Portable projectors with smart features and bright displays have become accessible and provide big screen entertainment on the go. Whether at home, the office, in the backyard, or on a camping trip, light and compact portable projectors pack lots of cool features that make entertainment, gaming, and even productivity possible from pretty much anywhere. And BenQ has several models to choose from! But before that, we wanted to offer a comprehensive guide to portable projector shopping in 2021, designed to help you choose the one that’s best for you.
Because we want to be totally upfront about the pros and cons of portable projectors, and let’s face it, everything in life has pros and cons, we’ll say this. While they’re great for any application overall, if you want dedicated gaming projectors then you should look here. And for fully fledged, big picture cinematic entertainment projectors we recommend checking these.
Fair question, because the definition of “portable” may prove subjective. Even large entertainment projectors these days aren’t all that heavy, but most people wouldn’t want to lug a 20-30 pound device around. The typical portable weighs under four pounds, and ideally as little as three. They’re also compact to easily fit in a small backpack or other bag. That’s simply not possible with larger projectors.
Important note here. There’s such a thing as too small and too light, which takes you into the realm of so-called LED pico projectors. These devices may be the size of an average smartphone and weigh as little as 150 grams, but they barely qualify as projectors. You get poor image quality due to lack of projection power (not bright enough, put simply). Their resolution is sub-HD, often as low as 240p, as opposed to 720p with proper portables. And you certainly don’t get added features that define good portable projectors, such as strong Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, integrated speakers, and a full Android-based operating system. Pico projectors are for very casual ad hoc usage where the display quality doesn’t matter much.
Portable projectors are for when you take your on the move viewing and content seriously.
When designing portable projectors, at least the good ones, manufacturers keep flexibility in mind as one of the most important guiding principles. Just like other mobile devices, portable projectors have to afford flexibility of usage. The same projector should serve you equally well at home, the office, the backyard, or out in the woods camping. And all that without you having to do anything in terms of complex set up or fiddling with settings.
Good portable projectors work great at night and daytime. Plus, they feature that extra bit of rugged design that marks all quality mobile and portable technologies. After all, since they’re meant to be used both indoors and outdoors, portable projectors should survive some rough handling with ease. That’s why the good ones pass drop, shock, dust, and water exposure testing. So there’s no need to fear an accidental drop or two while on a road trip or exposure to a little bit of rain when among natural environs. Look for dust, water, and shock resistance ratings. They’re signs of a good portable projector that supports flexible usage.
Unlike their bigger brethren, portable projectors are eminent multi-taskers. You could have a movie at the office or a business presentation at a camp site and the experience will be equally rewarding and high fidelity.
Let’s get down to brass tacks here. What are you specifically looking for when shopping for a good portable projector? Remember, compromising on any of these will result in a less than ideal experience and likely won’t save you much money anyway. We strongly recommend trying to get a portable projector that covers all of these bases, so to speak.
The portable projectors we recommend all use DLP, or digital light processing, as opposed to basic LCD/LED. With DLP you have a powerful dedicated light source and a mirror array that delivers the final image you see. This is much more complex and high-end than what you have with cheap pico projectors, which share much in common with smartphones and therefore aren’t really meant to showcase onto large canvasses with powerful projection.
And sure, even the best portable projectors can’t match the amazing image quality of dedicated gaming or home cinema projectors and their much bigger and more powerful components. But, a good portable projector will give you a resolution of 720p with support for 1080p content, plus excellent color balance, and as we will describe below, potent brightness.
For people used to TVs and unfamiliar with projectors, this may be a tad confusing. Projectors are indirectly or externally lit, meaning they send images outside to a separate surface, as opposed to self-lit, internally illuminated TVs. Therefore, brightness is more important for projectors, especially for outdoors or daytime use. Unlike TVs and their brightness ratings in nits or candelas, projectors use the much more serious-sounding ANSI lumen standard. To help with clear guidelines, you really should aim for portable projectors with 450 lumen capability and up. If you see anything like 200 lumens, beware. That’s not bright enough to look good even indoors if ambient lighting is strong, which means the projected image will get drowned out. If you can, go with a portable that delivers a solid 500 lumens of projection power.
These may sound very specific and technical, but they’re important, make no mistake. That’s because especially out and about you may not have access to items to be used in propping up a projector and changing its angle. Placement flexibility also means the portable projector offers the tools to adjust projection as needed.
A tilt hinge immediately gives you loads of flexibility. You can quickly adjust the angle of projection on the vertical axis without resorting to piles of magazines or rocks. Meanwhile, auto keystone correction keeps the image angled forward or backward just right based on the surface you’re showcasing onto, plus you also get manual control as needed.
Good video must go hand in hand with good audio. Behold, powerful onboard speakers as they separate mediocre portable projectors from the really good ones. The latter give you sonic projection that’ll easily fill a conference room, living room, or small campsite. Without a quality integrated speaker, you’ll need to jostle with extra hardware, as in external speakers. That kind of bother sort of defeats the whole point of portability.
We already talked about why there’s a critical mass portable projectors must currently achieve in order to perform well. Too small and too light means a compromise. Certainly, technology will change this equation in the future, but for now, take care to not go with overly compact and light pico projectors. Those will disappoint if you’re looking for enjoyable audiovisual experiences.
Battery life is a direct result of said weight and size. If a projector is too small, you can bet it won’t last much more than an hour. The good portable projectors we keep recommending to you have a battery life of three hours or sometimes more. That’s enough for even the longest movie, or a very respectable gaming session. Or long business meeting. It’s up to you.
Portable should mean durable, simple as that. Weather conditions, rough handling, potholes while riding in an RV. Who knows. That’s the beauty of portability. So look for IPXX ratings on projectors, to denote water and sometimes dust resistance. With that, you’re assured good performance (and worry-free operation) even if the projector is exposed to a little rainfall or the accidental liquid spillage.
Then there’s drop and shock resistance. Rigorous testing during development results in highly durable portable projectors you don’t need to worry about or treat like they’re made of cotton candy.
Good portable projectors are smart portable projectors. You know what this means, it’s no different than any other smart device. You must insist on both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. These are typically absent from very cheap or very compact pico projectors, but without them you’re stuck with a standalone, isolated device with highly limited access to content.
Wireless connectivity is great, but don’t forget physical inputs. If there’s only one USB, think twice. Good portables have USB-A, USB-C, HDMI, and at least one form of audio out (3.5mm or optical). Between all of these, wired and wireless, you have lots of choices and can pair or connect to smartphones, game consoles, streaming boxes, laptops, tablets, USB drives…and the list goes on.
Following up on the smart aspect of good portable projectors, we advise you to opt for models that have Android-based operating systems onboard. With that, you have access to essential apps like Netflix, Prime Video, and YouTube right from the portable projector. No other devices needed. You also gain access to an app store to download additional content and applications, rounding up the smart factor of a good portable projector.
Without these capabilities, a portable projector is merely a tool for other devices. This works, but in some situations you want to keep things streamlined and simple. If you don’t want to hook the projector up to a console or streaming box, you’ll need those onboard apps.
The job of a portable projector extends beyond just being small and light. There’s quite a lot more to it, and we think this article can help you make the right choice when shopping for a projector for your flexible on the go needs. Let us know what you think on social media, we’re always looking for feedback and input when making ever-better products. Happy trails!