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Best portable projector for 2021

Want a tiny projector that can put a big picture anywhere? Here are the best options.

A portable projector is a great way to have a big-screen movie experience in your backyard, or you can take one with you on the go to conduct presentations -- all without having to lug a big TV. These little wonders are about the size of a large Bluetooth speaker and run on batteries. Most mini projectors can stream Hulu, Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services without having to add another device.

There are some downsides to a portable projector, though. One is that they're relatively dim, so they can't project as large an image as a traditional home theater projector, and another is they often have lower resolution. If you're never going to be far from an outlet, a standard projector will get you a much bigger, brighter and better image for similar money. But if you want something compact, portable and battery-powered, here are our favorites.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The Mars II Pro is the best compact projector option here due to its light output, overall image quality, ease of use and affordable price. This mobile device is a bit bigger than most other portable projectors here, but still small enough to hide completely under a six-pack of Coke.

The built-in 12,500-mAh is good for about 3.5 hours, longer if you just run it as a Bluetooth speaker. There are apps built in, some of which consider the Mars II a portable device, meaning you can download content to its 8GB internal memory for offline watching. The faux-leather strap also makes carrying the outdoor projector around super easy.

Read our Anker Nebula Mars II Pro review.

 

Geoff Morrison/CNET

Although it costs more than the Anker Mars II Pro, this BenQ has more accurate color and a better picture overall. With 1080p resolution, compared to the Anker's 720p, you're less likely to see pixel structure or a "screen door effect" when watching from close up or with a really big image screen size. In most cases, however, 720p is just fine, making the Anker a superior value.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The PH30N is not only less expensive than the two above, it's also tiny. This mini projector fits in my hand, yet creates a 720p image. It has an HDMI cable input plus a USB connection that might be able to run a streaming stick off the LG's internal battery.

The stick connection is important because the LG lacks built-in apps. Light output is about half that of the Anker Mars II Pro and M2, though their contrast ratios are roughly the same. The internal portable mini projector battery should last around two hours in the projector's dimmest mode. Less battery life if you're also powering a streaming stick. 

The mini projector fits in places other projectors won't, however, making it, ahem, handy.

Read our LG CineBeam PH30N review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

While we didn't like it quite as much as the BenQ GS50, this small, flat Anker mini portable projector costs less. Its main disadvantage compared to the GS50 and the Anker Mars II Pro is its relatively dim image, which means it can't project as large a picture and still look good. If you want a sleek, budget-friendly portable with 1080p and plan on keeping the image on the small side, however, this is a solid choice.

Read our Anker Nebula Solar Portable review.

 

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The GV1 has one of my favorite designs of any mini projector I've ever reviewed. To me this tiny projector is like something Pixar or Hayao Miyazaki would dream up. This mini projector is not much bigger than a can of Coke and has a tiltable head that makes it easy to place the projector where it fits or where it's needed.

Unfortunately, the beauty of this portable projector is largely skin deep. Its picture quality is not very bright, its contrast ratio is fairly low and it's only 480p. Those all can be excused given the size and price, but it's also rather difficult to use. The internal app store is frustrating, some apps crash or refuse to load correctly and its one input (USB-C with an included dongle for HDMI connectivity), negates the ability to run a streaming stick without external power.

It sure is adorable, however.

Read our BenQ GV1 review.

 

Portable Projector FAQs


What makes a mini projector different from a full-sized projector?

The biggest difference is light output. Traditional, full-sized projectors can get much brighter than any portable mini projector. Most portable projectors use an LED lamp, while full-sized projectors have either UHP lamps (which are basically high-powered lightbulbs) or laser light sources. Projector light output is measured in lumens. The brightest portable projectors we've reviewed measure about 350 lumens, while a traditional home theater projector measures 1,500 lumens or more. 

A bright projector can produce a larger image, and looks better when there's some ambient light around. For that reason dimmer portable projectors are best enjoyed with smaller images and in as dark an environment as possible.

Beyond brightness, mini projectors are much smaller (of course), can run on battery power and usually include built-in streaming and decent speakers. Traditional projectors have more lens adjustments, including focus, zoom and lens shift, and can run louder. 

Does a mini projector have to be plugged in?

It depends. Many portable projectors have built-in batteries that can run for two or three hours before needing to be plugged in. Some can also attach to external USB battery packs that allow them to be run without plug-in power. On the other hand, many smaller portable projectors, especially cheaper ones, don't include a built-in battery or work with battery packs. They will need to be plugged in to work.

Can you watch Netflix on a portable projector?

Yes. Many mini projectors have built-in streaming that allow them to show Netflix and other streaming services when connected via Wi-Fi. For projectors that don't have built-in streaming, you'll need to connect another streaming device, like a Roku or Fire TV Stick, to the projector's HDMI input to stream Netflix and other services.

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