Projectors deliver the ultimate home cinema experience thanks to their crisp image quality and massive display size. But what if you want to play games on a 120-inch screen? Can you use a projector for gaming, and if so, what do you need to know before buying a gaming projector?
If a projector has an HDMI port, you can use it for gaming. Some brands sell projectors specially designed for gaming. However, you don’t necessarily need a “gaming projector” to have a great experience playing Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X, or PS5 on a massive screen.
But here’s the catch; buying a projector is very different from buying a TV. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a real stinker. Not to mention, projectors have some severe constraints that may not jibe with your home—don’t worry, we’ll cover all these constraints to help you decide whether a projector is worth your time and money.
Let’s pretend that you just broke your TV and only have $300 to buy a replacement. If you spent that $300 on a completely random TV, you’d come out fine. Your new TV would have all the significant features you need for gaming, like a decent 1080p picture, a respectable refresh rate, and a reasonably low input lag (the delay between your controller and screen).
But these features aren’t guaranteed on any projector under $600. And honestly, even some expensive projectors are terrible at gaming—this is a product category that usually caters to schools and businesses, where picture quality and latency aren’t always a priority.
Unfortunately, resolution and input lag aren’t your only worries. If you want a projector that’s usable during the daytime (or when lights are turned on, for that matter), it needs to shine at 3,000 lumens or more. (An ALR screen can make dim projectors more usable in the daytime, but they’re costly.)
And because you’re trying to play games, you may want to find a projector that supports AMD FreeSync or NVIDIA G-Sync. These technologies aren’t required for gaming, and they’re rarely included in projectors, but they reduce screen tearing and other artifacts that appear as a result of video games’ varying refresh rates.
Now, I’ve mentioned some of the specs you should look for when buying a projector for gaming. But as I said before, projectors have some other constraints that may make them a poor option for you or your home. Let’s cover those constraints real quick.
All projectors have weird constraints that may make them difficult to use in your home. And unfortunately, these constraints may differ depending on what kind of projector you buy.
Let’s start with room size. When you think of a projector, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a typical long-throw or short-throw model. These projectors need to sit at a certain distance from your wall or TV to get a sharp, full-sized image; if the projector sits too close, the image is too small. If it’s too far, the image will be blurry. (Ceiling mounts let you set a long-throw or short-throw projector at a perfect distance from your wall or screen, but they’re not always necessary.)
If money is no object, an ultra-short-throw projector is usually the way to go. These projectors sit right up against your wall or screen and cast an image at an angle, cutting room size and projection distance out of the equation. Unfortunately, these short-throw projectors can be expensive, and they tend to run a bit hot, so they often have loud fans. They also need to sit on a piece of furniture, which can be a bit more inconvenient than it sounds.
Whatever projector you buy, your room needs a wide-open wall to serve as its projection surface. You can get around this constraint with a carefully placed screen (mine sits over a fireplace), but generally speaking, a wall lined with windows and furniture won’t work.
But wait, there’s more! Projectors can be a bit difficult to manage—if you have one mounted to your ceiling, for example, you’ll either need to buy an HDMI switcher or get used to standing on chairs when you want to plug in a new video source. Also, projectors’ built-in speakers sound terrible, but most budget and mid-range models don’t play nice with external sound systems.
Would you look at that? We’re really getting into the weeds! Let’s list all the pros and cons of gaming on a projector so we can quickly run through these small ups and downs and put everything in perspective.
Now that we’ve covered some of the problems you should anticipate when buying and using a projector for gaming, it’s time to go over all the pros and cons. Get ready because there are a ton of downsides to using a projector for gaming. It’s up to you to decide whether these downsides are worth dealing with.
- Big Picture, Big Immersion: Gaming on a 120-inch screen is fantastic, especially if you play split-screen multiplayer games like Mario Kart.
- No TV, More Space: When I roll up my projector screen, it’s like it doesn’t exist. The room feels nice and open when there isn’t a giant, turned-off TV sitting around.
- Reduced Eye-Strain: While TVs emit light, projection surfaces reflect light. This, and the fact that projectors can create a huge image that’s easy to see, can reduce eye strain. You’ll also deal with less glare.
- Novelty: All of your gamer friends will think you’re the coolest cat in town.
- Portability: Unless you mount your projector to the ceiling, it’s effortless to take it outside for a party or drive over to a friend’s house. Also, moving is so much easier with a projector than a giant TV.
- Expense: Projectors that are good for gaming cost several times more than equivalent TVs. You can get a 4K gaming TV for about the same price as a basic 1080p projector. (To be fair, projectors are a better value than TVs in terms of screen size.)
- Input Lag: Cheap TVs tend to have an acceptable input lag for gaming, but you can’t say the same for cheap (or even some expensive) projectors.
- Light Management: If you get a projector that shines at 3,000 lumens or less, then you better buy some heavy-duty curtains for daytime use.
- Sound Quality Woes: As I mentioned earlier, projectors’ built-in speakers aren’t all that great (unless you buy one with a massive built-in speaker). Also, cheaper models tend to work poorly with external audio systems. (If you care about sound quality, buy a projector with HDMI ARC or Bluetooth Audio support for easy setup with external speakers.)
- Projectors Are Hot and Loud: Projectors produce a lot of heat, which you will feel in a small enough room. Also, their built-in fans can get quite loud.
- Startup Time: Projectors can take a minute to warm up. Of course, many smart TVs have the same problem because they’re stuffed full of crappy software.
- Cable Management: Tucking away the wires for a short-throw projector is pretty easy. But a long-throw projector can make a big mess if you don’t install some cable covers.
- Maintenance: Projector bulbs die every few years and need to be replaced. Also, projectors have dust screens that need to be cleaned every so often. Laser projectors avoid some of that issue, but they’re more expensive.
Yeah, there are a ton of downsides to gaming on a projector. But if you’re willing to deal with these problems, then it’s time to start shopping! Read on to see some great options, and try not to get too scared by the prices.
While any projector with a decent resolution, high brightness (3,000+ lumens), and low input lag (ideally 40ms or less) should deliver a killer gaming experience, I strongly suggest you shop for a gaming projector. As in, the company that sells it explicitly markets it as a projector for gaming.
Shopping for a gaming projector, as opposed to a high-quality office or cinematic projector, will ensure that you get the features that are most important to you. It’ll also help you recognize the different features you can get at various price points—you won’t find a 4K gaming projector in the $700 range, for example.
Companies like Optoma, BenQ, XGIMI, and Epson list their gaming projectors on their websites. You can also find gaming projectors on Amazon and Best Buy, though I strongly suggest avoiding any projectors that aren’t well-reviewed (and to watch out for fake reviews on Amazon).
For your convenience, here are three great gaming projectors in long-throw, short-throw, and ultra-short-throw form factors. The BenQ TH671ST is a great value if you don’t care about 4K HDR, high refresh rates, and other perks.