The 6 Best Outdoor Projectors of 2021

Enjoy movie night outside with the family

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The best outdoor projectors provide the same high quality image as their indoor counterparts, with exceptional contrast ratios and brightness to match some of the more trying conditions outside. The main things to consider when picking one is brightness, which determines how dark a setting has to be to see the image, throw distance (how far away the projector can be), and resolution.

Most of the choices on our list could easily double as indoor projectors as well, so if you don't want to spend a bunch of money buying a pair of projectors, one for each use case, our selections have you covered. Read on to see the best outdoor projectors to get.

The Rundown
Best Overall:
BenQ HT2050A at Amazon
With best-in-class contrast ratios, brightness, and color accuracy… you're pretty much guaranteed a quality viewing experience.
Best Plug-and-Play:
Anker Nebula Capsule II at Amazon
What you get with this device is truly portable entertainment, from the 8-watt built-in speaker all the way down to the 2.5-hour battery life.
Best for Portable Entertainment:
Anker Nebula Capsule at Amazon
The size of a soda can and weighing about a pound makes for a flexible, useful outdoor projector.
Designed to be used within a few feet of whatever it's projecting onto, so video looks noticeably better than you'd expect.
Best for Versatile Value:
Epson VS355 at Amazon
It's fine even in moderate sunlight or a well-lit room.
Best for 3D Movies:
Optoma HD27HDR at Amazon
It's the alphabet soup of specifications that really lift it above the pack.
What We Like
  • Great value

  • Low input lag

  • 2,200 lumens

  • Flexible connectivity

  • Multiple setup options

What We Don't Like
  • Not portable

  • Doesn't come with brackets for mounting

BenQ's HT2050A is one of those rare projectors that manages to have exceptional image quality without completely breaking the bank. With best-in-class contrast ratios, brightness, and color accuracy, plus native HD resolution, you're pretty much guaranteed a quality viewing experience no matter where you decide to set your projector up. Our reviewer was able to use it both indoors and outdoors, though she pointed out that it's not a petite device and takes up a fair amount of space on a coffee table or mounted to the wall.

There's a single 10W speaker that's louder than that found in much of the competition, and should be enough for most outdoor uses. If not, there's a standard audio out jack, to go along with the HDMI, USB inputs, VGA, and component inputs. An inexpensive dongle adds wireless support for streaming from a phone or tablet as well.

You can happily watch 3D movies with the HT2050A as well — it's not quite as good for this as our Optoma top pick, but you're very unlikely to be disappointed with the result regardless.

Unlike much of the competition, it includes true vertical lens shift (rather than the inferior software-driven version). The lamp will last up to 6,000 hours depending on which projection mode you use, although official replacements aren't cheap.

Resolution: 1920x1080 | Brightness: 2200 ANSI lumens | Contrast ratio: 15000:1 | Projection size: 120 inches

"At 8 feet away from the projection surface the BenQ delivers a beautiful 100-inch image, and really captures the feeling of big-screen theater entertainment." — Hayley Prokos, Product Tester

BenQ HT2050A

Lifewire / Hayley Prokos 

Best Plug-and-Play: Anker Nebula Capsule II

The Anker Nebula Capsule is our pick for best overall mini projector.
What We Like
  • Android 9 OS with 3,600 TV apps

  • High definition imaging

  • Autofocus technology

  • Voice-activated with Google Assistant

  • Universal connectivity

  • Travel-friendly

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Less battery power than Nebula Capsule I

  • Almost completely Wi-Fi dependent

As far as grab-and-go solutions are concerned, Anker has one of the best bets in the projector game for a few reasons. The first generation introduced the concept pretty well, but the Capsule II steps up the specs just enough to be considered in the modern landscape. For starters, the resolution is now 1280x720 — which Haley didn't find mind-blowingly sharp, but definitely better than the 480p resolution offered by the Capsule I. You might also find the brightness a tad lacking with 200 lumens, but that’s almost double what the first generation offers.

What you get with this device is truly portable entertainment, from the 8-watt built-in speaker all the way down to the 2.5-hour battery life — a figure that’s pretty impressive considering how many pixels this thing is pushing. But what’s truly impressive about this standalone media device is its built-in app functionality. There’s Android TV compatibility right on-board, and Anker has even loaded in a Chromecast so that you can stream media via more than 3600 apps from your phone, tablet, or computer. This comes in handy whether you’re taking the device camping or just bringing it to your front yard on a nice summer night. No need for wires or a separate playback device.

