Looking for a simple home cinema or movies on the move? Try these pint-sized projectors on for size
In case you haven’t noticed, projectors have got a lot smaller. They used to be massive things, ran hot, were power-hungry and needed a chunky stand or coffee table to sit on – if not a dedicated home cinema room. But a few years ago the combination of small, high-quality DLP chips and energy-efficient LED lamps made it possible to build projectors the size of a hardback book or even smaller. You can now buy a projector the size of a Rubik’s cube or smartphone.
With battery-powered operation, built-in speakers and lamps that last for tens of thousands of hours, these portable projectors are perfect for take-anywhere entertainment. You can use them with a big screen in the living room or pair them with a portable screen when you take them away on holiday. Given decent weather, you can even use them outdoors in the summer. Better yet, because they’re small, light and relatively cheap, you won’t mind lugging them around. Sounds good? You might just have found a new way to enjoy your favourite TV, games and films.
Best hairdressing scissors: At a glance
|Best budget portable projector||Anker Nebula Capsule (~£340)||Check price at Amazon|
|Best value portable projector||Anker Nebula Capsule II (~£549)||Check price at Nebula|
|Best for convenience||BenQ GV30 (~£535)||Check price at Amazon|
|Best for image quality||Viewsonic M2 (~£599)||Check price at Amazon|
How to choose the best portable projector for you
Manage your expectations. You can’t expect the kind of experience you’d get from a good, dedicated home cinema projector. For one thing, most of these models use a low-resolution DLP chip to create the picture that’s beamed to the screen. In many cases, this is a standard-definition chip, giving you the same 848 x 480 resolution as a movie on DVD.
While a few reach 1080p Full HD, the more affordable, portable models top out at 720p HD. This means you won’t get the pin-sharp clarity you’re used to from today’s 4K and HD TVs. Be wary of cheap projectors promising a 1080p resolution too, as this often means they support a 1080p image but will downscale it to 480p.
You won’t get the same levels of contrast and brightness with a portable projector, either. A proper home cinema projector will dish out 2,000 ANSI lumens or more of brightness, so that you can have bright whites, deep blacks and rich colours in dark conditions. Even in a sunlit room, the picture should still be watchable.
LED portable projectors tend to achieve anything from 100 to 2,000 ANSI lumens, with the vast majority sitting somewhere between 300 and 800 ANSI lumens. In a dark room, you can still get a decent picture, but if you’re expecting true cinema quality or something that will work with the curtains wide open, you may end up feeling disappointed.
Needless to say, budget is a factor. As a rule of thumb, the more you spend, the brighter the image and the higher the resolution, giving you a better experience overall.
What else should you look out for?
Throw is a big deal with projectors. Because of the way they work, by beaming an image onto a flat surface, the size of the projected picture will be determined by the distance between the projector and screen. All projectors have what’s called a “throw ratio”, which determines how big the picture will be at any given distance, and some are what’s called short-throw projectors, meaning they’re designed to give a bigger picture even from a distance of one or two metres.
Most of these portable models have a relatively short throw, and the shorter the better if you’re stuck for space or planning to project from a coffee table. Remember that your maximum size will also be affected by the brightness. Try to fill a 120in screen with a 100 ANSI lumens projector and you won’t get much contrast, colour or anything else.
Keystone correction is another must-have. Projectors are best positioned with the lens facing directly at the centre of the screen, but in practice this isn’t usually practical, so the projector has to be placed above or below – or even to one side – and angled up, down, left or right. This distorts the picture so that the rectangular image looks like a trapezoid (or worse) – an effect known as keystoning.
Nearly all projectors have some form of correction to sort this out. The best portable projectors do it automatically, so you can spend less time setting up your screen and projector and more time enjoying what you want to watch. The same goes for auto-focus features, although most models have a manual slider or wheel.
What about sound?
