Outdoor Projector Recommendations
July 10, 2018 10:33 AM   Subscribe

What's the best projector for outdoor use? It'll be used for laptops/tablets/video game systems, just for family use in the evenings.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow to Technology (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It depends what kind of setup you're imagining. If you don't want to have to find power for it when you and your family are outside, you'll want a battery powered projector. They're less powerful than plug-in models, but they've gotten progressively better in the last decade (I have a couple of the earlier ones; one from about 2007 and one from 2012). I'd probably go for the Anker Nebula Mars, which seems to have both 300 and 500 lumen versions these days.

If you've got outdoor power, then things get easier. I'd take a look at The Wirecutter's budget projector recommendations or potentially hunt on eBay for one for cheap. There are lots of older projectors that go for (relative) peanuts secondhand.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 11:09 AM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

How much money are you willing to spend?
posted by Dmenet at 11:22 AM on July 10, 2018

2nding the Nebula Mars if you need to be on battery and Wirecutter recommendations if not. The < $100 ones you can buy on Amazon/Ebay are really low fidelity, even for casual use. They're good for cartoons for undiscerning audiences and old school video game emulations and little else. The Anker Nebula Capsule is too low light for outdoor use if you have any ambient light. You'll be happiest with something that's at least 720p (actual output, not just what it will accept) and 1000 lumen.

If you want to save money on buying a screen, you can look up instructions on how to make them using shower curtains.
posted by Candleman at 11:28 AM on July 10, 2018

We have power, so no need for battery. No specific budget in mind.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:41 AM on July 10, 2018

I've been thinking about putting together a backyard movie setup for a while now, and I've been looking at full HD projectors that output about 3000 lumens based on recommended specs from a couple of specialty forums. Those folks seem to like Epsons and Optomas. I'm kind of eyeing something in the Optoma HD140-143x range, which are about $400-$600 (used or new). I haven't pulled the trigger yet, and I don't know if those recommendations are overkill for those of us who aren't home theater enthusiasts. I'll definitely be watching this thread!
posted by natabat at 11:50 AM on July 10, 2018

You also want to think about whether you want front or rear projection, as that will affect the minimum/maximum throw of the projectors you look at and what type of screen you want.
posted by Candleman at 11:57 AM on July 10, 2018

The BenQ HT2050A was recommended by The Wirecutter and is really, really great. The speaker is even loud enough to fill a room
posted by Dmenet at 11:58 AM on July 10, 2018

Your timing is good cuz Amazon will probably have several projector deals on Prime Day, though most of those deals will be for the low-budget projectors.

I bought one of those $99 ultra-cheap projectors for outdoor movies and for the price, I was quite impressed by the picture. Still, compared to a decent-quality projector, they're meh. Also, they tend to have pretty dim projector bulbs, meaning you've got to wait for full darkness before you can see the image on the screen. Plus, the larger the screen image, the fuzzier, so you can't project all much larger than a big flatscreen tv without it going downhill fast.

I got tired of waiting till 10:30-11 pm on summer nights to watch outdoor movies, so I moved up to an Epson Home Cinema 2040, which was one of the few really good Prime Day deals last year. Considerably brighter projector bulb/image, so I don't even have to wait till after sunset, much less full dark, and the picture quality is much better than the el cheapo I'd been using. I'd had a less expensive Optoma on my wish list, but the Prime Day deal made the Epson cheaper and it had better specs, so I grabbed it. As already noted, those brands plus BenQ tend to be the most popular and most highly-rated projectors for outdoor use.

I bought an extra-large outdoor screen, which has its drawbacks: it's so big, it's kinda a chore to set up. If I had to do it again, I'd buy a large pull-up screen, which can be used indoors and out and doesn't require assembly.
posted by Lunaloon at 12:45 PM on July 10, 2018

I am crazy for this very tiny Sony pocket laser projector.
It’s about half the size of a paperback book. You have to use an external speaker which is fine... you can plug into it from any HDMI source. Supposedly you can stream wirelessly from an android device but I have only ever played it off an iPhone or a laptop. The battery lasts a couple hours at least, but I often have a little external battery at the ready if I am doing a full on outdoor film festival.

It’s so bright, and HD enough that I have used it to project spreadsheets in a meeting context in a daytime. It’s tiny enough I take it on most trips, often just pointing it at any old light colored wall or maybe a bed sheet in a pinch.

Sony MP-CL1A
Maximum Brightness of 32 Lumens
HD 1920 x 720 Native Resolution
80,000:1 Contrast Ratio
posted by wowenthusiast at 7:28 PM on July 10, 2018

Your number one concern will be brightness, and your number two concern will be resolution. I'd optimize for brightness, since you'll likely have ambient light in an outdoor setting.

You can get bright projectors, or high-resolution projectors, at inexpensive prices. However, the combination of bright and high-res gets expensive fast.

What will be the screen size and viewing distance? If you'll be viewing from a long distance, you might have best results optimizing for brightness (e.g. 5K+ lumens) and accepting a lower native resolution (e.g. 1280 x 1024). This would give you good contrast, and you might not notice pixelation or lack of detail since you're far away. If you optimize for high-res but the image is too dark, you'll have a crisp image that's washed out and really hard to see. Probably a worse experience.

If you have a big budget, look for Large Venue Projectors with 5K+ lumens and at least 1920x1080 native resolution. Try projectorsuperstore.com for easy filtering and sorting.
posted by reeddavid at 10:05 PM on July 10, 2018

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