One of the main advantages of a projector over a TV is that the image size is variable. Many can produce pictures of 300” or larger. This is bigger than you likely need (or even want) for indoor home theaters but makes them more suitable for outdoor use. While not all projectors are designed to work outside, there are a lot of great options that give you that versatility.
The best outdoor movie projector is one that’s bright, durable, portable, and easy to set up. All 6 of the projectors on this list fit those criteria, but the VAVA 4K is our top choice based on specs alone. It has the brightest light source, first of all, along with a short throw distance and quick, easy set-up.
This doesn’t mean the VAVA is the best choice for everyone, though. Before we get into the full product reviews, let’s break down the key specs to pay attention to when you’re shopping for an outdoor movie projector.
Best Outdoor Movie Projector Options for 2020
|Optoma GT1090HDR||VAVA 4K||Optoma ZH406||Optoma GT1080HDR||Optoma HD146X||ViewSonic LS700|
|Brightness||4,200 lumens||6,000 lumens||4,500 lumens||3,800 lumens||3,600 lumens||3,300 lumens|
|Resolution||1080p (4K input)||4K Ultra HD||1080p (4K input)||1080p (4K input)||1080p||4K Ultra HD|
|Throw distance||1’4” – 10’11”||1’4” - 2’6”||5’2”-30’7”||1’4” – 11’4”||3’4”-32’6”||6’5” – 24’8”|
|Weight||13.5 pounds||23.81 pounds||10 pounds||9.34 pounds||6.2 pounds||7.3 pounds|
|Price||Find Best Price||Find Best Price||Find Best Price||Find Best Price||Find Best Price||Find Best Price|
In a home theater, you can permanently install your projector and only have to set it up once. You don’t want to leave electronic equipment like projectors outside all the time, though. You’ll likely need to set it up every time you want to use it, and that means a quick, easy set-up is especially important.
Automatic image adjustment features like 4-corner correction or auto keystone are especially helpful for outdoor projectors. Other options like zoom and lens shift can help with the fine-tuning of the image, getting you up and running faster when it’s time for a backyard movie night.
Projector with the easiest set-up: VAVA 4K
Some home theater projectors are too delicate to be constantly moved from place to place, especially those that use traditional lamps for the projection. Others are durable, but heavy and bulky, which is annoying at best and, at worst, increases the likelihood of drops and other damage. The best outdoor movie projector is both lightweight and rugged, allowing you to take it outside easily and not worry about it breaking in the process.
Most portable projector: Optoma HD146X (6.2 pounds)
You can control the light level in an indoor home theater, but that’s not always the case when you go outside. Even at night, those who live in urban areas especially will have some light pollution to contend with. That makes a bright lamp even more important than it is for many indoor applications. A brightness of at least 3,000 lumens is a requirement for outdoor use. In this context, brighter is definitely better, especially if you don’t want to wait for the sun to go down to start your movie.
Brightest projector: VAVA 4K (6,000 lumens)
Throw Distance and Image Size
You might think throw distance isn’t an issue outside—after all, where else can you get that kind of uninterrupted space? The issue is that, with no ceiling, it’s harder to have an elevated projector set-up. This makes it more likely people, animals, and other objects will pass between the projector and the screen, interrupting the movie. With a shorter throw distance, that’s less space you need to keep clear.
Generally speaking, you’ll also want a larger image outdoors than you use inside—and the larger the image, the more space you’ll need to get it. A combination of short throw ratio with large maximum screen size is the best for an outdoor movie projector. Find top options or outdoor projector screens here
Best throw distance and size combination: Optoma GT1090HDR (301” image at 10’11”)
Best Outdoor Movie Projector: Full Reviews
Optoma makes some of the best projectors on the market for both outdoor and indoor use. The Optoma GT1090HDR makes an excellent outdoor projector because of its easy set-up, high brightness and contrast ratio, and short throw distance.
The set-up of the Optoma GT1090HDR is quick and easy—one of the main things you need in an outdoor projector. Adjusting the image is simple with the four-corner and auto keystone correction. It also has the connections you need for any content source, whether that’s a streaming stick or a gaming system. The short throw lens gives you a 120” image from just over 4 feet away so it’s not as limited by space as other options. At just over 13 pounds, the Optoma GT1090HDR is very portable, and it’s durably built, so there’s no worry you’ll damage it by moving it between your indoor home theater and your outdoor viewing area.
