When shopping for a portable projector, of course you should think about resolution and how many pixels you need on-screen for your applications. But while definitely a very important specification, resolution isn’t the only feature to consider in portable projectors. And some of the other aspects may either be just as important as resolution or even more important.
There’s a big difference in recommended resolution across usage types. From business presentations to movie watching, minimal and best resolutions vary greatly. Of course, just as with other display technologies, the higher the resolution, the better. But realistically, portable projectors rely on miniaturized technology that at this stage still has limitations compared to full size models. We’re not yet at the point of having 4K portable projectors in any affordable capacity. But you should definitely not settle for a 240p pico projector, either. That would be way too low in terms of resolution.
The very minimum you should accept is 480p, though good portable projectors offer 720p with support for 1080p content. That means that while the screen will project 1280 x 720 pixels (or HD), full HD content can be accepted by the projector with no apparent distortion or compression artifacts. Portable projectors with DLP (digital light processing) technology at their core offer good portability, but that limits the size of display components they can use. There are native 1080p DLP portable projectors, but they’re quite expensive and considering the large screen format and viewing distances of most applications, you may not even notice the difference between 1080p and 720p. You will notice that something like 240p or 360p is way too limited and unsightly.
Unlike full-size projectors, which aren’t meant for routine movement, portables offer you the convenience of a compact, light-weight design. You can put them in a bag and take them with you to work, a friend’s house, or while vacationing. The trade off are smaller components, and as mentioned above, these currently limit resolutions to 720p, unless you’re willing to spend a lot for 1080p, which you probably don’t really need in a portable. As long as you make sure to get your portable projector from a reputable, long-standing brand, you’ll be good. Do not go for cheap knock offs with ever-changing names, like the ones typically found on certain online markets and retail sites. Stick with known manufacturers and you will get the right specs for a good price.
Do keep in mind that if you have experience with full-sized projectors then you should not expect the same image quality from a portable. As we said, portability is a trade off, and just like a smartphone can’t hope to match a premium TV pixel for pixel, portable projectors offer mobility first, with image performance being good but not cinema-class.
First and foremost beyond resolution is brightness. This is the Achilles heel of cheaper projectors and low cost pico models, which we don’t recommend. Not only are they lacking in resolution, but they don’t have the illumination power to deliver good image quality in anything but the darkest environments, and even then you’ll expect more.
Good portable projectors showcase 500 lumens or more, which is superb for diverse low light environments, from board rooms to camp sites in the evening. However, with 500 lumens you’ll get good image visibility even outdoors and during the day, assuming it’s not extremely bright outside. Pico models often only manage as low as 150 lumens, resulting in barely-visible image quality outdoors or even in a brightly-lit coffee shop. Since projectors need to compete with ambient light, low lumen count results in faded, washed out, and overwhelmed images.
Sound is another aspect of portable projectors to consider. Choose devices that have built-in speakers, since you don’t want to depend on external speakers. Those add cables and in any case if you have to work with external sound sources, the projector isn’t all that portable. It’s even better if the integrated speaker has Bluetooth for easy pairing with your phone, laptop, tablet, and other devices. A quality portable projector sports dual speakers rated for 2W each or more, with the aforementioned Bluetooth capability.
Without a built-in rechargeable battery, projectors can’t claim to be portable. If they lack any self-power capacity and need to be plugged to the wall all the time, then clearly we’re not dealing with a portable. If they have an external power adapter or “brick”, then likewise, that’s not really portable with all the hassle that entails. Only fully self-reliant and rechargeable batteries offer the kind of convenience you expect, with a battery life of at least three hours even under load.
Compatibility forms the fabric that binds the many devices we use. Your portable projector should reflect that. We mentioned Bluetooth for connecting to smart devices, but Wi-Fi is essential as well. Your portable projector needs to fit into your home network and of course be a smart device unto itself. You then have HDMI and USB ports that are needed for connections to everything from game consoles and desktop PCs to external hard drives with home videos and photos on them. So add all of these to your checklist when evaluating models before a purchase decision.
We hope this has provided you with the knowledge you need to make a good shopping choice when selecting a portable projector. Regardless of price, you want to get a good experience for an extended period of time, and that requires being on the lookout for the right features. Enjoy!