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Best outdoor projector: Enjoy movies, TV shows and sports under the open skies

Set up your screen and grab the popcorn. It’s time to take your favourite films outside with the best outdoor projectors

From drive-ins to outdoor screenings, there’s a long history of enjoying movies outside, and with the best outdoor projectors, you and your family can experience that joy at home. Affordable screens and cheap portable projectors mean that anyone can set up their own garden cinema, share the big sports events outside or even take their big-screen entertainment with them on their travels. And when the weather doesn’t play ball? Don’t worry, because these same projectors are great indoors as well.

Of course, the requirements for outdoor projection differ from regular indoor screenings. You can’t rely on a fancy surround-sound system or soundbar for your audio, and you also have to deal with more in the way of ambient light. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to steer you towards the best projector for outdoor use, and give you some advice on the features you need to look out for.

The best outdoor projectors: at a glance

How to choose the best outdoor projector for you

Should I buy a portable or mains-powered projector?

The best projectors for outdoor use are generally portable projectors, and preferably those with a built-in power source. Sure, you can trail an extension cable out into your garden, but a battery-powered projector will be much more flexible as to where and when you can use it.

LED-based portable projectors, which use LEDs as the light source, are energy-efficient and easy to power from a lithium-ion battery. A full charge will usually see you through a Hollywood movie, and LEDs also last a whole lot longer than the bulbs used in most budget and mid-range home cinema projectors.

What resolution do I need?

The cheapest models generally feature a native 480p standard definition resolution, even if they claim that they support HD (720p) or Full HD (1080p) content. As you move up the price range, you’ll find HD and Full HD models creeping in, and we’re now seeing some 4K portable projectors. The higher the resolution, the crisper the image, and the more detail you’ll see on the screen.

READ NEXT: Display resolutions explained: HD, Full HD, 4K and more

How bright should my projector be?

Higher levels of brightness will generally mean a brighter picture with more contrast and more vibrant colours, even indoors. Outdoors, that becomes crucial. Even if you wait until nightfall to start your film, you might still have to contend with moonglow and nearby street lighting. What’s more, low brightness levels will affect how big your picture can go. The further the distance and the bigger the image, the lower the intensity of the light that hits the screen.

If you have to choose between brightness and resolution, brightness wins every time. It will normally be measured in ANSI lumens, and while you can get away with 100 lumens and still project at night, going up to 200 lumens or (preferably) 400 lumens and beyond will get you a better-looking picture.

Are there any other essential features?

The final must-haves are HDMI connectivity for hooking up your source and a decent set of adjustments for zooming and keystone correction. Without the latter, you can end up with a picture that looks less like a rectangle and more like a trapezoid, and automated correction can save you a whole lot of hassle.

Do I need special audio equipment?

Most portable projectors can output audio, and while it won’t be the full-on Dolby Digital experience, the onboard speakers can be loud and good enough for casual movie watching. If not, many have either an analogue or S/PDIF audio out or Bluetooth connectivity, which you can use to hook up a speaker or a set of headphones.

A Bluetooth speaker with a low-latency connection can be a decent stand-in for a soundbar, while headphones can be great if you’re watching alone. However, it can be a bit eerie sitting outside with headphones on at night – you might want to think twice about that Halloween movie marathon.

READ NEXT: The best portable and waterproof Bluetooth speakers

Should I budget for anything else?

We’d recommend budgeting for a portable screen, either with a tripod stand or a pull-up mechanism, to achieve a cleaner, brighter image. Alternatively, a smooth white wall or a sheet of plywood painted with white gloss or specialist projector paint can do the job, provided you get a nice finish.

It’s also worth having a tripod, stand or stable surface for the projector itself. Some portable models will sit happily on a tripod, which gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of placement. Otherwise, anything that will sit near the screen and hold the projector level is a definite plus.

What’s the best source for playing movies?

Think about getting a streaming stick (if you’re in Wi-Fi range) or a Chromecast so that you can stream Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Disney Plus to your projector, or even download content to your phone or tablet, then stream from there. It’s a bit neater and easier than using, say, a Blu-ray player for your source, not least because you’ll need to power it. Otherwise, a smartphone or tablet with your movies downloaded can make a decent source.

READ NEXT: The best streaming sticks from Amazon, Roku and Google


How we test outdoor projectors

We test every projector by setting it 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 the projector doesn’t offer any built-in streaming, 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 the full range.

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. We also use a colorimeter mounted on a tripod, 30cm from the screen, to check the brightness, the contrast levels, and the colour depth. We also test during daylight hours with curtains open to see how the image holds up with ambient light and, where weather allows, test portable models outdoors at twilight and at night to see how they perform in those settings.

The best outdoor projectors to buy

1. ViewSonic M1 Mini Plus: Best outdoor projector under £250

Price when reviewed: £229 | Check price at Amazon

The M1 Mini Plus is tiny, but despite its pocket-sized dimensions, its pictures can still pack a punch – in the right conditions. With 150 lumens to work with, you’ll have to wait until nightfall to start watching outdoors and, taking into account the limited 854 x 480 resolution, you won’t want to project as large as the theoretical maximum 100in. However, keep the screen size a little smaller, and you’ll find that the picture is perfectly watchable. It’s a shame that the built-in speaker is so tinny, but you can hook up a Bluetooth speaker for an audio boost.

