Outdoor movie projector - on a budget
March 5, 2021 12:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking forward to the possibility of spending time with friends/family outdoors this summer, and am looking to buy a movie projector, so we can watch movies outside. I am not looking for a high-end set-up.

Considerations: not fussy about resolution. We have power nearby. The sun takes forever to in Canada in the summer, so brightness is a factor. Seating will be about 6-12 feet from the screen, maybe a little more depending on how we do it. We have some speakers we can likely make do with, so it doesn't have to have sound. Budget - ideally less than $200, open to more if it comes with a screen (though I am thinking about making my own), or if this budget is way out to lunch for an acceptable model.
posted by walkinginsunshine to Shopping (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think you’ll have a hard time finding something that will be enjoyable to watch during our long northern civil twilight for $200.

3000-5000 lumens is what I’d target for your brightness.

One suggestion: plan to do a buy-and-return for your first event.

Screens: is wind an issue? If not you can get away with an improvised solution.
posted by sixswitch at 12:59 PM on March 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have no opinion on projectors but definitely recommend that you test your "we have some speakers we can likely make do with" impression before you invite anyone over.

Projecting sound clearly can be difficult out-of-doors, and gets harder when you have a lawnful of people making noise (esp kids) and can get even more difficult because movie sound, esp. blockbuster movie sound, has an insanely high dynamic range from BOOOOOM to whisper.

good luck! I so miss the late sunsets back home.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:06 PM on March 5, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments. This location fenced in, wind is not much of a concern. Audience size would be maybe 4-7 people, not a crowd (Covid, and also it's not a huge space to work with)
posted by walkinginsunshine at 1:11 PM on March 5, 2021

I'll just say never base your purchase decision on it coming with a screen. Screens are an easy problem to solve, it'd be like choosing a phone because it comes with a candy bar.

And sound, if you want to go pretty low-fi, is also easy - we have an old soundbar that connects to the aux jack with a super long 3.5mm cable if we need a lot of volume, plus we generally use a streaming stick (Roku in our case) on the projector that will bluetooth to our regular old rechargeable bluetooth speaker. Nobody wants to sit near the projector anyway, the onboard speaker is not terribly meaningful.

We prioritized brightness (and cost of replacement lamps) over anything else, including resolution. If I'm laying in my yard trying to keep mosquitoes out of my wine with an occasional breeze ruffling the screen, I'm there to have fun rather than to study the nuances of the picture.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:24 PM on March 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I purchased this projector last spring and it was one of the best quarantine purchases I made. However, it pretty much needs to be dark outside to be able to watch a movie. I'm not a night owl by any stretch and it was a challenge to have to wait until 9pm or so (I'm in Colorado) just to START a movie. I know people claim you can use a white sheet or something as a screen, but it's totally worth it to by a real one. I purchased this 92" one when it was available and I'm no screen connoisseur but when it was dark outside it looked movie-theater quality to me. I purchased a simple sound bar and was able to have adequate sound in my semi-urban backyard with multiple guests. I think the only other thing I had to purchase was an HDMI adapter for my phone--it was super easy and I was able to stream almost any movie I wanted. I used some screws and bungee cord to attach the screen to my fence, but later I did buy a cheap stand for indoor movie nights.
posted by shornco at 1:35 PM on March 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

You simply cannot compete with the sun. So right off the bat you need to plan for not starting anything until 8:30 or 9 pm. (For some perspective - I've done outdoor movie events for colleges with a 14,000 lumen projector and I might be able to see the focus/keystone grid high-contrast projection by 7:45 pm in August/September (in northern Ohio)).

So as long as you're willing to accept that scheduling requirement, a 3-5k projector should be fine. Looks like $200 will get you some no-name models, which tbh will probably be fine for occasional family backyard movies.

Seconding the idea to get a cheap soundbar for audio, speakers built into projectors are useless unless folks are clustered around a meeting room table.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:43 PM on March 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Take a look at surplus office equipment.

