The Best Outdoor Movie Projectors (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
Here are some outdoor movie projector options for an awesome evening with friends or family.
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BY Miguel de Guzman / LAST UPDATED ON April 2, 2021
There's nothing like watching a great movie on a big screen in the comfort of your own backyard. Of course, you and a few of your buddies can haul the TV outside to get the same experience, but why not just get an outdoor movie projector?
It'll give you a better watching experience, to be sure, and it's not as difficult or as expensive to pull off than you might think. Advancements in projector technology have made backyard movie watching not only considerably less expensive than it used to be, but it's also made it closer to, if not better than, a real cinema experience.
Unfortunately, the innumerable number of outdoor home projectors available in the market has made picking the right one rather confusing. To help you decide, below is a roundup of what we think are the best outdoor projectors available today.
An affordable mini projector that packs all the essentials for an outdoor movie experience.
- Portable at only 4 pounds
- Comes with carrying case
- 3500:1 contrast ratio
- Heat dispersion and noise suppression technology
- No Bluetooth connectivity
- 720p resolution might not be enough for some
It’s a mini projector that delivers a lot of what you’ll need for an extremely budget-friendly price.
- Portable at 3 pounds
- 2200 lumen
- 2000:1 contrast ratio
- No Bluetooth connectivity
- 720p resolution might not be enough for some
A very capable outdoor projector that can stream full HD content onto a 300-inch screen.
- Full HD native resolution
- 7200 lumens
- 10000:1 contrast ratio
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Noticeable fan noise
- Built-in speakers not great
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Outdoor Movie Projectors
- More space. Unlike watching movies indoors, you're not limited by the area of your room when using a projector outdoors, which means you can entertain more guests and have more friends with you sharing in the fun.
- Outdoor experience. Being outside simply makes people happier. The natural setting, the clean air, and the view of the stars above are things that make watching outdoors a different experience, and a whole lot of fun.
- Eye health. If you have a good enough setup, projected images are easier on the eyes than emitted ones. TVs emit blue light, which causes eye strain. By contrast, a projector’s blue light is indirect since it’s being reflected off another surface.
- Portability. Projectors are portable. They allow people to watch anywhere with a decent surface to project onto. By contrast, TVs are much more difficult to move from one place to another.
Types of Outdoor Movie Projectors
LCD stands for liquid crystal display, and it's the same technology that can be found on most TVs. The advantage of an LCD panel is its ability to handle motion well, its increased brightness, and its ability to render deep blacks. Prices for LCD projectors can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.
LCoS stands for Liquid Crystal on Silicon. Unlike LCDs that pass light through a single panel, these projectors utilize three LCoS panels, allowing for much deeper blacks. Indeed, LCoS projectors are known to produce the darkest blacks among the different types of lamp projectors. This increase in contrast ratio makes viewing experiences more immersive. The downside to LCoS projectors, however, is that the images produced are less bright than others, which means they’ll struggle to look as good on larger screens. Another disadvantage is that fast motion can come out blurry.
DLP, or Digital Light Processing, is the technology used in most movie theaters because, compared to others, DLPs can produce the biggest images. DLPs don't run light through a panel like other types of projectors and are thus able to create sharper images. Some single-chip DLPs are among the best and sharpest home projectors one can find. One disadvantage of DLP technology is that it can sometimes produce what's called a "rainbow effect," where a small part of an image can be red, green, or blue depending on one's frame of reference.
Unlike other types of projectors that use lamps as their light source, laser projectors use LEDs. This difference translates to less electricity used and less heat produced, which means laser projectors are quieter to operate and can last much longer. Laser projectors also offer higher levels of contrast compared to others because LED technology can turn itself off on black areas of the screen and produce true blacks. Among the downsides of laser technology is that it produces a lower maximum brightness, and is the most expensive.
Vankyo is a Chinese brand that was founded in 2017. The company was originally focused on the manufacture and selling of tablets and projectors but has gone on to produce other consumer electronic items. The company is known for producing quality projectors at reasonable prices, and one of their best products is the Vankyo Leisure 3 Mini Projector.
Optoma is a Taiwanese brand that was founded in 2000. The company specializes in the manufacture of different types of projectors and image processing equipment. One of the most popular projectors in their line is the Optoma GT1080HDR Short Throw Gaming Projector.
