Let’s face it, we all wish we had a home theatre room, and never more so in the past year when a trip to the cinema has become nothing but a distant memory.
But there’s an affordable option - creating an outdoor cinema in your very own garden with one of the best outdoor projectors. Capable of offering support for 4K, HDR and more, they really are the next best thing.
We’ve rounded up some of the finest projectors on offer right now, and each of them offer something that makes them recommendable. Does audio quality matter a lot to you? Or do you want the very best picture quality (or both?!)? Some also have 3D capabilities that will take your movie night to the next level and, if you’re keen on smart home products, then make sure to take into account connectivity. Scroll down to see what we thought.
Of course, if you’re not sure about incorporating an outdoor cinema into your set-up quite yet (or you don't want to wait until summer weather arrives), then take a look at our guide to the best 75 inch TVs for your living room, so you can still enjoy your next Netflix binge at home.
The best outdoor projectors 2021
A super cute mini projector for outdoor use, the Nebula Mars II Pro from Anker is the brand's most portable offering, even including a convenient carry handle in its design. Offering a brightness of 500 lumens and a 720p native resolution, it's not the fanciest projector on our list, but its ease of use puts it over the top.
Those with sensitive ears might want to connect a separate Bluetooth speaker for maximum sound quality, but the dual 10W speakers built into the Mars II Pro do an adequate job.
You can project images up to 150-inches, with HDMI and USB ports to connect everything from your laptop to your PlayStation. The projector runs on Android 7.1, so you also have all of the apps on offer there. If you want to use your phone to control your entertainment then you can download the Nebula Connect app.
Sporting a built-in Bluetooth speaker and an app selection that dwarfs much of the competition, the Nebula is a big projector in a tiny package.
Since most outdoor projectors aren't weatherproof and (especially in the UK) need to be transported back inside at a moment's notice, one of the most important features is portability. The Nebula Capsule is the lightest example on our list, and so passes this test with flying colours.
The battery life lasts about four hours, and there are a few different ways to access content. A HDMI connection is included, but the Capsule sets itself apart with built-in smarts running on Android allowing you to access apps including Netflix, YouTube and BBC iPlayer. There's also AirPlay to cast from your iPhone.
The image quality projected by the Nebula Capsule is best at night, with the projector struggling a little in daylight conditions. We recommend this projector for its convenient app library but, if you're looking for the very best image quality, you may want to keep scrolling.
If you're on a slightly tighter budget then you shouldn't look past the capabilities of the Epson EB-E01 projector, which boasts a slim design and excellent contrast ratio.
When it comes to watching films outside, the brighter the lumens the better. It means there’s a greater contrast against any background light, which should mean a higher quality image.
While it may not boast HD resolution, this projector has a pretty impressive contrast ratio, too, so there should be little compromise made to your favourite movie scenes.
If you’re looking for an affordable, portable projector for the occasional film in the garden, then this Epson ticks a lot of the boxes.
The QKK portable mini projector is one of the more affordable on our list, but it still holds its own against many more high-end alternatives. With built-in speakers and a really lightweight design, it's also ideal for those who want to use the projector outside the majority of the time.
Some reviewers questioned the brightness (it is best used in very dark conditions), but overall it comes recommended for those who need an affordable option with good connectivity and ease-of-use.
While most outdoor projectors come as a single unit by themselves, the QKK mini projector arrives fully equipped with its very own screen. This makes it a good choice if you want to get your garden theatre or drive-in up and running as soon as possible, as it comes ready to use, even if you don't currently have a white wall big enough.
A mini projector with a very reasonable price tag, the Apeman Portable LCD Video Projector doesn't have the best specs on this list but is a fantastic option if you're looking for value.
The Apeman supports 1080p Full HD video with 800x480 native resolution, and the digital keystone correction feature means you won't be constantly fiddling with the position of your projector in relation to the screen. Despite it's diminutive stature, this tiny projector can cast images up to 120-inches and dual stereo speakers are built-in for quality sound.
Our favourite thing about the Apeman mini projector might be its portability, with a handle fastened to the top to make carrying it outside and back again is a doddle.
One of the only outdoor projectors on our list that comes with its own projector screen, the YABER Wi-Fi Mini Projector is recommended for those who are short of time but want the full garden cinema package.
The Yaber mini projector can be used either wired or wireless, and you can mirror content from iOS and Android devices as well as via AirPlay. Maximum display resolution goes all the way up to 4K Ultra HD, with a native resolution of 1280x720, and in-built HiFi speakers mean you have the choice of whether to connect your own Bluetooth or outdoor speakers.
Some reviewers of the projector complained of the cooling fan being too noisy, which can be a common problem for projectors. Some ways to alleviate some of this annoyance are to place the projector far enough away so it is less of a bother, and place it in a shady spot away from direct sunshine.
- Read next: the best gas BBQs for incredible summer gatherings
Choosing the best outdoor projector
When it comes to choosing the best outdoor projector to suit your needs, there are a few factors worth careful consideration.
For a projector to provide a quality image outside, 2,000 lumens is the lowest you can go in terms of brightness. Outdoor projectors should also playback in at least HD resolution to ensure the picture is of reasonable quality.
Aside from those fairly important tech specs, consider whether you’ll need to purchase a screen or whether the side of the house or your garage door will do.
Film source and sound
Consider the source of your film – will you need to bring a laptop or games console outside? Many outdoor projectors have limited volume so some good outdoor speakers will also always help, especially if you are broadcasting to a crowd. Browse our list of the best outdoor speakers to connect with your projector.
Also note: most outdoor projectors are not compatible with Dolby Digital, so if you find that you're having trouble with sound, turn off Dolby Digital on your device.
How to create a outdoor home cinema
If you want to recreate an outdoor cinema from summers past then all you really need are a few things which are probably already in the house. Technically, a sheet, or a white wall and an outdoor projector is all that's required, but we think it's the extras that make it all the more special plus a little imagination...
Step one: set up the outdoor projector
It's best to do this first because it might determine where you can set up your outdoor cinema. You will have to have it connected to a video source so do that first so you can work out how far away from the source you can have it. Pop it on a side table and a stool and then you can move on to sorting out your screen.
Step two: rig up your sheet
Obviously, if you have a blank white wall in your garden you can skip this step because you will be projecting straight onto that. If you are using a sheet, we think the least damaging way to get it up is to peg it to a washing line – you could try using a very strong masking tape to tape it to a wall too.
Turn on your projector now and check it's straight and the picture is central.
Step three: get decorating
So with the essentials sorted now comes the fun bit, making it look like the most Instagrammable thing you have ever created in your life. Basically that means string up A TON of fairy lights, the more the better. We love the look of festoon lights and you could also add some lanterns to create even more of a lovely glow. And if you are feeling really extra, bring out you duvet and hang up a net canopy to create am almost outdoor bedroom. Dreamy!
Make sure you've got the best garden furniture with plenty of cushions and roll out one of our choices for the best outdoor rug to create an even more outdoor living room feel. Pop some blankets in baskets and over the back of your furniture, and if you want to get really cosy add a fire pit or a chimenea. You could even toast some marshmallows – kids and adults alike would love it!
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