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Movie theaters may be reopening soon — even with social distancing rules in place, going out to the movies doesn’t feel like the most enticing proposition. If you want to have a family movie night without being cooped up in your house, you do have another option: Grab a small projector and take the fun outside. Getting a backyard movie night set up can actually be rather affordable — and easy. I had them in my backyard for years with some scrap fabric and a decommissioned office projector I’d gotten through Craigslist. But for a more polished experience — with better picture quality and bigger sound — you’ll want some dedicated gear.
When you're buying a projector for outdoor use, you really want to pay attention to two features:
- The size of the image you can project
- And the brightness of the image you can project.
Brightness is measured in lumens: The brighter your projector, the earlier you can start your movie night — a bright projector might work okay at dusk, for example, while a dimmer projector might not produce a visible image until it’s truly dark outside. To help guide you to some of the best options for outdoor projectors, here are some of the best projectors out now — at different price points.
Best outdoor movie projectors
For a portable projector that won’t break the bank, check out this tiny model from AAXA. It can put out a 720p image at up to 120 inches. It comes in at only 500 lumens, which means you’ll need to wait until it’s pretty dark outside. However, for the price, this barebones, compact projector will get the job done.
Anker’s Nebula brand makes some decent portable projectors, the Mars II Pro being the best of the bunch. Like the P300, it delivers a 720p image at 500 lumens, but can project an image up to 150 inches in size. It also has streaming apps built-in, so you don’t have to fiddle with inputs — just plug it in, connect it to your Wi-Fi, and go.
If you want something brighter and crisper, consider a more home theater-oriented projector like Epson’s Home Cinema 2150. It cranks the resolution up to 1080p and the brightness up to 2,500 lumens, so you can start your movie earlier (a godsend considering how late the summer sun can stay up). It can also project an image up to 300 inches, if you have a screen or wall large enough for that.
All of these projectors have built-in speakers, but they’re rather small, so you may want to hook up a larger speaker for better sound. Also, I recommend wiring up your speaker with a 3.5mm cable, rather than using Bluetooth, which won’t always sync perfectly with the image. And if your projector doesn’t have built-in streaming options, you may need a laptop or separate streaming box to get Netflix up on the big screen.
Best outdoor movie screens
Speaking of the big screen: While you could always project the movie onto the side of your house, you’ll get a much better image with a dedicated screen — ideally, one that doesn’t wrinkle or crease.
This 120-inch screen comes at a great price for its large size. It doesn’t come with a stand, though. Instead, you use the grommets around the edge to hook it onto your wall, or hang it with a rope. It can be a bit tricky, but it makes for a great and clean setup when you’re done.
If you can spend a bit more, projection screens with built-in stands can be a lot easier to set up than the hanging variety. This model is 100 inches, and provides a carrying bag for easy storage when you aren’t using it.
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