Portable projectors offer very different features and considerations compared to traditional machines. They’re comparatively cheap. They come with built-in speakers, so there’s no need for an AVR or external sound devices. They often have apps on board as well as storage options so that they can supply the content too. And, if you’re really lucky, they’ll have a battery which means you can take them with you wherever you go.
Think of them more like the Swiss Army Knife of the cinema world. This is why portable and mini projectors are a great choice for many. There’s no need to replace your TV. Just pull out your portable when you want to go big. You can even take them around to friends’ houses for movie nights.
What’s more, installing a portable projector is no more complicated than finding a flat surface or even a sheet hung in the garden and pointing the thing at it (though a dedicated screen is so much better). Some have kick-stands to help and almost all have tripod attachments.
Brightness, Resolution, and Technology for portable projector
Pico projectors have low brightness (from less than 50 to up to several hundred ANSI lumens). They generally have low resolution, often 854 by 480 pixels (aka FWVGA or 480p), with a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. This combination limits their effective use to projecting onto a small screen in a darkened room, with optimal image sizes ranging from 24 to 48 inches, measured diagonally. If too much ambient light is introduced, or the image is enlarged too much, it will look washed out and detail will be lost.
Although a few palmtop projectors have a brightness of less than a hundred lumens, most fall in the range of 200 to 600 lumens. Some palmtops have 480p or lower resolution, and a few have resolutions up to 1080p (1,920 by 1,080), but most are 720p (1,280 by 720 pixels). Their optimal image size tends to be between 36 and 60 inches, depending on their brightness and resolution. Slightly larger mini-projectors can have brightnesses of 1,000 lumens or more. Thin-and-lights and standard-sized portable models are often in the 3,000-lumen range, use standard projector screens, and can tolerate ambient light.
We have seen a few small laser-based projectors and a smattering of liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) models. However, the vast majority of pico, palmtop, and other small projectors are LED-based, and most use TI’s Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology in their light engines. LEDs have exceptionally long lifetimes and are generally rated for 20,000 hours or more, so the light source should last the lifetime of the projector. Single-chip DLP projectors often show potentially annoying rainbow artifacts (little red-green-blue flashes), but this so-called rainbow effect tends to be more of a problem in standard projectors than in pico or palmtop models.
How did we choose these portable projectors?
There are many portable projectors on the market, and it can be difficult to figure out which one is right for you. To choose the best portable projectors for 2021, we considered a variety of factors, including the price, resolution, connectivity, picture quality, and more.
Our goal with this list was to find a projector to fit every need and price point. As a result, we chose both premium and budget projectors, as well as one designed for outdoor use, and one with outstanding smart capabilities. As a result, every shopper can find one on the list that fits their needs.
Which is the right projector for you?
Now that we’ve covered our favorite projectors, how do you decide which is best for you? First, consider your budget. The projectors on this list fall under a wide range of price points, from less than $100 to $700. Narrowing down your budget can help identify the best options for you.
Next, consider the situations in which you expect to use your portable projector. Will you be using it during your next backyard barbecue, or do you hope to take it on your next outdoor adventure?
It’s also important to consider your connectivity needs. First, do you want a smart device that you can connect to other devices wirelessly? Or do you want to be able to connect other devices via HDMI or USB input?
Finally, we recommend spending some time reading the reviews and feedback left by customers, as they offer insight beyond the marketing and spec sheets.
Best Portable Projectors in 2021:
1. Xgimi MoGo Pro: The best portable mini projector for movies
The Xgimi MoGo Pro offers almost everything we could ask for in a portable movie projector. This 1920×1080-resolution projector delivers a good-looking image with better contrast and detail (and more picture adjustments) than you can get from most of its competitors.
Also, it’s easy to set up and use, it’s compact, and it has an internal battery that lasted about two hours in our tests (it also comes with an 8-foot power cord). Best of all, the MoGo Pro has Android TV with Chromecast and Google Assistant built in, so it’s basically a projector and a full-fledged streaming media player in one. That means you don’t have to connect an external video player to enjoy lots of movies and other streamed content, though the unit has HDMI and USB Type-A inputs if you need them. The internal speaker sounds respectably loud and full.
In addition, the MoGo Pro supports both Bluetooth output (to send audio to an external speaker or to headphones) and input (to serve as a Bluetooth speaker). The only downsides to this projector are that it’s not as bright as others we tested and that it currently does not support the Netflix app (but there are workarounds).
2. BenQ GS2: A brighter choice, great for outdoor use
If you’re looking for something more rugged to use outside, the BenQ GS2 is both splash and drop resistant, so it’s a good choice for camping or enjoying a backyard movie night when mated with a modest-size screen. This is one of the brightest projectors we’ve measured for this guide, and it also has the highest contrast ratio, the best color accuracy, and the longest battery life (we got about 3 hours 10 minutes in our tests).
