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. Over the last decade, the technology in the outdoor projectors available to the public has improved significantly, making it possible to get the same high quality found in a movie theater—sometimes even better.
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 considered among the best outdoor projectors on the market. Then get ready for some cinema under the stars.
- BEST OVERALL: Vava 4K UHD Laser TV Home Theatre Projector
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Optoma HD146X High Performance Projector
- BEST UPGRADE PICK: Epson Home Cinema 1060 3100 Lumens Projector
- BEST MINI: Nebula by Anker Mars II Pro 500 Portable Projector
- BEST BLUETOOTH: FANGOR Native 1080P Full HD Wifi/Bluetooth Projector
- BEST 4K RESOLUTION: 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
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Outdoor Projector
Many of the factors to keep in mind before buying for an outdoor projector depend on the environment where you’ll be watching movies. Failing to take your particular setting into account could be risky, since projectors tend to be big-ticket items, ranging in price from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Survey the space where the projector will be used, such as on a deck, patio, or in a spot surrounded by trees. Consider the time of day or night it will be used; will it be completely dark at showtime or will the sun still be setting? Also, factor in any unique challenges to light and sound, such as a noisy neighborhood road or the presence of decorative lighting. These factors are unique to every space, and ignoring them could result in a movie that’s hard to see, hear, or both. Once you get a handle on your situation, consider the following aspects to make the most informed choice.
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. While it may seem like a good idea to simply buy the brightest projector possible, oftentimes a 7,000-lumen projector would be overkill. Especially, considering many higher-brightness projectors are noisier, which is a disadvantage.
As a general rule, 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 competing light won’t “wash out” the picture. When this happens, movie scenes set at night or in the shadows become nearly impossible to see, because the glow of competing light will obscure it on the screen.
It’s important to note that some projectors are listed with brightness ratings in ANSI lumens, a measurement for brightness determined by the American National Standards Institute. ANSI lumens, calculated differently than standard lumens, are 240 percent brighter than standard lumens. For instance, a projector listed at 900 ANSI will put out the same brightness as a projector with a 2,200-lumen rating. When shopping fo an outdoor projector, make sure to note whether the brightness rating is measured in lumens or ANSI lumens to ensure there is no confusion.
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 standard for the majority of outdoor projectors is 1080p resolution, which should provide a high-resolution picture comparable to that of high-definition television. Some projectors may be 720p, resulting in an image that, while not terrible, is noticeably lower quality than 1080p. There are also projectors that serve up 4K—meaning roughly 4,000 pixels—resolution, which would give you a picture quality four times better than 1080p, but such models will almost always be more expensive.
An overlooked but critical aspect of picture quality is contrast ratio. Simply put, contrast ratio is the difference between the absolute brightest and absolute dimmest a TV or projector can be. A contrast ratio that will ensure a crisp picture, regardless of resolution, is 5,000:1, so if picture clarity matters to you, don’t settle for a contrast ratio less than this. If a cinema-quality picture isn’t a must-have, it’s still wise not to go below 2,000:1.
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 about the screen on your smartphone. When you watch videos in vertical mode, they 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 up the entire screen because the aspect ratio has changed. A mobile phone in horizontal mode is the same as a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Therefore, when shopping for a projector, it is important to note the aspect ratio it projects in. A projector with a 16:9 aspect ratio will fill up the entire projecting 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.
LCD vs. LED vs. DLP Projection
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.
- Light-Emitting Diode (LED) projectors aren’t as bright as LCD or DLP, but they have the advantage of being light, quiet, and energy-efficient.
- 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 technology offers smooth video and very high contrast. DLP is common in indoor home theaters where serious movie buffs hope to replicate the authentic cinema experience.
There are a few more factors that may help make your decision crystal clear. LCD projectors offer lower contrast ratios, which could give the projected image a washed-out look, but with the correct screen and a high-contrast LCD projector, they can be a solid choice for many outdoor theater setups. LED projectors feature the longest-lasting bulbs, the most portability, and can often outperform DLP projectors in terms of brightness and resolution.
Sound and Built-In Speakers
While most projectors have built-in speakers, the sound is often an afterthought for manufacturers. The onboard speakers of many models, even expensive ones, are a bit tinny, and have a pretty low sound output, meaning additional speakers are often required for a great experience. In most cases, great sound on a projector should be looked at as a bonus, not a requirement.
