Choosing the best backyard projector is a tricky business. Whereas a regular home cinema setup will obviously allow for control of ambient lighting and virtually every other relevant playback-related factor, doing so in the backyard is considerably more complex.
For the most part, what you’ll need here is a bright and powerful projector with a long throw. Not that there’s anything bad with short-throw projectors, mind: it’s just that you’ve probably got way more room to work in your backyard.
To help you out on your quest for a stellar backyard projector, we’ve come up with a selection of top 5 picks to consider. Some of these will even be capable of low-latency projection, making them a very viable choice for gaming as well.
One last thing before we start: if you’re interested in getting a projector to use outside, be prepared to pay more for the privilege. While a good projector in any category is going to be more expensive than the generic stuff, there’s more room for savings far as, say, Bluetooth projectors go.
On the other hand, you’ll be hard-pressed to find really bright projectors on the cheap, though there’s certainly a number of affordable options on the market that ensure a good bang for your buck.
Table of Contents
- Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (with support for 4K via downsampling)
- Maximum Brightness: 3,500 ANSI lumens
- Throw ratio: 1.13:1 – 1.46:1
- Contrast ratio: 10 000:1
BenQ TH685 was a no-brainer for this list, primarily owing to its surprisingly bright 3,500 ANSI lumens projection. A strong overall contender at what is – at this level – a very acceptable price tag, TH685 is far from perfect, but it sure doesn’t leave much performance on the table, either.
The thing to keep in mind about the TH685 is that it was primarily designed and marketed for gaming, surprising as that might sound. Featuring some remarkably low response times for a projector (8.3 ms), and a stellar 3,500 ANSI lumen lamp, this is an easy choice if playing video games is a consideration.
However, where TH685 does suffer a tad is the projection picture quality. This is a native 1080p projector with support for 4K content (which it downsamples) and HDR10. Still, the contrast of the picture is nothing to write home about, and the same could be said about sharpness.
Of course, depending on whether you’ve got previous experience with high-end projectors, this might be a complete non-issue. Outside of very slight chromatic aberration, you’re still getting an amazing picture. It’s just that it could have been better, really.
BenQ TH685’s apparent downsides don’t play a role in us recommending it, however. It just so happens that its gaming-oriented features are adjacent to those that make for a good backyard projector, too.
What you’re getting here is a quality projector that can push out a very bright picture. Chances are that you could probably even watch some stuff in broad daylight, even if outside. That alone is a feat worthy of recommendation, we feel.
While some things could have been done better, TH685 makes for an easy recommendation. Just be aware that the brighter it goes, the less color accurate the projection will be. No way to alleviate that particular problem except by using it at night, however.
- A great device in just about every way
- Surprisingly good gaming mode with low input lag
- Support for 4K
- HDR support
- Slight chromatic aberration present
- Middling picture quality
- Resolution: 1920 x 1080
- Maximum Brightness: 3,500 ANSI lumens
- Throw ratio: 1.50:1 – 1.65:1
- Contrast ratio: 12 000:1
Another remarkably bright projector on this list, the ViewSonic PX701HD is also remarkable for its price, as it’s the single most affordable device on this list.
Naturally, splurging on the PX701HD projector means that you’ll forgo some features that more high-end projectors have by default. In this specific case, for example, that means you’re leaving 4K and HDR on the table.
That’s right: ViewSonic PX701HD has no 4K downsample functionality, which may be a bummer for some users. However, the most important aspect of the projector for this list is its brightness, and we’re happy to report that you’re getting a stellar 3,500 ANSI lumens with this device.
The projection won’t be half bad, either. For the asking price of $500-ish, we’re looking at a fairly decent color contrast, to be sure, though the color accuracy of the picture isn’t particularly impressive.
Something similar can be said about this projector’s onboard audio solution: the 10W integrated speaker. Audio reproduction is fair, albeit somewhat tinny, and you’ll probably want to replace it with a dedicated setup if at all possible.
Another important aspect of this projector that many will enjoy is its portability. The PX701HD can easily be carried around, and setting it up requires minimal fuss unless your backyard is of the more anomalous kind.
All in all, ViewSonic PX701HD offers a lot for not a lot of money. It goes without saying that it’s not going to be trading blows with some other, far more expensive devices on this list, but if your primary concern is to get something that just works and doesn’t break the bank – check it out.
- Very affordable
- Great brightness
- Reasonably color-accurate
- Moderately low input lag
- No 4K support whatsoever
- No HDR
- Resolution: 1280 x 720
- Maximum Brightness: 200 ANSI lumens
- Throw ratio: 1.30:1
- Contrast ratio: 600:1
The Anker Nebula Capsule II made its way onto this list not because of its brightness or picture quality, but because it’s as close to a minimum fuss plug-and-play projector experience as you can get at this moment in time.
Provided that you can get a surface to project on in the first place (more on that later), this little powerhouse will easily hook you up with 2-3 hours of content in one charge. That includes both its projection and speaker capabilities, mind, as well as the actual source of the content.
An important feature of the Nebula Capsule II is that it runs Android natively, and this means that actually watching content – long as you’ve got WiFi – is just one download away, courtesy of the platform’s numerous TV and movie streaming apps.
From Netflix, all the way to Chromecast, Nebula Capsule II is the little projector that definitely could, and though it’s got plenty of downsides, it should be a serious consideration if you’re interested in minimizing the troubles you might go through when setting up an outdoor cinema experience.
