For someone who tests some of the best TVs, I’m oddly unconcerned with my own entertainment set-up at home. Don’t get me wrong: a 65-inch OLED TV paired with a powerful soundbar and maybe a few dynamic strip lights sounds sublime. It’s just not something I need to have.
I’m even less preoccupied with my TV-watching in the apartment I’ve recently moved into. Space in my new place is limited, and for aesthetic reasons, I don’t want the space littered with wires and other unsightly AV equipment. I’m even opposed to a black screen taking up precious wall real estate.
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Like most solutions to my problems these days, the idea to purchase a portable projector instead of a TV for my apartment came from TikTok. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a short video in which someone used a small projector and a scenic window-view clip from YouTube to transform their average bedroom into an enchanting escape (opens in new tab). I immediately wanted to recreate this experience in my own room.
Although TikTok has driven many of my impulse purchases before, I took time to research what I needed to buy, from the actual projector model itself to the accompanying cables and dongles. The most surprising thing I soon realized is that the top-rated projectors cost the same, if not more, than some of the best cheap TVs. Amazon also had hundreds of models to choose from, so how was I to know which to get?
I knew I was probably in the market for a pico projector, or battery-powered projector that can fit in a bag or move room to room. Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, you’re able to find pico projectors with internal memory, decent built-in speakers and proprietary smart interfaces with streaming apps. The $350 Anker Nebula Apollo (opens in new tab) offers Android TV apps, for example. The $500 LG Minibeam LED Projector (opens in new tab) even has a built-in TV tuner.
Of course, you could also forgo these features by relying on one of the best streaming devices or your laptop as your projector’s source. Since my MacBook Pro is permanently on my nightstand I figured a non-smart projector could fulfill my vision. It would also help me save some dough.
Settling for less than 1080p picture quality instead of 4K would also keep the price low — barbaric, I know. Most pico projectors have low resolutions compared to top-rated TVs. If a sharp picture is important to you, pico probably isn’t the way to go. You’d want to consider a permanent laser projector that better suits in-house theater rooms than small New York City bedrooms. Options from JVC, Sony and Epsom could run you several thousand dollars, though.
The projector I chose
So there I was, carefully combing through Amazon user reviews on pico projectors that cost much less, when I found someone had attached an image of the exact fake window scene I saw on TikTok. For just $70, the PVO Portable Projector (opens in new tab) offers HDMI and USB ports. It promised to project a maximum of 150 inches from a device that weighs less than a pound.
PVO portable projector: was $99 now $71 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
The PVO mini projector can project a 640 x 360-pixel picture form 60 to 50 inches and is small enough to easily move from room to room. It comes with an HDMI port, USB, audio, and a microSD card slot.
I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical about the low price and unfamiliar brand at first. But after setting the projector up on the top edge of my headboard, where it can connect to my laptop via HDMI to USB-C adapter and throw on to the blank wall opposite my bed, I think it might be the best item I’ve bought for my apartment.
When I’m not copying the TikTok window video from YouTube (which is extremely relaxing in person, I must add) I can catch up on reality TV or continue making my way through the list of this year’s Oscar-nominated films. The picture isn’t extremely sophisticated, but spanning over 100 inches on my wall, I can see plenty of details and contrast.
I improved the experience by pairing my laptop to the Sonos Roam for sound, although any Bluetooth speaker would do. I placed the new Sonos speaker on the floor under the projected image, so it seemed like the sound came from the screen rather than behind my head.
I’m not saying you should toss your TV and replace it with a cheap projector. A traditional TV provides a stronger picture and solid built-in sound. Most TV displays can maintain brightness in spaces with natural daylight, whereas my bedroom needs to be completely dark to see the projector’s content.
But if you’re someone who does most of your watching at night, doesn’t want to spend much money or likes the idea of a screen that disappears when you’re not using it, I can’t recommend a pico projector enough.
Correction: The resolution of this projector is 640 x 360 pixels and not 1080p. Tom's Guide regrets this error.