Best Backyard Movie Projectors Under 500

Steve Scott

Updated on

What’s not to like about getting to watch a movie in your backyard, cuddled under a blanket with your loved ones? Or to have a fierce gaming session with your friends under the stars.

There’s just something about it that elevates even a simple movie night to a whole new level. That is if you’re not one of those people who like to draw all the curtains and shut themselves off from the outside.

And to get the best experience ever, you need a quality projector that works well outdoors. Now, you might think that quality outdoor projectors will cost you a pretty penny.

And you would be right, most of the time! Fortunately, there are high-quality options that won’t require you to spend too much.

We’ve made a guide about the best backyard projectors for under $500. Read on and find out what those are and what makes them so great.

See related: Ultimate Guide to Outdoor Movies

Best Backyard Movie Projectors Under $500 - Our Top Picks 


epson-vs250-1

Specifications

  • Size: 11.9 x 3.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Weight: 5.3 lbs

Key Features

  • 30 - 350 inches screen size
  • 800 x 600 (SVGA) native resolution
  • 3200 ANSI lumens 
  • 15,000:1 contrast ratio
  • 4:3 aspect ratio 
  • HDMI, D-sub 15 pin, RCA, 2 x USB (one Type-A, one Type-B)

PROS

  • Automatic vertical keystone adjustment
  • Brightness rating
  • Easy to set up
  • Low level of fan noise
  • Horizontal keystone

CONS

  • Resolution (no FullHD)
  • Speaker could be louder
  • No headphone output

Epson VS250 SVGA Review

epson-vs250-2

Although Epson VS250 hit the market primarily as a business presentation projector. But, due to its high brightness levels it can also be a magnificent outdoor projector.

Design-wise, Epson VS250 is everything it needs to be. At 11.9 x 9.2 x 3.2 inches and 5.3 pounds, it’s neither too big nor too small and is really portable.

The only downside to this portability is that it doesn’t come with a carrying bag included, so you’ll have to buy one separately.

The brightness rating is high quality on this model and it stands a whopping 3,200 ANSI lumens. Such brightness makes this model good for indoor and outdoor use, no matter what the ambient light is.

The focus accuracy of this model is top-notch. The great thing about this projector is that it has a built-in cap to cover and uncover the lens, just by sliding it.

When you close the cap, the video and audio automatically get muted. And you don’t have to worry about missing lens caps again.

Vertical Keystone Adjustment

Maybe the best feature that comes with Epson VS250 is vertical keystone adjustment, which is done automatically. And in the place where you would usually find vertical, there’s a horizontal keystone adjustment.

This makes the job easier for you since you don’t have to position the projector right in front of the screen.

You can place it somewhere to the side and adjust the horizontal keystone. You could put the projector right to the side of your bed, and use the wall in front of you as a screen.

This model is very well designed, so the noise and heat levels are at a satisfactory level. It runs quietly, without ever overheating.

It comes with a built-in 2W mono speaker, which in all honesty, could do a lot better. It can serve a purpose, but it’s just not strong enough.

So, if you aim for a rich and powerful sound, maybe you should consider getting a model from our list of the best home theater systems.

When it comes to connectivity, the Epson VS250 is pretty straightforward. It offers HDMI, RCA, SVGA, and two USB ports.

But, for such a beautiful model, it’s strange that it’s missing a headphone output.

Resolution Should be FullHD

The only strange thing about this model is that it doesn’t come with FullHD resolution, which has pretty much become a standard nowadays. Learn more about the differences between HD and FullHD.

Instead, it is limited to 800 x 600. However, even with such a resolution, all aspects of the projected image, like contrast, brightness or accuracy, are dead on.

ViewSonic-PJD5555W-1

Specifications

  • Size: 9 x 12.4 x 4.1 inches
  • Weight: 4.63 lbs

Key features

  • 3300 ANSI lumens 
  • 20000:1 contrast ratio
  • 3-D Blu-ray Ready
  • 1280 x 800 (WXGA) native resolution
  • 4:3 aspect ratio

PROS

  • Compact and easy to carry around
  • Brightness levels are high
  • Lamp life
  • Sharp image
  • Can project 3D content

CONS

  • Some rainbow effect
  • Input lag
  • Limited zoom range

ViewSonic PJ5555W Review

ViewSonic-PJD5555W-2

ViewSonic PJ5555W often gets overlooked, mainly because of its lower resolution. But for under $500, it’s a steal, considering its bright picture, and color and contrast accuracy.

