Outdoor Projectors – Your Own Drive-In

By Jovan Milenkovic November 9, 2021

One of the many things we had to learn to live without during lockdown are movie theater visits. Streaming platforms came to the forefront, with high-budget Hollywood movies premiering online instead of in packed cinema auditoriums. 

As we crawl back to normalcy, movie theaters are slowly starting to reopen. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t still organize big-screen viewings with your friends in the comfort of your backyard. You just need to snag the best outdoor projector to match your needs.

We’ve gathered the top choices for outdoor viewings, with each excelling in one area or another. Take a gander and decide which one will make those warm summer nights even more enjoyable.

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5.0 Excellent
BenQ TH685
Brand: BenQ
  • Accepts 4K inputs
  • 3,500 lumens
  • Low input lag
See on Amazon
5.0 Excellent
Epson EF-12
Brand: Epson
  • Yamaha-tuned speakers
  • Superb contrast and shading
  • Android TV support
See on Amazon
5.0 Excellent
LG CineBeam HU80KSW
Brand: LG
  • True one-box system
  • 4K with XPR processing
  • Supports all audio and video sources
See on Amazon
5.0 Excellent
ViewSonic X10-4KE
Brand: ViewSonic
  • UHD 4K
  • Four viewing modes
  • LED projector
See on Amazon
  • Sleek design
  • Very compact
  • Built-in battery
See on Amazon

benq th685 left
benq th685 right
benq th685 up
benq th685 back
benq th685 left
benq th685 right
benq th685 up
benq th685 back
5.0 Excellent

BenQ TH685

Brand: BenQ
Dimensions:
12.28 x 4.3 x 8.85 inches
Weight:
6.15 lb
Lumens:
3,500
Native resolution:
1920 x 1080
Throw distance:
3.2-24 ft
Audio:
5 W chamber speaker
Dimensions:
12.28 x 4.3 x 8.85 inches
Weight:
6.15 lb
Lumens:
3,500
Native resolution:
1920 x 1080
Throw distance:
3.2-24 ft
Audio:
5 W chamber speaker

BenQ’s TH685 is a great entry point for most newcomers to outdoor watching, as it combines an impressive number of mid- to high-range capabilities in one device.

First, the TH685 is a 1080p projector, but it can accept 4K inputs via HDR. While you won’t be getting a 4K image this way, as it’ll still effectively be 1080p, it will retain HDR crispness.

Secondly, this outdoor projector comes with built-in audio. This saves you the effort (and money) from setting up speakers in your garden and also reduces the number of peripherals you have to handle and protect from hazards. While the sound quality coming from built-in speakers is usually subpar, the TH685’s chamber speaker provides more than decent audio.

When it comes to brightness, the TH685 comes with 3,500 lumens – enough for daylight viewings. The projector’s throw distance goes from 3.2 feet to slightly over 24 feet, making it best suited for spacious gardens and backyards.

BenQ’s TH685 is marketed as a gaming projector. Extremely low input lag, as well as the inclusion of Game Mode and Game Sound Mode, make gaming with this projector an enjoyable experience.

The projector also comes equipped with a six-color wheel, letting you fine-tune coloring and get more image quality out of it. The TH685 weighs 6.2 pounds, which makes it quite portable. This projector is ready to use pretty much out of the box, as you’ll get great image quality without tinkering with any settings.

The TH685’s pricing is currently about $950 on Amazon. In case you’d like to get Android TV support, you can get the somewhat pricier TH685i. The regular TH685 does come with HDMI plugs, meaning you can connect it to another device and project streamed content.

epson ef-12 front
epson ef-12 side
epson ef-12 back
epson ef-12 up
epson ef-12 front
epson ef-12 side
epson ef-12 back
epson ef-12 up
5.0 Excellent

Epson EF-12

Brand: Epson
Dimensions:
2.95 x 2.95 x 5.31 inches
Weight:
4.62 lb
Lumens:
1,000
Native resolution:
1920 x 1080
Throw distance:
Short
Audio:
2 x 5 W
Dimensions:
2.95 x 2.95 x 5.31 inches
Weight:
4.62 lb
Lumens:
1,000
Native resolution:
1920 x 1080
Throw distance:
Short
Audio:
2 x 5 W

The Epson EF-12 is a compact, lightweight, portable projector ideal for outdoor film sessions. With 14‎ x 18 x 18 cm dimensions and weighing only 4.62 pounds, this projector can be carried around with ease. It even looks like a small square-shaped leather suitcase – but without a carrying handle.

