Outdoor movie nights are a wonderful way to either enjoy an evening with family and friends or fill your cinematic cravings solo. But before choosing a flick, consider adding one of the best outdoor projectors to your setup in order to help elevate your movie night.
Though similar to the classroom/office projectors many people are familiar with, outdoor projectors are significantly brighter, have a clearer picture, and can be used on larger screens than models intended for slideshow presentations.
With outdoor projectors becoming increasingly popular, there are more and more to choose from, with varying prices and specifications. Read on to learn about the features to look for and to find out why the products listed below are curated picks for the best outdoor projectors on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Optoma HD146X High Performance Projector
- RUNNER UP: Epson Home Cinema 1060 3100 Lumens Projector
- UPGRADE PICK: Benq HT3550 4K Home Theater Projector with HDR10
- BEST FOR 3D VIEWING: Optoma HD141X 1080p 3D DLP Home Theater Projector
- BEST FOR AUDIO: XGIMI MOGO PRO Mini Portable Projector, 1080p Full HD
- BEST PORTABLE: Nebula by Anker Mars II Pro 500 Portable Projector
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Outdoor Projector
Over the last decade, projector technology has improved significantly, and it’s possible to get high-quality visuals and audio like in a movie theater. One of the most significant factors that will determine your ideal model is the environment where you’ll be watching movies, if you plan on setting up an outdoor home theater.
These conditions and your personal preferences help determine the ideal type of projection, technical features like resolution and brightness, which accessories are useful, and a few other points discussed below.
Purpose and Environment
The conditions for using a projector outdoors are unique to every space. Ignoring these factors, including the type of content, could result in choosing a projector with visual and audio issues such as poor visibility, low volume, or excessive brightness.
- Location: Consider where the projector will be used. If you’ll be watching from under a covered spot like a porch or canopy, weather resistance may not be necessary—while the absence of those features may cause damage to the projector in open outdoor settings.
- Time of day: Will you be watching during daylight hours, or at night? Factors including brightness potentially distracting surroundings, such as a noisy neighborhood road or the presence of decorative lighting.
- Intended use: Outdoor projectors can be used in various ways, from converting your backyard into a movie theater, to photo presentations, to watching sports games poolside. How you plan on using your projector and the context of outdoor use determines the most suitable type of projection, brightness, and other factors discussed below.
- Portability: The smaller (and lighter) the projector, the easier it is to transport, set up, and pack away for next time. That ease of use, though, usually comes with a loss of picture and audio quality. Bigger, bulkier projectors are able to include the technology necessarily to create optimal images.
With each projection type having advantages and disadvantages, it’s wise to understand how these influence the right outdoor projector for you. Outdoor projectors utilize three main projection types.
- Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) technology is standard for entry-level projectors, which often prove brighter, cheaper, and quieter than models with LED and DLP. LCD projectors offer lower contrast ratios which can give projected images a washed-out look. But, with the correct outdoor projector screen or DIY equivalent and a high-contrast LCD, they can be a solid choice for many outdoor theater setups.
- Light-Emitting Diode (LED) projectors aren’t as bright as LCD, but they have the advantage of being light, quiet, and energy-efficient. LED projectors feature the longest-lasting bulbs, the most portability, and can often outperform DLP projectors in terms of brightness and resolution.
- Digital Light Projection (DLP), also called “laser” projection, utilizes lasers instead of light bulbs, other than that the technology is the same. DLP projectors are used in the majority of movie theaters today. Larger than LCD and LED projectors, DLP projectors offer smooth video and very high contrast. DLP is common in indoor home theaters where serious movie buffs hope to replicate the authentic experience of an outdoor cinema.
Brightness in regard to projectors refers to the strength of the bulb inside the projector. Too dim a bulb could result in poor visibility, especially in a situation that isn’t pitch dark. Projectors are usually listed with a rating for brightness measured in units called lumens. Keep the following important general rules and points in mind:
- If you’ll be watching movies at night, in the dark, 2,000 to 2,500 lumens should be adequate to provide high-quality viewing.
- If decorative lights or sunlight are present, consider projectors above 3,000 lumens to ensure that surrounding light won’t “wash out” the picture. When this happens, movie scenes set at night or in the shadows become nearly impossible to see.
- Note that high-brightness projectors tend to be noisier. If you’re sensitive to other sounds, this may take away from your viewing experience.
- Projectors with high brightness are the most suitable option for surrounding ambient light.
- Some projectors are listed with brightness ratings determined by the American National Standards Institute. ANSI lumens are 240 percent brighter than standard lumens, so make sure you’re clear on which rating applies.
