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Best outdoor projectors 2020

Best outdoor projectors Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best outdoor projectors that you can buy in 2020.

The drive-in movies of the 1950s might be a thing of the past, but the best outdoor projectors mean you can enjoy al fresco movie nights once again. And with plenty of balmy evenings to look forward to this summer, there's no better time to turn your garden, back yard, rooftop or patio into a cinema. Grab some deckchairs, blankets and popcorn as we round up our pick of the best outdoor projectors...

Choosing the best outdoor projector can be tricky. You'll want one that is light enough to carry from your home cinema to your garden. Built-in speakers are also handy, but they tend to use small speaker units in small enclosures, so the sound may be compromised.

If your projector has an audio output, there is the option of connecting it to a portable wireless speaker through its 3.5mm audio input. This will help give sound quality a major boost.

The smallest and most portable projectors feature built-in batteries, making them a complete all-in-one solution. However, extreme portability often comes at the expense of top-notch picture quality.

Brightness and contrast are key – particularly if you live in a city or somewhere with lots of light pollution. You'll want to set up your projector in the evening for the best results, but the brighter the outdoor projector and the higher the contrast level, the better chance you have of achieving a watchable image.

Also, think about sources. Are you going to trail a Blu-ray player outside to plug into the projector's HDMI input? You could use a streaming dongle such as a Chromecast Ultra to get a picture, although you'll need a strong wi-fi signal to stream or cast to the dongle. Some projectors even have wi-fi and video streaming apps built-in.

You may also want to save a chunk of your budget for a portable projector screen. In theory, you can project video onto a white sheet or a white wall, but picture quality will be compromised. Check out our handy guide on how to choose a projector screen for more on that subject.

Below, you'll find a comprehensive list of the best outdoor projectors we've tested, including HD and 4K options. Prices range from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand, so there should be something for every budget...

Best outdoor projectors 2020: budget and premium

1. Optoma UHD40

The best outdoor projector that combines a brilliant picture with sound.

SPECIFICATIONS

4K capability: Yes | HDR: Yes | Speakers: 2 x 5W | Lamp: 2400 lumens | Lamp life: 4000 hours | Contrast ratio: 500,000:1 | Inputs: HDMI (x2), USB, 3.5mm

Reasons to Buy

Punchy colours
Insightful detail
Smooth motion
Built-in speakers

Reasons to Avoid

Black detail could be better

If you want a high-quality picture at an affordable price, this projector is just the ticket.

It's small enough to fit on a patio table and features built-in speakers. They might not match the stunning 4K picture, but they're certainly convenient for the garden. Plus, there's a 3.5mm audio output, so you can always wire the projector to the aux input of a decent wireless speaker.

In addition to two HDMI inputs, this model has a USB Type A connection so you can hook up a 4K Blu-ray player or media streamer. More importantly, the UHD40 has more than enough brightness, so expect a crisp, vivid, silky smooth image that improves as the sun sets.

Weighing 5kg, it's not the most portable, but we think the Optoma UHD40 has the perfect balance of picture and portability, making it the best outdoor projector by far.

Read the full review: Optoma UHD40

Best outdoor projectors 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Future)

2. LG CineBeam HU80KSW

Pricey, but one of the best all-in-one, do-it-all outdoor projectors you can buy.

SPECIFICATIONS

4K capability: Yes | HDR: Yes | Speakers: 2 x 7W | Brightness: 2500 lumens | Lamp life: 20,000 hours | Contrast ratio: 150,000:1 | Max image size: 150in | HDCP 2.2: Yes | Connectivity: HDMI (x2), USB (x2), 3.5mm, Ethernet, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Miracast | Streaming apps: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer

Reasons to Buy

One-box, truly portable system
Impressive 4K HDR picture
Easy to build a system around

Reasons to Avoid

Lacks a little detail
Motion could be better
Built-in speakers only adequate

One of the most feature-laden projectors we've tested, the LG CineBeam is a marvellous box of tricks. It presents a decent 4K HDR image between 66 and 150in, has stereo sound and offers plenty of sources – both smart and local. 

It's blessed with the excellent webOS platform, which means direct access to all your video apps over wi-fi (assuming the signal stretches into your garden), and its Miracasting and Bluetooth abilities make for easy and intuitive ad-hoc connections to a range of mobile devices.

In terms of physical connections, there are two HDMI ports and two USB ports – the latter being handy for connecting a hard drive or USB stick with video content.

The built-in 7W speakers are supplied by Harman Kardon,  but there's Bluetooth, a 3,5mm aux and optical connections for external speakers. 

It's expensive, but for those who want the flexibility to throw a film up in their garden whenever and however they choose, this is a fantastic option.

Read the full review: LG CineBeam HU80KSW

Best outdoor projectors 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Nebula)

3. Nebula Mars 2

A smart, battery-powered projector that's ideal for outdoor use.

SPECIFICATIONS

Resolution: 1280 x 720 | Brightness: 300 lumens | Speakers:: 2x10W | Throw ratio : 1.2:1 | Focus: Motorised AF | Keystone correction: Auto +/-40 degrees | Dimensions: 18 x 12 x 14cm

Reasons to Buy

Truly portable
Fun to use

Reasons to Avoid

Not Full HD
Basic colour reproduction

The great thing about the Mars 2 is that it needs no other piece of technology to function, making it a superb option for casual movie nights. It's a true all-in-one solution comprising built-in speakers, wi-fi and a range of streaming apps.

