Portable laser projectors are an easy way to create a cinematic experience anywhere. I’ve been putting together my new office studio setup, and it’s such a fun place to be productive and kick back and enjoy some games, movies, and shows – even while working.
Hey friends, Andrew here – hope you’re well.
In this article, I’ll share with you a variety of projectors I’ve tested over the last few months and compare them, and explain why they could be one of the best cinematic experiences on a budget.
Laser vs LED Difference
We have four portable projectors: two LED projectors that I purchased, the BENQ GS50 and XGIMI Horizon Pro 4K, and two laser projectors that Nebula kindly gifted, the Nebula Capsule 3 and Cosmos Laser 4K. As always, all of my opinions are my own.
Because they’re all portable projectors, we can easily reposition, and take them on road trips and parties for a great cinema experience no matter where you are.
So the first thing I noticed when turning on all these projectors is how much deeper the blacks are on laser projectors – they look much closer to true blacks than their LED counterparts. This is because laser projectors do not omit light on black sections. In contrast, LED projectors must project light onto the entire screen space, so the blacks are never as dark as with laser. In that no light is emitted within the black color, it is similar to OLED display panels in some ways.
The second consideration must be brightness; the main disadvantage of LED projectors is their limited light output. In a similar price range, it will be difficult to find an LED projector brighter than a laser projector in lumens. The lumen rating is critical for projectors because it determines how washed out the colors are and whether you can use it in direct sunlight. To be fair, LED projectors have the advantage of emitting less heat, typically using less electricity, and being more affordable.
BENQ GS50 vs Nebula Capsule 3
On paper, the specifications of the BENQ GS50 and the Nebula Capsule 3 are very similar. They’re both 1080p full HD projectors with a similar throw distance of 1:20:1, as well as speakers and Android TV installed for easy access to many popular apps, movies, and shows. They’re also both around $800.
The main differences are in its physical design and significant laser and LED differences.
The BENQ GS50 has a stylish design; it looks more like a camping item than an LED projector. Its design features high-quality green rubberized panels, orange accents, and a faux-leather handle made of rubber. Overall, it has a nice appearance.
However, as outdoorsy as it appears, it is only splashproof, so you’ll want to run back inside with it if it starts raining outside. However, it comes with a zippered nylon case for easy travel. The actual build quality is underwhelming with its plasticky, rubbery feel.
It has a screen size of up to 100 inches, which is large enough for any outdoor or portable use, but because the brightness is only rated at 500 lumens, you’ll lose contrast and brightness. For this LED projector, reducing the size to 60-80 inches for this LED projector was a good compromise between size and contrast.
On the other hand, if the BENQ GS50 is a large 5-pound lunchbox, Nebula’s Capsule 3 is a much smaller 2-pound Coke can.
It’s less rustic and more modern, portable and sleek – nicely rounded with modern red accents. It looks better in a contemporary setting than the BENQ GS50, but you may prefer the green/orange color scheme.
The Capsule 3 is rated at 300 lumens and the BENQ GS50 at 500 lumens, but in my tests, the Capsule 3 appeared significantly brighter. It was brighter and sharper and had a higher contrast output.
The Capsule 3 demonstrated more accurate color reproduction based on the color tests I ran. This is significant because darker color tones are becoming increasingly common in TV shows and movies.
Both projectors are highly portable, and their keystone correction allows them to focus automatically on any surface. However, the Nebula Capsule 3 focuses faster and more precisely.
There’s no denying that the Capsule 3 Laser has superior image quality, while the GS50 was slightly underwhelming for the price.
XGIMI Pro 4K vs Cosmos 4K
Moving on to the big guns, the XGIMI Pro 4K and Nebula’s Cosmos Laser 4K, there’s much to talk about here.
These two projectors are both seriously amazing, and they’re the ones you’ll want if you want to set up an at-home cinema experience while also having the portability to move it around to different rooms or even outside.