Much like TVs, resolution in projectors is measured in pixels(p). Simply put, the more pixels a projector has, the better the image quality will be. The most common resolutions for outdoor projects include:
- 1080p resolution: The standard resolution for mid-range outdoor projectors is 1080p, which should provide a clear, sharp picture comparable to that of high-definition television.
- 720p resolution: Some low-cost projectors have 720p resolution, resulting in an image that, while not terrible, is noticeably lower quality compared to 1080p.
- 4K resolution: There are also projectors that serve up 4K—meaning roughly 4,000 pixels—resolution, which gives you an impressive picture quality four times better than 1080p, but most projectors with 4K are quite pricey.
An overlooked but critical aspect of picture quality is contrast ratio, the difference between the maximum dimness and brightness of a projector. A contrast ratio that produces a crisp picture, regardless of resolution, is typically 5,000:1. If picture clarity matters to you, don’t settle for a contrast ratio lower than this. Otherwise, a contrast ratio greater than 2,000:1 should suffice.
The aspect ratio in regard to projectors refers to the shape of the projected image. It is calculated by the ratio of width to height. For example, 5 feet wide by 3 feet tall would produce a 5:3 aspect ratio. There are two common aspect ratios:
- 16:9 aspect ratio: the standard on any flat-screen television, laptop, movie theater screen, and outdoor projector
- 4:3 aspect ratio: the standard for old-school tube televisions found on some outdoor projectors today
To understand different aspect ratios, think of a smartphone. When viewed in vertical mode, photos and videos appear with black “negative” space above and below and do not fill up the entire screen. Rotate your phone sideways to horizontal mode, and the video will fill the whole screen. A mobile phone in horizontal mode is the same as a 16:9 aspect ratio.
A projector with a 16:9 aspect ratio will fill up the entire illuminated area with the image. A projector with a 4:3 aspect ratio will have a lot of wasted negative space, like a mobile phone in vertical mode.
While most outdoor projectors have built-in speakers, many people supplement the visuals with a separate audio device or sound system. The onboard speakers in many projectors, even high-end units, can have limited sound output, meaning additional outdoor speakers are often required to experience sufficient volume.
A growing number of outdoor projectors are designed as all-in-one machines that produce both great picture and quality sound. However, in most cases, great sound on a projector should be looked at as a bonus, not a requirement.
In the modern tech world, connectivity refers to an electronic device’s ability to connect to and communicate with other devices and systems. For projectors, connectivity features and accessories include:
- WiFi: While not every projector features it, a growing number of affordable projectors do include some kind of wifi connectivity. Some projectors even function much the same as a smart TV, with streaming apps for Netflix, Amazon, and other services that connect wirelessly to the projector.
- Ports: Many of today’s tech users access streaming devices and other digital content through personal electronics such as laptops, smartphones, tablets, Bluetooth speakers, and DVD/Blu-Ray players). For projectors, ports refer to the types of cables that can be plugged in and connected to these devices. USB port options are particularly prevalent, with others including HDMI (for TVs), VGA (computers), and audio out.
- Adaptors: Depending on the model you choose, you may need an adaptor to connect the projector to personal devices with an incompatible port. Luckily, these issues are fairly common and can be solved by getting an adaptor that acts as a conductor between the device and the projector. Before buying a projector, find out whether or not an adaptor is required to play movies using the device of your choice.
Our Top Picks
These projectors rank high for technical specifications, price, and performance for a wide array of outdoor viewing setups. Check out the best outdoor projectors for enjoying memorable backyard movie nights and more.
This Optoma model is a true workhorse at a tempting price. Its extremely bright 3600 ANSI lumens mean it can be seen clearly even before full sunset, and its “dynamic black” feature actively improves picture quality by increasing visibility in low-light scenes and boosting color vibrance in bright, daylight scenes. The contrast ratio of 25,000:1 means that the picture will be crisp and lifelike. Single-chip DLP projection prevents image blurring that can occur with multi-chip projectors.
To top it off, the unit boasts a bulb rated to last for 15,000 hours, enough life for one movie per day for 20 years. Its design also reduces fan noise, lowering the risk of a dramatic movie scene being ruined by a loud, buzzing projector fan. While there is no Bluetooth or wifi connectivity, with its technical features, it goes toe-to-toe with others that cost three or even four times as much. Available at Amazon and Best Buy.
If you’ve ever watched movies on a low-quality projector, or own one that’s not up to snuff, you may be ready to move up to the Home Cinema 1060. This model features a 15,000:1 contrast ratio and 3,100 lumens of brightness for a clear, bright picture, and uses LCD technology to ensure longevity and low energy consumption. You can project movies from farther away, onto big screens, and in lighter surroundings without losing picture quality.