Unlike the standard FullHD resolution (1920 x 1080), this model runs with a 1280 x 800, which in turn allows it to be on the cheaper end.

However, looking at the projected image, you won’t be able to notice many downsides to this resolution. The details are exceptionally sharp and precise, and the picture is remarkably smooth without any blurriness and pixelation.

Brightness is another upside to this model. It’s advertised at 3200 ANSI lumens, which in most cases turns out to be true. 

There are several different color modes with varying ratings of brightness. These are:

  • Dynamic (2850 lumens)

  • Standard (2500), and

  • Viewmatch and Movie (2400)

BrilliantColor Puts Out the Brightest Picture

These measurements are set for when the BrilliantColor is set to 10, which gives the brightest output. When this setting is completely turned off, the brightness gets drastically lowered, but still more than enough to use it in a dark room.

In turn, you will get more in terms of contrast and saturation. Therefore, it’s recommended to turn off the BrilliantColor and use it only when the ambient light requires so.

With a 5,000-hour lamp life (8,000 in Eco mode), this model stands its ground even with more expensive LED-powered models. And seeing that the lamp replacement costs are acceptable, lamp life shouldn’t be an issue at all. Check out our projector lamp life guide.

Fan noise is at a reasonably low level, especially for such a small projector with high brightness rating. When the Normal mode is on, you can hear a bit of a hum.

But you could only hear it in the pause between dialogues., or if you’re sitting close to the projector.

Lightweight and Compact

And to top it all, at Size: 9 x 12.4 x 4.1 inches and almost 5 pounds, this model is really lightweight and portable, making it an excellent choice for outdoor use.

Of course, as with any other model, there are some downsides. Since it uses DLP technology, sometimes you might be able to notice the rainbow effect or instant flashes of red, blue and green.

Some people never catch it. Others see it rarely and only for a split second that it doesn’t pose an issue. On the other hand, some people claim that it’s a real distraction and annoyance for them.

If you can’t stand the rainbow effect, then your best choice would be an LCD projector. However, these usually don’t come at a price of under $500. Want to know more about the differences between LED and LCD? Then read this guide.

With the input lag of 33ms, it might not be the best choice for serious gamers. Then again, such input lag will be sufficient for most games.

A zoom range of 1.1x really limits your placement options and reduces your flexibility. You get just a bit of wiggle room if you don’t want to place the projector at the exact distance.

Epson-Home-Cinema-730HD-1

Specifications

  • Size: 9.2 x 11.7 x 3.1 inches
  • Weight: 5.29 lbs

Key Features

  • 3LCD, 3-chip technology
  • 1280 x 720 native resolution
  • 3000 ANSI lumens
  • 12,000:1 contrast ratio
  • 1.20:1 zoom lens ratio

PROS

  • It’s LCD, so no rainbow effect
  • Suitable for both indoors and outdoors
  • Portability
  • Brightness

CONS

  • 2W speakers don’t offer much power
  • No 3D

Epson Home Cinema 730HD Review

Epson-Home-Cinema-730HD-2

Whatever you intend to use Epson Home Cinema 730HD for, you wouldn’t make a mistake. It is designed to work well both indoors and outdoors.

Even at first glance, you can see that this projector is not geared towards high-end users. Then again, it provides some genuinely decent specs for such a price tag.

The native resolution is 1280 x 720, so there’s no 3D or FullHD. This projector utilizes 3LCD, 3-chip technology.

The brightness level is quite satisfying at 3000 ANSI lumens, both for color and white brightness. 

With a lamp life of 5,000 hours (6,000 in Eco-mode) you’ll surely get enough hours of outdoor movie watching time.

And you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get the lamp replaced when the time comes for that.

With Epson Home Cinema 730HD, you get just enough connectivity options. You can hook up up to four devices at once and shift between them by using remote control.

There’s only one HDMI port. However, there are also two USB ports (Type A and B) and connections for S-Video, component and composite.

Portable and Small in Size

When you take a quick glance at this model, you can see that it’s excellent for outdoor use. Mainly due to its portability, and petite build. And weighing at 5.29 pounds, it’s heavy and steady 

enough to be used in more dynamic circumstances, like in your backyard.

The picture quality pops out, especially in the nighttime, when the conditions are perfect. Naturally, it is not as fascinating as with FullHD resolution, but there’s simply nothing to complain about.

