5 Things to Consider When Buying an Outdoor Projector

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Summer is the time for outdoor movie festivals, concerts, and other big multimedia attractions. There's tons of fun outdoor activities you can do!

If you're considering a new projector for your fair-weather events, you want to make sure that you're investing your money well.

Projectors may look similar, but no two are the same. There are three different technologies used to power projectors. Which tech you choose may have some effect on other factors as well as contributing to the useful life of your equipment.

The type of bulb used can have an effect on the cost of maintenance. Metal Halide lamps, which are also known as High-intensity discharge (HID) and Ultra-high performance (UHP) lamps, are super bright and meant for industrial use. Their lifespan is comparable to incandescent bulbs. You also have LED, which can have a comparable output to HID lamps while using a fraction of the power. They last for up to 25,000 hours or more. Laser lighting has a comparable output and lifespan to LED, and hybrid projectors include both technologies.

Regardless of what projector unit you get, there are a wide variety of outdoor screens to choose from, depending on your situation. There are certain technical and logistical considerations when it comes to choosing a projection system for outdoor viewing.


Brightness is measured in lumens, or candle feet. This is defined as the light emitted by a small candle from one foot away. The typical 75W incandescent bulb emits 1100 lumens. In general, the more ambient light in the viewing area, the higher the lumens.

Outdoor venues have a lot more to contend with in terms of extraneous light and sound control. Inside a room or theater, you can almost completely control the amount of light coming in from overhead sources, hallways, and windows. Even if you could locate your viewing area away from streetlights and homes or shops, you have little control over the moon and stars.

Throw Ratio

This could be defined as the distance from your projector to the screen and the screen width. If you choose a projector with an incorrect or inadequate throw ratio, you could experience screen overbleed. Larger screens and set up distance mean you need higher ratios. For example, if your throw ratio is 2.0, which is moderate, and your screen is 5-feet wide, your projector would need to sit at least 10 feet away from the screen.

The formula looks like this:

ratio x width = distance

You can change the variables around and divide to determine the correct ratio, which is usually available for every brand and model, if you know the amount of space you'll have and screen size.

Contrast Ratio

The contrast is the ratio of dark to light in an image. How sharp and vivid movies and video content appear is determined by the contrast and the amount of ambient light, which can kill contrast. Contrast is what beings details into sharp relief and enhances picture quality. The higher the quality of the medium, the higher your contrast ratio should be. A contrast of 3000:1 would mean that your whitest or lightest areas are 3000 times brighter than your darkest darks.

Generally, you'll need higher contrast in an area that's dim but not super dark. Be aware that any amount of light in the area will degrade contrast no matter how high it is, so take that into consideration when looking at contrast.


Resolution measures the number of pixels in a predetermined area. If you have a newer TV or you watch a lot of video content online, you may already be familiar with this term. The standard resolution for a Blu-Ray is 1280 × 720. If you want a higher quality image, the next resolution in most projection systems is 1280 × 768, The most expensive projectors, which have an image quality to match, are 1920 × 1080. This is the level you want for gaming and HD video.

Miscellaneous Consideration

Since you're going to be outdoors in an environment that is difficult to control, you want something that's durable and resists dust. It should be placed on a stable surface that's easily accessible to power sources without posing a hazard to your audience yourself, or your crew. Portability is also a huge factor if your events are hosted off-site at a range of venues. 

Don't forget about comfortable outdoor furniture.

Selecting an Outdoor Screen

You've got your projector selection narrowed down, now what to use for an optimal viewing platform? Obviously. you want to start with a large screen or other surface since outdoor events typically draw large crowds. If you can't get rid of all ambient lighting in the area, try to angle your screen or otherwise position it away from distracting light sources.

Outdoor projectors are usually long-throw machines, which means that the projector must be placed at least six feet away from the screen. The material matters less, as long as it is stable and reflective; great results have even been experienced from images projected onto the sides of tall buildings and other construction.

There is one case where size matters, at least in terms of screen in relation to brightness and throw. This chart could offer some guidelines in that area:

Screen Size

Minimum Lumens

Ideal Lumen Count

9 x 9 ft



12 x 7 ft



16 x 9 ft



20 x 11 ft



25 x 14.5 ft



40 x 22.5 ft



Final Thoughts

Movies, video, and animations can add to any event or presentation. Our goal is to help you find the best equipment for your needs and budget. Each of the elements that go into producing quality images and overall performance have some influence on the others. Armed with the right knowledge, you can find great deals on outdoor projections systems and accessories to suit any venue and audience.

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