However, the EF-12 does lack a built-in battery, which prevents it from becoming truly and fully portable. You’ll have to stick it into an outdoor outlet, so using it in the wild is not an option. Another gripe we had with the EF-12 is that it has a fixed lens, meaning you can’t adjust image size except by moving the projector itself. The throw distance ranges from 2.2 feet to 10.9 feet, placing it among standard-throw projectors.

The lack of a battery is made up for by the juiced-up sound system inside. It’s a 2 x 5 W Yamaha-tuned setup that guarantees superb audio quality no matter the volume.

The EF-12 only comes with 1,000 ANSI lumens, meaning you can practically use it only in dark rooms or during the night. However, this is not surprising for portable models, as they tend to be weaker in that compartment compared to their sturdier and less mobile brethren.

Android TV support is there, letting you use Google Play to download and use Amazon Prime, Disney+, or Spotify. On the flip side, you can’t use Netflix or BBC iPlayer. But you can use the HDMI cables to connect to another device and stream that way, although that does defeat the purpose of portability a bit.

The image quality plainly blows other portable projectors out of the water. Contrast and shading are top-notch, and the EF-12 handles motion very well, too.

Currently, this projector is in the $800-$900 range. At this price, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better portable projector. Sure, it has some faults – such as the lack of built-in batteries or Netflix – but it makes up for it with compatibility and sound and video quality.

lg cinebeam hu80ksw closed
lg cinebeam HU80KSW open
lg cinebeam hu80ksw side
lg cinebeam hu80ksw closed
lg cinebeam HU80KSW open
lg cinebeam hu80ksw side
5.0 Excellent

LG CineBeam HU80KSW

Brand: LG
Dimensions:
2.95 x 2.95 x 5.31 inches
Weight:
4.62 lb
Lumens:
1,000
Native resolution:
1920 x 1080
Throw distance:
Short
Audio:
2 x 5 W
Dimensions:
2.95 x 2.95 x 5.31 inches
Weight:
4.62 lb
Lumens:
1,000
Native resolution:
1920 x 1080
Throw distance:
Short
Audio:
2 x 5 W

The Epson EF-12 is a compact, lightweight, portable projector ideal for outdoor film sessions. With 14‎ x 18 x 18 cm dimensions and weighing only 4.62 pounds, this projector can be carried around with ease. It even looks like a small square-shaped leather suitcase – but without a carrying handle.

However, the EF-12 does lack a built-in battery, which prevents it from becoming truly and fully portable. You’ll have to stick it into an outdoor outlet, so using it in the wild is not an option. Another gripe we had with the EF-12 is that it has a fixed lens, meaning you can’t adjust image size except by moving the projector itself. The throw distance ranges from 2.2 feet to 10.9 feet, placing it among standard-throw projectors.

The lack of a battery is made up for by the juiced-up sound system inside. It’s a 2 x 5 W Yamaha-tuned setup that guarantees superb audio quality no matter the volume.

The EF-12 only comes with 1,000 ANSI lumens, meaning you can practically use it only in dark rooms or during the night. However, this is not surprising for portable models, as they tend to be weaker in that compartment compared to their sturdier and less mobile brethren.

Android TV support is there, letting you use Google Play to download and use Amazon Prime, Disney+, or Spotify. On the flip side, you can’t use Netflix or BBC iPlayer. But you can use the HDMI cables to connect to another device and stream that way, although that does defeat the purpose of portability a bit.

The image quality plainly blows other portable projectors out of the water. Contrast and shading are top-notch, and the EF-12 handles motion very well, too.

Currently, this projector is in the $800-$900 range. At this price, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better portable projector. Sure, it has some faults – such as the lack of built-in batteries or Netflix – but it makes up for it with compatibility and sound and video quality.

viewsonic x10-4ke front
viewsonic x10-4ke profile left
viewsonic x10-4ke profile
viewsonic x10-4ke front
viewsonic x10-4ke profile left
viewsonic x10-4ke profile
5.0 Excellent

ViewSonic X10-4KE

Brand: ViewSonic
Dimensions:
6.5 x 10.3 x 10.7
Weight:
9 pounds
Lumens:
2,400 LED lumens
Native resolution:
3840 x 2160
Throw distance:
1.6-11.5 ft
Audio:
2 x 8 W
Dimensions:
6.5 x 10.3 x 10.7
Weight:
9 pounds
Lumens:
2,400 LED lumens
Native resolution:
3840 x 2160
Throw distance:
1.6-11.5 ft
Audio:
2 x 8 W

Now we’re moving onto a high-end powerhouse projector – the ViewSonic X10-4KE. As can be gleaned from its name, this is a UHD 4K projector, meaning you’ll get to enjoy superb image quality on the level of actual cinema screenings. 