My go-to is Cascade Assets on eBay, they always have a good selection for the price and their stuff is tested. I scored a 3800 lumen unit last summer for $100. They have some nice ones up for sale right now.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:47 PM on March 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

We have two sets of friends who have purchased a Vankyo projector, not necessarily the one linked to, but Vankyo nevertheless. They held outdoor movie nights and were very happy. Also the linked item is their best unit ( for $259), and includes a screen and tripod for for a total of $339. Link is Amazon, and I am not a shill ! :)
posted by lobstah at 3:02 PM on March 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

A follow up to the Vankyo. It appears that the lumens are low...my friends all did their shows after dark.
posted by lobstah at 3:08 PM on March 5, 2021

One suggestion: plan to do a buy-and-return for your first event.

I made this plan once. That’s how I wound up owning a projector. Turns out many retailers are hip to this scam and specifically refuse returns on projectors.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:20 PM on March 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Tangential tip: if you have a garage that is amenable as far as viewing field, you can put your projector and screen in the dark garage and then set up on the driveway and see pretty well for a twilight movie.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:28 PM on March 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seconding the recommendation for surplus office equipment, though I don't know what your options are where you live. You're going to struggle to get enough brightness from new equipment in your price range, and being in Canada you're going to want to bring as many lumens as you can to the party.

When we were doing this in a small Chicago back yard twenty years ago, we made a quick-and-dirty screen from white muslin stretched on a frame of 2x4s hanging on the garage.
posted by wotsac at 6:13 PM on March 5, 2021

A lot of good points here. Focus on lumens, don't expect the projector speakers to . . . project very far. I plug a powered speaker into the projector's 3.5mm out and that works just fine. I figured it would be better to feed the speaker directly from the device doing the streaming, but in my case it seems to work fine this way and lets me control the whole setup from my phone with a chromecast.

I have two projection screens scored at thrift stores and have made my own out of a pvc frame and a white canvas tablecloth. So the former may be a cheap option if you're willing to put the time in thrift stores, and the latter if you're at all into DIY. I probably wouldn't buy a new projection screen given your budget and application - there are a million very satisfying DIY options painstakingly illustrated online.

In terms of the projector itself, WFH due to covid has resulted in a ton of office liquidations in my area; as people have mentioned, this is a likely source for a cheap one. BUT - see above about the chromecast - unless it has the right ports for what you already have, you'll be fiddling with cables. IME office projectors tend to have old school hookups, so you may be looking at VGA cables (the blue one with all the pins) or DVI.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:33 AM on March 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I bought this projector for $100 and I'm pretty happy with it. If you can put the screen in the shade at twilight, you should be fine. I did a lot of research, and instead of buying a screen you should just buy a couple yards of light grey drapery fabric, like I did, also from amazon, and was like $13. I can confidently say that the whole setup is way more value than $115, i regret nothing. I had a handful (6) people over last fall in my backyard for a socially distanced movie screening and it was good. You will need external audio, but otherwise its a very easy setup. The bottom of the projector has a screw insert to fit any normal tripod, so i ended up buying a telescoping one from home depot or something, and it just permanently lives on the tripod. That's probably the biggest drawback, the projector has to be set at the right height and distance, there's no zoom or anything. But it's very easy to get around.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:22 AM on March 6, 2021

I bought a Epson 730HD on Ebay last fall for about $150 shipped. It works great. Looking at older Epson projectors (or other recognized brands) on Ebay that are in decent shape will land you the best projector for the money. I bought a cheap foldable screen on Amazon for another $25 or so. The whole setup was less than $200 and works great for occasional movie nights. If I had a bigger budget I'd have sprung for a 1080p Epson, still an older model. You're probably in the $300-$400 range for a decent setup at that point.
posted by pilibeen at 6:49 PM on March 6, 2021

« Older Old TV-movie: boys home from military school   |   What happened to the pandemic playbook? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.