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The best outdoor projectors 2021 - make a drive-in cinema or gaming theatre at home this year

Included in this guide:

The best outdoor projectors for movies, entertainment and gaming
(Image credit: Future/TMY)

One of the best outdoor projectors is an excellent acquisition right now ahead of the summer months. With more and more of us having nicer weather, but also the genuine possibility of meeting friends and family outdoors beyond a quick wave across the street, entertaining and having fun outdoors is now officially back and worth preparing well for.

While we are now enjoying more freedoms after a weird year, trips to the park will become more frequent, and having friends and family over for garden parties or dinner will increasingly occur, so why not treat yourself to one of the best outdoor projectors and create the outdoor home cinema or gaming arena of your dreams? When there are no new summer blockbusters in cinemas, bring your old favorites to your own big screen. It’s been a rough year, you’ve earned it.

But first, we must remember that light is always the key when it comes to projectors, and the best outdoor projectors are no exception. For context, cinemas aren’t dark just so you can cuddle up in the back row; the light from the projector wouldn’t be able to make the colors so strong and vivid if it was competing with house lights. Similarly, even the best home projector is no match for a gigantic ball of light in the sky. Any projector is going to struggle with a sunny day, even in a shady area. But as the summer evenings get longer, there’s more time to stretch out with the last barbequed burgers and take in a great film or pit all your friends together in a FIFA tournament to make up for missing Euro 2020.

BenQ TK850 4K Projector

Best deal right now

BenQ TK850 4K Projector | $1,700 $1,549 at Amazon
While there are some wonderfully affordable outdoor projectors nowadays, there's nothing quite like getting a genuinely 4K picture if possible. And while this one is an investment, you won't regret it - for outdoor or indoor use.

Of course, everyone’s finances have been affected a lot one way or the other this year. But here there’s something for everyone to get one of the best outdoor projectors, whether you’ve saved what you would usually spend commuting and socializing or if money’s tight. While "you get what you pay for" applies to outdoor projectors maybe more than any other bit of entertainment tech, you can still find great units at affordable prices.

We should let you know that these products do tend to go in and out of stock on both sides of the Atlantic. Our price finding gadget will always present the best available prices for you, and always point you in the right direction where there isn't currently a price. Also, check back here regularly as we intend to add more and more to this list to broaden your selection.

Best outdoor projectors 2021

(Image credit: TMY)

TMY V08 720p Native Projector

The best outdoor projector for those on a budget

Specifications
Resolution: 720p Native (supports 1080p HD)
Brightness: 4,500 lumens
Contrast: 2,000:1
Features: Dual-stereo speaker, multiple ports, remote control
Throw: Standard
Reasons to buy
+Free screen and case+Incredible value
Reasons to avoid
-Some focus issues

When putting a projector indoors, there’s a reasonable chance of having a white wall that the image will look great on. Outside, this is less likely. So not only is the TMY V08 great value in itself, but it includes a free 100-inch screen sheet, saving you having to buy one separately. It’s a small touch, but a very useful one that few brands provide.

It’s a bright outdoor projector which will give as good an image and clear sound as you’ll find in this price range. Some users have reported issues having all areas of the screen in focus but this is only noticeable if you’re using it as a secondary monitor with lots of text, and not something which interferes with your home drive-in watching pleasure.  It’s well worth the low price.

(Image credit: DBPower)

DBPower L21 LCD Video Projector

Sounds as good as the picture looks

Specifications
Resolution: 720p Native (supports 1080p HD)
Brightness: 5,000 lumens
Contrast: 3,000:1
Features: Dual-stereo speakers, 256K color reproduction, multiple ports, daul fan cooling, remote control
Throw: Standard
Reasons to buy
+Great sound, in stereo+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-Loud fans

The sound of one of the best outdoor projectors might not be the first thing on your mind, but not having to carry out speakers every time you want to use it makes set up much less of a chore and lets you get on with what you want to do: sit down and enjoy your own outdoor cinema. The L21 boasts not one but two great speakers, and it’s a rare treat to get stereo at this price. 

Convenience is key here – the L21 is quick to set up and a glance at the simple and unfussy remote reflects the commitment to keeping things simple. BDPower boasts about the quality of its dual-fan cooling system, but the drawback is that this fan noise means both speakers will have to be turned up loud to drown it out.