With a battery life of just 90 minutes, you’ll either need to keep your movies short or the charger plugged in, as this isn’t a projector you can run from a mobile power bank. However, there are a few extras to compensate: Wi-Fi connectivity, a built-in Android media player and the Aptoide marketplace for steaming apps. All told, this is a great little projector for the money, with better image quality than most of the other budget brand options you’ll find at this price.

Key specs – Resolution: 848 x 480; Brightness: 150 lumens; Speaker: Yes; Connectivity: HDMI, USB-A, USB-C, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; Battery: 1.5 hours; Built-in apps: Yes; Tripod mount: No; Dimensions: 110 x 104 x 27mm; Weight: 280g

2. XGIMI MoGo 2 Pro: Best outdoor projector for a quick and easy setup

Price when reviewed: £529 | Check price at XGIMI

The XGIMI MoGo 2 Pro is incredibly easy to set up. Just stick the projector 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 stand or 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 an 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 outdoor option 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

Check price at XGIMI

3. LG CineBeam PH510PG: Best low-cost HD outdoor projector

Price when reviewed: £400 | Check price at LG

The LG CineBeam PH510PG feels like a step up into real home cinema, but it still comes in at under £350. Unlike the ViewSonic M1 and M1 Mini Plus, it has an HD resolution, albeit only an HD-ready 720p. Better still, brightness gets a boost to 550 lumens, which gives you a watchable image at twilight and a brighter, richer image after dark. The built-in battery lasts for up to 2.5 hours, too. With decent black levels, strong colour performance and a wider range of adjustments than most cheap projectors, this is the projector to go for if you want good image quality without breaking the bank.

It’s got convenience on its side as well, with wireless smartphone mirroring via LG’s Screen Share and Miracast plus Bluetooth audio – the latter much appreciated, as the built-in audio is weedy. Plus, with a USB Type-A port and an HDMI 1.4 port, you can easily hook up a streaming stick. You also get a good selection of adjustments, including automatic keystone correction, and even support for 3D.

Key specs – Resolution: 1,280 x 720; Brightness: 550 lumens; Speakers: 1W stereo speakers; Connectivity: D-SUB RGB, USB-A, Composite/Component AV in, HDMI 1.4, 3.5mm headphone/audio; Battery: 2.5 hours; Built-in apps: No; Tripod mount: Yes; Dimensions: 175 x 109.5 x 44mm; Weight: 650g

Check price at LG

4. ViewSonic M2: Best outdoor projector for brightness

Price when reviewed: £599 | Check price at Amazon

Thanks to its high 1,200 lumens ANSI brightness levels, the ViewSonic M2 makes a superb outdoor projector, especially if you prefer to get started before the sun has completely gone down. Roughly the size of a coffee-table hardback, it packs in a Harman Kardon audio system and a solid pull-out stand that folds out from the base to hold the projector at the right angle. There’s no onboard battery but, like the XGIMI MoGo 2 Pro, you can power it from a USB power bank with a 45W or higher output over USB-PD.

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 and detailed Full HD picture – and, while we’d 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. 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

5. Anker Nebula Solar: Best outdoor projector for features

Price when reviewed: £480 | Check price at Amazon

The Nebula Solar comes stacked with features while also delivering on picture quality, with a Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution and a brightness of 400 ANSI lumens. It even promises HDR10 support, though you need to be realistic about your expectations, given that there’s not really enough brightness on offer here to give a proper HDR experience. Still, it’s very convenient to use, with automatic focus and keystone correction, along with Google Assistant support via the bundled voice remote, which makes it incredibly easy to search for new apps and content.

The onboard Android TV features give you access to most of the major streaming platforms, including Disney Plus, Prime Video and Apple TV, though strangely no BBC iPlayer or Netflix. However, you can get around this by casting content directly to the projector via its built-in Chromecast receiver, including content you’ve downloaded to your phone or tablet if you’re out of Wi-Fi range. Picture quality isn’t up there with some pricier projectors, but this makes it into our line-up as a great all-around package.

Key specs – Resolution: 1920 x 1080; Brightness: 400 lumens; Speakers: 2x 3W stereo speakers; Connectivity: HDMI 2.0, USB Type-A, Bluetooth 4.2, 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Battery: 3 hours; Built-in apps: Y; Tripod mount: Y; Dimensions: 192 x 192.5 x 590mm; Weight: 1Kg

6. Anker Nebula Capsule II: Best outdoor mini-projector

Price when reviewed: £550 | Check price at Amazon

The second-generation Nebula Capsule projector improves on the already great original by bumping up the resolution from 480p to 720p and doubling the light output from 100 to 200 ANSI lumens. That’s just enough to get a bright, sharp picture, especially if you wait until nightfall, and while the colours aren’t always the most natural, they still make for an enjoyable watch. The auto-focus and auto-setup features also mean you never have to fiddle with tricky adjustments.

This is another projector with built-in Android TV functions, giving you Chromecast features for easy streaming. Meanwhile, the 2.5hr battery life should see you through the evening’s entertainment. The other big plus with this projector is the audio, with a beefy little 8W speaker that gives the sound more weight and body than most mini-projectors could hope to deliver. It might be pricey, but this is the king of ultra-portable projectors.

Key specs – Resolution: 1,280 x 720; Brightness: 200 lumens; Speakers: 8W 270° speaker; Connectivity: HDMI 1.4, USB-C, Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11n Wi-Fi; Battery: 2.5 hours; Built-in apps: Yes; Tripod mount: Yes; Dimensions: 80 x 80 x 150mm; Weight: 740g

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