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The perfect backyard movie night starts with finding a projector that’s portable and bright enough for your environment. While the ideal brightness varies on your setup and the lighting, when projecting to large screens in dark conditions, higher lumens could be better. "The larger the picture, the more lumens you'll need to maintain brightness," says Carl Prouty, the resident technologist from Abt Electronics. "As the picture gets bigger, the light gets dimmer. Ideally you'd want to start with at least 2000 to be safe.”
When researching the best outdoor projectors, we evaluated products for brightness, portability, connectivity, and ease of use. Our favorite outdoor projector, the Anker Nebula Solar Portable, comes with an internal battery that keeps it going for about three hours, powerful built-in speakers, and is simple to set up, thanks to autofocus and keystone correction (automatic alignment).
Here are the best outdoor projectors.
Best Overall: Nebula Solar Portable
Small and lightweight
Clear, bright picture
Good battery life
Autofocus and keystone work well
No carrying case
Doesn’t work well in full sunlight
The Anker Nebula Solar Portable has everything you need in an outdoor projector. This projector earns our best overall spot because it's small and lightweight, bright, has a long battery life, and has built-in speakers that work so well you might feel tempted to use it as a Bluetooth speaker for other devices. It has a native 1080-pixel resolution, with support for HDR10 (high dynamic range) for colors that pop, and you can use it with screens up to 120 inches. It's also bright enough to use outdoors in dim light, but the picture will look washed out if you try to use it during the day.
The 10,000-milliamp-hour battery provides enough power to run the Anker Nebula Solar for more than three hours, or you can plug it in for a marathon. As a bonus, the Nebula Solar Portable comes with an Anker PowerPort III charger. This 65-watt charger is powerful enough to charge the big battery in the Nebula Solar Portable while the projector is in use or quick-charge your iPhone or power devices that take power over USB-C—like a MacBook.
The Nebula Solar Portable is easy to set up for movie night. It has a built-in stand, or you can mount it on a standard tripod mount. It also includes automatic keystone correction, so you don't need to be an expert to get the picture squared up, and it has an autofocus feature. This projector doesn't come with a carrying case, though, so you may want to budget for one if you plan on taking advantage of this model's portability.
Best Mini: XGIMI MoGo Pro
Speakers from Harman Kardon
Small and lightweight
Missing some key streaming apps
Too dim to use during daylight hours
Gets even dimmer on battery power
Mini projectors are great for use outdoors because they’re easy to grab and go. The XGIMI MoGo Pro embodies everything that makes for a great mini projector, with a small, lightweight frame, built-in battery, powerful onboard speakers, and Android TV built right in. The battery has enough power to keep the MoGo Pro running for at least two hours. You can stream over your Wi-Fi network or from your phone, so this mini projector is really all you need to start your own backyard movie night.
The XGIMI MoGo Pro is very straightforward to get up and running, even if you aren’t a projector expert. It includes an auto keystone correction feature, which means you don’t need to have the projector directly in line with the screen, and the projector will automatically adjust the picture. It also has two 3-watt Harman Kardon speakers built-in, which makes this mini projector the complete package.
Best Budget: TMY Projector 7500 Lumens with 100 Inch Projector Screen
Small and portable
Includes a 100-inch screen
Needs to be dark outside to see picture
No wireless connectivity
Built-in sound is weak
The TMY projector is a great jumping-off point if you want to get a backyard movie night going on a tight budget. This affordable projector is small and lightweight, so it's easy to carry outside for an at-home screening. It includes big adjustment wheels for focus and keystone that are easy to understand if you're new to projectors, and it also comes with a 100-inch projector screen as a bonus.
This model is a pretty basic projector without many extra features, and that's reflected in the price. There is no built-in streaming platform or wireless connectivity, but you can connect your phone, laptop, or media streaming device via an HDMI adapter. The TMY projector also includes a secure digital (SD) card slot and USB port for playing compatible media files. However, the picture quality is a little on the dim side, so it's best used outdoors after dark.
Best Portable: Viewsonic M1 Mini+ Portable Projector
Extremely lightweight and portable
Smart stand doubles as a lens cover
Good sound from JBL speakers
Automatic vertical keystone
Needs to be fully dark outside to see the picture
There are different degrees of portability in outdoor projectors, and the ViewSonic M1 Mini+ is just about as portable as they come. This tiny projector weighs under 10 ounces, and it’s just a hair over an inch thick. It’s small enough to put in your pocket, making it the perfect portable outdoor projector to use in the backyard or wherever your travels happen to take you.
The ViewSonic M1 Mini+ is incredibly compact, but it’s also self-contained. It runs on battery power, and a full charge is enough to keep it going for about an hour and a half. You can run it off any portable power bank with an 18-watt quick charge (QC) port if you're planning a movie marathon. It also has Wi-Fi connectivity and runs on the Aptoide platform, so you can stream directly from the projector, from your connected phone, or play media from the built-in storage. It is a little on the dim side, though, so it works best in complete darkness. But you won’t have to worry about getting the right angle (it will adjust for you), and the JBL speakers are impressive for such a small device.
