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.
Best portable projectors 2018
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.
Anker Nebula Mars II
This is the second-generation Mars projector from Nebula, by Anker. For the most part all the changes are for the better, though it's a shame it's had to reduce the brightness from 500- to 300 Ansi lumens in order to keep down cost, because this really does make it difficult to see the picture without viewing in a darkened room.
On the plus side battery life has been extended considerably thanks to the 12,500mAh cell inside. You'll now get 4 hours for video, and 30 for Bluetooth audio in speaker mode. When it's empty the Mars II recharges over a proprietary DC charger in 3 hours.
There's also a new single-second autofocus mode, so you just plonk it down and it sorts out the focus and corrects keystone for you. It's a shame there's no manual screen resizing, but at 10ft you'll get a 100in display, and this Mars II is good for 150in.
The image is HD at a 16:9 ratio, so not crystal clear but easily watchable. Sound is good too, with two 10W drivers and bass radiators inside.
Looking a lot like a lantern, particularly in use, the Mars II is portable but still reasonably big and heavy. A leather-like carry strap is attached to the top, but it's otherwise all plastic.
You have a range of options for streaming content. The Mars II runs Android 7.1, but does not include the Google Play Store. You'll find some apps such as Netflix and YouTube in its own app store, and can sideload other APK files via the USB port or by installing a browser.
You can also take advantage of the USB 2.0 and HDMI 1.4 ports on the rear, and support for Miracast and AirPlay. There's Bluetooth too, but this works only for streaming audio when projection is switched off.
Controlling the projector is a cinch, with three options: you can use the buttons on top of the unit, providing you're not wanting to ceiling-mount it; use the bundled remote control; or download the free Nebula Connect app for iPhone or Android.
Apeman's M6 is an ideal device if you like watching your movies in super-size, especially when you're not always viewing them at home. A portable projector with a tiny 153x95mm footprint, this 522g box is easy to sling into a bag or oversized pocket and you'll barely notice it's there.
With HDMI and USB inputs, plus HappyCast support for screen mirroring, it's easy to connect your phone, tablet, laptop or even a USB drive and stream content to the projector.
You can also make use of the built-in Android 4.4 operating system. There's no support for Google Play, but a built-in app store supports apps such as Netflix and Hulu, and you can sideload APKs once you have installed a browser.
The M6 is designed to be used right out the box, which will suit novice users down to the ground. There's very little here in the way of customisable settings, but that is both good and bad. The autofocus works very well, and automatically corrects keystone, but there is no way to adjust the size or height of the display without moving the projector itself.
The specs are pretty good for the money, with the Apeman able to produce 1000 Ansi lumens. That means its output is visible without requiring a blacked-out room, though obviously the darker it is the better the results will be.
The 5000mAh battery is able to last an hour and a half away from the mains. That might be plenty for a presentation, but most feature films are longer. Fortunately it charges over USB-C, so you could hook it up to a PD power bank for longer viewing time.
There's just 1GB of RAM and internal storage is meagre at 5GB. You will quickly run out of space if you download a lot of apps (either from the included app store or by sideloading APKs) or store media on the projector itself, which makes us think the M6 is primarily designed for streaming content from a connected device.
In navigation it feels pretty nippy running on a 64-bit quad-core processor, but downloading apps takes a long time even over a good connection. This isn't so much of an issue once those apps are downloaded of course, since the M6 has enough grunt to play back content nicely.
By default it has a 720p (HD) resolution which it projects at a 16:9 aspect ratio, ideal for films. 1080p (Full-HD) is possible through upscaling. The quality is generally pretty good, but naturally the picture will degrade the larger it is. The Apeman can project an image from 40- to 300in.
It's nice to see some built-in stereo speakers, meaning that you don't have to also carry around your own. They're useful but not amazing, yet this pair of 2W drivers are capable of drowning out the minimal amount of noise produced by the internal fan. You can connect something beefier using the 3.5mm audio jack or connecting a speaker over Bluetooth if you prefer.
The M6 follows on from the JMGO View and JMGO G1. Sadly it's not even slightly in their league in terms of design or functionality, but that doesn't make it any less cool for streaming big-screen media anywhere you like.
This is a portable DLP projector that would fit into a large jacket pocket, and in our tests can go roughly an hour or two away from the mains. There's an HDMI and a USB port for hooking up streaming devices and storage, as well as a phone dock and a preinstalled Android 7.0 Nougat operating system.
You don't need a Google account, though, and while there is an app store it is not Google Play. The likes of Gmail and Google Drive are not pre-installed but you can download apps such as Kodi, ShowBox and Netflix for streaming movies, or as we did plug in a NowTV Smart Stick to the HDMI port for a really easy solution.
There's also Kingsoft Office and a laser-pointer remote, which could be handy for giving presentations.
While the other JMGO projectors are built from a sleek aluminium-magnesium alloy chassis that look great and help get rid of heat, the M6 is made from glossy plastic. It's lightweight at 432g and has two, adequate but uninspiring, speakers built-in.
The remote control cleverly clips on to the front of the projector, protecting the lens from damage during transit. You just might struggle to find it the first time you get it out.
It's small and fiddly but you can download a remote control app called FunControl for your phone.
A dock seems really handy with magnetic attachments for Lightning, Micro-USB and USB-C. However, you can't just plug a phone in and have the projector mirror what's on the screen. Instead, you need the HappyCast app which is in Chinese and difficult to use.
The M6 will project a 20- to 100in screen using a 0.5- to 2.65m throw distance. The native resolution is nothing special at 854x480, and though it 'supports' higher-resolution content it will simply downscale that media.
A 2in DMD lens supports a 1000:1-3000:1 contrast ratio and a brightness of 200 Ansi Lumens. This is acceptable for a portable device but, again, nothing extraordinary. There's a manual focus wheel, while software keystone correction.