Whether you call movies “films” while rattling off a list of French New Wave directors or you just like to watch Marvel franchises in your underwear, you can enjoy your cinematic habit outdoors this summer by investing in a portable projector. Instead of sitting inside and squinting at a small TV or crouching over on a laptop, setting up a projector (and the proper A/V accessories) in your backyard lets you enjoy sports, shows, videos and video games on the big screen — and under a big sky.
If you’re not a AV-inclined techie who knows all about pixel counts, finding the best portable projector for you can be a challenge. That’s why we tapped the photo and video teams at HuffPost and BuzzFeed, along with some of our favorite independent filmmakers, for their home projector, screen and speaker recommendations.
Before hitting “buy” on a device, director and video designer Michael Long says you should think about where and when you plan on having home movie nights. If you have a big, secluded yard with little light pollution, you’ll likely be fine using a projector with lower brightness. But if you live in a city with tons of brightly-lit buildings or if you plan on hosting daytime showings, you’ll want a projector with higher levels of lumens (the measure of light that comes from a bulb).
You’ll also want to think about the “throw ratio,” a measurement that combines the size of the image being projected with the distance between the projector and the screen. “If you are looking to put your projector in a specific spot, there are free calculators online that will help you figure out what throw ratio you would need,” Long explained.
HuffPost senior photo editor Chris McGonigal added that most home projectors (especially more budget-friendly ones) don’t have automatic zoom features; ergo, it’s crucial to first “figure out where the projector is gonna be for how big you want the picture,” McGonigal said. “But most do have automatic keystoning, which automatically focuses and makes sure the image is square.”
In addition to brightness and projection distance, McGonigal and Long both suggested thinking about how you intend to play your content. If you’re planning to stream from a phone or tablet, you’ll want a Bluetooth projector. If you plan to use a firestick or HDMI cable, you’ll need one with compatible ports.
To help you host the best movie night on the block, McGonigal and others shared their recommendations for at-home projectors, screens and speakers.
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Best Projectors For Backyard Movie Nights
If you're serious about streaming quality
McGonigal and Justin Gaccione, a video editor at HuffPost, both recommend the Nebula Mars II, a smart projector with Bluetooth, built-in apps, HDMI and USB ports and the ability to mirror your phone or tablet. It also autofocuses, weighs less than four pounds, has an easy-carry handle, and comes with a rechargeable battery that allows for three hours of play.
"I bought one over the pandemic and it's insanely cool," Gaccione said. "It's super portable, comes with a tripod, built-in speaker and Wi-Fi connection so you have all your apps handy and can pull them up straight from the projector. It's 1080p up to like a 30-foot screen before it loses quality."
McGonigal noted that the rechargeable battery lets you use the projector wirelessly, so you can enjoy movies and TV wherever you go. (The brand's website says the ideal distance between this projector and a screen is under eight under feet.)
"We use it for movie nights by the pool," he says. "It’s plenty bright at night, but like all little projectors, it suffers in brighter rooms."
An affordable option that weighs less than a pound
For a smaller, more affordable portable Bluetooth projector that still has a built-in speaker, HDMI and USB ports, Wi-Fi, screen mirroring and a four-hour battery life, Gaccione recommends the Nebula Capsule.
"I've used the capsule and it's really cool as well," he says.
The Capsule has a manual focus and slightly lesser quality sound and brightness than the Mars II, but it's smaller than a soda can and only weighs a pound, so travels easily. The cylindrical shape enables multi-direction sound projection. Like the Mars II, the ideal projection distance is under eight feet.
A budget-friendly option ideal for outdoor use
For a budget-friendly Amazon find that's seemingly on sale often, Dilan Garcia Lopez
, supervising producer for BuzzFeed and Complex Networks, recommends and personally owns the Topvision Portable Mini Projector and 100-inch screen.
"It's great because of its small form factor, bright and sharp image, user-friendly user interface, quick load time and almost non-existent quiet internal cooling fan," Garcia Lopez told HuffPost. "Also great because of its mountable capabilities (that larger projectors do not have). You can mount this one in very odd positions to project onto different surfaces."
With a built-in speaker, and a 6-22 feet projection distance, the Topvision mini projector is made for outdoor movies. It doesn't operate via WiFi or Bluetooth, but has ports and outlets to connect with Fire sticks, laptops, tablets, video games, external speakers and more. It weighs under five pounds and has to be plugged in to work.
A projector for extra-large surfaces
Garcia Lopez recommends the Hopvision Native 1080P projector as a step up from the budget option without totally breaking the bank. It's got built-in speakers, ports and outlets for most devices, Fire sticks and external speakers. If you have a big blank wall to project movies on or want a larger display, this may be the one for you.
"This one is great because of its capability to project a large image for giant surfaces (up to 350 inches)," he says. "It has a more premium sound quality, but still has an audio jack if you want to use an external speaker, a bulb life of 150,000 hours, support for 4K video and a surprisingly quiet fan speed. Very sharp image with detailed manual focus adjustment."
Best Screens For Backyard Movie Nights
An easy-to-setup double-sided screen
Of course, finding the perfect projector is only half the battle. If you're wondering what to project your backyard features onto, McGonigal recommends the Elite Screens Yard Master wrinkle-free double-sided screen.
"This screen is excellent," he said. "Easy to set up and take down and goes right back into its portable case. Good quality, too."
These screens come in five sizes, each with a carrying bag, base bags, ground stakes, and tethering ropes included.
A white top sheet
If you're worried about storing another backyard item or don't have the room for a pop-up screen, Gaccione suggests getting a flat white sheet on which to project movies and TV shows outside.
"I'm a big proponent of just hanging a white sheet," he says. "I was legit blown away when I first saw one and then proceeded to buy one on the spot."
This durable microfiber top sheet comes in four sizes and is machine-washable.
Best Wireless Outdoor Speakers For Backyard Movie Nights
An easy-to-install sound bar with excellent reviews
Though most modern projectors have built-in speakers, filmmaker Kelly Wourms
urged home theater buffs not to skimp on sound quality. Investing in external speakers can make a big difference.
"You still gotta have good sound, even with a cheap projector," Wourms told HuffPost. "I’ve had great luck with a soundbar-and-subwoofer combo with Bluetooth connectivity. I just bought whatever was cheapest and on sale at Best Buy [and] I’d recommend doing the same!"
This LG Bluetooth sound bar currently on sale at Best Buy comes with a wireless subwoofer, an HDMI port, batteries and a remote control. Reviews say
it's easy to install and offers better sound quality than built-in TV speakers.
An under-$40 option
To step up your sound for under $40, try the BenqBot speaker, which is intended for indoor and outdoor use and has built-in subwoofers. It operates with Bluetooth but also has coaxial, AUX and RCA connections. It has a rechargeable lithium battery that can play for six hours.