(Image credit: Optoma)

Optoma GT1080

Brings big picture to small spaces

Specifications
Resolution: Native 1080p (1920×1080)
Brightness: 2,800 ANSI lumens
Contrast: 25,000:1
Features: Gaming Mode, Dynamic black technology, reproduces Rec 709 colour, Full 3D support, HDMI Link can turn off two HDMI-CEC capable devices using a single remote
Throw: Short
Reasons to buy
+Short throw to run even in small spaces+Very short lag time
Reasons to avoid
-No full USB port, only mini-Runs hot

If you’re worried your small or narrow garden doesn’t have room for a projector, you need short throw.  The wide lens of the Optoma GT1080 can give huge images even when close to the projection surface, opening up viewing possibilities in the cosiest space.

It also boosts a gaming mode with minimal input lag. Most projectors will be fine for the majority of gamers, but the hardcore – particularly those who play online – will need something as responsive as the GT1080.

The only real niggle with this is that lacks a full USB input, with only a mini USB slot, which means you’ll need a device which outputs HDMI rather than popping a Fire Stick straight in, for example.

(Image credit: BenQ)

BenQ GV1

A robust and portable outdoor projector

Specifications
Resolution: 856x480
Brightness: 200 ANSI lumens
Contrast: 100,000:1
Features: Speakers, portable design and carry case, auto keystoning, good remote, 3hr battery life
Throw: Short
Reasons to buy
+Very bright+Solid build+Good auto keystoning
Reasons to avoid
-Quiet sound-Fiddly zoom control

The Benq GV1 is a robust portable unit that gives decent picture for a projector the size of a pint glass that you can take anywhere. It’s not a home cinema experience or even full HD but this is about portability rather than perfect picture. The most impressive thing is the brightness when plugged in – excellent for any unit let alone one this size. A solid three-hour battery life gives plenty of viewing time when out and about – but you’ll need to have media downloaded to the device you cast from if you’re not on a wifi connection.

It’s built solidly and will stand up to transportation, plus the solid plastic looks the part and is neat and clean in design to boot. It runs Android OS and most streaming apps are readily available for download with good casting from phones, tablets, and wifi. The downsides: the sound is good but doesn’t offer quite enough volume. It’s frustratingly fiddly to set up, with very sensitive zoom control and D-pad keyboard input, but it’s easy to cast to it to once set up, and auto-keystoning is helpful. There is notable input lag when playing games which require precise timing, although for a casual play of a slower-paced game it’ll be adequate.

(Image credit: Future)

BenQ TK850

The best premium outdoor projector

Specifications
Resolution: 4K UHD (3840x2160)
Brightness: 3,000 lumens
Contrast: 30,000:1
Features: Motion enhancer, CinemaMaster audio and video, Sports Modes
Throw: Standard/Short
Reasons to buy
+Amazingly bright picture+4K and HDR support+Great for sport
Reasons to avoid
-Longer impact lag than expected

BenQ is one of the biggest names in projectors because they offer great quality at a price well below similarly specced competitors. The TK850 gives true 4K UHD for incredibly sharp pictures and intense, detailed color. Its 3000 lumens mean this unit is incredibly bright and will be watchable when other projectors are still waiting for nightfall, while the backlit remote means you’ll still be able to change settings in the dark.

For anyone who wants to replace the full stadium experience while the stands are empty, the TK850 is made for whatever sport you’ve been missing. It has custom sports modes, helped by its low lag so you can watch even the fastest matches seamlessly. This includes sound settings, which gives you every bit of the dubbed crowd or shout from the pitch through its chambered 10W speakers. Projector speakers can be a mixed bag but these are loud and clear enough to not require dragging a sound system outside.

It’s a simple unit to set up, and as well as vertical keystoning offers a lens shift wheel to move the image up or down – making it easier to get a great picture when you don’t have the perfect spot for it to rest. The only downside is that the input lag of 83ms is slower than the ideal for gaming, although it would take a keen eye to spot this. At the premium end of the spectrum, this is the best outdoor projector.

