In the warmer parts of the world, summertime means it's finally hot enough to enjoy a big-screen movie outdoors, but 2020 has made large public gatherings (including open-air cinema viewings) a little trickier than usual. Fortunately, projectors, and the movies you want to watch on them, are now affordable and accessible enough for anyone to set up their very own starlight cinema at home.
What are you looking for from an outdoor projector?
Whether you want to cast sports in your back yard or you've got the gang round for a rooftop short film screening, an outdoor projector is going to need a couple of features to be entertaining and easy to set up.
You can't really buy waterproof projectors, so you're going to need to make sure it's covered or buy a projector that's easy to set up for your movie nights. The easiest projectors to move and set up often call themselves 'portable projectors' and can range from sub-HD, 900g, battery powered, LED projectors to 4K, 5kg, mains powered lamp projectors. Since what we're looking for here is something that you just have to move to your courtyard you can probably get away with some of the heavier ones on this scale... but no matter how excited you are, you're not going to be wanting to lug your 10kg cinema-room projector out onto the lawn for one evening.
Then you'll probably also want to consider sound since you'll be competing with outdoor noise in a large space and most projectors don't actually have particularly good speakers included. Bluetooth is obviously going to be the ideal solution as it'll minimise cords you could trip on and will get dirty on the ground, but the best solution is going to be whatever works with any speakers you already own.
If you want to watch anything while the sun is still up then brightness is going to be a major consideration. The most powerful projectors in the world struggle in the middle of the day but even early evening can pose difficulties for anything under 2,500 Lumen. It's good to have as much brightness as possible up your sleeve if you're even considering wanting to use it in the afternoon.
There are a couple of other considerations like projector screen surface and content source that will come into play too. Once you've got your head around these considerations you're well prepared to know what kind of outdoor projector will suit you.
- BenQ TK850 Projector
- Kogan F800
- Epson EH-TW5700W
- BenQ TK800M True 4K HDR Projector
- BenQ GS2
- Epson EB-S41 Projector
- Nebula Capsule
BenQ is one of the biggest names in projectors because they offer great quality at a price well below similarly specced competitors. The TK850 gives true 4K UHD for incredibly sharp pictures and intense, detailed colour. Its 3000 Lumens mean this unit is incredibly bright and will be watchable when other projectors are still waiting for nightfall, while the backlit remote means you’ll be able to change settings in the dark.
For anyone who wants to replace the full stadium experience while the stands are empty, the TK850 is made for whatever sport you’ve been missing. It has custom sports modes, helped by its low lag so you can watch even the fastest matches seamlessly. This includes sound settings, which gives you every bit of the dubbed crowd or shout from the pitch through its chambered 10W speakers. Projector speakers can be a mixed bag but these are loud and clear enough to not require dragging a sound system outside.
It’s a simple unit to set up, and as well as vertical keystoning offers a lens shift wheel to move the image up or down – making it easier to get a great picture when you don’t have the perfect spot for it to rest. The only downside is that the input lag of 83ms is slower than the ideal for gaming, although it would take a keen eye to spot this. At the premium end of the spectrum, this is the best outdoor projector.
Kogan's 5000 Lumen Full HD Projector (F800) is a pretty amazing offering for the budget end of the projection market. Its full RRP is around $500, which is surprising when you factor in it is bright enough to watch stuff in a shaded area during the day and it's got a full 1080p resolution.
There are plenty of caveats and simplifications like a single screw that's used to awkwardly angle the projector up and only wired interface options for getting content on the device, but if you can get past this hurdle the device offers amazing value.
At 2.64kg it's easy to move outside when you need to... although you'll probably want to work out exactly where it's going first as it's not the most versatile when it comes to placement. Not only is there limited stand options for angling the device, but since it has a throw distance of between 1m and 5.5m, with the latter needed to get the full 150-inch screen size, it'll also be a little harder to find the perfect screen quality balance.
The colours also aren't quite as accurate as the top players in this space, but it's not noticeable enough to ruin the experience for most people.
If you're happy to hook it up to a computer or media streamer via HDMI, then this is a really neat little outdoor projector setup for a fraction of the price of what projectors usually cost.
Epson's EH-TW6700W is an excellent full HD projector that offers impressive brightness and a resolution that can handle 100-inch plus display sizes without looking grainy. It's also super easy to set up and weighs only 3.5kg, so you shouldn't have any trouble taking it outside when you want to.