If you’re using a portable projector, you probably don’t want to lug a full surround-sound setup with you, so most include built-in speakers. The quality varies enormously, with some dishing out a timid, tinny racket and others producing a half-decent impression of stereo sound. If you want to go one better, some include a headphone socket or – better still – Bluetooth connectivity. With that, you can hook up a pair of headphones or even a Bluetooth speaker. You may have some issues syncing sound and picture, but a good projector will have a setting to compensate for this.
Are any other features worth having?
Most portable projectors will have a built-in battery, which should last you long enough to watch a film, although often only with the brightness turned down. A few also run their own Android-based operating system, giving you built-in streaming apps for, say, Netflix and Amazon Prime. For those that don’t, the standard HDMI connection means you can plug in an Amazon Fire TV, Roku or NowTV stick, and you can usually play video files directly from a USB port (which can also be used to power your choice of streaming stick).
In our experience, the built-in Android apps are usually flaky or seem to struggle to find the best-quality streams. Using a streaming stick will give you a better experience without making your setup less portable – or, in some cases, you can stream to the projector from your smartphone.
How we test portable projectors
To test portable projectors, we set them up from scratch in a darkened room with an 80 to 100in screen. Where a projector has built-in streaming features, we install a range of Android apps, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and Disney+. Where projectors lack such features, we plug in a Roku 4K Streaming Stick. We then use the projector to watch a range of test material, including blockbuster movies, popular streaming series, and drama or documentary shows, to see how well the projector handles them.
We also test any built-in speakers at low, medium, and high volume levels, and run the projector on battery power, where available, to see how long the battery lasts. Finally, we use a colorimeter mounted on a tripod, 30cm from the screen, to check the brightness, the contrast levels, and the colour depth.
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The best portable projectors you can buy in 2023
1. Viewsonic M1 Mini Plus: Best ultraportable projector
Price when reviewed: £229 | Check price at Amazon
The ViewSonic M1 Mini Plus is absolutely tiny – a projector you can genuinely fit in your pocket. And yet, despite its compact dimensions and low weight, it still does a good job of beaming movies, games, and TV shows onto your walls at screen sizes up to 100in.
Resolution is limited to 854 x 480, and the brightness is a low-ish 150 lumens, so you’ll need a dark room to enjoy the projected image; nevertheless, the colour performance isn’t bad at all. Its speaker does a decent job of providing emergency audio that isn’t too thin and tinny, plus, if you want to boost audio output, you can hook up a Bluetooth speaker.
There’s an integrated battery that can provide up to 1hr 30mins of playback, so it can run without connecting to the mains, if you like. Aside from this, there’s also a stack of other features built in, with HDMI input, USB-A for local video file playback, and Wi-Fi connectivity. Apps can be installed too, via the Aptoide marketplace, with many of the major streaming platforms supported, including Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and BBC iPlayer.
All told, the M1 Mini Plus is a cracking little projector: it may be limited in resolution and brightness, but image quality is decent and it’s brimming with features.
Key specs – Brightness: 150 lumens; Native Resolution: 854 x 480; Speaker: 2W JBL cube speaker; Throw ratio: 1.2: 1; Max recommended image: 98in; Inputs and outputs: HDMI, USB-A, USB-C; Wireless: 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.2; Battery life: Up to 1.5 hours; Lamp life: 30,000 hours; Dimensions: 110 x 104 x 27; Weight: 280g
2. Anker Nebula Capsule: Best budget portable projector
Price when reviewed: £340 | Check price at Amazon
Home cinema doesn’t get more portable than the Anker Nebula Capsule. Sure, you can buy a smartphone-sized projector, but this one gives you a relatively bright 480p picture, despite its 100 ANSI lumens output, and you get good built-in audio to boot. Anker makes its own mini-Bluetooth speakers, and we suspect the same drivers and technology are used here. As a result, you get a fairly convincing 360˚ sound with a bit more space and a spot of boom and rumble, although distortion creeps in as you push up the volume.
You can connect a streaming stick through the HDMI port, but the Nebula Capsule has its own built-in media player running on Android 7.1. This isn’t as much of a plus point as you might expect – there’s no Google Play store and no official apps for Amazon Prime or Netflix, leaving you to navigate the browser-based apps using a virtual trackpad on Anker’s connected smartphone app.
