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Summer is in full swing, and what could possibly be more sublime than watching a movie in your backyard, back patio or rooftop? The answer, of course, is nothing. Thanks to warmer weather, now is the perfect time to grab some friends, some food, some beach chairs and an outdoor projector to set up a movie night.
We’ve covered projectors before — check out our guide to the best portable and 4K models — but the ones on this list are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. They’re all under 12 pounds (some are less than half that weight), so they’re easy to move from your home theater to your outdoor space.
Their bulbs are bright enough to create a clear image even when there’s some light pollution (a factor you can’t control outside), and they have built-in speakers, so you don’t have to lug a pair outside from inside your house; just plug in the projector, connect your device, and hit play. For a more granular breakdown of everything we considered when selecting projectors for this guide, check out our full criteria below.
What Are the Best Outdoor Projectors?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the best outdoor projector for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Native Resolution: A lot of projectors accept HD content, but very few of them can actually produce an HD image. Many of them use a technology called “downsampling,” which means it takes a high resolution image, and scrunches it down to a lower quality one. Think of it this way: You could play a Blu-ray on an old tube TV. We made sure that all of the projectors in our guide have a minimum native resolution of 720p, so your movies and TV shows will look as good as possible.
Throw Distance: This is a math equation that calculates how big a projector’s image will be based on how far away it is from the screen or wall it’s projecting onto. The further away the projector is from the wall, the larger the image will be. Some projectors are categorized as “short throw,” which means they’re calibrated to throw a larger image from a shorter distance.
Brightness: The video thrown by a projector is highly susceptible to light pollution, which will dim the image before it hits your screen or wall. The brighter the projector, the more it’s able to overcome light pollution. Light is measured in Lumins, and our picks all have a luminosity of at least 600, but most are between 2,000 and 3,000.
Ports: Ports let you connect computers, game consoles, phones, or tablets to the projector, so more is better. We chose projectors that have a wide array of ports, including HDMI, VGA, and USB. Some even support WiFi or Bluetooth, which lets you connect them to your phone or other accessories wirelessly.
Speakers: Not all projectors have built-in speakers — they’re about displaying video, after all — which means you may have to connect an external set. We mostly stuck to projectors that have an integrated speaker system, but for a full movie theater experience, you’ll probably want to invest in some good audio gear.
1. VANKYO Leisure 510
If you’re looking for a good way to throw a casual movie night, VANKYO’s 510H is the right choice.
The company measures this projector’s brightness in lux, not lumens, but its 3,500 lux bulb should be equivalent to around 600 lumens depending on its distance from the screen, and viewing angle.
It has a native resolution of 1280 x 768 (720p), which is the lowest in our guide, but it’ll still show a pretty crisp image if you keep the screen size on the lower side. The 510 has a maximum screen size of 230″, and can create a 100″ picture from 9.8 feet away, so this projector will work best if you have a lot of room.
This projector has a wide array of ports: Two HDMI, one RCA, one VGA, and USB. That’s great for people who want to have options when connecting their devices — think smartphones, computers, or streaming sticks — or keep a couple of things plugged in at the same time.
The 510’s speaker system is made up of two 3W speakers for stereo sound, which is pretty good. Overall, this projector has a nice balance of features, and is a good all-in-one solution for a lot of people.
2. LG PF50KA
If you want to turn any remote place into an impromptu movie theater, you’ll want LG’s PF50KA.
The projector has a native resolution of 1080P, a 600 lumen bulb, and can run for 2.5 hours on battery power. Yes, this is a projector you can take with you anywhere. It has a maximum screen size of 100″, and can throw a 40″ screen from 4.1′ away, which is pretty solid. The smaller maximum screen size is its Achilles heel, but some sacrifices needed to be made it portable.
LG did a great job outfitting its projector on the connectivity front. It has two HDMI ports, an audio in and out port, coaxial (cable TV) port, USB port, and Ethernet port.
On top of that, you can connect to the PF50KA wirelessly from a computer (Mac or PC) or phone (iOS or Android) to stream without cables. This projector also runs LG’s Smart TV software, which lets you stream content from popular video services.
Beyond its smaller screen size, the only slight disappointment is this projector’s dual 1W sound system, which is better than nothing, but hardly audiophile-worthy. That said, this is a full HD projector you can set up with no cables, so those trade-offs are well worth it.
Note: For more portable projector picks, check out our full guide.
3. BenQ TH585
With the TH585 BenQ has created a fully-featured home theatre projector that’s ideal for both indoor and outdoor viewing.
It has a native resolution of 1080p, and a peak brightness of 3,500 lumens — the highest in our guide. If you live in a place with a lot of ambient light (neighbor’s houses, street lamps, city life), the benefit of the extra light can make a big difference.
The projector can create a screen up to 300″ large, and a 100″ screen from 9.2ft away. In terms of connectivity, BenQ did a good job: the projector has two HDMI ports, three VGA ports, an audio in and audio out port, RCA in, and S-Video In port.
That’s a big assortment, and the RCA and S-Video ports should excite retro gamers, since they’ll be able to plug classic consoles into this projector without any adapters.
While some projectors sound better when connected to a larger sound system, this one boasts built-in 10W speakers for surprising big sound.
4. ViewSonic PX747-4K
The star of the show is this projector’s 4K native resolution, which will make video — especially ultra high resolution content — look excellent. It also supports HDR decoding and a custom technology called SuperColor, so videos have lifelike shadows and colors.
It has a maximum screen size of 300 inches, and can create a 100 inch screen from 9.2 feet away. So, like many of the projectors in this guide, you’ll need space for a big screen.
The PX747-4K has a fair amount of ports: two HDMI, one VGA, one USB, one audio in, and one audio out, but it’s not as robust on the connectivity front as some of our other picks. It makes up ground by having the best built-in audio system of the bunch, an 10W speaker that should be loud and clear enough that you won’t need to connect other speakers to it.
5. Optoma UHD30
If you’re looking for a luxury projector to fully recreate the experience of going to a movie theater in your backyard Optoma’s UHD30 can almost get you there.
Its native resolution is 4K, and it supports HDR-10, which means it can reproduce colors and shadows more accurately than any projector in our guide. It’s capable of projecting images up to 302 inches.
The UHD30 throws up a 120-inch screen, from 13-14 feet away. Images are crisp and detailed, even from far away. Turn on “Enhanced Gaming Mode” to help reduce lag.
Audio-wise this projector has a pair of 5W speakers, and has both a standard audio port and optical audio port. The latter lets you hook up a high resolution 5.1 surround sound system to the projector, for a fully cinematic experience. If you have the backyard for it, this will make a huge difference.
Those ports are joined by two HDMI ports, a VGA port, and a USB port, which makes the UHD30 a really good overall package. Its balance of audio and video technology, coupled with its solid assortment of ports make it a compelling option for the most hardcore movie and TV watchers. With this projector in your setup, your space into a modern drive-in.