Resolution: 1280x720 | Brightness: 200 ANSI lumens | Contrast ratio: 600:1 | Projection size: 100 inches

"Setup is fast and easy, as the Nebula Capsule II comes loaded with a remote, a set of batteries, a quick start guide, an Anker power delivery charger, and a USB-C Cable. The remote is required to use the Google Assistant feature." — Hayley Prokos, Product Tester

Anker Nebula Capsule II

Lifewire / Hayley Prokos

Best for Portable Entertainment: Anker Nebula Capsule

Anker Nebula Capsule
What We Like
  • 4-hour battery life

  • Durable and easily storable

  • Android 7.1 OS downloadable apps like Netflix

  • Wireless screencasting

  • Bluetooth speaker mode

What We Don't Like
  • Noisy fan

  • Underwhelming speaker

  • Native 480p resolution

Most tiny projectors have a basic speaker or two built-in, but sound quality and volume are typically quite low. That's an issue when you're outdoors, as background noise can easily overwhelm whatever you're trying to listen to.

Our reviewer didn't find any such problem with Anker's Nebula Capsule, however, as a quick glance suggests—it looks like a proper portable speaker, and sounds like one, too. In Eric's testing, the 5W omnidirectional speaker pumped out plenty of sound in all directions, while the 100-lumen, 854 x 480 display can project in sizes up to 100 inches.

At up to four hours, battery life is enough to get you through even the longest movies. Running Android, with a wide range of apps available, it's easy to play much of your favorite content directly from the projector. If not, there's always USB, HDMI, and screencasting over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi instead.

The size of a soda can and weighing about a pound, the Nebula Capsule makes for a flexible, useful, and highly-portable outdoor projector for your next camping trip.

Resolution: 854x480 | Brightness: 100 ANSI lumens | Contrast ratio: N/A | Projection size: 100 inches

"That omnidirectional speaker takes up a large amount of real estate on the Nebula Capsule and is used as a major selling point, including functioning as a wireless Bluetooth speaker. Unfortunately, we came away underwhelmed." — Eric Watson, Product Tester

Anker Nebula Capsule

Lifewire / Jordan Provost

Best for Small Size: APEMAN M4 Mini Portable Projector

The apeman M4 is our pick for best Portable mini projector.
What We Like
  • Small form factor

  • Impressive stereo sound

  • Rechargeable battery that can charge your mobile device

  • Includes mini-tripod

What We Don't Like
  • 2.5-hour battery life

  • Glossy surface easily smudged

  • HDMI only

While most outdoor projectors are used in parks and yards, an increasing number of pint-sized models means you can now fit a theater in your pocket and watch movies anywhere you can find a wall, tent, or another flat surface to project onto.

The APEMAN Mini M4 is tiny, at just 3.9 x 3.9 x 0.9 inches and 1.2 pounds. According to our reviewer, it was the same surface area of a phone and a wallet, making it easy to carry around though the glossy surface picked up fingerprints and dust easily Input options are limited but sufficient—you can play from a USB stick or hard drive, or stream via HDMI. A standard ⅛-inch audio jack lets you plug in headphones or an external speaker.

While the specs sound relatively low (854 x 480 native resolution, 50 lumens, 1000:1 contrast ratio), the M4 is designed to be used within a few feet of whatever it's projecting onto, so video looks noticeably better than you'd expect.

Lasting 90 to 120 minutes on a full charge, the video projector can usefully also act as an external battery for charging your phone or another device. Both HDMI and USB charging cables are included in the box, as is a small tripod. 

Resolution: 854x480 | Brightness: 100 ANSI lumens | Contrast ratio: 2000:1 | Projection size: 100 inches

"Since the Apeman M4 completely lacks a user interface or wireless connections, the setup process is very user-friendly." — Eric Watson, Product Tester

Apeman Mini M4 Projector

Lifewire / Claire Cohen

Best for Versatile Value: Epson VS355 WXGA

What We Like
  • Bright

  • Good colors

  • Quiet

What We Don't Like
  • No 1080p

  • No audio output

If you're after a versatile projector with plenty of features at a reasonable price, look no further than Epson's VS355. Video looks great thanks to the higher-than-average 3300 lumens of brightness, 15000:1 contrast ratio, and WXGA (1280 x 800) native resolution, at sizes up to 320 inches.

During testing, Gannon found the projector to be equally at home in the boardroom or backyard. He didn't need a particularly dark environment to use the VS355 — it's fine even in moderate sunlight or a well-lit room. At 11.9 x 3.2 x 9.3 inches and 5.5 pounds, it's compact and lightweight enough to move around easily.

With several input options, including USB, HDMI, VGA, and others, plus an optional Wi-Fi adapter, you've got plenty of choices when it comes to playback. As with many projectors, though, the built-in speaker is relatively weak—expect to plug it into an external speaker to fill larger areas or noisy environments.

Running costs are lower than average, due to the projector's inexpensive replacement lamps that last up to 10,000 hours in Eco mode.

