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Until recently, the idea that you could bring a projector anywhere you go was a work of science fiction, or at the very least technology for people with a lot of cash to burn.
Thankfully that’s no longer the case, and there’s never been a better time to pick one up. There are hundreds of options out there, and each ones comes with its own set of pros and cons. We found five great ones, which strike a balance between performance, extras, and price, so you don’t have to.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a Portable Projector
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right portable 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,
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 image thrown by a projector is highly susceptible to light pollution, which will dim its image before it hits your screen or wall. The brighter the projector, the more it’s able to overcome light pollution. Unfortunately, the brighter the projector, the lower the battery life. If you plan on using your projector at night, brightness won’t be as big of a factor, but it’s something to consider if you’re going to use it to replace your TV in a well-lit room.
Weight: The biggest upside to having a portable projector is its portability, so it’s important to factor in weight. All of the projectors on our list weigh less than five pounds, and will fit in a backpack, but this is definitely a factor to consider if you’re planning on carrying your projector around a lot.
Ports: Portable projectors are smaller than the ones used in home theater systems, which means they don’t have as much room for ports. Ports let you connect computers, game consoles, phones, or tablets to the projector, so the more ports the better.
Speakers: All of the portable projectors on this list have built-in speakers, so you don’t have to carry a pair around with you to watch a movie. That said, the speakers are generally smaller, and less powerful because of space restraints, and can add to power consumption.
Battery life: Portable projectors are a battery power balancing act: brightness, speaker size, weight, and resolution all play a part in how much time you’ll get to use them per charge. Most have different power settings, which gives you some control over how long they’ll last, but in general you should expect to get through one or two movies without much trouble.
1. LG PF50KA Portable Full HD LED Smart Home Theater
LG’s projector is the most powerful projector in a couple of significant ways: It has the highest resolution (1080p), brightest bulb (600 Lumens), and an array of ports (two HDMI, USB-A, USB-C, Coaxial, and Ethernet). In addition to its ports, the PF50KA supports LG’s SmartTV platform and ScreenShare, so you can access content wirelessly.
It has a maximum screen size of 100 inches, which is on-par with most portable projectors and can throw a 40-inch screen from a distance of 4.1 feet. LG has done a good job balancing tech specs and size; at 2.1 pounds, the PF50KA is a fairly light option.
That lightness does have a downside: this projector only has two 1w speakers, and gets 2.5 hours of battery life, which is the lowest on this list. All things considered, if you’re looking for a high resolution projector, or plan on using it in conditions with a lot of light, this is a great choice.
2. Anker Nebula Mars II Pro
Anker’s Nebula Mars II Pro stands out by balancing traditional projector specs with a bunch of useful “smart” features. It has a native resolution of 1280 x 720 (720p), 500 Lumens of brightness, dual 10w speakers, and gets three hours of battery life. It can throw the largest screen: 150 inches, Anker doesn’t say anything about its throw distance. The speakers actually stand out the most, because they’re five times more powerful than the other projectors on this list.
The Nebula Mars II has a limited selection of ports: only one USB and 1 HDMI port, but it makes up for this in a couple of ways. First, it runs a full operating system (Android 7.1), so you can download popular streaming apps like Hulu and Netflix directly onto the projector. It also works with an app called “Nebula Connect,” which lets you stream content to the projector from your phone (copyrighted material won’t stream).
This projector’s biggest problem is its size: at 3.94 pounds it’s significantly heavier than the other projectors we’re recommending. It does have a built-in carrying strap, but the Nebula Mars II will still be the most difficult to carry.
3. ViewSonic M1 Portable Projector
ViewSonic optimized its projector for maximum portability and longevity, but made a couple of significant concessions on the way. First, the good: the M1 gets six hours of battery life, weighs 1.65 pounds, and has a very healthy mix of ports (one HDMI, a MicroSD Card slot, a USB port, and a USB-C port). It even has 16GB of internal storage, so you can keep movies and TV shows on the projector instead of carrying around a flash drive.
These are all great features, but they come at the cost of resolution (854 x 480; 480p), and brightness (250 lumens). It can throw an image up to 100″ from 8.9 feet away, or 60 inches from 5.1 feet away, but the image will look worse than the native HD projectors above. It does have Harmon Karden stereo speakers, though, so it should sound better than average.
If you’re looking for a projector that’s mostly for office presentations, and occasionally for outdoor movie nights, this is your best bet.
4. Optoma LV130 Mini Projector
Optoma’s LV 130 Mini lives up to its name: It weighs under one pound (0.8 pounds to be exact), but that extreme portability means making some sacrifices.
This projector has a native resolution of 854 x 400, and can throw a maximum screen size of 80 inches from 6.43 feet away. Its ports are also limited to one HDMI, one USB, and a headphone jack. The headphone jack might be necessary because the LV 130 only has one two-watt speaker.
On the upside, this projector gets better-than-average battery life: 4.5 hours, and its portability shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s possible to carry this projector in any bag without using up much room, or adding too much weight. If you plan on taking a projector with you everywhere you go, or don’t mind trading a large screen size for image quality, this is the right choice.
5. VANKYO Leisure 3W Mini Projector
VANKYO’s Leisure Mini Projector is an excellent beginner’s choice for people who want to bring a big screen with them on the go. It’s not battery-powered like the other projectors on this list, but at only 2.1 pounds, it won’t weigh you down.
This projector has a native resolution of 800 x 480 (480p), and has a maximum screen size of 170 inches; that’s the biggest screen of any projector on this list, but it’ll need to be 18 feet away from a wall to create it. VANKYO says the sweet spot for this projector is 90 inches, which makes sense because of its lower resolution.
The most surprising thing about this projector is its ports. It has one of the following: HDMI, VGA, USB, AV, and Audio In. Two of those ports aren’t available on any of the other options on this list. Its four-watt stereo speaker system (two watts per speaker) is also impressive.
It’s not the highest-resolution projector, and you’ll need to plugged in at all times, but VANKYO’s Leisure Mini has a lot to offer.