Gathering the family to watch a film everyone agrees on (Encanto?) under the stars: Now that’s a summer night. It’s also a relatively safe way to hang out, especially if your loved ones are reluctant to spend an evening together indoors.
To turn your yard into a home theater, though, you’ll need a projector — one that works just as well outside as it does in.
While the majority of projectors aren’t marketed exclusively for outdoor use, there are plenty of options that will suit backyards, rooftops, and porches. You’ll even be able to take super portable projectors on camping trips, which make for great weekend plans as we head into spring.
You’ll just need to keep a few key specs in mind, including brightness, portability, throw distance, and sound. Whatever the particular needs of your outdoor space, there’s probably a projector on this list for you.
Features to keep in mind
It’s pretty easy to control the light level indoors: If you want it to be darker, turn the lights off and close the blinds. Outdoors, the light level is largely out of your hands — all you can do is wait for the sun to set and hope there isn’t too much ambient light for your picture to handle.
Keep your yard’s brightness level in mind while choosing a projector. If you aren’t worried about ambient light — you live in a rural area with very little light pollution, for example, or your backyard is far away from your neighbors’ — brightness may not be your biggest concern. If you anticipate environmental light getting in the way, though, go for one of the brighter options on the list. (Here, brightness is denoted in lumens.)
Then, there’s throw distance, which refers to the distance between the projector’s lens and the screen. A projector with a long throw distance is able to project a high-quality image while sitting farther away from the screen; a projector with a shorter throw distance should be closer to the screen. If you have a big backyard, you may want a longer throw distance. For a rooftop, tiny porch, or apartment green space, a shorter throw distance will be ideal.
Choosing the right projector for your space’s size can be tricky, so we’ve tried our best to specify the locations in which our picks will work best. If you’d like to read further, there are several informative guides out there. Our favorite is on the Epson blog(Opens in a new tab) and includes a useful throw distance calculator.
You can’t store a projector outside, so we’ve made sure to feature relatively lightweight options that are easy to lug out to the backyard. Each of our picks weighs under 10 pounds; still, if you want to travel with your projector, you’ll probably want the lightest option possible.
What other supplies will I need?
The projector will do lots of the work for you, as well it should. But if you’re building an outdoor theater from scratch, there are a few other supplies you’ll need as well, including:
A screen on which to project. This could be anything from an actual screen(Opens in a new tab) intended for outdoor use to a white sheet to a wall to the side of your garage.
A separate sound system, potentially. A lot of projectors — especially lightweight ones — don’t have great built-in speakers. We suggest purchasing a separate set of external speakers, especially if the projector’s built-in speakers provide less than 5 watts of sound.
A power strip and extension cords, if your projector doesn’t run on battery. Extra batteries if it does.
Seating for guests, preferably unobtrusive options like pillows and low-to-the-ground folding chairs(Opens in a new tab). You may also want to keep a stash of blankets nearby in case it gets cold.
Snacks! No need to be sneaky about outside food when the movie theater is your own backyard.
Here are our picks for the best outdoor projectors. Better start polling the fam about that movie. Or maybe everyone can just play Super Smash Bros.