If you thought this projector has got to be heavy as a result, you thought wrong. The ViewSonic X10-4KE weighs only 9 pounds and measures 6.5 x 10.3 x 10.7 inches. It even features a carrying handle, making it extremely easy to carry around.

Like other projectors of its kind, the ViewSonic X10-4KE uses an XPR pixel-shifting DLP chip to support the 4K resolution. Additionally, the inclusion of an RGBB LED bulb provides more brightness and color precision.

The projector’s brightness rating sits at 1,000 LED lumens. According to ViewSonic’s specifications, this translates into 2,400 ANSI lumens (the rating most commonly used to determine brightness) due to the fact that LEDs provide a more saturated image that appears brighter. 

It’s important to note that this is a short-throw projector, meaning it’s best used in tighter spaces where standard- or long-throw projectors would produce a minuscule projection on the screen.

The X10-4KE has four viewing modes: TV, Gaming, Brightest, and Movie. The purpose of these modes is pretty self-explanatory, as each is ideal for a certain activity. The Brightest mode, as the name implies, gives you maximum brightness without ruining image quality, which is particularly handy when there’s a lot of light pollution around.

This projector is also equipped with built-in Bluetooth-ready speakers. This allows you to connect your smartphone or tablet to the projector and use it as a portable speaker too, letting you save on bag space if you’re traveling. 

ViewSonic’s device has both Wi-Fi connectivity and USB-C support. That means you can either use Wi-Fi to connect to a video source or plug in your phone or tablet via USB and stream from Netflix or Amazon Prime that way. Naturally, you can plug in an Amazon Fire TV Stick for streaming as well.

The X10-4KE is on the pricier side. It currently goes for $1,499 on Amazon. Still, the projector more than makes up for this price tag with its powerful 4K and streaming capabilities.

anker nebula solar portable front
anker nebula solar portable side
anker nebula solar portable various colors
anker nebula solar portable front
anker nebula solar portable side
anker nebula solar portable various colors
5.0 Excellent

Anker Nebula Solar Portable Review

Brand: Anker
Dimensions:
7.55 x 7.56 x 2.14
Weight:
3.08 lb
Lumens:
400
Native resolution:
1920 x 1080 resolution
Throw distance:
2.62-10.4 ft
Audio:
2 x 3 W
Dimensions:
7.55 x 7.56 x 2.14
Weight:
3.08 lb
Lumens:
400
Native resolution:
1920 x 1080 resolution
Throw distance:
2.62-10.4 ft
Audio:
2 x 3 W

If you’re looking for a compact, portable outdoor device that’s not only functional but sleek and modern-looking, look no further than the Anker Nebula Solar Portable. This Nebula model features a shiny silver coat, with the projector as a whole giving off Macbook vibes.

Not only is the Solar Portable fancy-looking, but it’s tiny and very easy to carry around. It weighs just over 3 pounds, and its dimensions are 7.55 x 7.56 x 2.14 inches. You can practically fit it into a handbag or a backpack, making it well-suited for camping trips and the like.

As a portable model, the Nebula Solar comes with a built-in battery. Battery life is about three hours, which should be more than enough for a lengthy movie. When the battery runs out, you can either connect it to an outlet somewhere or charge it with a power bank via the projector’s USB-C port.

Yet another feature that makes the Anker Nebula Solar Portable great for the outdoors is its capability to serve as a Bluetooth speaker. Just put the projector in your bag along with a power bank for reserve power, and you’re sorted for both music and movies during your camping trip.

 

Image quality is more than decent, especially for a portable projector, with a native ​​1920 x 1080 resolution. However, the one area where the Nebula Solar Portable is lacking is brightness. With only 400 lumens, even a moonlit night could be too bright. Hence, you should try to use it primarily in dark ambients or use some sort of cover to offset light sources.

Another casualty of the Nebula Solar Portable’s small size is audio quality. The projector has built-in 2 x 3 W speakers, which is definitely on the weaker side. The good news is that Android TV support is there, bringing a 5,000-strong library of apps to use, including YouTube and Hulu. You can also watch Netflix, but you have to download it through the Nebula Manager app.

