In this buyer’s guide, we will be looking at projectors that offer a range of features that facilitate entertainment enjoyment out of the house, including chassis size, built-in sound, smart features, and built-in battery.
A moveable projector is a small, bright, and budget-friendly option that can be carried outdoors for awesome backyard movie nights or a fun and energetic fitness class. A great number of “movable” projectors are intended to function indoors but are bright enough to work well outdoors and have a small enough form factor to conveniently carry a short distance.
If you want to use your projector in the backyard with the neighbor’s porch light shining over the fence, you will need a projector with high brightness. You need enough brightness to overcome any ambient light and make colors look vibrant on a large screen. The standard for brightness is measured in ANSI lumens – the total amount of light visible to the human eye from a lamp or light source. The higher the lumens, the brighter the projector, and the easier it will be able to cut through ambient light.
In order to get an accurate representation of brightness, you have to measure apples to apples. As mentioned, the standard for brightness is ANSI lumens. This measurement is independent of light source or projection technology, it is universal for all projectors. Some manufacturers use other measurements for their brightness claims, like LUX, Light Source Lumens, or LED Lumens. However, there are no industry standards for any of these terms and it can be misleading and confusing for shoppers. It’s just not possible to compare the brightness of projectors unless they are measured to the same standard. We talk about this in great detail in our recent article, LUX vs LUMENS.
You may have heard that size matters…well, screen size DEFINITELY matters. The larger the screen, the brighter the projector needs to be to properly fill it with a sufficiently bright image to enjoy movies, sports, games, or other content you want to enjoy outside. The rule of squares applies. A 100″ diagonal screen with a 1000 lumen projector will be as bright as a 150″ inch diagonal screen, with a 2250 lumen projector simplified: 1×1 = 1 1.5*1.5 = 2.25. Similarly, a projector projecting onto an 80″ diagonal projector with 640 lumens is as bright as a 100″ diagonal screen being hit by 1000 lumens.
If you want really good bright vivid colors on a large screen, the brighter the better. But higher brightness sucks power so most moveable projectors don’t usually include a built-in battery option. You will need a power outlet to enjoy this type of projector in the backyard. There are many people willing to drag a power cord across the yard to have a super bright gigantic image at a kid’s birthday or neighborhood block party.
If you want to take the party out of the backyard and into the great outdoors, you are going to need maximum portability – not just the ability to lug the projector but the addition of built-in sound, smart features, durability, and a built-in battery.
Gone are the days when a great projector had to be the size and weight of a full-size Buick engine. You may be surprised at the picture quality and brightness of an ultra-compact or even pocket-sized projector. If you are already hauling a tent, sleeping bag, cookstove, and lantern, you may appreciate a projector with a handle or that would easily fit into a backpack.
Unless you like silent films or you’re doing a PowerPoint presentation in the backyard, sound is half of the experience. The bigger the space and the bigger your audience, the more volume you’re going to need. Many projectors lack built-in speakers. Other projectors have built-in speakers but the speakers may be too small and lack adequate power to fill an outdoor space with compelling and enjoyable audio. When you are shopping for outdoor projectors, consider both the quality of the built-in sound or if you need to purchase any additional components to playback the audio.
Projectors have different connection options to show the content you want to watch. The more “port” options, the better. Can you connect your phone to the projector via Bluetooth? Can you load files via USB? Can you connect an Apple TV or use an HDMI cable to connect a laptop?
If you plan to take a projector to little league practice, not to mention sandy beaches or by a bunch of kids splashing in the pool, you may want to consider a rugged projector that can handle the bumps and dings of travel. There are some units that are impervious to brief encounters with water and can be used in the most demanding of outdoor environments.
Some outdoor projectors function like smart TVs, including built-in apps to easily stream Netflix right to your big screen. The ability to view built-in content really makes it easy to enjoy your projector outside of the house.
In addition to the size of the projector and how easy it is to carry on a camping trip, or up a mountain, you have to consider the options for power. Running a power cord out to your backyard is probably not an issue but you’re going to need a fairly beefy battery to enjoy an outdoor projector in the middle of the woods on a family camping trip or while tailgating at a college ball game. Not being tethered to a power supply is a big deal. Projectors that include the convenience of a built-in battery are worth the investment.
Combining a built-in battery with smart features makes a projector ultra-portable.
What's Inside Our Buyer's Guide
This year we considered dozens of projectors and chose around 20 projectors we felt were best suited for outdoors (like backyard movie nights) and portable applications (tail-gating parties, camping trips, sports banquets). In this buyer’s guide you will find a detailed overview of each of these projectors with links to their in-depth reviews if you want more details.
Many of the projectors reviewed may have similar models available in the same lineup. Many times, the models in the lineup are very similar to the project we reviewed, but with varying resolution or with additional features, or possibly slightly brighter. The purpose of this buyer’s guide is to show you a sample of the hundreds of different models currently available.
In this buyer’s guide we focus on “usage.” It’s not a specs competition. Our awards go out to great projectors and some that are great for certain applications, environments, etc. This guide will be a living article, continuously upgraded and up to date with the latest of outdoor and portable projector models.
Selecting projectors to review: We are very selective in choosing the projectors we choose to review and those we feature in this report. We work hard to ensure that most of the projectors we review are considered to be among the best in their price ranges and capabilities.
We hope this buyer’s guide helps you in selecting the right products for your outdoor and portable projector needs. Outdoor projection and the ability to take projectors with you to fit your lifestyle is a great way to maximize entertainment experiences outside of the home. We’re excited companies like BenQ are continually innovating in this space. As we review more outdoor and portable projectors, this guide will be updated throughout the year. Check back regularly for the latest in outdoor and portable entertainment.