Projectors used to be strictly the domain of the office meeting room or home cinema. They were (and still are) bulky boxes that require complex set-ups, screens, and specific placement to yield results - and with price tags to put off all but the most ardent cinephiles.
That's beginning to change thanks to a new wave of portable projectors, which use an LED instead of a delicate bulb. In most cases they require a compromise on image quality when compared to the very best LCD or DLP projectors, but have the benefit of compact design and rechargeable batteries so that you can take them with you and project films, TV, documents, or even games on the go.
Most run Android and have built-in speakers, so are media devices in their own right, but also have video inputs so you can attach a laptop or DVD player, plus USB ports so you can play videos stored on USB sticks or hard drives.
You'll see portable projectors for sale from as little as £20, but be very wary of sellers' claims about resolution and brightness. The simple fact is that you get what you pay for with a projector.
In this round-up we've only included models actually worth buying. With prices starting from around £500, they're still not cheap but they'll project a decent-quality image without needing a completely dark room.
With that much money on the line you'll want to make sure you spend it wisely, so we've tested and reviewed some of the top portable projectors on the market to help you decide. Note: we'll be adding more projectors soon.
The GS1 is a portable projector designed for the great outdoors. It weighs less than a kilo including the battery and can project a 60in image from 1m. With the included rubber case, it’s even weather proof so you can carry on watching a film if it starts raining.
It comes with a removable battery which lasts about three hours – long enough for virtually any movie and since it’s swappable, you can carry a spare and carry on watching. One slight design niggle is that the tripod mount is hidden when you attach the battery, so you can only use a tripod on mains power.
Speakers are built in and, although not amazingly loud, mean you don’t need to bring anything else with you. But if you prefer, it’s also possible to stream audio from it to your own Bluetooth speaker or headphones (and there’s a standard minijack connection for a wired speaker or headphones, too.)
Like others here, it runs Android and can stream from the internet if you happen to have a Wi-Fi connection. However, it might be wise to pair a Bluetooth keyboard since the included remote makes it very fiddly to enter Wi-Fi passwords and search terms for online videos.
The carry case isn’t the smallest, but at least it’s included in the box.
Most importantly, image quality is very good. Once you’re engrossed in a film, you won’t even notice that the resolution isn’t full HD. The 1280x720 DLP chip does a great job in tandem with a 300 lumen LED to project vibrant, but accurate colours.
300 lumens isn’t a lot, so you won’t be watching anything in broad daylight but at dusk or night, it’s perfectly good. Also, there are several pre-sets for correcting colours when projecting onto non-white walls.
Vertical keystone is corrected automatically (so you end up with a rectangular image even when projecting at an angle) but focus is manual.
There’s no on-board storage for videos, but there is a microSD slot for adding your own, and two USB ports for playing from a USB stick or hard drive. Plus, an HDMI input means you can connect a laptop, games console or DVD / Blu-ray player.
XGIMI CC Aurora
One of the best-looking portable projectors, the CC Aurora is designed as an all-in-one unit for watching films with your mates... anywhere.
It's a little bigger than rivals at 138 x 135 x 119mm and a bit heavier at 1.5kg. However, this includes decent speakers which are easily loud enough to fill a room and a well designed carry case which is little bigger than the projector yet has room for the power supply and remote. All in, it weighs 2.2kg.
That may sound a lot, but it's everything you need to watch videos for three hours anywhere you can find a flat surface onto which to project.
The battery isn't removable, so you'll have to recharge it before you can use the projector away from mains power, but the 20000mAh capacity is decent and also means it can function as a Bluetooth speaker for hours without the projector being on.
There's 16GB of built-in storage so you can store a few films and albums and watch with literally no other device needed, but there's also an HDMI input and USB ports for getting video from other sources.
Underneath is a standard tripod thread and XGIMI sells a fold-up tripod if you don't already have one.
Unlike some rivals, it runs a newer version of Android - 5.1.1 - and this proved stable in our testing. However, it was clearly still quite an early firmware build: we couldn't get the pre-installed YouTube app to work and there's still a few typos and some Chinese that needs translating into English.
There's no Google Play store, but you get Aptoide which is an alternative. Here you can install Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, iPlayer, Plex and loads of other apps.
You can download the XGIMI Assistant app for Android or iOS and use your phone as a remote control, but the one provided is great. The app also lets you beam video to the projector from your library, and it also supports AirPlay for iOS devices.
With a resolution of 1280x720 from the DLP DMD chip, and a 350-lumen LED, this is a projector that you can just about use with some ambient light, but it dims the LED when running off the battery you can override this and get the maximum output but you won't get three hours of mains-free use.
Out of the box, image quality - colours specifically - is terrible but with some tweaking (and switching off the battery saver) it's very good. Not quite up to the excellent standard of the BenQ GS1, but close.
The Aurora has a few neat tricks, too. It focuses automatically, and has both horizontal and vertical keystone correction. It also supports 3D, and there are matching glasses which cost £15 per pair.
If there's a snag, it's that you have to buy it from China, so you'll have to pay import duty and it's a hassle if anything goes wrong during the one-year warranty.
The projector goes on sale in January 2018, so there's a short wait if you want one: find out more on XGIMI's website.
The standard price is US$569, but if you're quick you can pre-order one for $449, which should work out around £420, and that's great value.
Pico Genie M550 Plus
Pico Genie's M550 Plus is a solidly featured little projector with an impressive battery life - but a few drawbacks.
This is an LED projector with a brightness of 650 lumens. That's a lot compared to most portable projectors and enough that it's visible even with a bit of ambient light around, a crucial requirement for a projector designed to be portable, where you won't always have total control of lighting.
It projects at 1280x800 - so pretty much 720p - though can support image sources at up to 1080p. Although it may not be Full HD, it certainly looks respectable once it's projected onto a wall. It even supports 3D projection, but you'll need your own 3D glasses, and we weren't able to test it out ourselves.
The variety of inputs and outputs is one of the M550 Plus's biggest strengths. Not only does it support AV, HDMI, and VGA inputs, but you can also wirelessly cast to the project from an Android or iOS device, and play files from the inbuilt storage (8GB) or a USB drive or microSD card.
As for audio, there's a small speaker built into the projector itself that will do in a pinch (it's not the best here), or there's a standard 3.5mm audio jack - plus support for Bluetooth speakers and headphones.
The M550 Plus runs Android, and comes with a selection of useful apps like Netflix and YouTube pre-installed - you just have to connect it to Wi-Fi. You can navigate slightly awkwardly with the remote, or use the included mini keyboard - which has a touchpad too. You can also use other USB keyboards and mice, but given the portability the included one will probably be your best bet unless you intend to do a lot of typing.
It runs Android 4.4.4, which sounds old but most apps can be installed without issue. The newest version we've seen is Android 5.1. It simply means you may not get all the features you're used to on your Android phone or tablet. We also found a few bugs - the brightness and contrast controls just didn't do anything, though other display settings were fine.
Pico Genie says the M550 has a three-hour battery life, which is enough to watch a film on the go, though don't expect to have a massive Netflix binge with it. That's impressive for a portable projector though, and goes some way to justify the slightly bulky build. At 200x145x38mm and 900g, it's a little larger than some of its rivals but don't forget it's also one of the brightest.
The biggest disappointment is one of the simplest features though: the tripod. There's one included, to help you adjust the M550 Plus to the perfect position, but it snapped in half the first time we tried to set it up. It's not the biggest problem in the world, but it's a letdown with a piece of kit that costs upwards of £600/$600.