Outdoor Movie Projector Pricing
- Under $150: You can find basic projectors at this price range. Features will be limited to the essentials, but some options will still be able to give a good outdoor movie experience.
- $150-$500: At this price range, you’ll get additional features such as a more robust zoom function, Bluetooth connectivity, and maybe WiFi mirroring. The native resolution and number of lumens will also be increased.
- $500 and up: Projectors at this price range will have a native resolution of full HD or higher, with some reaching 4K. Some will also utilize laser or short-throw technology.
The brightness of a projector is measured in lumens, and it’s one of the most important things to look for in a home projector. After all, the brighter an image is, the bigger the screen it can be projected onto. Projectors that produce darker images are also more susceptible to image distortions from ambient light. If you intend to use your projector outdoors at night, we suggest that you get something with at least 2,000 lumens.
In the simplest terms, contrast is the difference between the whitest whites and the darkest blacks that a projector can produce. This difference is expressed in a ratio (for instance, 500,000:1, or 500:1). The higher this ratio, the better and more immersive the image, and some projector technologies are better than others at achieving this.
Color Accuracy and Adjustment
Not only will you want projected images to be color accurate, but you'll also want your projector to have a good amount of adjustability. Projector models that have an ISF or THX certification, for instance, will have good color accuracy and adjustment features. Some projector technologies do better than others in this regard, but sometimes, ambient light and the color of your room can make a difference.
A projector's native resolution will tell you the number of individual pixels it can display on a screen. It can't display more pixels than what’s on its panel, so higher is better here. Some projectors have a maximum resolution higher than their native resolution, but this simply means they can scale higher format images down to their native resolution.
- Fan Noise. Just like any computer, home projectors have a lot of moving parts working together to produce the image you see. Among these parts is a fan (or set of fans) to cool everything and keep the projector from overheating. Look for projectors that use technology to keep fan noises down, as you wouldn’t want your experience ruined by a constant hum.
- Inputs. Before getting a projector, make sure it has the inputs you need. You don’t want to be stuck with something that you either can’t use or will need some other contraption to be able to use. Thankfully, most projectors will have inputs for virtually anything you’ll need to connect. More affordable projectors (or mini projectors), however, can be limited in their number of inputs, so watch out.
- Portability. Portability might be more important for some people than others, but most projectors are light enough to transfer from one room to another with ease. Some mini projectors can even fit in a small bag or be carried around by small children. If portability is one of your considerations, then you’re in luck as there are many options available in the market.
Best Outdoor Movie Projectors Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Get the projector’s “throw ratio,” which is the ratio of the projector’s image size and the distance to the back. This will tell you whether the projector fits both your screen and the room you intend to put it in.
- Get the right brightness. The more lumens, the better. You don’t want something that’s not as bright as you need, especially if you intend to watch in a place with a lot of ambient light.
- Consider one with Bluetooth connectivity. They are slightly more expensive, to be sure, but aren’t by much. They’ll allow you to connect Bluetooth-enabled speakers without having to worry about cable management.
Q: What is a good projector for outdoor movies?
It depends on your priorities and the area you intend to use the projector in particular, but in our opinion, you can’t go wrong with the Vankyo Leisure 3. It’s portable, easy to set up, and the picture quality is great for an outdoor movie experience.
Q: How many lumens do you need for an outdoor projector?
We suggest 2,000 lumens at a minimum. You should consider more if there are other light sources around that can wash out the image on your screen.
Q: Can you rent an outdoor movie projector?
Absolutely. You can rent a movie projector for an outdoor wedding or event, but buying one might be more economical in the long run, especially if you intend to use it often.
Q: What can I use for an outdoor projector screen?
You can use any white (or whitish) background, really, but certain surfaces and fabrics work better than others depending on your resolution, lighting, and viewing angle conditions. Vinyl, for instance, can deliver smooth-looking images while minimizing reflection from other light sources, while gray or silver-tinted screens are great for contrast. Ask an in-house expert to guide you through the options that will work for your needs.
The Outdoor Movie Projector that gets our top pick is the Vankyo Leisure 3 Mini Projector. It’s affordable, feature-rich, and will tick most of your boxes.
If you want something more affordable without sacrificing too much, then check out the QKK Mini Projector.