8 Best Outdoor Projectors, According to Tech Pros
Home movie night used to mean curling up on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn. That still works, but more families are moving the activity outside, watching a film or favorite show projected onto a portable screen from the comfort of a picnic blanket and patio furniture, cozied beneath a patio heater.
While you can get an outdoor television, home projector is the key to making the experience possible — though not any old model will do, according to the tech experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute. In evaluating more than 10 of the latest home projectors, we focused on the features that do the most to enhance outdoor viewing, including brightness, ease of streaming, image crispness and clarity, and portability, knowing that most people will carry the equipment back inside once the show is over. As with our reviews of home projectors for indoor use, the following roundup is based upon comprehensive categorical testing, road testing of newer models and reviewing updates to past favorites. Here are the top projectors for outdoor use that the Good Housekeeping Institute recommends:
- Best Overall Outdoor Projector: Nebula Solar Outdoor Projector
- Best Value Outdoor Projector: GooDee HD Outdoor Movie Projector
- Best Outdoor Projector for Mirroring: ViewSonic M2 Portable Smart Wi-Fi Projector
- Best Outdoor Projector for Sports: ViewSonic 1080p Projector
- Best Outdoor Projector for Beginners: Anker Mars II Pro Portable Projector
- Best 4K Outdoor Projector: Optoma UHD65 Cinema Projector
- Best All-In-One Outdoor Projector: LG HU80KSW CineBeam Projector
- Best Outdoor Projector for Android TV: Epson EF-100 Mini Laser Streaming Projector
How to choose an outdoor projector for your home
Keep these factors in mind as you shop for an outdoor projector:
- Streaming capabilities: Think about where your content will come from. If your home’s WiFi signal is strong enough to reach outside, you can connect the projector to a laptop, Blu-ray player, or streaming stick. Adding a mesh network to your home's WiFi can help extend the signal outdoors. Alternatively, you may need to look for a model with built-in WiFi, sometimes referred to as all-in-one or one-box systems.
- Power source: Some outdoor projectors have built-in batteries, eliminating the need for power cords, but most need to be plugged in. The safest practice is to have an outdoor outlet installed by a professional; its ground fault circuit interrupter (or "GFCI") will protect against electrical hazards. If you must use an extension cord, make sure it's a surge protector rated for outdoor use, and watch out for tripping hazards, especially after nightfall.
- Screen: Sure, you can watch on an old sheet tacked to the side of the house or garage. But for the best viewing experience, invest in a proper projector screen, since brightness and picture quality will be vastly improved. You can find high-quality pop-up screens with their owns stands for between $100 and $200. It might be worth spending more on a 4K-rated screen, since the technology is becoming more common — even if your current projector doesn't feature it, your next one might.
- Screen size: Screen size is critical, since there’s likely to be a large crowd gathered around; much less than 100 inches will start to feel small and cramped. You also want to make sure it's the right shape, which is usually measured by aspect ratio (16:9 is the norm for outdoor projectors).
- Throw distance: This is the distance between the projector and screen. Standard throw projectors need to be about 10 feet from the screen, while short throw projectors can be placed a couple feet or closer to the screen, which can be helpful in tight outdoor spaces.
- Brightness: Brightness is important too, because even on a moonless night it’s not going to be pitch black out there. Brightness is measured in lumens: Between 2,000 and 2,500 lumens should provide adequate brightness in most outdoor settings. If there's a lot of competing light for street lamps or the neighbor's house, you might want to go as high as 3,000. One important note: Some manufacturers use ANSI lumens, which are proportionally brighter than standard lumens. For example, if you see a projector with 900 ANSI lumens, that's generally comparable to 2,200 standard lumens.
- Resolution: This is overall picture quality, measured in pixels (p). For a satisfactory outdoor viewing experience, you want a minimum of 720p. A resolution fo 1080p is even better. Or go big on 4K, the latest and greatest in resolution, delivering exceptional picture quality, but at an extremely high price.
- Sound/audio source: Onboard speakers are helpful, though you’ll probably want to spend on separate speakers, given all the ambient outdoor sounds. Bluetooth-enabled speakers are a good option, including smart speakers like Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod and Google Nest Audio that can double as digital assistants.
- Portability: Since you’ll be bringing the projector inside and out, look for one that’s lightweight and easy to transport. A built-in projector stand to adjust the angle of projection is a helpful feature.
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