce the original image is the goal of every projector. To better pursue this goal, BenQ founded the BenQ Color Lab in 2015. In this Color Lab, BenQ developed proprietary algorithms that enable stable and precise color tracking. BenQ projectors are manufactured to ensure accurate color reproduction. To learn more, check out this article on the BenQ website.
Another thing to consider when choosing a projector for gaming is your room environment. If your room has a lot of uncontrollable ambient light – such as a living room, media room, or den where you aren’t able to fully darken it – you’re going to want a projector with a high lumen count. And face it, if you have a bunch of friends hanging out in the living room, it’s not fun to play in the pitch-black dark. Someone’s bound to kick over a can of Redbull on the way to grab more snacks. Some of the projectors included in this Buyer’s Guide have sufficient brightness to work well with a little ambient light, some will perform better in a more traditional home theater environment.
It's not just about the drawbacks of having to sit in a dark room, long hours spent mastering your favorite game can take a costly toll on your standard lamp-based projector. Replacement bulbs aren’t cheap! If you plan to finish all of Skyrim, you may want to seriously consider the advantages of a laser or LED light source which you could play for 8 hours a day for several years.
Resolution and High Dynamic Range
It’s not just about whip-fast input lag. High Dynamic Range (HDR) is the hot new buzzword in home entertainment and it’s making the jump from flat-panel TVs to projectors. High Dynamic Range (HDR) is a new way of encoding, distributing, and displaying video content that has great dynamic range and wider, more intense colors than standard dynamic range (SDR content). An HDR signal delivers exceptional detail, color, and contrast with a far wider range of brightness than other video formats. When you play games encoded in HDR, it not only looks more realistic, it’s much easier to see details in both shadows and bright areas. You can see how that is a killer advantage over the competition.
HDR is a feature appearing on more and more 4K UHD projectors on the market, however, on most projectors, HDR will considerably reduce the brightness of whatever color mode it is being used on. The list of projectors that have the ability to handle 4K games with HDR gets significantly shorter than the list of projectors that have HDR. This has to do with the type of HDMI port that is used on projectors that can handle 4K gaming with HDR, and those that cannot. To project a game in 4K HDR at 60fps, the projector requires an HDMI port that is 18Gbps.
Understanding that HDR provides the realism necessary for immersive gameplay, BenQ integrates software and hardware technologies in order to present an authentic HDR image with more detail and better picture quality than non-HDR systems. BenQ has developed an exclusive implementation of HDR they call HDR-PRO technology. BenQ HDR-PRO technology helps certain projectors display more accurate color and dynamic contrast than BenQ projectors without it.
But aside from picture quality alone, we should take a moment to explore arguably the next most important aspect of gaming, audio. Projectors aren’t necessarily considered the pinnacle of audio performance, and for good reason, they simply don’t match the power an AV sound system or a soundbar can offer in a small box, but that’s not to say that they can’t offer compelling audio performance. Some of the latest projectors in market take a fresh look at how audio can improve the gaming experience, and we have to say, it’s sounding very impressive. Powerful audio can fill the room and bring the action to life.
For example, BenQ’s new X1300i offers definite gaming auditory advantages. X1300i’s treVolo-tuned 5W x 2 virtual surround stereos use what BenQ calls “Acoustic and Psychoacoustic Sciences” designed to balance three game sound qualities. Bongiovi DPS technology augments depth, clarity, definition, presence, and stereo field imaging. Whether you’re playing games, watching movies, or listening to music; you can enjoy its crisp, and dynamic audio.
Bongiovi DPS technology uses a patented algorithm with 120 calibration points for real-time audio signal optimization. Expect added depth, clarity, definition, presence, and enhanced stereo field-imaging in real time. Bongiovi DPS also offers Dynamic Stereo Enhancement to generate reactive surround sound for different listening needs. Bongiovi DPS enhances video games, apps, music, and movies when played through the X1300i’s onboard speakers, external speakers, or headphones.
Optimized Gaming Modes
Better gaming projectors offer picture and sound modes to enhance play. And let’s be real, some manufacturers offer Game Modes that just turn down projector settings to maximize input lag. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re starting to see projectors with different gaming modes that can manipulate how audio is delivered.