It has its own dedicated app store where you can download Netflix, BBC iPlayer and countless other apps to run directly from the Mars 2. Simply pair the device with your smartphone and you're in business. You can even download games; your phone's touchscreen doubles as the controller. 

It offers 720p Full HD resolution rather than 4K, but produces a great image around 75in. It's a breeze to use, with little in the way of set-up quirks. If you only have a bedsheet or white wall to view it on, this could be a good option.

Brightness is 300 lumens, so this projector works best after dark, but the contrast is good, with solid black levels and a nicely balanced, colourful picture that isn't hugely compromised. 

If you're looking for a fuss-free, battery-powered outdoor projector capable of streaming movies out of the box, the Mars 2 is a great shout.

Read the full review: Nebula Mars 2

Best outdoor projectors 2020: budget and premium

4. Nebula Capsule

A hugely convenient and fun projector with outdoor aspirations.

SPECIFICATIONS

Resolution: 854 x 480 | Brightness: 100 lumens | Streaming apps: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer | Connectivity: AirPlay, Chromecast, Miracast, HDMI, microUSB, Bluetooth speaker mode | Operating system: Android 7.1

Reasons to Buy

Neat design
Solid sound
Passable pictures

Reasons to Avoid

Doesn't like dark scenes or lit rooms
Needs fuller range of apps
Short of connections

This Capsule is another ingenious piece of tech: a tiny, beer can-sized projector with a built-in Android-like app store and the ability to double as a dedicated Bluetooth speaker.  

Whether streaming from Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer or YouTube, the sleek Capsule presents a decent picture to rival similarly-priced micro projectors. You can also stream video from Apple’s smartphones and tablets through its AirPlay connection, as well as Miracast for Microsoft devices.

Picture quality is good given the specs, and despite the maximum brightness level being just 100 lumens, its handling of colour and skin tone is natural and balanced and there's a solid level of detail on show for the money.

At the bottom are two ports: an HDMI connection and microUSB input for charging the battery, which has a life of around four hours. The built-in speakers do a good job, but it's a shame there's no 3.5mm output port to plug in an external speaker.

Still, factoring in the size, stylish design, battery life and impressive smart tech on board, the Capsule is good pound-for-pound fun.

Read the full review: Nebula Capsule

Best outdoor projectors 2020: budget and premium

5. Optoma UHD65

This 4K HDR projector performs brilliantly for the money.

SPECIFICATIONS

4K capability: Yes | HDR: Yes | Connectivity: HDMI (x2), VGA, USB, Ethernet, 3.5mm analogue, optical | Speakers: 2 x 4W

Reasons to Buy

Impressive level of detail
Good range of colours
Upscales HD and SD films well

Reasons to Avoid

Dark scenes could be more detailed
SDR to HDR conversion best avoided

It might not be the obvious choice to take into the garden, but if you want top-notch performance at a competitive price, this sophisticated, 4K-capable, HDR projector will please movie, sports and gaming fans who want to take the action outside. 

The UHD65 is smaller than you might expect, measuring around 50cm wide and around 30cm deep. The throw ratio comes out at 2.22:1, and the projector has a claimed 1,200,000:1 contrast ratio with 2200 lumens coming from its bulb – more than enough oomph for a light summer evening.

It features built-in 4W speakers, two HDMI ports – one is HDCP2.2-compatible, so will support 4K HDR content – and a USB-A port for powering streaming sticks, such as a Google Chromecast.

Considering there are more expensive models on the market that are neither 4K nor HDR-compatible, those looking for a great home cinema projector to use indoors and out should give the Optoma UHD65 serious consideration.

Read the full review: Optoma UHD65

Best outdoor projectors 2020: budget and premium

(Image credit: Viewsonic)

6. ViewSonic M1

A tiny outdoor projector with built-in Harman Kardon speakers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Resolution: 854 x 480 | Brightness: 300 lumens | Throw ratio: 1.2:1 | Focus: Manual dial | Zoom: No | Keystone correction: Veryical +/-40 degrees | Dimensions: 14.5 x 12.6 x 4cm

Reasons to Buy

Neat design
Low price
Great range or ports
Decent battery life

Reasons to Avoid

Unsophisticated picture
Lacks brightness

The M1 is a clever pint-sized projector with a handle that doubles as a stand. It's tiny, yet packs in wi-fi, a microSD card slot, plus USB Type-A and USB Type-C connectors, meaning you can draw video from almost any source. 

The stand makes projecting an image onto angled walls easy and the built-in Harman Kardon speakers deliver enough volume for movie night. 

Image quality is a mixed affair, and not up to the standard set by the slightly larger Nebula Capsule (above). That's hardly surprising as the resolution is low at 854 x 480 pixels. Still, the M1 throws out a watchable image, even at 100in. Battery life is three hours.

Focusing is fiddly, the controls require some finger gymnastics and you'll need to wait until dark to get the best picture. But if you want the most compact, affordable solution, and are happy watching a movie in standard definition now and then, the Viewsonic M1 does a fine job.

Read the full review: Viewsonic M1