However, a growing number of outdoor projectors are designed to be an all-in-one machine that produces both great picture and quality sound. If you can’t or don’t wish to use separate speakers, finding a projector with great sound might be a top priority.
Wifi connectivity is becoming a more popular feature as manufacturers respond to changes in how people use technology; streaming services have replaced the use of DVDs in many homes. While not every projector features it, a growing number of affordable projectors do include some sort of wifi connectivity. Some projectors even function much the same as a smart TV, with an app store that allows streaming from Netflix, Amazon, and other services directly from the projector.
Such convenience can be hard to resist. After all, setting up the projector, screen, seating, and assembling snacks is enough work. Why spend more time setting up equipment when simply using the remote or streaming from a mobile device is an option?
Size and 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 sound quality. Bigger, bulkier projectors are able to include all the technology needed to create optimal images.
Unless the projector needs to be toted in a backpack, like for a camping trip, picture quality should take precedence over portability. It’s tempting to pick up a small projector—with its possibly smaller price tag—but the compromises are often too great for many cinephiles. Fortunately, portable projectors are continually improving, and some can compete with their larger counterparts, such as the one you’ll find in our picks, below.
Adaptors and Ports
Ports in regard to projectors refer to the types of cables that can be plugged into a projector to connect devices such as DVD/Blu-Ray players, speakers, or laptops, and mobile phones. Ports on projectors are HDMI (also used for TVs ), VGA (commonly used for laptops/computers), and audio out. Due to the increased use of cell phones for streaming, USB ports are rising in popularity, and are featured on most new models. Keen to stay relevant and competitive with each other, manufacturers try to match the features provided by others, so most projectors will have each of these ports, although smaller projectors often sacrifice one or more to save space.
Depending on the device that you use to play movies on your outdoor projector, you may need an adaptor. Adaptors are used when the device, such as a laptop or cell phone, uses a cable type that doesn’t match up to your projector. This is a common problem with Apple devices because iPhones, iPads, and Macbooks use cables that are specific to that brand. Luckily, these issues are fairly common and can be solved by getting an adaptor that acts as a middle man between the device and the projector.
Before buying a projector, find out whether or not an adaptor will be required to play movies using the device of your choice. Many manufacturers are aware of these challenges and include information in their product descriptions on what device types may or may not need an adaptor.
Our Top Picks
The projectors listed below excel in technical specifications and have design focuses that make them solid choices for a wide array of outdoor movie setups. Check them out to help select the best outdoor projector for you to enjoy many memorable backyard movie nights.
For a better-than-the-theater experience in your backyard, the Vava 4K projector might be just the ticket. It uses laser projection for a truly gorgeous picture, and boasts a brightness rating of 2500 ANSI lumens and a contrast ratio that’s 150 percent higher than you’ll see in a typical movie theater. The Vava also comes with a beefy built-in soundbar from high-profile speaker manufacturer Harmon/Kardon, plus a range of ports for external speakers and video playback devices, making it incredibly versatile.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the Vava 4K projector is its “ultra short throw,” which means it can project a really large image even when it’s close to the screen. In fact, the Vava 4K projector can fill up a 10-foot screen from a distance of only 7 inches.This feature removes the need for extensive planning and setup; simply set up the screen and put the projector right in front of it, and you are ready to roll.
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.
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 larger screens, and in lighter surroundings without loosing 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.
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. In addition to its compact size, the projector has a thundering sound system, so no additional speakers are required. On top of that, it 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.
Even a fan of old movies can want the latest tech capabilities—and this powerful projector was made for streaming and connectivity. Optimized for use with mobile phones and streaming sticks, as well as Bluetooth speakers, this is a solid choice for a wireless movie night. This model is very bright and puts out a vibrant, full HD image. With a 6500-lumen bulb and an 8,000:1 contrast ratio, it can even display a football game on a cloudy afternoon with comparable quality to a premium flat-screen TV.
A smart choice for those who want to watch films with little fuss, the projector’s setup is highly intuitive so users can start viewing in minutes. Its emphasis on wireless connectivity makes watching a movie no more complex than simply plugging the projector in, pointing it at the screen, and connecting your phone.
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.
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.
This XGIMI model is like a smart speaker, smart TV, and mini 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 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.
FAQs About Outdoor Projectors
With so many specs, features, and benefits to consider, you may still have questions when it comes to selecting the best outdoor projector for you. So consider the answers to commonly asked questions to help you make the most informed choice.
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. 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. 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.