We all wish we had a home cinema room to enjoy, and never more so than when a trip to the theater has become something we've been doing less of recently.
But there’s an affordable option - creating an outdoor theater in your very own backyard 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 very finest projectors on offer right now, and each of them offers 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 consider connectivity. Scroll down to see what we thought.
Of course, if you want to go even further and add superior audio to your next movie night or afternoon, check out our guide to the best outdoor speakers.
The best outdoor projectors in 2021
An affordable outdoor projector that's lightweight enough to be transported anywhere your heart desires, the DBPower L21 LCD Video Projector is the perfect companion for backyard parties and camping trips alike. It's designed with portability in mind, even coming with a carry case included.
The brightness and contrast ratio won't blow anyone away, but you'll enjoy a clear 720p image with 1080p support up to 200-inches. In addition, the projector is compatible with Amazon Fire TV Sticks, PCs and laptops, phones and tablets, USB drives, and more besides, ensuring you'll be able to watch exactly what you want without too much messing around.
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 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, you can download the Nebula Connect app.
If you want brightness, then the Vamvo Video Projector has you covered, putting out 7000 lumens and with a contrast ratio of 6000:1. This makes it ideal for many situations, including daytime movie watching in the yard with a native 4K image that'll look fantastic.
The projector can reach an impressive maximum screen size of 300-inches, and there's a built-in 5W Hi-Fi stereo speaker with Dolby Support so you can get away with not purchasing an additional external speaker.
It's also incredibly versatile, with ports for HDMI, AV, USB, VGA, SD cards, and audio out connections. HDMI and AV cables are included with your purchase, along with a handy carrying bag that allows you to pack up the projector and take it wherever it's needed.
The only downsides are the weight, which is a little heavier than other 'portable' projectors, and some reviewers complained of the loud fan.
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, portability is one of the most important features. The Nebula Capsule is the lightest example on our list, passing this test with flying colors.
The battery life lasts about four hours, and there are a few different ways to access content. An HDMI connection is included, but the Capsule sets itself apart with built-in smarts running on Android, allowing you to access apps including Netflix and YouTube. 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.
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). Still, 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 backyard theater 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.
The only reason the BenQ TK800M True 4K HDR Projector is in the position and not at the top of our list is because of the hefty price tag, BUT if you are willing to spend a little extra, then it’s really a good option to consider.
This projector will make the most out of sporting events or movie marathons in your backyard, all with a huge 100"+ projected 4K UHD 8.3 million pixel picture with vivid HDR color. In addition, the high dynamic range is on hand to offer greater brightness, contrast range, and image optimization to bring out every detail in 4K video content for superior cinema enjoyment.
When the projector must be placed off-center, such as on a table on uneven ground, the vertical keystone function will adjust the image to be ideally aligned for viewing.
For stunning, fast-paced imagery, this projector deploys Sport Picture Mode. It will render realistic colors with balanced greens and blues to unfold all the action across the big screen. Sport Sound Mode also accentuates the acoustics, making it feel like the crowd surrounds you in the arena.
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 backyard cinema package.
The Yaber mini projector can be used either wired or wireless, and you can mirror content from iOS and Android devices and 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.
How to choose the best outdoor projector
When 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 play back 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 cozy backyard theater
If you want to recreate an outdoor theater from summer's past, then all you really need are a few things that are probably already in the house. Technically, a sheet, or a white wall, and an outdoor projector are 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 to 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 backyard, you can skip this step because you will be projecting straight onto that. However, 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 solid 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 to put up A TON of string 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 your comforter and hang up a net canopy to create your own outdoor bedroom. Dreamy!
Make sure your garden furniture is extra comfy by adding plenty of cushions and roll out an outdoor rug to create an even more cozy feel. Pop some blankets in baskets and over the back of your furniture, and you can even add a fire pit or a chimenea. Get creative and toast some marshmallows – kids and adults alike would love it!
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