Instead of a TV, my family uses this $550 projector - and our house is the place for watch parties

Instead of a TV, my family uses this $550 projector - and our house is the place for watch parties


  • A high-quality home theater projector should produce a clear image, be bright enough for viewing media even in a well-lit room, and project onto a wide range of surfaces.
  • I like the BenQ MH535FHD 1080P DLP Home Theater Projector because it's easy to adjust the settings to fit my living room and bright enough to still cast sharp, colorful images during the day.
  • It's also affordable for a projector (currently $549 on Amazon) and is backed by a three-year warranty for parts and labor plus a lamp warranty of one year or 2,000 hours.

For the last five years, my family has lived without a television. Before you commend our self-control or condemn our hipster lifestyle, you should know we still watch plenty of movies, shows, and sports. We just use a home theater projector instead of a costly and unattractive flat screen TV.

Projectors are an affordable way to get the big screen experience and your setup can be as simple or complex as you want. For the first couple of years of our projector life, we simply cast media onto a white wall. If your walls are textured though, you can pick up a projector screen for less than $60.

BenQ has projectors at a variety of price points whether you're looking for a budget setup or an experience that mirrors your local movie theater. The company is based in Taiwan and manufactures projectors for home and business uses. It recently sent me the new MH535FHD 1080P DLP Home Theater Projector. Below are my experiences with it.

The specs

The BenQ MH535FHD Home Theater Projector ("the 535") is about 13 inches wide, 9.5 inches deep, and 4 inches high, so it doesn't take up much space. Depending on how you position the projector, you can achieve images up to 300 inches, or 25 feet, on the diagonal. It comes with a helpful guide for determining the best placement for your projector depending on your preferred screen size and viewing experience. It also comes with a power cord, VGA cable, warranty card, and a remote control with batteries.

The 535 is an update of BenQ's popular MH530FHD ("the 530"), which originally launched in 2017. The main differences between the two models are the 535 is brighter at 3600 lumens versus 3300 lumens, and when in "SmartEco" mode, the 535's light source has a much longer life (15,000 hours versus 10,000 hours). The 535 is also 3D compatible (though you'll have to supply your own glasses) while the 530 is not, and the 535 will cost you about $115 more than the 530.

The set-up process

Currently, Amazon offers expert projector setup for $171.86 that includes mounting it to the ceiling. However, you need to supply the mount so the price seems excessive. Though, this criticism is coming from a guy who has all the parts for a ceiling mount and hasn't gotten around to installing it for months.

Instead our projector sits on shelving along the side wall of our living room. This basic setup took me five minutes from the moment I opened the box until I was casting YouTube videos from my phone. Setup is easy — you just plug the projector into the wall and connect it to your media playing device. The only manual that comes with the 535 is a quick start guide, which gets the job done but relies on Ikea-style images without words. Fortunately, I found a more in-depth user manual online.

I used a Chromecast, but there are several other ways to connect a media player to the projector: VGA cable (included), VGA to DVI-A cable, USB cable, HDMI cable, component video to VGA adapter cable, S-video cable, and video cable.

Instead of a TV, my family uses this $550 projector - and our house is the place for watch parties


What makes the projector stand out

Though getting everything connected and running took five minutes, fine-tuning the image to fit my screen was an additional 10. Fortunately, the intuitive controls of the 535 made this effortless so it was easy to make every small change.

My screen was initially pretty close to square, so I adjusted the aspect ratio to 4:3 to be more rectangular; there are also 16:9, 16:10, auto, and real options. If the image is hitting the screen at a weird angle, you can adjust the keystone using the trapezoidal buttons on the remote. "Keystoning" is when the image is skewed wider on the top or the bottom.

Once the keystone was fixed, the image was still a little cockeyed so I adjusted the zoom ring, which is right by the projection lens for a better fit on my screen. Next, while holding the projector at the angle I wanted it at, I unscrewed the legs, and then fixed the focus so the image quality was finally crystal clear.

At this point, everything was up to my standards, but for fun, I went into the menu to make the slightest adjustments. There are countless ways to get the image just right for your space. For instance, if you are projecting onto a wall, you can correct for the wall's color. The precalibrated colors are blackboard, blue, light green, pink, and light yellow. You can also tailor the brightness, contrast, tint, sharpness, color temperature, and more. The user manual gives several useful tips.

If a projector is going to be your main tool for consuming media, you need it to work well when there is ambient light and the 535 excelled in this department. Additionally, there are four picture modes that make the most of your surroundings. Bright and Presentation modes are designed for use in well-lit areas, while the sRGB and Cinema modes are meant to really help colors pop. You can also save up to two custom settings.

Cons to consider

The 535's speakers are terrible. The volume only gets up to about 32 decibels and the sound is empty and tinny. Relatively speaking though, I don't know of any projectors with good speakers. I think BenQ is banking on you using the projector as part of a fancy home theater setup with a custom surround sound speaker system. I hooked up a speaker with an aux cord, and it worked well so it wasn't a big deal for me, but it can be for people who don't have external speakers.

The bottom line

Overall, I'm very impressed with the BenQ MH535FHD Home Theater Projector. The image quality is good enough for my nearsighted eyes to clearly see captions and other details from more than 15 feet away. Despite the large windows surrounding my living room, I can still watch shows on bright sunny days. Plus, it's easy to adjust the screen area to match the unique characteristics of any room. If you're looking for an affordable projector to replace your TV, I strongly recommend the BenQ MH535FHD.

Pros: Affordable for projector standards, 3600-lumen lamp is bright enough for well-lit rooms, up to 300-inch image size, three-year warranty, adjusts to meet the unique layout of your room.

Cons: Speaker is quiet and has terrible sound quality, doesn't come with the user manual.