The two major downsides to Anker’s Capsule follow-up are that it’s limited to projecting content in 720p and that its lamp maxes out at a meager 200 ANSI-rated lumens. Nighttime is really the only option for Nebula Capsule II, sadly.
We should consider the other side of the coin as well, however. Powering a projection lap is no small feat, and Nebula Capsule II will easily do that for at least two hours at a time. Better yet, assembly and disassembly are as easy as turning the device on or off, respectively, and throwing it into your backpack.
There’s a serious element of neatness to Anker’s Nebula Capsule II, we believe. Whether it’s the device for your outdoor movie watching experience, however, is up to you and you alone.
- Extremely small and portable
- Long-lasting integrated battery
- Remarkably good speakers
- Supports virtually every type of content source you might have
- Far, far dimmer than any other projector on this list
- Limited to 720p content (though it can downsample 1080p)
- Resolution: 4K UHD
- Maximum Brightness: 2400 ANSI lumens
- Throw ratio: 0.80:1
- Contrast ratio: 3,000,000:1
As the second 4K UHD offering on this list, ViewSonic X10-4KE is an easy choice for those who are after stellar, beautiful projections. What makes X10-4KE stand out is its reliance on a long-lasting 2400 ANSI LED light source over a lamp.
We will say that the perceived brightness of the lamp does seem to be somewhat lower than 2400 ANSI, but we’d have recommended using it in darkness either way, so it doesn’t matter that much.
Packed inside the remarkably well-designed casing of the X10-4KE is a really good onboard audio output. Chances are that you’ll actually have no issue sticking with the integrated Harman Kardon speakers if you opt for this projector.
Another thing worth keeping in mind is that ViewSonic X10-4KE is not a good gaming projector. In fact, even when set up properly for its ‘Gaming’ mode, you’re going to be looking at over 70 ms of input lag, which is simply unacceptable across the board.
If gaming is not a concern, and if you don’t mind fiddling a bit with color settings – as they’re somewhat inaccurate out-of-box – X10-4KE is packed to the brim with goodness.
Not only will this ViewSonic projector deliver a stellar backyard cinema-going experience, but it’s also equipped with a fully-fledged version of Android, so you’re getting the full suite of ‘Smart’ functionality with it as well.
The obvious caveat, naturally, is that you’ll need to accommodate the X10-4KE’s relatively low LED brightness by using it when it’s darker outside. Far from perfect, but ambient light is always a consideration when dealing with projectors, so it is what it is.
- Incredible picture quality
- Top-of-the-line color accuracy
- LED light source instead of a traditional lamp – ensures longevity
- High-quality audio output
- A surprisingly sleek chassis
- Needs a bit of color tuning out-of-box
- Really high input lag
- 2400 ANSI rating might not look the part
Backyard Projector FAQ
Can a projector work outside?
Any projector will work outside. Whether it’s your backyard or the middle of Sahara – there’s no reason for it not to work. Provided, of course, that you’ve got a power source and something to project your content off of.
The better question is – will a projector work well outside. As you can probably imagine, that depends entirely on the time of day. While even the weakest projectors will have no issue projecting well during nighttime, daylight is something else entirely.
Can a projector work in daylight?
Powerful, top-of-the-line projectors will be able to pull through daylight, but you’re still going to want to find some sort of shade to set them up in. The brightest lamp of all the projectors listed above is limited to about 3,500 ANSI lumens, while direct sunlight has about 120,000 lumens.
This means that there’s simply no way for a consumer-grade projector to ever outperform the sun itself, but there are various mitigation techniques you could resort to.
Seeking out a shade or waiting for the less bright parts of the day will often be ideal, and most projectors work best in abject darkness, as you’re surely aware.
How many lumens do I need for an outdoor projector?
In most cases, anything above 3,000 lumens will do just fine during the day, but it’s worth keeping in mind that you’ll still need to mitigate direct sunlight somehow. We do have a lumen to square feet cheat sheet for you to reference, too:
- 9×5 screen – 2,500 – 3000 lumens
- 12×7 screen – 3000 – 3500 lumens
- 16×9 screen – 3500 – 4000 lumens
Naturally, the 9×5 feet screen will be more than enough for most backyard cinema setups, so your mileage may vary by the time you’ve got it all up and running. The rule of thumb, though, is simple enough: the brighter, the better.
Can you use a sheet as a projector screen?
Virtually any flat white surface will work wonders as a screen for your projector, and this naturally includes bed sheets, too.
In fact, while sheets of fabric are generally a solid choice, be sure to smooth them out properly before starting the projection. Folds and wrinkles can be a major bummer, as well as the wind, so try to anticipate and deal with these issues accordingly.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, even if you’re stuck with an impromptu screen that’s not perfectly white, some projectors have ways of tuning the image to compensate for that. Be sure to reference your device’s guidebooks if that’s the case.
What should I look for when buying an outdoor projector?
The four major features we highlighted for each of the five projectors featured in this article should be your main concern. These are, in no particular order of importance, brightness, throw ratio, contrast ratio, and resolution.
Your specific use case will vary, so instead of going with the brightest available option, you may opt for a highly-mobile one instead, with a capable integrated battery and wireless capabilities. Of course, doing so will mean that your projector is useless in daylight.
As with most tech, the process of choosing the best projector for your own backyard home cinema is one of balancing what you need with what you want, and with what you can get.