(Image credit: Epson)

Epson EB-S41

The best mid-range outdoor projector

Specifications
Resolution: 800x600
Brightness: 3,300 lumens
Contrast: 15,000:1
Features: Speakers, Wi-Fi connectivity, carry case, remote control
Throw: Standard
Reasons to buy
+Horizontal keystoning+Carry case+Wifi connectivity
Reasons to avoid
-Weak speaker-4:3 ratio not great for widescreen content

A solid unit in the mid-range of projectors, the EB-S41 is bright and reliable. Epson is a brand pitched a little more towards business rather than pleasure, and there is something about the unit which looks more at home in the office than home or garden, but that’s not something to worry about when you’re watching its great picture. It offers WiFi connectivity and casting, although you need an additional accessory for this.

The carry case helps you to easily take it out into the garden and store it safely when not in use, or for if you’re sick of being the host and want to make someone else’s back yard a cinema. One of the few models in this price range to offer horizontal and vertical keystoning make it easier to set up in new places too. However, the native 4:3 aspect ratio shoes this may be more of an office projector you can use for outdoor viewing rather than a genuine video specialist.

(Image credit: Future)

Anker Nebula Capsule II

The top portable outdoor projector

Specifications
Resolution: Native 720p (1280 x 720)
Brightness: 200 ANSI lumen
Contrast: Not stated
Features: Projector mode, speaker mode, Android operating system, 3 hours of video playback on battery
Throw: Short
Reasons to buy
+Watch it anywhere+Connect wirelessly to Android phones+Stream direct to the projector+Short input lag
Reasons to avoid
- Inferior image quality to mains units

At the size of a large drinking glass, the Anker Nebula Capsule II is slightly bigger than its predecessor but upgrades on it in several ways. It now has Android TV installed which means all your favorite streaming apps can run on it (although you need a quick workaround to install Netflix). Set up is a breeze as you can connect your Android phone to import WiFi and app account details, and even use the phone as a controller rather than needing to type using the remote. Automatic focus and keystoning means you’ve got a clear picture fast.

If you’re venturing out to camp, be sure to pack this. You can take it anywhere with three hours of video playback (30 hours of music) on a single charge and 8GB of storage (plus a USB port for a memory stick or external hard drive). The picture isn’t the sharpest, brightest, or the biggest, with a throw distance of about 60cm to 3m (around two to ten feet), but this can be used anywhere, in seconds. This isn’t about perfect high fidelity, this is about fun and portability. 

(Image credit: GooDee)

GooDee Upgraded Video Projector

A projector you may not want to upgrade from

Specifications
Resolution: 1280x768p Native (supports 1080p HD)
Brightness: 300ANSI lumens
Contrast: 3,000:1
Features: HiFi stereo speakers, remote control, compatible with basically everything
Throw: Standard
Reasons to buy
+Stereo sound+Bright image for the price
Reasons to avoid
-Few options for height adjustment-Lack of screen width control

When I last bought a projector in 2017, I was warned off anything in this price range.  But the GooDee Upgraded’s glowing reviews and status as one of the top sellers on Amazon shows that affordable LED projectors are no longer a huge quality drop off from lamp units twice the cost.

There are some practical issues. A lack of display size control means you’ll have to move the projector forward and backward to control the image dimensions. A three setting front leg instead of a screw means a lack of precision in height controls, making it more likely you’ll have to balance strategically sized books under the front of the unit to set the height of the projection. But with sharp, bright picture and stereo sound through good speakers at this price, compromises can be made!

(Image credit: Vamvo)

Vamvo L6200 Native

A great alternative budget outdoor projector

Specifications
Resolution: 1920x1080p Full HD (native)
Brightness: 6000 lumens
Contrast: 5,000:1
Features: Horizontal keystoning, multiple connection options, remote, carry case
Throw: Standard
Reasons to buy
+Horizontal and vertical keystoning+Decent internal speaker
Reasons to avoid
-Fiddly controls

The Vamvo is particularly stylish for the price, with a smart-looking case to make carrying around the light unit even easier. The visuals on screen are the most important thing to look at of course, but it delivers here too, at up to 200 inches of great picture in good conditions. The LEDs are suitably bright without too much heat, so this is a projector that can come out at dusk rather than once night has fully set in.