The sound quality is decent, and like the MoGo Pro, the GS2 can double as a Bluetooth speaker. Because of its lower, 720p resolution and higher black level, movies don’t look as rich and detailed in a dark room as they do through the MoGo Pro, but the picture is certainly good enough for casual TV watching or the occasional outdoor viewing session. The drawbacks: The on-screen menu system is clunky, and the built-in Aptoide TV streaming platform is more limited and less intuitive than Android TV.
But if you’re using the projector outdoors where Wi-Fi streaming isn’t an option, you’re more likely to load a bunch of content onto a USB drive or connect your mobile device directly, and for that the GS2 has HDMI, USB-A, and USB-C inputs. It also comes with a nice carrying case.
3. Optoma ML750e: The best portable palm projector
The ML750e by Optoma is a lot more powerful than the pocket-sized PicoPix from Phillips, but it’s not quite as small. Still, it weighs just 380g with a small footprint that makes this easy to carry around. The differences in size between this and the PicoPix are negligible for the power you get in return: a 700 Lumens lamp that lets you present in rooms that aren’t completely darkened.
The Optoma ML750e is one of the best portable projectors in the world thanks to its impressive range of ports. It comes with one MHL-ready HDMI input, a USB 2.0 slot for thumbdrives, a universal I/O slot, and a microSD card slot. The ML550 handled our 90-inch test screen with impressive results, and peaked at a 60-inch-or-so size. However, you need to buy a dongle for Wi-Fi access.
4. ASUS ZenBeam E1: Best pocket projection
The Asus ZenBeam E1 is a beautifully designed pocket projector that’s small and light enough to carry around with you if you often make presentations on the road – or if you like to watch movies while travelling. Despite its small size, it can project images up to 120 inches in size, and it has a built-in 6,000mAh battery that can power the projector for up to 5 hours, which makes it rather flexible, as you don’t have to worry about finding a plug socket to power the device. In a rather nice touch, the projector can also double as a power bank for other mobile devices.
5. AAXA P6X: Budget pico projector
My budget pick is the AAXA P6X pico portable projector. It’s made by AAXA Technologies and in the U.S. it’s priced at about $359. The P6X has 720p native picture resolution, and supports up to 1080p.
The projector’s battery doubles as a power bank for smartphones, tablets and other rechargeable gadgets. The projector is just under two pounds. You can easily slip it into a bag and take it with you.
The P6X has manual focus with a small dial on the right side of the projector. The keystone correction is also manual and can be found on the remote control. The thing this projector really has going for it is its brightness.
6. LG CineBeam HU80KSW: This all-in-one, do-it-all portable projector does it all well
It’s not what you’d call ‘mini’ but the LG CineBeam has an integrated handle for easy carrying and is small enough to be easily hidden away in a cupboard when not in use.
That’s especially impressive when you consider it’s more or less an entire home cinema system: a 4K HDR picture, stereo sound, an array of smart sources, all in a unit you can carry like a holdall and set up wherever and whenever you might choose. Even the power cable is wound up inside the base, so there is really nothing you have to plug in if you don’t want to.
That’s the great beauty of the CineBeam: its versatility and intuitive simplicity. As long as you have a clean wall or ceiling upon which to throw a picture, you can have it up and running in a matter of minutes each time you use it.
Picture performance is strong: impressively crisp and detailed, with decent depth and natural hues. It is bright enough without being garish, vibrant enough to combat leaked sunlight. And it sounds surprisingly good by the standards of integrated speakers, too.
The only downside is the price, but if you want the best, you’re going to have to pay for it. Besides, you’ll find lots of more affordable options below.
7. Viewsonic M1+: A tiny projector with built-in Harman Kardon speakers
Mini projectors don’t get much more convenient than the Viewsonic M1+. It’s tiny, and only weighs as much as four phones stacked in a pile. And it does come with wi-fi, a MicroSD card slot, plus USB Type-A and USB Type-C connectors.
The stand makes projecting an image from slanted surface, or onto angled walls, a cinch. Its speaker is the real surprise, though. While it sounds harsh and brash at maximum volume, the dual Harman Kardon speakers deliver enough volume for a movie night if you keep things sensible. The sound may only be that of mediocre budget bluetooth speaker, but it’s much better than that of most pint-size projectors.
Image quality is mixed, and not up to the traditional standards of TVs and projectors. That’s hardly surprising as resolution is very low at 854×480 pixels. Text looks terrible, but we are pleasantly surprised by how invisible the pixel structure is even when projecting at 100 inches. Faces look smooth rather than blocky, although naturally there’s limited fine detail. This is a DVD-quality projector, not an HD one.
The Viewsonic M1+’s focusing is fiddly too. It has a flimsy wheel, and the M1+ tends to change focus slightly as soon as your take your finger off the control. Getting a perfectly in-focus picture requires some finger gymnastic.
LG’s projector is the most powerful projector in a couple of significant ways: It has the highest resolution (1080p), brightest bulb (600 Lumens), and an array of ports (two HDMI, USB-A, USB-C, Coaxial, and Ethernet). In addition to its ports, the PF50KA supports LG’s SmartTV platform and ScreenShare, so you can access content wirelessly.