Best Sound: Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 Projector
High-quality internal speakers by Yamaha
Autofocus and automatic keystone work well
Laser light source for long life
Bright picture with vivid colors
Not bright enough for daytime use
Contrast is a little weak
Most projectors that include built-in speakers suffer from weak, lifeless sound, but the EpiqVision Mini EF12 bucks that trend. It contains a custom-designed audio system from Yamaha that sounds just as good as many dedicated soundbars. The speakers get their quality from the internal design of the projector housing, which acts as a custom 3D acoustic enclosure to improve sound quality further.
In addition to the excellent audio, the EpiqVision EF12 also ticks all the other boxes to be a top-notch portable projector. While the contrast isn't the best you'll find, and it's too dim for daytime use, this projector puts out a decent 1000 lumens, projects a crisp 1080-pixel image, and weighs under 5 pounds. There’s no built-in battery, but the lightweight, compact form factor and top-of-the-line speakers make it great for use both indoors and outdoors.
Best Splurge: Viewsonic X10 4Ke 4K UHD Projector
Great for ambient light
Bright 2400-lumen lamp
Excellent Harman Kardon speakers
Sharp 4K picture
Controller doesn’t work well
Built-in apps aren’t great
If you’re looking to set up a deluxe outdoor viewing experience, the Viewsonic X10 4Ke is a splurge that’s very much worth the ticket price. This model is a full 4K projector, which is something you typically see in much more expensive devices. It’s also extremely bright at 2400 lumens, which puts it right on the edge of usability during daylight hours. The design is ideal for ceiling-mounting, but it’s actually quite portable, with a convenient carrying handle that flips down for ease of handling.
The ViewSonic X10 4Ke is a short-throw projector, which means you can place it fairly close to the screen or wall. You don’t need to have a ton of space to use it with a huge screen, and you’ll never need to have it out in the middle of your yard. While the controller and built-in apps aren't the most impressive on the market, the X10 4Ke includes built-in Harman Kardon speakers that are surprisingly rich for a projector of this size and price point. You can also pair a soundbar via Bluetooth if you need to, but the built-in speakers are good enough that you won’t necessarily need external speakers.
Best Durability: BenQ GS50 1080p Outdoor Projector
Splash- and drop-proof
Onboard Bluetooth speaker
Clear, detailed picture
Built-in Android TV
Not bright enough for daytime viewing
Limited 2.5-hour battery life
If you're interested in a portable outdoor projector with a more durable build, the BenQ GS50 offers some water and impact resistance. A splash-proof panel safeguards this projector from moisture and a waterproof TPU outer layer offers drop protection up to 2.3 feet. Though it lacks a fully waterproof and rugged design that can withstand a lot of wear and tear, the build is sturdy enough to hold up to light rain showers and accidental bumps and drops.
The GS50 is slightly larger than its predecessor, the BenQ GS2, but shares a similar compact, 5-pound cube-like design with even more features. In addition to onboard Bluetooth speakers and crisp contrast, you can enjoy streaming your favorites, thanks to the built-in Android TV support. You can also cast Netflix content from Google Chrome or by connecting and HDMI cable from another device. The GS50 is pricier than many competitors and lacks standout brightness, but it could be worth the extra investment if you want more connectivity and weatherproofing in your outdoor projector.
Best for Streaming: Epson EF100 Projector
Includes Android TV
Works with major streaming services
Easy to use your own streaming device
Stream via Bluetooth from your phone
Low resolution for the price
Short power cord
The Epson EF100 is a projector built from the ground up with streaming and portability in mind, which makes it a great option if you’re looking for something you can easily move from room to room in your house, then carry outside for movie night. One downside is the short power cable, but instead of having a bunch of inputs and a cumbersome built-in smart platform, it has a single HDMI input that connects to an included Android TV stick. This stick works with all major streaming services right out of the box. You can also stream to the Android TV stick from your phone using Chromecast.
The big innovation here is that the Epson EF100 uses a removable Android TV stick instead of having Android TV or any other smart platform built into its hardware. That means you can pull out the Android TV stick and replace it with a Fire TV Stick, Roku, or any other streaming device. In many cases, you can even slide the replacement device right into the rear compartment of the EF100 and put the rear panel back on for a seamless installation.
Our top pick is the Anker Nebula Solar Portable because it’s small and lightweight, bright enough to use outdoors, has a battery with enough power to keep it running for three hours, and has built-in speakers, so you don’t need to hook up external speakers. If you’re okay with lower battery life, the XGIMI MoGo Pro is a mini projector that’s even smaller, weighs less, and comes equipped with powerful Harman Kardon speakers.
What to Look For in an Outdoor Projector
Brightness is the single most important factor for an outdoor projector because it dictates whether or not you'll be able to use the projector outside. Since there's usually at least some level of light pollution outside, an outdoor projector must be exceptionally bright if you want the picture to look clear and colorful on a very big screen.
