Best outdoor projector 2021: Enjoy movies, TV shows and sports under the open sky

From drive-ins to outdoor screenings, there’s a long history of enjoying movies outside, and with the best outdoor projectors, you and your family can experience that joy at home. Affordable screens and cheap portable projectors mean that anyone can set up their own garden cinema, share the big sports events outside or even take their big-screen entertainment with them on their travels. And when the weather doesn’t play ball? Don’t worry, because these same projectors are great indoors as well.

Of course, the requirements for outdoor projection differ from regular indoor screenings. You can’t rely on a fancy surround sound system or soundbar for your audio and you also have to deal with more in the way of ambient light. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to steer you towards the best projector for outdoor use, and give you some advice on the features you need to look out for.

How to choose the best outdoor projector for you

Should I buy a portable or mains-powered projector?

The best projectors for outdoor use are generally portable projectors, and preferably those with a built-in power source. Sure, you can trail an extension cable out into your garden, but a battery-powered projector will be much more flexible as to where and when you can use it.

LED-based portable projectors, which use LEDs as the light source, are energy-efficient and easy to power from a Lithium-Ion battery. A full charge will usually see you through a Hollywood movie, and LEDs also last a whole lot longer than the bulbs used in most budget and mid-range home cinema projectors.

What resolution do I need?

The cheapest models generally feature a native 480p standard definition resolution, even if they claim that they support HD (720p) and Full HD (1080p) content. As you move up the price range, you’ll find HD and Full HD models creeping in, and we’re now seeing some 4K portable projectors. The higher the resolution, the crisper the image and the more detail you’ll see on the screen.

READ NEXT: Display resolutions explained: HD, Full HD, 4K and more

How bright should my projector be?

Higher levels of brightness will generally mean a brighter picture with more contrast and more vibrant colours, even indoors. Outdoors, that becomes crucial. Even if you wait until nightfall to start your film, you might still have to contend with moonglow and nearby street lighting. What’s more, low brightness levels will affect how big your picture can go. The further the distance and the bigger the image, the lower the intensity of the light that hits the screen.

If you have to choose between brightness and resolution, brightness wins every time. It will normally be measured in ANSI lumens, and while you can get away with 100 lumens and still project at night, going up to 200 lumens or (preferably) 400 lumens and beyond will get you a better-looking picture.

Are there any other essential features?

The final must-haves are HDMI connectivity for hooking up your source and a decent set of adjustments for zooming and keystone correction. Without the latter, you can end up with a picture that looks less like a rectangle and more like a trapezoid, and automated correction can save you a whole lot of hassle.

Do I need special audio equipment?

Most portable projectors can output audio, and while it won’t be the full-on Dolby Digital experience, the onboard speakers can be loud and good enough for casual movie watching. If not, many have either an analogue or SP/DIF audio out or Bluetooth connectivity, which you can use to hook up a speaker or a set of headphones.

A Bluetooth speaker with a low-latency connection can be a decent stand-in for a soundbar, while headphones can be great if you’re watching alone. However, it can be a bit eerie sitting outside with headphones on at night – you might want to think twice about that Halloween movie marathon.

READ NEXT: The best portable and waterproof Bluetooth speakers

Should I budget for anything else?

We’d recommend budgeting for a portable screen, either with a tripod stand or a pull-up mechanism, to achieve a cleaner, brighter image. Alternatively, a smooth white wall or a sheet of plywood painted with white gloss or specialist projector paint can do the job, provided you get a nice finish.

It’s also worth having a tripod, stand or stable surface for the projector itself. Some portable models will sit happily on a tripod, which gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of placement. Otherwise, anything that will sit near the screen and hold the projector level is a definite plus.

What’s the best source for playing movies?

Think about getting a streaming stick (if you’re in Wi-Fi range) or a Chromecast so that you can stream Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Disney Plus etc. to your projector, or even download content to your phone or tablet, then stream from there. It’s a bit neater and easier than using, say, a Blu-ray player for your source, not least because you’ll need to power it. Otherwise, a smartphone or tablet with your movies downloaded can make a decent source.

READ NEXT: The best streaming sticks from Amazon, Roku and Google

The best outdoor projector to buy in 2021

1. Viewsonic M1 Mini Plus: Best outdoor projector under £200

Price: £192 | Buy now from Amazon

The M1 Mini Plus is tiny, but despite its pocket-sized dimensions, its pictures can still pack a punch – in the right conditions. With 150 lumens to work with, you’ll have to wait until nightfall to start watching outdoors and, taking into account the limited 854 x 480 resolution, you won’t want to project as large as the theoretical maximum 100in. However, keep the screen size a little smaller, and you’ll find that the picture is perfectly watchable. It’s a shame that the built-in speaker is so tinny, but you can hook up a Bluetooth speaker for an audio boost.

With a battery life of just 90 minutes, you’ll either need to keep your movies short or the charger plugged in, as this isn’t a projector you can run from a mobile power bank. However, there are a few extras to compensate: Wi-Fi connectivity, a built-in Android media player and the Aptoide marketplace for steaming apps. All told, this is a great little projector for the money, with better image quality than most of the other budget brand options you’ll find at this price.

Key specs – Resolution: 848 x 480; Brightness: 150 lumens; Speaker: Yes; Connectivity: HDMI, USB-A, USB-C, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; Battery: Y; Built-in apps: Y; Tripod mount: N; Dimensions: 110 x 104 x 27; Weight: 280g

Image of ViewSonic M1 mini Plus Pocket LED Ultra-Portable Projector with integrated JBL Audio, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, WVGA, 120 Lumens, HDMI, USB, Compatible with TV Sticks & Gaming Consoles, in 3 Colours

£191.66 Buy now amazon_logo.svg

2. Viewsonic M1: Best budget outdoor projector

Price: £260 | Buy now from Amazon