As the days grow warmer and longer, you may be thinking of turning your garden into an outdoor cinema, or ways to amuse the kids on a camping trip. And the likes of the best outdoor projectors and the best portable projectors are a great way to enjoy all your favourite films, games, and shows in the great outdoors.
BenQ’s GS50 was released in October 2021 but now is the perfect time to pick one up for a great summer of outdoor viewing. BenQ has long been a leading name in projection and has made a fuss about this launch: boasting that the GS50 is the first smart portable outdoor projector with 2.1-channel Bluetooth audio. Is it a leap forward for portable projection?
Design & Features
The GS50’s casing is tasteful and slightly quirky. It looks more like a posh case for picnic equipment you’d get from a high-end retailer rather than a case for a top projector for gaming contender – but the smart white casing of the main section means that on the shelf it blends in well with home décor. The carry handle on the side makes it easy to carry around, as does a rugged feeling carry case which could be mistaken for a cool bag before closer inspection. It needs a bag, as it’s far too big to slip into a pocket. The plastic case is hardwearing, rated to withstand a fall of over two feet (carrying height), and it's splash resistant.
The little leg at the front which enables you to tilt the unit up to 15 degrees is a smart and very fun feature that is very well integrated. The GS50 is overall extremely easy to set up – start-up is very quick while keystoning and focus are automatic on launch and can be easily updated via the remote should the projector get moved slightly. Just point it at a surface, switch it on and within seconds you can begin spending twenty minutes arguing about what to watch.
The sound is really excellent, with two 5w tweeters and one 10w woofer. At home, we kept the volume comparatively low – 10 out of 50 for the most part. This is key for an outdoor projector: you don’t want to have to lug around a set of speakers as well. The GS50 provides unbelievable volume from its fairly small case, and even with the sound blaring there’s no notable distortion.
Battery life is stated at two hours, but I managed closer to three using the low power mode and an HDMI input, so easily enough time for most films. But if you want to watch the Snyder Cut around the campfire you can further power it with a USB-C battery pack. There’s also 16GB of internal storage to download content to – a rare boast even for portable projectors. Like the vast majority of portable units, there’s no zoom so picture size entirely depends on placement.
The operating system is Android 9.0, which is becoming a default for this generation of smart projectors. It works smoothly and has a wide range of apps available. But, as ever, there are key apps missing – most notably Netflix (unless you want to do some complicated workarounds). At this point, I’m more annoyed that I have to keep writing this than I am about the practicality of needing to boot the PS5 to watch Queer Eye. I beg Netflix to license the app for more projectors, if not for the sake of their consumers but for us pampered reviewers who have to keep explaining it’s not the manufacturer’s fault these apps don’t have permission to be used on their units.
Picture quality is a sharp HD, with smooth motion even for quick sports. The colour is lush and immersive too which is particularly great when using it as a projectors for PS5 and in RPGs. We’re used to portable projectors running 720p, so true 1080p here is impressive. This might not be the best picture you get for the money but it’s truly great for a portable unit. It was only when A/B-ing against a 4K projector that I noticed any drop in picture quality and depth of colour, otherwise I was very happy with this image for casual watching and gaming.
Unusually for BenQ, there’s no dedicated gaming mode, and input lag is stated at 62ms. It’s fine for casual gaming – I got through the drinking contest rhythm games of Assassin's Creed Valhalla without issue and my performance on FPSs was no worse than usual – but hardcore or competitive gamers would want faster, and should probably look to something like the BenQ X1300i. Darker areas were a slight strain with ambient light, but there were no complaints in a dark room.
The image stands up well to ambient light – looking great even in the afternoon sun with patio windows open. When outdoors and even on a poor surface with the sun out, the projector produced a picture that would be watchable, and, of course, after sunset, it really excels.
Overall - should you buy it?
Everything about this feels built for quality portability. Yes, there are trade-offs in being "only" Full HD, but the picture is easily good enough for casual home-usage. But don’t think of the GS50 as a good Full HD 1080p projector at a premium price. The excellent battery life and truly exceptional sound make this a great projector to take out and about. The price is slightly higher than a good HD home projector, but it’s available slightly cheaper than one of its recent portable rivals: the also excellent XGIMI Halo+, with features like carry case and internal storage which the Halo+ lacks (albeit the XGIMI is much smaller in form).
It might not end up replacing my home projector, but I wouldn’t expect a portable projector to do so. However, we did use the GS50 in place of that for most of the last month, which is a real vote of confidence for it. I definitely wish I’d had this to review while on glamping trips over the last few summers!
How we tested the BenQ GS50
We put the BenQ GS50 through it's paces in a number of ways, but a large amount of time spent casual watching dominated – a Charmed binge and re-watching Gravity Falls in the evenings, plus All Elite Wrestling Dynamite action led the way. The battery was put to the test by streaming the last day of the season Match of the Day on a sleepy Monday morning, with sport mode helping the picture. For games, I’m working my way through Assassins Creed Valhalla’s newer content (the landscapes looked fantastic) and for a co-op replay of Borderlands 3 (with the cartoon graphics as colourful as ever).
Outdoor testing happened by projecting onto the side of my block of flats from the street while hoping no one asked what on earth I was doing. If a projector can look good in that position, it’s really quite something, and the GS50 passed that test.