Based on specs, the Nebula Cosmos Laser 4K is $300 more expensive at $2,199 and weighs a full ten pounds more than the XGIMI. Still, we get a brighter rating and arguably better speakers.
It’s worth noting that neither projector achieves 4K natively but rather through pixel shifting. Don’t worry. Mostly, it’s difficult to tell the difference between native 4K and pixel-shifted 4K.
When I first connected these, I noticed a significant difference in picture quality between the GS50 and Capsule 3 – the 4K HDR10-supported resolution on both the LED XGIMI and Laser Cosmos is super crisp. The content looks like it’s printed onto the walls, even at large sizes.
Speaking of sizes, the Nebula Cosmos 4K has a 150″ screen size, and the XGIMI has a 300″ screen size, which I don’t even have room for. However, XGIMI recommends a maximum of 200″ before image quality suffers.
The 120 to 200″ screen size is more than enough for a super immersive theatre experience in my studio space and with most at-home cinema setups. It should take up the majority of a wall or installed projector screen. Anything more, and the picture quality suffers even at 4K, though with the announcement of consumer-priced 8K laser projectors, this may change soon.
The picture quality is stunning on both projectors. If you have a PS5 or Xbox Series X to connect to its HDMI ports, 4K gaming at a 200″ size is a home experience that doesn’t get much better at this price.
Regarding picture quality, the Cosmos 4K tops at 2,400 lumens, which is bright enough for most scenarios except for direct sunlight or extremely well-lit living rooms. Its laser technology also handled contrast, brightness, and color reproduction exceptionally well; at times, I forgot I was watching content on a projector. The Nebula Cosmos 4K appears to have a green bias, with a greenish tint visible in shots. Don’t expect to do any serious gaming on this or most projectors – the latency of 75ms is simply too slow for competitive play. However, 4K on a 150-inch projector for casual gaming is sufficient for casual gaming.
The Horizon Pro’s LED technology boasts a much faster 35ms response time, making input lag much more tolerable. Still, if you’re used to ultra-fast gaming monitors, you’ll notice the slower response time here.
The Horizon Pro is a strong performer, particularly with native 4K content – the sharpness is excellent, as is the response time, though contrast and brightness lag behind the Cosmos. The Horizon Pro also has many more connectivity ports, so if you’re a gamer, this is still one of the best gaming projectors on the market.
However, upscaling is an issue with the Horizon Pro; watching 1080p content upscaled appears far grainier than the Nebula Cosmos, which likely does a better job.
In terms of design, they’re both nice-looking, well-built portable projectors. Despite being significantly heavier, the Cosmos 4K is more versatile and portable due to its sturdy handle. The Horizon Pro lacks a handle, which makes it much more difficult to transport.
But I must commend XGIMI on their incredibly sleek remote – it’s one of the best remotes I’ve used besides Apple’s TV remote. It’s encased in metal, so it’s cold to the touch and feels premium, despite having only the necessary buttons. It’s stylish and looks great in the living room.
Both projectors have quality speakers. The Horizon Pro has two 8W Harman Kardon-tuned speakers, while the Cosmos 4K has four speakers, including two full-range speakers at 10 watts and two tweeters at 5 watts with Dolby Audio.
After running audio tests, it was found that the Cosmos 4K has superior sound quality due to its more powerful integrated speakers. However, suppose you intend to use these projectors as part of a permanent home cinema setup. In that case, you’ll need to pair them with dedicated speakers.
Although none of these projectors is “budget,” they are still excellent buys, especially considering the laser projectors have a lifespan of over 30,000 hours.
If I had to choose, I’d take Nebula’s Capsule 3 on outdoor trips – the BENQ GS50 was slightly disappointing for the price. You can’t go wrong with the Horizon Pro or the Cosmos 4K for a home theatre setup that will easily fit in various rooms throughout your house.
I prefer laser projectors because they are superior in brightness, contrast, lifespan, and future-proofing. I can see many more households switching to a laser projector setup as they become more affordable.