A great example of this can be found in some BenQ projectors. Their role-playing mode better amplifies deep bass from the projector, making monster roars and 50 caliber sniper rounds more guttural and impactful. Areas like voice are enhanced when using sports mode so the player can better understand what the announcer is saying in the game. Whereas surround effects are more accurately placed when users access first-person shooter mode, which helps you better locate where other players are in relation to you in the game, making you a more effective player
BenQ recently launched the X1300i Console Gaming Projector with GameMaestro technology that will actually let you modify the Game preset based on the type of game you’re playing – RPGs, first-person shooter, or sports. Here’s how BenQ describes what you should experience when you choose one of these presets:
RPG Mode – Full Cinematic Immersion
Fully experience both the subtlety and intensity of the virtual world. As you explore a ruinous building rich in captivating detail, let powerful orchestral music with crisp strings and resounding bass guide you through the whole adventure in the medieval era.
FPS Mode – Marks Nearby Threats
Refined details reveal enemies hiding in the shadows, lying in wait. Virtual surround stereo, enhanced gunshots, bombastic effects, and trailing footsteps from far and near warn you of approaching threats, so you are prepared to face any foe. You are sure of surviving the battle.
SPG Mode – For Real-Time Thrills
Designed to offer realistic, real-time sports games with green grass, diverse skin tones, vibrant uniforms, and accentuated details. Hear and understand clearly the announcers’ booming voices while fans cheer on your team. You’ll be transported from your home theater to the center of the action.
A dedicated button on the remote lets you easily flip through these modes (as well as presets for movies and video).
TYPES OF PROJECTORS INCLUDED IN THIS BUYERS GUIDE
In this buyer’s guide, we will be looking at projectors that offer a range of features that facilitate your gaming entertainment enjoyment. And remember, they are ALL fast, a projector wouldn’t be included in this Buyer’s Guide with an input lag higher than 26ms in HD.
This year we considered dozens of projectors and chose several projectors we felt had the features best suited for immersive, enjoyable gaming. In this buyer’s guide, you will find a detailed overview of each of these projectors with links to their in-depth reviews if you want more details.
Many of the projectors reviewed may have similar models available in the same lineup. Many times, the models in the lineup are very similar to the project we reviewed, but with varying resolution or with game-friendly features. The purpose of this buyer’s guide is to show you the best gaming samples of the models currently available.
In this buyer’s guide, we focus on “usage.” It’s not a specs competition. Our awards go out to great projectors and some that are great for certain applications, environments, etc. This guide will be a living article, continuously upgraded and up to date with the latest in gaming projector models.
Selecting projectors to review: We are very selective in choosing the projectors we choose to review and those we feature in this report. We work hard to ensure that most of the projectors we review are considered to be among the best in their price ranges and gaming capabilities.
We hope this buyer’s guide helps you in selecting the right products for your gaming projector needs. Gaming projectors are a great way to maximize your entertainment experience in the home. As games grow more sophisticated and immersive, we’re glad companies like BenQ continue to innovate in this space, offering not only blazing fast input lag, the ultimate in audio/visual impact with specialized game modes to enhance individual gameplay, and cinematic picture quality that puts you directly into any virtual world.
As we review more projectors well suited for gaming, this guide will be updated throughout the year. Check back regularly for the latest news in big-screen gaming excitement.
Playing for Fun
This category includes budget-friendly gaming projectors that are zippy, but not necessarily the fastest units in market. This type of gaming projector would be great for families with small children and people who like to play collaboratively with friends.
Playing to Win
Projectors in this category are good options for gaming enthusiasts, particularly teens and competitive gamers who play to win. These players seek an edge over opponents and value ultra-fast input lag and contrast levels to help them suss out any competitors lurking in the shadows.
Enhanced Gaming Experience
Gaming projectors in this category offer the most immersive experience. These units are ideal for gamers who not only like to compete but want to explore and desire a completely cinematic experience. This type of player is ready to step up to specific game modes and powerful, dedicated on-board sound to maximize their gameplay.
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