The color accuracy is on point, and the amount of details are quite satisfying, actually. 

Quick and Easy Set Up

Setting up Epson 730HD is like a walk in the park, like with many other Epson models. It’s just a matter of plugging in the source, turning on the projector and slightly adjusting it by using the controls on the top. 

In backyard surroundings, you might find yourself often using horizontal keystone correction to allow the projector to be placed at an angle.

If we need to pinpoint one issue with this model, it would be the sound. Which comes as no surprise for a built-in mono speaker in a projector under $500.

The speaker can be enough if you’re going to watch a movie or play a game in a small room. For outdoor use with a large gathering, you should consider going bigger, with an external set of speakers or a home theater system.

Optoma-HD143X-1

Specifications

  • Size: 9.7 x 12.5 x 4.2 inches
  • Weight: 5.5 lbs

Key Features

  • 3,000 ANSI lumens
  • 23,000:1 contrast ratio
  • 1920 x 1080 (FullHD) native resolution
  • 16:9 aspect ratio
  • 3,500 hours lamp life
  • 1.10:1 zoom lens ratio

PROS

  • 1080p resolution
  • Low input lag, good for gaming
  • High contrast
  • Lamp life
  • 3D capability

CONS

  • Sound is more suitable for a small room

Optoma HD143X Review

Optoma-HD143X-2

There’s no going around it – Optoma makes some of the most excellent projectors on the market. And it’s no different in the lower price range.

One model that particularly stands out in this price range is the HD143X, which can find good use in almost any circumstance. It performs splendidly as a business, home theater or gaming projector.

Being a DLP projector that offers a FullHD resolution, Optoma HD143X presents a fantastic image quality from the get-go. Surprisingly good, for such an inexpensive model.

The color looks stellar, no matter what mode you use. That being said, the colors will look their best when you use Cinema or Reference mode.

The Bright mode should be used in a setting with a higher amount of ambient light. The high brightness rating of 3000 ANSI lumens will prevent the color from washing out due to the light.

Apart from the resolution, it feels like the HD143X can compete with 4K projectors when it comes to color quality.

Good for Gaming

With an input lag of only 16ms, this model makes a perfect choice for serious gamers. 

For instance, a projector with an input lag between 33ms and 400ms is an excellent choice for those who enjoy a solid gaming experience without wanting to compete. 16ms is as good as it gets in the gaming world.

HD143X can also be valuable in a home entertainment system. The brightness rating of 3000 lumens allows you to use it even in conditions with more ambient light.

Contrast ratio of 23,000:1 and dynamic blacks ensure that the contrast is higher and the shadows are more realistic.

The 3,500-hour lamp life is somewhat of a standard in the projector market. And you probably won’t need much more, after all.

No Need for Full Brightness

With such a brightness rating, chances are you won’t have to use full brightness unless you plan to use it only during the daytime. In any other case (other than with 3D mode which lowers the lumens), you can go by with Eco or Dynamic mode.

You’re probably aware by now that built-in projector speakers just don’t cut it if you want a rich and powerful sound. And Optoma HD143X is no different.

The 10-watt mono speaker can perform well in a living room or a bedroom, even at a higher volume. For backyard use, a soundbar or an external system should do the job.

Backyard Movie Projectors – A Buying Guide


What makes a Projector Suitable for Outdoors?

You would think that any projector would perform well when used outdoors. After all, that's what they're supposed to do, right?

Well, it's somewhat far from the truth. Honestly, all projectors can be set up for outdoor use, but not all will yield the best possible results while being easy to set up outside.

An outdoor projector should be a bit sturdier and edgier since than an indoor one, simply because it will work in much more challenging conditions. Hence, it is crucial to know which projector is and which isn't suited for setting up in your backyard.

When you watch a movie or play a video game in your room, it's easy to control the conditions there. You just have to dim the lights or shut them off, or close the blinds and pull up the curtains.

That way, you don't have to deal with ambient light, which makes the picture look much worse when it interacts with the projector.

Doing that outside is much more challenging since you can't just shut down the environment. Things like street lights or your neighbors’ houses tend to get in the way and make the overall image much hazier and clouded.

So, an outdoor projector should be able to provide both a high level of brightness and vibrant and detailed contrast, in order to keep the expected quality of output.

How Bright Should a Backyard Projector Be?

In outdoor circumstances, it is essential to have a high level of brightness. That is if you want to enjoy a vivid and colorful projection.

