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Projectors are better, simpler, and probably cheaper than you think

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When my wife and I swapped a New York City apartment for an Austin, Texas home, we were low on cash but rich in space. At first, dozens of cardboard moving boxes did a commendable job of filling out the house, but as we dispersed the contents of a Manhattan one-bedroom into our ranch — complete with a shed, a garage, and a couple offices — our space felt empty.

Like a goldfish, our lives had grown to the size of a very small bowl, but now we had an entire aquarium at our disposal. Being both broke and pragmatic, we built a list of wants and needs. We needed a couch, office chairs and desks, and a bookshelf. A laundry basket. Those hooks you tack onto the bathroom door to dry your towels. The list of needs went on and on, but as for wants, I personally had just one: a projector.

Even projector enthusiasts describe the electronics as headaches to set up and money-holes to maintain, mentioning how the image degrades when exposed to the slightest splash of light from a nearby window. And so a projector has always been, in my eyes, an extravagant bit of technology reserved for those people with theater seating built into the hermetically sealed basements of their suburban mansions.

I assumed projectors were limited to expensive, windowless home theaters

In an attempt to be grown-ups, my wife and I stuck to the list of needs, and after a year, our house began to look less like a container for remnants of our old apartment and more like a home — an admittedly sparse home, but a home nonetheless.

Late this summer, while visiting The Wirecutter to see their recommendation for the best broom (my review: 10/10! Would sweep again!), I saw the site’s update for the best midrange projector. That home theater fantasy of my childhood lit the reptilian lobe of my brain.

In an act of complete irresponsibility, I purchased the BenQ HT2050 and here’s what I learned: owning a projector is nothing like what I expected. It’s better.

It’s easy to set up

I’d read horror stories about mounting the projector from the ceiling, and getting its focus just right. I didn’t bother with the former, instead resting my new gizmo atop a small drawer with lockable wheels.

We keep the projector at the foot of our bed, about six feet from a wall onto which it projects a 100-inch picture. As for the focus and framing, we move the projector around the house a few times a month, and adjusting the image takes a couple minutes tops.

You don’t need a screen

We didn’t install a screen, nor did I paint the wall white with some pricey custom goop. The image, surprisingly, is not distorted by our beige paint, and if it were, the projector offers preset options to adjust for differently colored surfaces.

It works just fine in a room with windows — and outside

A window faces the image in our bedroom. During the evenings, the projection is brighter than our traditional TV. During the day, with the shades, it looks comparable to the TV. The image is diluted when I take the projector outside in the middle of the afternoon in Texas and project a football game on our house, but not enough to be an issue.

The speakers are serviceable

Yes, yes, yes, I know that all speakers that come with a television are terrible by default. And projector speakers should be, presumably, worse. And obviously, if you put this particular projector in a living room with a sound system, you should use that instead.

But for a “bedroom television,” the projector’s speakers sound better than a pair of decent external stereo speakers. They’re loud, and the sound isn’t as crunchy or tinny as you’d expect from speakers trapped inside this block of plastic.

A Roku dongle makes a projector feel like magic

Like I said, we cart and carry the projector wherever we need it. For football, it lives outside. For movie night, we hang a white sheet from the doorway in our living room and set the project by the couch. With the Roku locked into the HDMI port, we don’t have to worry about lugging around a Blu-ray player or cable box. Not only are Netflix and Amazon available, but cable services like Time Warner Cable now have apps that stream live TV — for subscribers, of course.

The image is huge

For real, the projection is huge. To buy a TV that spans anywhere from 100 to 200 inches would costs thousands of dollars more.

Yes, I recognize this projector — or any projector — is not for everybody. As 4K and HDR content become more commonplace, some folks will be disappointed by the projector’s 1080p resolution. And while the projector isn’t as ludicrously expensive as a decent projector was in the past, it’s hardly cheap. The BenQ HT2020 runs for $800, though you can usually find one on Amazon’s marketplace for at least $100 less. Still, you can grab an okay 50-inch 4K TV for roughly the same price. If you’re a single TV household, you will need to choose between the size and portability of a projector, and the improved resolution of a television.

Of course, a projector isn’t a need; it’s a want. If you’re like me, and you had childhood fantasies of turning the garage door into a screen for Mario Kart and Monday Night Football, a projector might be for you — no mansion or screening room required.