Resolution: 1280x800 | Brightness: 3,300 ANSI lumens | Contrast ratio: 15000:1 | Projection size: 100 inches

"From basic presentation slides to Monday Night Football and even some light console gaming, the projector held up well in a variety of environments." — Gannon Burgett, Product Tester

Epson VS355 WXGA Projector

Lifewire / Gannon Burgett

Best for 3D Movies: Optoma HD27HDR

Optoma HD27HDR
What We Like
  • Supports HDR10 and 4K HDR input

  • 1080p native resolution

  • 3D video supported

What We Don't Like
  • 3D requires glasses (not included)

If you're after a big-screen 3D movie experience in your yard, the Optoma HD27HDR is ideal. This 3400-lumen projector is very bright, but it's the alphabet soup of other specifications that really lift it above the pack.

HDR10 ensures rich, vibrant colors, with up to 4K HDR input and HD (1920 x 1080) native resolution with another flat surface 50,000:1 contrast ratio. 3D video is supported and looks great, as long as you're wearing the company's 3D glasses (not included) and are using an appropriate HDMI cable.

Weighing 6.2 pounds and measuring 12.4” x 4.3” x 9.7”, this isn't a projector you'll fit in your pocket, but it's not too large or heavy to move around either.

You're not limited to three-dimensional movies, of course, and the HD27HDR performs admirably with normal 2D video as well. The 10W speaker puts out enough sound for many outdoor situations, but there's a standard audio output if not.

Resolution: 1920x1080 | Brightness: 3,400 ANSI lumens | Contrast ratio: 50000:1 | Projection size: 120 inches

Final Verdict

As I mentioned in the intro, the BenQ HQ2050A (view on Adorama) is an exceptional projector that works as well (and produces the same jaw-dropping images) outdoors as inside. For a quick, portable solution you can easily take with you on trips, however, Anker's excellent Nebula Capsule II (view on Amazon) is a versatile option.

About Our Trusted Experts

Hayley Prokos has been writing for Lifewire since 2019, specializing in cameras, accessories, projectors, and other media devices. She put several of the outdoor projectors on this roundup to the best.

Eric Watson has more than five years of experience as a freelancer for numerous tech and gaming sites. He specializes in mobile tech, smartphones, general consumer technology, gaming, and more.

Gannon Burgett is a professional photojournalist who's been writing for Lifewire since 2018. He specializes in photo equipment, PCs, photo editing software, and general multimedia. He's previously been published in Gizmodo, Digital Trends, PetaPixel, Imaging Resource, and many others.

FAQs

How many lumens should an outdoor projector be for visibility?

Lumens are a measure of brightness, so generally speaking, the more lumens a projector has the better visibility in a bright setting. Screen size also plays a part in it. a 9x5 foot screen should have between 2500-3000 lumens for visibility. A bigger 16x9 screen should have 3,500-4,000 lumens of visibility. A particularly large 40x22.5 screen should have between 5,500-12,000 lumens. Of course, if the projector is in direct sunlight or not, and what it's being projected against will also have an impact.

Does an outdoor projector need a screen?

A screen can be a useful addition to an outdoor projector. While a whitewashed wall or other smooth, blemish-free surface can do in a pinch, it's still worth investing in a projector screen for improved quality and visibility. Take a look at our overview of the best projector screens to see what your options are for outdoor use.

How does an outdoor projector work?

An outdoor projector works the same as a regular projector. The image is c created by shining a light through a transparent lens. Laser projectors can project the image directly, through using lasers.

What to Look for in an Outdoor Projector

Brightness

While most projectors can play a decent image in a dark home theater, outdoor projectors are plagued by ambient light. This makes brightness, measured in lumens, particularly important. Solid options will produce somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 lumens, but high-end models (with 3,300 lumens or more) allow you to start watching movies before the sun even sets. Of course, even high-end models will struggle in full daylight, so at the very least you'll want to find some shade.

Throw Distance

Throw distance refers to the distance between the projector and the image on the screen. Projectors with a short throw must sit close to the screen, whereas those with a throw of eight feet or more can sit reasonably further away. Depending on the setup of your outdoor theater, the throw distance will make a difference. By contrast, short-throw projectors don't require much space at all. They can be right up against the screen, making them practical for use in living rooms or crowded outdoor settings.

Resolution

Will you be watching 4K or mostly HD? The type of video you’ll be viewing will impact the quality of resolution you need. For 4K (also known as Ultra HD), you’ll need 3840 x 2160 pixels, but for the average DVD, 800 x 480 native resolution should be just fine. A nice middle ground is 1080p, since most content supports that resolution and it's a nice, crisp step up from 480p.

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