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For a movie night under the stars, an outdoor projector is your best bet

To turn your yard into a home theater, though, you’ll need a projector — one that works just as well outside as it does in.

While the majority of projectors aren’t marketed exclusively for outdoor use, there are plenty of options that will suit backyards, rooftops, and porches. You’ll even be able to take super portable projectors on camping trips, which make for great weekend plans as we head into spring.

You’ll just need to keep a few key specs in mind, including brightness, portability, throw distance, and sound. Whatever the particular needs of your outdoor space, there’s probably a projector on this list for you.

Features to keep in mind

It’s pretty easy to control the light level indoors: If you want it to be darker, turn the lights off and close the blinds. Outdoors, the light level is largely out of your hands — all you can do is wait for the sun to set and hope there isn’t too much ambient light for your picture to handle.

Keep your yard’s brightness level in mind while choosing a projector. If you aren’t worried about ambient light — you live in a rural area with very little light pollution, for example, or your backyard is far away from your neighbors’ — brightness may not be your biggest concern. If you anticipate environmental light getting in the way, though, go for one of the brighter options on the list. (Here, brightness is denoted in lumens.)

Then, there’s throw distance, which refers to the distance between the projector’s lens and the screen. A projector with a long throw distance is able to project a high-quality image while sitting farther away from the screen; a projector with a shorter throw distance should be closer to the screen. If you have a big backyard, you may want a longer throw distance. For a rooftop, tiny porch, or apartment green space, a shorter throw distance will be ideal.

Also Check:Apple’s best Night mode photos of 2019

Choosing the right projector for your space’s size can be tricky, so we’ve tried our best to specify the locations in which our picks will work best. If you’d like to read further, there are several informative guides out there. Our favorite is on the Epson blog(Opens in a new tab) and includes a useful throw distance calculator.

You can’t store a projector outside, so we’ve made sure to feature relatively lightweight options that are easy to lug out to the backyard. Each of our picks weighs under 10 pounds; still, if you want to travel with your projector, you’ll probably want the lightest option possible.

What other supplies will I need?

The projector will do lots of the work for you, as well it should. But if you’re building an outdoor theater from scratch, there are a few other supplies you’ll need as well, including:

  • A screen on which to project. This could be anything from an actual screen(Opens in a new tab) intended for outdoor use to a white sheet to a wall to the side of your garage.
  • A separate sound system, potentially. A lot of projectors — especially lightweight ones — don’t have great built-in speakers. We suggest purchasing a separate set of external speakers, especially if the projector’s built-in speakers provide less than 5 watts of sound.
  • A power strip and extension cords, if your projector doesn’t run on battery. Extra batteries if it does.
  • Seating for guests, preferably unobtrusive options like pillows and low-to-the-ground folding chairs(Opens in a new tab). You may also want to keep a stash of blankets nearby in case it gets cold.
  • Snacks! No need to be sneaky about outside food when the movie theater is your own backyard.

Here are our picks for the best outdoor projectors. Better start polling the fam about that movie. Or maybe everyone can just play Super Smash Bros.

Epson Home Cinema 2100 1080p Projector(opens in a new tab)

Best Overall
Credit: Epson
  • Weight: 10 pounds
  • Brightness: 2500 lumens
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080p
  • Projection size: 29.9″ – 300″
  • Throw distance: 3′ – 29′
  • Speakers: 10W
Buying Options
$1,190 from Walmart(opens in a new tab)

For outdoor viewing at home, this projector will likely give you the most bang for your buck. (A note: It’s frequently marked down close to $300 below its original list price.) With 2500 lumens of brightness, it’ll fare well against mild ambient light, and its 10-watt speakers will do just fine for casual use. It can also project a screen size of up to 300 inches.

This projector isn’t Bluetooth-compatible. It does, however, have two HDMI ports, so you’ll be able to hook up two devices at once.

Bonus: You’ll be able to watch 3D movies with the Epson 2100, provided you already have the other equipment necessary (a 3D video source, for example). You know what that means: It’s time to put on those fashionable 3D glasses.

LG PF50 KA Wireless Portable Projector(opens in a new tab)

Best Wireless Option
Credit: Lg
  • Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Brightness: 600 lumens
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080p
  • Projection size: 25″ – 100″
  • Speakers: 1W
Buying Options
$649.99 from Amazon(opens in a new tab)

Take this one to the rooftop movie night: You’ll get 2.5 hours of use on a single battery charge. (That’s not quite enough to make it through The Irishman, but maybe you don’t mind.) Plus it’s wireless, which means that as long as you have a good surface to project on, it works pretty much anywhere. It also runs LG’s smart TV platform, which renders the projector a streaming device all on its own.

The LG PF50’s screen size maxes out at 100 inches, which is best for small to medium spaces. Its brightness isn’t the best on this list — you’ll certainly struggle to use it if there’s lots of ambient light — but what it lacks in lumens in makes up for in portability.

This projector does have built-in speakers, but they’re fairly weak. You’ll probably want to find an external sound system for this one.

Optoma HD146X 1080p DLP Projector(opens in a new tab)

Best For Gaming
Credit: Optoma
  • Weight: 6.20 pounds
  • Brightness: 3600 lumens
  • Resolution: 1920 × 1080p
  • Projection size: 28″ – 301″
  • Throw distance: 3.2′ – 35′
  • Speakers: 3W
Buying Options
$549 from Amazon(opens in a new tab)

Want to play video games in your backyard? Consider the Optoma HD146X, which is bright enough to use in outdoor spaces where there’s some ambient light. Yes, this means a sunset Animal Crossing session could be in your future. It’s hard to imagine anything more pleasant than that.

The projector is equipped with a setting called Enhanced Gaming Mode, which cuts back on lag for an input response time of 16 milliseconds. (That means your actions will be reflected onscreen after that time interval.) There’s also Game Display Mode, which makes shadows and dark scenes easier to see.

The Optoma HD146X is not just for games, though. It’s also a really solid option for streaming movies and TV — especially for medium-scale uses like backyard movie nights. You’ll be able to project onto screens up to 300 inches, though keep in mind you’ll need to do this from a distance of about 13-14 feet. So you’ll need some space, but it’ll pay off.

Anker Nebula II Capsule Projector(opens in a new tab)

Best For Camping
Credit: ANker Nebula
  • Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Brightness: 200 lumens
  • Resolution: 1280 x 720p
  • Projection size: 20″ – 100″
  • Throw distance: 2′ – 10′
  • Speakers: 8W
Buying Options
$579.99 from Anker(opens in a new tab)

This is quite a unique projector; not only does it have a set of built-in 8W speakers that are extremely good for its small size, but it also runs Android TV, Google’s smart TV platform. This means setup — i.e., actually getting to the stuff you want to watch — should be a breeze. Additionally, it doubles as a smart speaker and voice assistant, so you really don’t have to worry about it taking up space in your house. (It also weighs less than two pounds, so maybe you weren’t worried anyway.)

Where the Nebula II(Opens in a new tab) struggles the most is brightness. At 200 lumens, it’s best for use in dark environments where there’s little ambient light. Still, if you’re looking for something super portable that doesn’t require separate speakers and looks like a cute little soda can … here you go.

According to the company, the Nebula II can project a 100-foot image from about 10.5 feet away. That’s as big as it can get, though, so look elsewhere if you want an enormous display.