Since the debut of low-price, portable projectors like Anker’s original Nebula and the can-sized Capsule, it’s never been easier to build an affordable home theater around a projector, or at least enjoy the occasional film screening in a different room of your house than usual, or even outdoors.
Projectors used to be solely of interest for serious AV geeks, but now there are plenty of options for us to enjoy. Some of which are an incredible value.
Of course, price isn’t the only benefit to choosing a projector over a standard TV set. The most advantage is that a projector can give you a massive picture. Some higher-end models can project up to 100" videos. Second, projectors don’t have to be a permanent fixture of your home; you can put them away when not in use. (This is especially useful when your roommate is strictly opposed to having a TV in the common area, ahem.)
For most people, however, price is still a primary concern. Luckily, you can get a solid projector for much less than you’d pay for a large TV.
Exhibit A: the newish, stationary models from Anker. Introduced late last year, the Prizm II retails for under $300, and sells alongside the $100 Prizm. These two models are perfect for budget-conscious consumers who want to dip their toes in a different kind of home theater.
The Prizm II projects a 1080p image, and offers twice the brightness of the original Prizm (up to 200 ANSI lumens). In fact, 1080p is a rarity when it comes to sub-$300 projectors. You’ll pay at least $100-200 more from a manufacturer like Epson and ViewSonic for a comparable model.
When comparing the two projectors side-by-side, it’s clear which the superior product is. Pixels are more noticeable on the lower-end model, especially when it comes to reading text on the screen. The Prizm II’s picture also holds much better with some lights on, unlike the $100 model. You’ll get the most out of the Prizm in very dark rooms, such as a bedroom with blackout curtains, or a basement without windows, and in situations where quality isn’t too crucial, like gaming with retro consoles or watching cartoons.
The higher-end model also offers an additional way to correct the keystone image, which is especially useful if your floors aren’t perfectly level like mine. It allowed me to change the shape of the image both vertically and horizontally by up to ±40° according to Anker. With the Prizm, you can only change vertical correction.
Both projectors feature an HDMI input, a USB port and a 3.5mm jack for external speakers if you don’t want to use the built-in one, which is hidden underneath the fabric top.
They can get decently loud, but there’s little in the ways of audio separation. Everything sounds flat, muddy and without real bass. If you’re looking to build your home theater around either of these projectors, definitely invest in external speakers or a soundbar.
These being budget projectors, they both also share a few shortcomings. Neither can “zoom” or resize the image outside of moving the projector. And there’s no way to adjust the temperature of the image since both only offers two image modes, bright and standard.
The kickstand on both models offers some flexibility to change the positioning of the image, but the build quality doesn’t inspire much confidence. It feels plasticky and seems out of place, especially considering the solid build of everything else.
Neither projector has a built-in operating system, but it’s not a huge deal since you can basically choose your own OS by plugging in the streaming dongle of your choice. The USB port on the back of both projectors can even power smaller streaming sticks. Last month, Anker also announced the Prizm II Pro, which includes Android and will be available later this year.
There’s no question that the Prizm II beats out the original in almost every metric. The image is better by a wide margin, and the flexibility of keystone adjustments afforded by the pricier model is hard to give up. (It also helps to know that Anker offers a lot of discounts throughout the year, for instance, it’s just $200 right now with promo code PZM4EVER)
But depending on your needs, you could get away with using the cheaper model. The Prizm II uses a power brick, unlike the cheaper Prizm. It’s also bigger and heavier. But if you’re planning on taking this projector on the road, a battery-powered Nebula like the Capsule may be a better choice.
As far as sub-$100 projectors are concerned, it’s hard to imagine anything coming close to the overall quality of the Prizm.
Of course, 4K projectors and 1080p projectors with significantly better brightness exist. Models like the $1,200 BenQ TK800 or the $5,000 Sony VPLVW295ES 4K Projector boast sharper, brighter images, faster refresh rates, and more features.
But if you want to build a budget, projector-based home theater, the Prizm II is a terrific one to consider with a competitive price to boot. It’s notably cheaper than other comparable 1080p models, and prettier, too. Just pair it with a compatible soundbar to get the best experience.