The unit offers 10 bit HDR colour processing and fast 200+Hz refresh rates, so it's good for both moody movies and fast paced sport. The Dynamic resolution is half what it was on the ET-TW6700W unfortunately, but other than that there's not much we can really fault this one on.
The included 10W speaker is going to be bigger than most so you should be able to get away without additional speakers... unless you're willing to go all out on your outdoor cinema.
This unit is by no means the cheapest here, but you kind of want 1080p for larger outdoor projections and the 2,700 Lumens brightness means you'll be able to at least see the screen in the shade or before the sun goes down. This was also our pick of the 1080p projectors if money is no object.
Yes, the BenQ TK800M sits at the higher end of the price range, but with a 3000 Lumen peak brightness this no-holds-barred home cinema option is powerful enough to crank sports in a shady spot during the day or fire up the open air cinema before the sun has fully disappeared.
4K HDR projection is about as close as your gonna get to true cinema quality and the TK800M will throw this clearly up to 100 inches for a massive at home cinema experience. While the included 5W speaker is loud enough to be functional, you're probably gonna want to invest in a decent set of outdoor Wi-Fi speakers if you want the audio quality to be on par with the visuals, but a bigger outdoor Bluetooth sound system will work if this is all you have on hand.
This projector can carry feeds from more traditional inputs like a 15 pin D-Sub or a nine pin RS232, but it also offers HDMI inputs and Wi-Fi connectivity for those that have all new home cinema setup.
This unit isn't the most portable of the bunch since it needs permanent power, runs a hot lamp and weighs 4.2kg, but it's great for an undercover outdoor setup and you can an optional carry bag if you do want to take it anywhere.
With a dedicated sport mode and 120/135Hz max refresh rate this is also a great projector to catch all the details of your favourite matches, without missing out on the great outdoors.
Battery powered projectors offer amazing convenience and portability, making it seem easy to bring your favourite entertainment away with you on camping trips or set it up in the backyard on a whim – but bright projectors require a lot of energy, so there's always a quality trade-off when switching to battery power.
With HD 720p resolution and 500nit brightness the BenQ GS2 has done its best to offer the best picture quality on a battery operated system and compared to other ultra portable projectors it does a great job. At night the resolution is good enough to mean you can watch movies at 60 inches without feeling too hard done by, by the resolution.
It's also got an impressive set of Wi-Fi connection options that makes it easy to cast whatever content you want on the big screen without much hassle. We have found that many of the streaming service apps have playback blocks when screen sharing from a phone, which is a little disappointing considering that's the easiest way to get content on an outdoor projector, however casting from a Chrome browser seemed to offer consistent compatibility across everything we tested.
The 2W speaker worked adequately and the adjustable stand and keystone correction makes it great for adjusting to outdoor walls and imperfect surfaces.
This is a great outdoor projector for the occasional backyard user that values ease of setup over picture quality.
It doesn't take much to realise that the Epson EB-S41 is not really intended to be an outdoor projector. The 4:3, 800 x 600 max resolution is perfect for highlighting a web page or running thorough a Powerpoint, but it's not really the ideal format for your average movie or local club sporting match. That said, the Epson EB-S41 is bright, portable and less expensive than many other options here, so if you're looking for something that'll do the job without breaking the bank the EB-S41 is an option.
The EB-S41's 215W efficient lamp can produce a peak brightness of 3,300 Lumen, so you'll be able to at least watch sport in a shaded outdoor area during the day, something that's not possible on many projectors under $600.
It also weighs in at just 2.5kg and comes with its own carry case so you can easily move and set it up outside when the weather is good.
It might not have the best picture quality when you blow it up to 60-inches, but it's just about you only option if you want something you can see in the day for under a grand.
The Nebular Capsule from Anker is another ingenious piece of tech: a tiny, beer can-sized projector with a built-in Android-like app store and the option to use it as just a Bluetooth speaker if you want.
Whether streaming from Netflix, Amazon Prime or YouTube, the sleek Capsule presents a decent picture to rival similarly-priced micro projectors. You can also stream video from Apple’s smartphones and tablets through its AirPlay connection, as well as Miracast for Windows or Android devices.
Picture quality is good enough to understand what you're watching, and despite the maximum brightness level being just 100 Lumens, its handling of colour and skin tone is natural and balanced and there's a solid level of detail when it's dark outside.
At the bottom are two ports: an HDMI connection and microUSB input for charging the battery, which has a life of around four hours. The built-in speakers do a good job, but it's a shame there's no 3.5mm output port to plug in an external speaker.
Still, factoring in the size, stylish design, battery life and impressive smart tech on board, the Capsule is a good one.