The projectors (and A/V accessories) video experts recommend for outdoor movie nights

Whether you call movies “movies” while rattling off a list of French new wave directors, or just love watching Marvel franchises in your underwear, you can enjoy your cinematic habit outdoors this summer by investing in a portable projector . Instead of sitting indoors and squinting at a small TV or crouching down at a laptop, you can set up a projector (and the right A/V accessories) in your backyard to show sports, shows, videos and video games on the big screen to enjoy – and under a big sky.

Unless you’re an AV-savvy techie who knows about pixel counts, finding the best portable projector for you can be a challenge. That’s why we asked the photo and video teams at HuffPost and BuzzFeed, as well as some of our favorite independent filmmakers, for home projector, screen, and speaker recommendations.

Before you hit buy on a device, director and video designer Michael Long says you should think about where and when you’re planning your home theater nights. If you have a large, secluded backyard with little light pollution, you can probably use a lower brightness projector. However, if you live in a city with tons of brightly lit buildings, or if you want to host shows during the day, you’ll need a projector with higher lumen ratings (the measure of the light coming from a lightbulb).

Also think about “throw ratio”, a measure that combines the size of the projected image with the distance between the projector and the screen. “If you want to place your projector in a specific location, there are free calculators online that you can use to calculate the throw ratio you need,” Long explained.

Chris McGonigal, senior image editor at HuffPost, added that most home projectors (especially the cheaper ones) don’t have automatic zoom capabilities; ergo, it’s crucial to first “figure out where the projector is going to be for the picture size you want,” McGonigal said. “But most have auto keystone correction that automatically focuses and ensures the image is square.”

In addition to brightness and throw distance, McGonigal and Long suggested thinking about how you want to display your content. If you want to stream from a phone or tablet, you’ll need a Bluetooth projector. If you want to use a Firestick or an HDMI cable, you’ll need one with compatible connectors.

To help you throw the best movie night around, McGonigal and others have shared their recommendations for projectors, screens, and speakers for the home.

HuffPost may receive a percentage of purchases made through links on this site. Each item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Subject to price and availability changes.

The best projectors for backyard movie nights

If you are serious about streaming quality

McGonigal and Justin Gaccione, a video editor at HuffPost, both recommend the Nebula Mars II, a smart projector with Bluetooth, built-in apps, HDMI and USB ports, and the ability to mirror your phone or tablet. It also has autofocus, weighs less than four pounds, has a convenient carrying handle, and comes with a rechargeable battery that allows for three hours of playtime.

“I bought one during the pandemic and it’s insanely cool,” Gaccione said. “It’s super portable, comes with a tripod, built-in speaker and Wi-Fi connection so you can have all your apps at your fingertips and pull them straight from the projector. It has a resolution of 1080p up to a 30ft screen before declining in quality.”

McGonigal noted that the rechargeable battery allows you to use the projector wirelessly, so you can enjoy movies and TV anywhere. (The brand’s website says the ideal distance between this projector and a screen is under eight feet.)

“We use it for movie nights by the pool,” he says. “It’s bright enough at night, but like all small projectors, it suffers in brighter rooms.”

An affordable option that weighs less than a pound

For a smaller, more affordable portable Bluetooth projector that still has a built-in speaker, HDMI and USB ports, Wi-Fi, screen mirroring, and four hours of battery life, Gaccione recommends the Nebula Capsule.

“I’ve used the capsule and it’s really cool too,” he says.

The Capsule has manual focus and slightly lower sound quality and brightness than the Mars II, but it’s smaller than a soda can and weighs just a pound, making it easy to carry. The cylindrical shape allows sound to be projected in multiple directions. As with the Mars II, the ideal projection distance is less than two and a half meters.

A budget-friendly option, ideal for outdoor use

For a budget-priced Amazon find that seems to be on sale often, Dilan Garcia Lopez, Supervising Producer for BuzzFeed and Complex Networks, recommends and personally owns Topvision’s portable mini-projector and 100-inch screen.

“It’s great for its small form factor, bright and sharp image, user-friendly interface, fast load time, and almost non-existent quiet internal fan,” Garcia Lopez told HuffPost. “Also great for its mountability (which larger projectors don’t have). You can mount this one in very unusual positions to project onto different surfaces.”

With a built-in speaker and a projection distance of 6 to 22 feet, the Topvision Mini Projector is made for outdoor movies. It doesn’t work over WiFi or Bluetooth, but has ports and outlets for connecting to Fire Sticks, laptops, tablets, video games, external speakers, and more. It weighs less than five pounds and needs to be plugged in to work.

A projector for extra large surfaces

Garcia Lopez recommends the Hopvision Native 1080P projector as an improvement over the budget option without completely breaking the bank. It has built-in speakers, ports and sockets for most devices, Fire Sticks and external speakers. If you have a big blank wall to project movies onto or want a larger display, this might be for you.

“This one is great for its ability to project a large image for huge surfaces (up to 350 inches),” he says. “It’s got premium sound quality but still an audio jack if you want to use an external speaker, 150,000 hours of lamp life, support for 4K video, and a surprisingly quiet fan speed. Very sharp image with detailed manual focus adjustment.”

The best screens for backyard movie nights

An easy to set up double-sided screen

Of course, finding the perfect projector is only half the battle. If you’re wondering what to project your backyard features onto, McGonigal recommends the wrinkle-free Elite Screens Yard Master double-sided canvas.

“This screen is excellent,” he said. “Easy to assemble and disassemble and fits right back into the portable bag. Good quality too.”

These umbrellas are available in five sizes, each with a carry bag, ground pockets, ground stakes and lanyards.

A white cover sheet

If you’re worried about storing another backyard item or don’t have room for a pop-up screen, Gaccione suggests getting a flat white sheet to project movies and TV shows outside onto.

“I’m a big proponent of just hanging a white sheet,” he says. “I was really blown away when I first saw one and then immediately bought one.”

This durable microfiber top sheet comes in four sizes and is machine washable.

The best wireless outdoor speakers for backyard movie nights

An easy to install soundbar with excellent reviews

Although most modern projectors have built-in speakers, filmmaker Kelly Wourms urged home theater fans not to skimp on sound quality. Investing in external speakers can make a world of difference.

“Even with a cheap projector, you still have to have good sound,” Wourms told HuffPost. “I’ve had great luck with a soundbar and subwoofer combo with Bluetooth connectivity. I just bought what was cheapest and on sale at Best Buy [and] I would recommend doing the same!”

This LG Bluetooth soundbar, currently available from Best Buy, comes with a wireless subwoofer, an HDMI port, batteries and a remote control. According to reviews, it is easy to install and offers better sound quality than built-in TV speakers.

Amazon

An option under $40

To boost your sound for less than $40, try the BenqBot speaker, which is designed for indoor/outdoor use and has built-in subwoofers. It works with Bluetooth but also has coaxial, AUX and RCA connections. It has a rechargeable lithium battery that can play for six hours.

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