The Anker Nebula Solar Portable will set you back somewhere between $520 and $600 on Amazon, which is a pretty standard price given this projector’s capabilities.

Our Guide for Picking the Right Outdoor Projector

Defining your needs is the key step in finding a good projector. Are you looking for easily portable projectors that can quickly be adapted for both backyard movie nights and home rooftop viewings, or do you want a more permanent setup? Do you want the projector to come with built-in speakers or are you looking for a full 5.1 surround feel? Regular quality or 4K? Looking to stream Netflix or to play movies straight from a USB drive?

These are some of the questions you should keep in mind when browsing projectors for your outdoor home cinema. To find the one that ticks all the boxes, you need to keep an eye out for the following projector characteristics.

Brightness

Arguably the most important thing you need to look out for is brightness. If you ever attended film screenings outside, you might’ve noticed that the image quality can differ vastly depending on how light or dark it is outside. The brighter the outside conditions  – plenty of light pollution, bright weather, moonlight – the harder it’ll be to see the projected images. This means that if the place you plan on using for outdoor watch marathons is bright, you’ll need a more powerful projector.

Projector brightness is measured in lumens. You’ll want to aim for the 2,000-2,500 lumens mark, which should provide sufficient projection quality in most outdoor settings during daylight. If you’re looking to really hit the sweet spot, 3,600 lumens is considered ideal, but don’t rush to throw cash for a more expensive device if your designated viewing spot isn’t ultrabright.

Throw Distance

Throw distance refers to the space between the projector lens and the screen you’re projecting on. Depending on the lens used, projectors fall into various throw distance categories. Standard-throw projectors need to be about 10 feet from the screen, while short-throw ones are meant to be placed 2-8 feet away. Lastly, long-throw projectors are anything over 10 feet.

The decision which throw distance to go for depends solely on your needs. The standard throw is usually the best one for most circumstances, while you might go for short-throw projectors if you’re in a really confined space.

Power Source

During your search, you’re bound to come across projectors with built-in batteries. However, these batteries are often too weak to last you through a full watching session. Additionally, projectors with built-in batteries tend to reduce brightness as they lose power in order to prolong runtime.

Instead of going with those, we recommend you get an outdoor power outlet installed and insulate it from electrical hazards through a ground fault circuit interrupter. This will allow you to safely use an outdoor projector without worrying about the battery running out or sacrificing image quality.

Resolution

While we’re on the topic of image quality, another thing to keep an eye out for is the projector’s resolution. The usual rules apply here, with 720p being the lowest watchable resolution, 1080p being optimal, and 4K the best you can get. Of course, the final decision rests with you, but we recommend going with at least Full HD.

Streaming

You should also consider the projector’s streaming capabilities before committing to a purchase. If you’d like to use the projector to stream from Netflix, HBO Max, and other platforms, there are two options at your disposal.

First, if your Wi-Fi signal is strong enough to provide a stable connection in your backyard, you can hook the projector to a laptop or tablet via HDMI cable and stream that way. Alternatively, if your connection signal is too weak outside, you might have to go with a projector with built-in Wi-Fi capabilities (all-in-one devices).

Screen

Projectors can project the image to practically any flat surface, be it a hanging bedsheet, the wall of your house, or a school board. However, that doesn’t mean any screen will make for a great cinematic experience. If you truly want to get great video quality, you should invest in a projector screen. These differ significantly in screen size and portability.

Dedicated projector screens provide a substantially better viewing experience. They can also help you tackle brightness problems thanks to a characteristic called gain, which is a godsend for users who want to watch movies in superbright areas.

FAQ

How many lumens do I need for an outdoor projector?

For ANSI lumens, the most commonly used metric, the recommended range is 2,500 to 3,000 for comfortable viewing during daylight.

Which is the best projector for outdoor use?

We found the ViewSonic X10-4KE to be one of the best picks, but the LG CineBeam HU80KSW is definitely the most powerful one – and the most expensive one, too.

How do I choose an outdoor projector?

Consider your needs: Do you want an all-in-one system, are you looking for a permanent or portable setup, which video sources do you plan to use? Once you’ve narrowed that down, choose based on your needs.

Can outdoor projectors work in daylight?

Yes, but you’ll need a good enough projector with a lumens count of 2,500-plus. However, even the best ones can struggle during extremely bright days or under direct sunlight.

How many lumens do you need to watch in daylight?

If you mainly plan to watch movies and TV shows during the day, we’d recommend going with a projector of at least 3,000 lumens.