What’s more, image quality isn’t as good on the built-in Netflix as it is on Netflix running from a Roku Streaming Stick. That said, the auto-keystoning and focus tools make it easy to get the best picture and you can install other apps from Anker’s own app store.
In terms of picture quality, the Anker falls a little behind the ViewSonic. While very crisp, it’s not as bright and the colours aren’t quite as rich. In isolation, though, it’s very watchable in dark conditions, and there’s no easier projector to lug around and pull out whenever you can find time and space to set up a screen. Is it the best projector? No, but it’s a fantastic gadget for games, TV and movies.
Key specs – Brightness: 100 ANSI lumens; Native resolution: 854 x 480; Speakers: 360˚ internal speaker; Throw ratio: 1.35:1; Max recommended image: 100in; Inputs and outputs: HDMI 1.4, micro-USB; Wireless: 802.11n, Bluetooth 4; Battery life: up to 4hrs; Lamp life: 30,000hrs; Dimensions: 68 x 68 x 120mm; Weight: 898g
3. Anker Nebula Capsule II: Best value portable projector
Price when reviewed: £549 | Check price at Nebula
The second-generation Nebula Capsule projector takes everything that made the first one so great and adds to it. It’s a similar shape to the original, albeit slightly larger, and just as easy to sling in a bag or pop in a cupboard when you’ve finished using it. It has a built-in rechargeable battery so you can use it on the go without having to faff around with a power cord, and it comes with integrated speakers and a range of connectivity options.
This time around, the resolution has been bumped up to 720p from 480p and the brightness has been doubled from 100 to 200 ANSI lumens. Colour reproduction remains a weakness, with slightly unrealistic tones in places, but the picture is bright, steady and sharp, while autofocus ensures you never have to fiddle with a focus dial.
Elsewhere, this device is stuffed with features. Naturally, you can plug in your video source via HDMI and use it like a normal projector, but there are multiple other ways to access video. You can connect a USB flash drive or hard disk and play files directly.
The projector’s built-in Android TV functions mean it has Chromecast for easy streaming of video content from your phone or tablet. You can use Google’s Movies and TV service to purchase and watch video or download Android TV apps. On top of all this, it’s also possible to connect to the projector via Bluetooth and play music via its built-in 8W speaker.
It might be a bit on the pricey side, but there’s no denying it: the Anker Nebula Capsule II is the king of portable projectors.
Key specs – Brightness: 200 ANSI lumens; Native resolution: 1,280 x 720; Speakers: 8W 270˚ internal speaker; Throw ratio: 1.3:1; Max recommended image: 100in; Inputs and outputs: HDMI 1.4, USB-C; Wireless: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; Battery life: Up to 2hrs 30mins; Dimensions: 80 x 80 x 150mm; Weight: 740g
4. XGIMI MoGo 2 Pro: Best plug-and-play portable projector
Price when reviewed: £529 | Check price at XGIMI
The XGIMI MoGo 2 Pro is a projector that’s incredibly easy to set up. Just stick it on a flat surface and point it at a screen or blank wall, and it will handle pretty much everything else on its own. Even if someone bumps the table, it will reconfigure itself almost instantly to get the picture back in shape. With its built-in speakers and streaming features, you can have a home or outdoor cinema up and running in minutes. The only thing missing is a battery, although it will happily run for a few hours from a USB power bank.
Better still, the picture and sound are excellent. There isn’t enough brightness for use during daylight hours, but at night you get a crisp 1080p picture with punchy colours and even a hint of HDR. The DLP chip inside covers 79% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut, which is actually better than some full-sized projectors. Meanwhile, the sound is the best we’ve heard from such a small projector, with plenty of weight at the low-end and crystal-clear highs. Perhaps opt for the Viewsonic M2, if you want a brighter image, but otherwise the MoGo 2 Pro is the mid-range portable projector to beat.