The digital keystoning tool on the back is a nice touch, and the ability to alter this horizontally as well as vertically makes it easier to set up in locations others might struggle with, very useful as many gardens don’t have that perfect spot for a projector! The speaker is more than passable if you don’t want to lug out a sound system every time you use it. The only drawback is that the controls on top of the unit can be a little fiddly, so don’t lose the remote.

(Image credit: Vankyo)

Vankyo Leisure 3 Projector

Good things come in small packages

Specifications
Resolution: 800x400 Native (supports 1080p HD)
Brightness: 2400 lumens
Contrast: 2,000:1
Features: Stereo speakers, Bluetooth connectivity
Throw: Standard
Reasons to buy
+Great value+Bluetooth audio connectivity+Compact size
Reasons to avoid
-Needs a very dark environment-Only one HDMI and USB input-No zoom feature

Budget brand Vankyo shows just how fast projector technology is moving, and how much cheaper it’s getting. The most recent Leisure 3 is 6% brighter than previous models and has 2400 lumens for great picture quality of up to 170inches. It even comes with a carry case for ease of transport or to safely store it inside when not in use. And carrying or storing a device this small will be easy.

At this end of the market, you’re going to need to wait until the sun is down, but if you’re on a budget or just want something for occasional use and full HD imagery is less important to you than the excitement of getting your own garden projector, this may be the perfect entry point.

(Image credit: Optoma)

Optoma UHD51/UHD51A

A smart and 3D outdoor projector

Specifications
Resolution: 3830x2160 UHD
Brightness: 2400 lumens
Contrast: 500,000:1
Features: PureMotion mode, HDR10, 3D compatibility, Smarthome features, various Display and Picture modes
Throw: Standard
Reasons to buy
+3D capability+Alexa compatibility (UHD51A only)
Reasons to avoid
- Weak speaker

We are living in a horrible dystopian future, so why not get the fun side of sci-fi and have a projector which has full Alexa capability? Link it up to your smart home and control your projector with your voice while you flip sausages on the barbeque? 

The UHD51 has a fantastic 4K UHD picture and for watching anything from bright Pixar movies to darker films like Bladerunner 2049, with incredible depth of blacks, often a weak spot of home projectors.

This projector isn't without minor flaws though: the 5W speaker is weak, especially given that this unit is noisy. It can be hard to hear over its own fan at times, let alone a noisy child singing along to Frozen 2. The range of modes it offers isn’t the most useful either, and it can be hard to tell what the difference between them is. What does make this stand out is the 3D capability, a trick Optoma always does very well, if only in 1080p here. These slight negatives do not take away from the whole package though, as the UHD51A is still a seriously quality Optoma projector.

A final note: The UHD51A model is different from the UHD51 by virtue of that Alexa compatibility. The former is more prevalent in the US and the latter in the UK.

(Image credit: GooDee)

GooDee G500

A good budget unit which won’t overheat

Specifications
Resolution: 1280x720 HD (supports 1080p)
Brightness: 3600 lumens
Contrast: 2,000:1
Features: Multiple connections, lightweight, remote control, 5-year service guarantee
Throw: Short
Reasons to buy
+Small and easy to carry, with case+Doesn’t run hot+Downscales well
Reasons to avoid
-Can struggle with larger image sizes-Poor built in speakers

A perennial drawback with outdoor projectors, especially in the summer, is the heat they give out. Personally, the heat of mine indoors stops me using on summer days. But the Goodee G500's LED light rather than a traditional lamp runs with little heat, making it ideal for an outdoor unit. Anyone who’s phone has overheated and shut down in the last few weeks knows how annoying hot tech in the sun is!

The picture here isn’t perfect, 720p rather than 1080p, but it gives beautiful images.  While it advertises a picture up to 180 inches, image quality does drop noticeably before you get there.  If you only have 4k sources but want to dip your toe in the projector water, don’t worry; it downscales well without the visual issues some cheaper projectors have with this.  It’s also got a wide range of inputs, should you need to connect something pre-HDMI.  The inbuilt speaker is poor and you’ll need external ones to plugin but that’s often to be expected at this price point.

Overall, you have some fine options here, and we will keep adding to as often as we can. If you're looking for the more traditional gaming screens then you have to check out our guides on the best gaming monitors and the best gaming TVs.