Brightness is measured in lumens. Essentially, they represent an amount of light that the projector puts out.

how-bright-should-a-projector-be

And since outside interference plays a significant role in the whole story, the lumen numbers should be higher.

Aim at 3000 ANSI lumens

Generally speaking, a number of 2500 lumens should be a starting point. But, it's not as straightforward as that.

Some calculations can be utilized to measure the number of lumens needed. In the movie industry, these calculations are measured in Foot-Lamberts.

But, not everyone can go so deep into this matter and calculate such things before purchasing. 

Ideally, it would be best if you could choose a projector with a brightness of 3000 lumens or more.

Then again, this may not be achievable for everyone, mainly due to the cost of such projectors. Luckily, there are more and more affordable options available out there.

The Most Important Factors When Buying a Backyard Projector

As you can see, getting a backyard projector is not as simple as walking into a store and buying one or ordering it online. There are so many factors to consider.

We've mentioned lumens and brightness above. It is the number one factor to take into consideration. A high number of 3000 lumens or more would fit perfectly.

Solid Contrast Ratio for a Detailed Picture

Another crucial aspect is the contrast ratio. The higher the contrast ratio, the more dynamic, deep and vivid the picture will be. Find out what is a good contrast ratio for a projector

With a satisfying contrast ratio, you ensure that the color clarity will be excellent even with the interference of ambient light.

Screen size is also one of the key features to look for. Just make sure that the projector provides a substantial short-throw screen size. Take a look at some the best short-throw projectors.

Aside from the screen size, you must pay attention to aspect ratio and aim for 16:9 to get crisp visuals.

As far as the resolution goes, you should aim for at least HD or FullHD resolution. Projectors with such resolutions tend to have a decent or better light output, which is essential when watching a movie in your backyard.

And last but not least is the keystone correction. You should look for a projector with this feature since you will often find yourself in a situation where you need to correct the image size and position.

FAQs About Backyard Projectors

Naturally, people have a ton of doubts and questions when trying to buy any type of device. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions:

Why Should I Buy a Backyard Projector?

Well, it's all up to personal preference. But, being able to take out your gear outside and enjoy a good movie or a video game can be thrilling.

Throwing some blankets and pillows around, cuddling with your loved ones, and all in all, enjoying the outdoors can really heighten the experience.

What is a Throw Ratio?

Throw ratio basically tells you what the size of the screen will be when you place the projector at a specific distance. So, if you don't have enough room, you should aim for a projector with a short-throw ratio, which works better close to the screen.

throw-ratio

On the other hand, if you have enough wiggle room, you can place the projector at the recommended distance.

Do I Need a Screen?

Well, no, not necessarily. It is possible to project a movie or anything else on the walls around you.

That being said, you will get the best possible results if you use a projection screen. Many of these screens allow you to project the image either from the front or from the back.

Can Backyard Projectors be Used in Daylight?

Although daytime does not provide the perfect conditions, you can definitely use an outdoor projector during the day. In such terms, you will need a projector that has at least 3000 lumens.

If possible, 4000 or 5000 would be even better. To protect the projector and minimize the sun interference, place it somewhere in the shade or cover it.

How to Properly Set Up the Projector in my Backyard?

If you don't have a screen available, setting up a backyard projector is as simple as finding the nearest and clearest wall. But if you have a screen, you can hang it pretty much anywhere you'd like.

When using a projector outside, it should be placed on a stable and sturdy surface, in a spot where it's least likely to be bumped on. Try to conceal the cords and cables as much to prevent any tripping over them.

Do I Need to Add a Sound System or New Speaker?

Although many models come with a built-in speaker, you might want to spruce things up a bit. 

Some of these speakers aren't on a satisfactory level, so if you're going to get a louder or clearer sound, you should consider adding a new sound system.

Especially if you enjoy surround sound. Adding speakers everywhere around you will undoubtedly elevate the movie-watching experience.

In Conclusion

There are just so many projector features that it would be virtually impossible to check off all the marks and get a perfect one. Especially for a low price.

But, doing a little research can go a long way. Always make sure that those aspects that make an excellent backyard projector, like brightness, contrast ratio or keystone correction, meet your needs.

Only then you’ll have the best possible viewing experience.

My name is Steve Scott. Father of 2 and owner of Outdoor Movie HQ. I’ve been involved in the A/V industry for most of my life and built this blog to help people better understand projector technology. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.

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