Key specs – Brightness: 400 ISO lumens; Native resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Speakers: 2 x 8W stereo speakers; Throw ratio: 1.2:1; Max recommended image: 200in; Inputs and outputs: USB-C, HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio; Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0; Lamp life: 25,000hrs; Dimensions: 119 x 108 x 161mm; Weight: 1.1kg
5. BenQ GV30: Best portable projector for sheer convenience
Price when reviewed: £499 | Check price at Amazon
The GV30 is a different take on the portable projector. It’s bigger than most, with an unconventional vertical design, built to incorporate both a bundled Android TV streaming stick and a 2.1 audio system. It’s incredibly easy to set up, auto-adapting for different heights and angles, with a superb auto-focus. And for once the Android TV 9.0 software works well, sticking closely to Google’s UI and coming with Amazon Prime, Disney+ and YouTube pre-installed, along with the Google Play Store. There’s no Netflix support, though, so you will still need to plug another source into the HDMI port if you want to watch that.
Picture performance isn’t top-notch – it doesn’t have the high brightness levels or deep blacks of the Anker Nebula Solar or ViewSonic M2 – but you get richer, crisper HD video than you might expect from a 300 lumens projector with a 720p resolution. 1080p and even 4K content can look fantastic in a dark room. Sound, meanwhile, is a distinct step up from the competition, with more weight, detail and dynamic range than most other portable projectors.
You can run the GV30 from the bundled mains adaptor, a USB-C PD power bank or the internal lithium-ion battery, although the latter only lasts for around 90 minutes with the brightness at a decent level. Go for the Solar or the M2 if you prioritise image quality, but as a quick-and-easy all-in-one home cinema, the GV30 works a treat.
Read our full BenQ GV30 review for more details
Key specs – Brightness: 300 ANSI lumens; Native resolution: 1,280 x 730; Speakers: 4W stereo speakers plus 8W bass speaker; Throw ratio: 1.2:1; Max recommended image: 120in; Inputs and outputs: USB-C (DisplayPort), 2x HDMI 1.4 (one internal, one external), 3.5mm audio; Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2; Lamp life: 20,000 to 30,000hrs; Dimensions: 120 x 196 x 185mm; Weight: 1.6kg
6. ViewSonic M2: Best portable projector for HD picture quality
Price when reviewed: £599 | Check price at Amazon
If you were hoping that the ViewSonic M2 was a sequel to the brilliant M1, you might be disappointed. It’s a bigger and more expensive projector roughly the size of a coffee-table hardback, and it’s more than twice the price of the smaller model. Like the M1, it has built-in Harman Kardon audio, but not the ingenious handle/stand. Instead, it has a nice and solid pull-out stand that folds out of the base to hold the projector at the right angle.
There are some aspects of the M2 that we’re not convinced by, particularly the built-in Android OS with its dated versions of the most popular streaming apps – you’ll get a better experience and better image quality by plugging in your own Roku or Amazon Fire TV stick.
However, the sound is full and powerful enough for some casual viewing without speakers or a soundbar connected, and the image quality is as good as portable projectors get. With a 1,200 ANSI lumens output and a 1080p DLP chip you get a vibrant, detailed full HD picture, and while we would normally take the talk of HDR and 125% Rec.709 colour reproduction with a pinch of salt, there’s no doubt that 4K content from Amazon Prime and Disney+ looks fantastic.
While there’s no onboard battery, you can power it from a USB-C power bank with USB PD. What’s more, this projector optimises itself, taking care of keystoning and focus for you, although you can tweak all the settings (and maybe turn the rather aggressive motion interpolation settings down). Want home cinema everywhere on your own terms and without the usual hassle? The M2 is in a different class.
Key specs – Brightness: 1,200 ANSI lumens; Native resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Speakers: 3W stereo speakers; Throw ratio: 1.23:1; Max recommended image: 100in; Inputs and outputs: USB-A, USB-C, HDMI 2.0, SD card, 3.5mm headphone/audio; Wireless: 802.11n, Bluetooth 4; Lamp life: 30,000hrs; Dimensions: 224 x 224 x 51mm; Weight: 1.32kg