True, the sound quality is pretty sub-par compared to similarly priced models, so external speakers are a must for a good experience. But this projector, with great picture quality and compact design, make it a solid choice for backyard movie buffs looking to upgrade. Available through Amazon and BestBuy.
One of just a few outdoor projectors currently available that displays in native 4K resolution, the HT3550 can take movie nights to new heights. This model was designed for customization and fine-tuning, thanks to a full range of different settings you can use to tweak brightness, contrast, and more to get the picture that feels just right for you.
Another excellent and unusual feature is High-Dynamic Range (HDR), which increases picture vibrance and makes each color more accurate to real life. This enhancement boosts the already staggering 30,000:1 contrast ratio to make images even more dynamic. This projector also packs a fairly high-quality speaker; it’s not a replacement for a sound system, but it’s pretty beefy for a device that focuses on picture, not sound. Available through Amazon and Walmart.
The HD141X was purpose-built to replicate the feeling of seeing a 3D movie in the theater. It’s supremely bright, putting out 3,000 ANSI lumens, making it one of the brightest projectors on this list and fully capable of working in settings other than total darkness.
Equally impressive, the HD141X has a contrast ratio of 23,000:1. When you consider that a top-quality TV has about a 7,000:1 contrast ratio, you realize that this outdoor projector will provide the blackest blacks, the whitest whites, and the most vibrant colors possible, all in 3D. For 3D viewing, it might make sense to go all out—and the HD141X may well satisfy. Available at Amazon and Best Buy.
This XGIMI model is like a smart speaker, smart TV, and compact projector rolled into one impressive package. Featuring Harman/Kardon speakers, the sound specs on the MOGO Pro beat out most wireless speakers. That’s a pretty serious accolade, considering that this is first and foremost a video projector.
There is no need for connecting extra speakers, adapters, cords, or extra devices to make movie night sound as good as it looks. Aside from a screen or surface, this portable projector truly is an all-in-one device. Stream from your favorite services using a mobile device or straight from the Android TV app on the projector.
With a brightness rating of only 300 ANSI lumens, the MOGO Pro isn’t quite as bright as some other projectors, but when used in properly dim settings, viewing should be issue-free. Available on Amazon.
Backyard cinema can be cool, but what about backcountry movie nights? If you want a quality projector you can tote on a camping or RV trip and set up quickly, the Anker Nebula Mars Pro II is ready to go. The projector has a loud sound system, so extra speakers are usually not required.
The Nebula Mars Pro II has Android TV built in, so if users have an internet connection, they can stream at will, with no need for a DVD/Blu-Ray player. Plus, this model has a 3-hour battery life—long enough for almost any film—as well as a standard wall plug.
The only drawback of this model is its slightly lower screen resolution, 720p, as compared to the 1080p resolution of most other projectors. But with so many attributes packed into a pint-sized device, it’s a mini outdoor projector with maximum appeal. Available through Amazon.
FAQs About Outdoor Projectors
Q: How do I choose an outdoor projector for a movie?
Start by setting up the entire movie viewing space before buying a projector. Measure how far the screen will be from where you intend to set up the projector. Observe what the viewing area looks and sounds like so you know how bright/dark and noisy/quiet the setting will be. Then, with a full idea of what the projector will need to do, you can select the right outdoor projector for your situation.
Q: How many lumens do I need for an outdoor projector?
There are two main factors to help you decide: lighting and screen distance. If you are projecting at a distance farther than 16 feet, in more well-lit areas, or before the sun goes down, go with more lumens. As a general rule, 3,000 lumens should suffice.
Q: What outdoor projector resolution is right for me?
If the screen is going to be bigger than 96 inches, 1080p will begin to be stretched to its limits, and 4K resolution will be better; 1080p is fine almost every other time. However, if you want perfect-as-possible images, jump straight to 4K.
Q: Are outdoor projectors waterproof?
Not really. While some outdoor projectors may be water-resistant, the lenses that produce the image should not get wet, nor should water get inside the device. Ideally, no outdoor projector should ever be left out in even so much as a drizzle.
Q: Do you need a dark room for a projector?
No, you don’t need a completely dark room for a projector. However, darker rooms will yield higher-quality images.
Q. Do I need a special screen for a 4K projector?
If you want to take full advantage of the advanced technology and sharp images possible with a 4K projector, purchasing a 4K screen is a good idea. These screens will feature a completely smooth texture, as opposed to a matte texture, which will allow 4K images to show up more clearly and with less distortion.