We also love the picture quality of the Optoma GT1090HDR for outdoor use. The high brightness means you can use it even in areas where you can’t control the light level. While it’s not the highest resolution on the list, the high contrast ratio and color accuracy mean you’ll still get an immersive, beautiful image. What content you view won’t be limited, either. It supports 4K content (though it displays it in 1080p) and has full 3D support. This makes it one of the best projectors out there for backyard movie nights.
- High brightness and contrast ratio
- True 3D content from all sources
- Supports both 4K and HDR content
- Auto keystone correction makes set-up easy
- Short throw ratio gives big image with less distance
- Low-maintenance with a long light source lifespan
- Lightweight and portable
- Doesn’t display 4K resolution
- Screen sometimes flickers on ECO mode
The VAVA 4K Laser Home Theater Projector is another option that’s equally suitable for indoor or outdoor use. It has one of the shortest throw distances of any projector currently out there, giving you a lot more flexibility in the set-up stage. Since you won’t need to use a permanent installation, it’s inherently more portable than other projectors. At just over 20 pounds, it’s not too heavy to take from one place to the next.
The VAVA 4K Home Theater Projector has the brightness you need for an outdoor projector, as well, with a high 6,000-lumen potential. This combines with the true 4K resolution and high contrast ratio for a clear, detailed picture in all light levels. It uses a three-segment color wheel that provides accurate, vibrant colors. Its only potential issue from a picture perspective is that it may cause a “rainbow effect,” so viewers sensitive to that effect should take note.
Like most 4K laser projectors, this VAVA projector sells at a higher price point. It’s worth the investment, in our opinion, but that may be an issue if you’re shopping on a budget. You will save some money on external speakers, though—the built-in Harman Kardon soundbar is loud enough even for most outdoor applications, unlike the speakers on most projectors. Find our more detailed Vava 4k projector review.
- Ultra-short throw distance
- True 4K resolution with HDR10 color
- High quality sound from Harman Kardon soundbar
- Includes both horizontal and vertical keystone correction
- High brightness
- 9 input options, including USB
- Could cause a rainbow effect for sensitive viewers
- High cost
Here’s another high-end option for those looking for the highest picture quality in an outdoor projector. The ViewSonic LS700 can produce an image up to 300” on the diagonal. That’s big enough for a driveway drive-in, and you’ll get the same true 4K resolution at all screen sizes.
The ViewSonic LS700-4K is ruggedly built and low-maintenance. As for its portability, it weighs less than 10 pounds and is quick to set up, with a 1.3x zoom to make image adjustment easier. Our only quibble from a set-up perspective is with the throw distance, which is high—you’ll need more than 24 feet to get a full 300” image. While space constraints are less of an issue outdoors, it can lead to problems with people and objects crossing in front of the lens.
The image quality is really where the ViewSonic LS700-4K shines. The picture isn’t just razor sharp. It also has impressive color accuracy, with both HDR10 support and SuperColor technology. No matter what the content source, you’ll get true to life hues that help you get fully immersed in what you’re watching. Check full ViewSonic LS700-4K review
- SuperColor technology and HDR10 support for beautiful colors
- Full 3D support through HDMI
- Phosphor light source lasts up to 20,000 hours
- Versatile connection options
- Includes a 1.3x zoom for easier image adjustment
- Wide range of image sizes up to 300”
- Longer throw distance
- Cost is on the high side
Looking for something a bit more affordable? Optoma has you covered with the GT1080HDR. It has the same short throw ratio and high light source brightness as more expensive projectors. While the native resolution is standard HD (1080p), it does support 4K content. It’s also included among best projector options under $1,000 here
Since it’s a gaming projector, the Optoma GT1080HDR has an impressive response time. With a lag of only 8.4ms and a high 120Hz refresh rate, there’s no noticeable delay between your input and what appears on the screen. Even if you don’t plan to play games outside, you’ll appreciate this responsiveness during fast-paced action sequences.