It has a maximum screen size of 100 inches, which is on-par with most portable projectors and can throw a 40-inch screen from a distance of 4.1 feet. LG has done a good job balancing tech specs and size; at 2.1 pounds, the PF50KA is a fairly light option.
That lightness does have a downside: this projector only has two 1w speakers, and gets 2.5 hours of battery life, which is the lowest on this list. All things considered, if you’re looking for a high resolution projector, or plan on using it in conditions with a lot of light, this is a great choice.
Anker’s Nebula Mars II Pro stands out by balancing traditional projector specs with a bunch of useful “smart” features. It has a native resolution of 1280 x 720 (720p), 500 Lumens of brightness, dual 10w speakers, and gets three hours of battery life. Anker doesn’t say anything about its throw distance, but in our experience, it’s been able to project a screen up to 150 inches. The speakers actually stand out the most, because they’re five times more powerful than the other projectors on this list.
The Nebula Mars II has a limited selection of ports: only one USB and 1 HDMI port, but it makes up for this in a couple of ways. First, it runs a full operating system (Android 7.1), so you can download popular streaming apps like Hulu and Netflix directly onto the projector. It also works with an app called “Nebula Connect,” which lets you stream content to the projector from your phone (copyrighted material won’t stream).
This projector’s biggest problem is its size: at 3.94 pounds it’s significantly heavier than the other projectors we’re recommending. It does have a built-in carrying strap, but the Nebula Mars II will still be the most difficult to carry.
VANKYO’s Leisure Mini Projector is an excellent beginner’s choice for people who want to bring a big screen with them on the go. It’s not battery-powered like the other projectors on this list, but at only 2.1 pounds, it won’t weigh you down.
This projector has a native resolution of 800 x 480 (480p), and has a maximum screen size of 170 inches; that’s the biggest screen of any projector on this list, but it’ll need to be 18 feet away from a wall to create it. VANKYO says the sweet spot for this projector is 90 inches, which makes sense because of its lower resolution.
The most surprising thing about this projector is its ports. It has one of the following: HDMI, VGA, USB, AV, and Audio In. Two of those ports aren’t available on any of the other options on this list. Its four-watt stereo speaker system (two watts per speaker) is also impressive.
DLP Portable vs. Single-Panel LCD Pico Projectors
Of all the models and brands of mini portable projectors you might find on the market, 99% of them are DLP chips or single-panel LCD technology. The difference between these technologies is fundamental to the results you get from these types of projectors, check out our detailed article revealing the secrets behind the technology of portable projectors.
Single-panel LCD mini projectors are the cheapest of them all, that is because they use components that were not explicitly designed for projectors. They use LCD screens initially designed for smartphones, shine a powerful light through them, and use a series of lenses to project the resulting image on your screen. On average, only 4% to 6% of the light makes it through to the LCD and out of the mini projector.
On the other hand, DLP chips have been used by projectors for decades, including those in commercial movie theaters. DLP works by shifting microscopic mirrors that reflect light from a powerful lamp. Each of them forms pixels. Then, they pass the reflected light through a color wheel that adds the red, green, and blue that build all the colors. Finally, a series of lenses projects this light onto the screen where you see the images.
Considering that they work by reflecting light, instead of passing it through LCD panels, very little light is wasted in this process. This unique feature gives DLP chips their superiority when compared to LCD projectors. They are brighter, have better contrast, and produce much higher quality picture.
Can you watch Netflix on a mini projector?
You can watch Netflix on a mini projector, along with content from any other streaming service. However, to feed the content to the projector, you’ll need either a streaming stick, if the projector accepts one, or else a streaming box with HDMI outputs, like a Roku. Once those are connected, you’ll have access to Netflix (assuming you subscribe) and any other streaming apps you’d normally find on your traditional TV.
What is the best portable projector for camping?
If you’re camping, you’ll want a projector that can run on battery power. However, these rarely last more than four hours, so be sure to look for a unit that also accepts USB power from an external battery backup unit. Since your internet connection is likely not too good in the middle of the woods, and there’s nowhere to plug in a Blu-ray player, choose a portable projector that accepts either a memory stick or SD card—that way, you can bring your movies along as files that can play directly through the unit itself.
Finally, don’t forget audio! If you’re alone, you can easily use headphones when watching your favorite movies. But if you’re with friends or family, look for a unit that has a built-in speaker, or that can output to battery-powered speakers using a 3.5mm jack or Bluetooth. And don’t forget to bring something to use as a screen! Dedicated home theater screens are best, but if you’re trying to keep things light, a bright, white surface should do the trick.
Is a portable projector legit?
A portable projector is legit! Portable projectors can play HD and 4K movies and deliver presentations without getting tied down to one location. Many portable projectors run on batteries along with AC power for even greater portability, and smaller palmtop and pico projectors fit comfortably in backpacks and briefcases. Some projectors have stereo speakers for excellent built-in sound that can fill a living room or conference room, and all connect to external speakers if you want more robust audio.
Finally, many portable projectors include Smart TV and streaming capabilities so you can download apps and play TV and movies from services like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and more. These powerful units become stand-alone entertainment centers. Now, that’s legit!