Best portable projector for 2021 – CNET

Summer is here, and a portable projector could be your next on-the-go entertainment companion. These little wonders make it possible to watch a movie while camping, or have a big-screen movie experience in your backyard — all without having to lug a big TV. They run on batteries, are about the size of a large Bluetooth speaker and most can stream Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services without having to add another device.

There are some downsides, though. One is that the picture quality is not very bright — you’ll only get a fraction of the brightness of a traditional home theater projector, so if you make the projected image too big, your image will be pretty dim. Another is that mini portable projectors are also generally lower resolution. Also, if you’re careful, the battery should last for a single movie, but that’s it.

Read more: Portable projectors can create big images anywhere. Is one right for you?

If you’re never going to be far from an outlet, one of our home theater projector picks will get you a much bigger, brighter and better image for similar money. But if you want something that’s tiny enough to fit just about anywhere, with all the possibilities battery power affords, these are the best options.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The Mars II Pro is easily the best compact projector option here due to its light output, overall image quality, ease of use and overall design. It’s a bit bigger and more expensive than the others here, but the extra money and size is worth it.

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 it around super easy.

Read our Anker Nebula Mars II Pro review.

Read more: Projector setup tips: How to get the biggest, best image for movie night

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

I didn’t like the M2 as much as the Anker above but it has one thing in its favor: more pixels. 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 720p is just fine, however, and the Anker’s picture is as good or better in many ways. 

The Viewsonic is a bigger video projector than the others on this list and lacks a built-in battery, so you’ll need to supply your own USB-C battery pack if you want to make it truly portable. It also doesn’t have a handle and the speakers are worse than the Anker. Even so, if you want 1080p and portability, this is a good choice.

Read our Viewsonic M2 review.

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 battery should last around two hours in the projector’s dimmest mode. Less if you’re also powering a streaming stick. 

It 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 Mars II Pro, this smaller, flatter Anker has more pixels than its blocky stablemate and costs about the same. It also has a superior app store, running full Android TV, but the Solar’s dimmer image makes us prefer the Mars overall. Compared to the other 1080p projector on this list, the Viewsonic M2, the Solar is again dimmer but does have a built-in battery and costs a bit less. If you want a sleek, budget-friendly portable with 1080p, 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 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, its beauty 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.

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As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castlesairplane graveyards and more. 

You can follow his exploits on Instagram and YouTube, and on his travel blog, BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines, along with a sequel.

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