Setting up the Optoma GT1080HDR is easy, too. It has a +/-40° keystone correction, which is important for outdoor viewing since you’ll have a harder time elevating the projector. Its low weight means it’s easily portable, and it still feels solidly built. Owners of the Optoma GT1080HDR report no issues with lamp failures after years of use, so it’s affordable in the long-term, too. A more detailed review of Optoma GT1080HDR.
- Most affordable option with 4K support
- Ultra-low input lag suitable for gaming
- Includes vertical keystone correction
- Lightweight and portable
- Can produce a large image up to 306” diagonal
- Bright enough to use even with ambient light
- Doesn’t play content in 4K
- No zoom function
Here’s another affordable projector that’s just as good for gaming as it is for home theaters. Its low 16ms lag time is impressive—there’s no more delay than there would be on a TV. It would be even good enough for gaming. The Optoma HD146X pairs this responsiveness with a fast set-up and convenient, one-remote operation for all your peripherals and content sources.
The only thing you’ll sacrifice with the Optoma HD146X compared to pricier models is the sharpness of the resolution. It’s a standard HD projector and doesn’t support 4K content—not a huge issue now, though it could limit its useful longevity as 4K becomes the standard. Despite this, we found the picture enjoyable to watch. It uses Dynamic Black technology to enhance the on-screen contrast and provide more picture depth. The 6-segment color wheel gives you the same true-to-life colors as costlier projectors.
Now the Optoma HD146X does have a longer throw ratio. It can give you a 301” image, but you’ll need a distance of more than 30 feet to get it. The good news is, it has robust image adjustment options to compensate. The single-chip processing provides more accurate image alignment, and the included zoom and vertical keystone help get around the limitations of the long throw distance. Overall, the Optoma HD146X is the best outdoor projector in the under-$500 price range. Read full review of Optoma HD146X
- Affordably priced
- Single-chip processing for easier image alignment
- Portable design
- High quality picture with Dynamic Black contrast and 6-segment color wheel
- Includes 1.1x zoom and +/-40° vertical keystone
- Enhanced gaming mode provides a low input lag
- Control all connected devices with one remote
- Doesn’t support 4K content
- Shorter lamp life than other options on the list
- Longer throw distance
Last but not least, the Optoma ZH406 is a fantastic indoor/outdoor projector. It uses a laser light source that lasts longer than traditional lamps and provides up to 4,500 lumens of brightness. Your picture won’t suffer from streetlights or even sunlight. In addition, it’s dust-resistant and very durable, letting you take it outdoors without fear it’ll break.
Easy image alignment is something else you’ll get with the Optoma ZH406. It has automatic keystone correction, as well as manual zoom and lens shift. The 4-corner adjustment is especially helpful at eliminating distortion when the projector can’t be centered completely on the screen. These options help to overcome the limitations of the standard throw ratio. For the full review of this projector click here.
One of the best features of the Optoma ZH406 is its flexibility. Its inputs for content include VGA and USB along with HDMI. There are also dual audio ports—which, to be honest, you’ll need to use. The 15-watt speakers don’t have the power to compete with outdoor noise.
Like other laser projectors at this price point, the Optoma ZH406 supports 4K content but has a native 1080p resolution. Find our top picks if you are looking for 4k projector. The picture quality is acceptable, if not the best on the list. Still, the versatility and durability of the Optoma ZH406 mean it’s worth considering when you’re looking for an outdoor projector.
- Light source is durable and dust-resistant
- Vertical lens shift with 4-corner correction
- Wide range of image size options
- Input options include USB, VGA, and HDMI
- Easily portable
- Built-in speakers are too weak for outdoor use
- High throw distance
We said at the beginning that the VAVA 4K Home Theater Projector is the best outdoor movie projector based on specifications alone. Unsurprisingly, though, it’s also the most expensive option on the list—and not everyone can afford to spend nearly $3,000 on a projector.
Luckily, there are other, more affordable options for outdoor movie watching. If you’re on a budget, something like the Optoma HD146X still give you the large, bright image you need at a fraction of the cost.
Whichever way you go, we hope this review has helped you pinpoint what’s most important for your outdoor movie projector. Whether you’re looking for the shortest throw or the best picture quality, one of the six options above will fit your needs.