Many of the smallest, most portable, and most affordable outdoor projectors sacrifice brightness to offer those other important features. These projectors typically work fine outdoors, just on smaller screens. "If you are finding the picture isn't bright enough, try moving it closer to the wall," recommends Prouty. "It will decrease the picture size, but the smaller picture will be brighter."
Some manufacturers report brightness in ANSI Lumens, and others report light source lumens, which can make it difficult to compare them. To roughly calculate ANSI Lumens from lumens, you can divide lumens by 2.4. So a projector with a light source output of 2000 lumens would be rated at about 833 ANSI lumens, and a 400 ANSI Lumen projector would have a light source output of about 960 lumens.
Projectors can work with a range of screen sizes, and you can typically adjust the size of the projection by moving it toward or away from the screen or by adjusting a size setting. However, if you try to project an image that’s either bigger or smaller than the rated size, you’ll find it to be blurry and difficult to watch. The right size depends on the size of your yard and how far away you want to sit from the screen.
If you haven’t yet bought a projector, you can figure out the best size screen for your yard and then look for a projector that will work with that screen size. To get in the right ballpark for screen size, measure the distance from your seating area to the screen and divide that by 1.5. For example, if you’ll be sitting 10 feet (120 inches) from the screen, an 80-inch screen would work.
Some outdoor projectors are highly portable in that they're lightweight, small, and even run on battery power. Other outdoor projectors are portable because they're light enough to pick up and carry around, but they're not necessarily totable. Many of the best outdoor projectors with the highest picture quality fall into that category.
If you want an outdoor projector to use in your backyard, that's the kind you should look for, as the projector only needs to be lightweight enough to carry outside for movie showings. If you want to be able to take your outdoor projector with you and use it at a friend's house, a park, or camping, then a portable battery-powered model is the better choice.
There are a few kinds of connectivity to consider when looking at outdoor projectors. The most important is wireless connectivity, which comes in the form of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. If a projector has Wi-Fi and built-in streaming apps, you can connect it to your home network to stream movies in your backyard.
If it has Bluetooth, you can connect to your phone and stream from there. Some projectors also feature USB ports and SD card slots that let you load media and HDMI ports to connect a DVD or Blu-ray player or a streaming device like a Roku.
How do I set up an outdoor projector?
Setting up an outdoor projector starts with picking a site. Depending on the configuration of your house and yard size, you may or may not have the luxury of choosing where to set up your projector. Look for an area where the screen won't be in direct light and where you'll be able to set up a comfortable seating area. You can then set up your screen or locate a flat surface on the side of your house, garage, or elsewhere that can function as a screen.
"It's important to have the right surface to project onto," advises Carl Prouty of Abt Electronics. "A matte-colored, flat surface is ideal. Also, you'll want to turn off any additional outdoor lighting in your yard when the projector is operating to decrease any ambient light."
If your projector isn't battery-powered, you will need to plug an extension cord into your house and run it out into your yard. Make sure to select an extension cord that's rated for outdoor use. If your projector is battery-powered, you don't need to worry about that, but you need to charge the battery fully. You can turn the projector on and adjust it so that the picture fills your entire screen. Then your projector is ready for your DVD player, streaming device, or whatever media source you plan to use.
What’s the best brightness for an outdoor projector?
The best general range for outdoor projector brightness is between 1500 to 2500 lumens, which is equivalent to about 625 to 1041 ANSI Lumens. However, the brightness you need depends on the ambient light in your area and the size of your screen.
If there's a lot of ambient light from street lights, neighbors' houses, or decorative lighting in your own yard, then look for a projector that's at least 3000 lumens, or 1250 ANSI lumens. Projectors at the lower end of the scale are fine if there isn't a lot of ambient light present, you're projecting on a small screen, or you don't care if the picture is a little washed out.
Can I use an outdoor projector during daylight?
You can use an outdoor projector during the day, but it won't provide the best viewing experience. In fact, you have to wait about half an hour after sunset until ideal viewing conditions set in, and even then, ambient light can ruin the effect.
If you really want to use your outdoor projector during the day, and you're okay with the fact that the picture will look washed out, it's important to choose a projector that's really bright. "You'll need one that's at least 3000 lumens," says Prouty. You'll be able to see the picture at that brightness, although it may still look washed out. Prouty also advises that "you'll likely have better success with laser projectors as they generally have a brighter output than LED projectors."
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was written by Jeremy Laukkonen, a freelance writer and product tester for The Spruce. He’s been running backyard movie nights at his own home for years, and he has over a decade of experience reviewing electronics for outlets like Lifewire and Digital Trends, in addition to The Spruce.
To gain a deeper understanding of the features an outdoor projector really needs, Jeremy contacted Carl Prouty, the resident technologist from Abt Electronics. With Prouty’s expert insight, Jeremy looked at factors like brightness and portability along with ease of setup and use. Size plays a big factor since an outdoor projector needs to have at least some degree of portability, and priority was given in many categories to battery-powered projectors since they’re so much easier to set up.