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Best pocket projectors for 2020

If you’ve ever dreamed of setting up a home theater, but the bulky projector was always an issue, there is good news. Projectors have gotten better, and more importantly, smaller. Now, you can find projectors that are small enough to offer flexibility and provide a clear picture despite their size.

Pocket projectors give you a lot of flexibility when you need entertainment on the go. They’re excellent for impromptu movie nights, keeping children entertained on the road, or for when you’re sick of staring at your tiny tablet screen during a movie — no more bulky projector housing with multiple, confusing cables. Projectors are streamlined now.

Our top picks for pocket projectors offer you the chance to take your projector on the go. Our best overall choice, the Anker Nebula Capsule II, even has quality built-in sound. Whether it’s the family-friendly Cinemood or the business capable AAXA P7, there is a projector on this list that fits your needs perfectly. Let’s take a look.

At a glance

Anker Nebula Capsule II Smart Mini Projector — Best Overall

The Anker is our top pick because it offers multiple capabilities with integrated sound and portability. It uses the same digital light processing technology that movie theaters use for a crisp picture at 720p. It projects up to 100 inches corner to corner in low-light conditions with 200 ANSI lumens.

One of the best aspects of this projector is the addition of speakers. While some of the handheld projectors on the list do have integrated audio, this option has the best sound for easy setup and flexibility.

It runs on Android TV and Chromecast, giving you thousands of potential apps and uses an autofocus feature to help ensure the best possible picture. You have an HDMI connection as well as a USB and wireless connection through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

AAXA P2-A Android Smart LED Pico Projector — Best Mini

AAXA’s smallest projector offers a truly mini operation, measuring up 2.8 inches by 2.8 inches by 2.3 inches for a genuinely handheld experience. It features 130 lumens of brightness with up to 1080p resolution. It plays up to 2.5 hours of video on battery only, but you can also plug it in for unlimited play.

The screen projects up to 100 inches in low-light conditions, but it works best at smaller dimensions. It’s perfect for entertaining children in the car at night or smaller wall projections in a hotel or on the road.

It features a media processor that is compatible with Android systems through a third-party app and a wireless radio for a bit of sound. You also have a USB port, mini-HDMI, and a headphone jack. You also have more options through Bluetooth connectivity.

AAXA P7 Mini Projector — Best Splurge

If you need a truly portable projector for business or personal use, the AAXA P7 is a great choice. It measures 2.8 inches by 2.8 inches by 2.3 inches and weighs about eight ounces, fitting into the palm of your hand. It offers an ultra-crisp resolution with an HD native resolution of 1920 by 1080p. 

You have a screen measurement of 600 lumens and up to 30,000 hours of lamplight. It has a built-in battery that can project up to 90 minutes with a built-in two-watt speaker. 

It has multiple input options for portable storage devices like flash drives, gaming consoles, mobile devices, and other streaming devices through HDMI, VGA, and composite AV. Potential projection of up to 120 inches corner to corner gives you flexibility for both business and personal use.

VANKYO Burger 101 Pico Projector — Best Rechargeable Option

The Vankyo Burger is a really fun mini projector with great clarity and support for up to 1080p. It offers 1,920 by 1,080 resolution with a 1,000:1 aspect ratio. The powerful, integrated battery recharges quickly and offers 2,600 lumens of brightness. 

It projects between 30 inches to 110 inches for projection, and you don’t have to wait for the battery to be fully charged before use. Just plug it into the power source, and you’re good to go. It supports 3D viewing under low light circumstances for a fun, extra kick.

It has multiple connection options for audio and streaming. You have HDMI connections plus WIFI and BlueTooth. You can mirror your screen through your smartphone or set up a streaming device. It comes with a carry bag for easier transport and a remote for operation. 

Cinemood Portable Movie Theater – Best for Families

The Cinemood is a half-pound 3-inch cube capable of delivering 1080p resolution support and projection from up to 12 feet. With a potential 150-inch screen from corner to corner, you have plenty of flexibility. With a 1,000:1 aspect ratio and no blue light, it’s safe for families and younger children.

It offers only 35 lumens, but that’s enough to provide a clear picture in low light without the potential to damage your child’s eyes. It has lots of wireless connection choices with preloaded, family-friendly apps, and content to make your decisions easier. Five hours of rechargeable battery life offer flexibility in the car or on a trip.

It has built-in speakers and 8GB of internal storage for your own content, plus wireless mirroring from your phone. It’s easily one of the most straightforward little devices for families to use for entertainment whenever and wherever.

Elephas Mini Projector — Best Budget

Operating on a budget doesn’t mean you have to make huge sacrifices. The Elephas Mini Projector measures just 8 inches by 5.5 inches by 2.38 inches but is capable of projecting up to 1080p with a native resolution of 1280 by 720p. 

Projection area measures between 32 inches up to 200 inches corner to corner, but the best area of clarity is 60 inches to 120 inches. That gives you enough area to fill a bedroom, a small interior screen, or use it on the wall in your child’s room. Audio out allows you to attach small speakers directly to the unit, and it’s compatible with both iOS and Android operating systems.

It provides a long-lasting lamp with up to 50,000 hours at 3,300 lumens of brightness. The picture is clear at a variety of display sizes, but it doesn’t have the capability to run on battery alone. While that does limit your projection options, at the price point offered, it shouldn’t be too tricky to work around. 

How do I choose a pocket projector?

There are a few things you should look for when choosing a mini projector. The resolution is essential for ensuring picture quality. While no projector will have quite the crispness of a television, a higher resolution is important for ensuring clarity. Look for something that is at least 480 by 640p. Preferably, a projector capable of supporting up to 1080p streaming is a flexible choice.

Many projectors use LED lights for minimal power drainage on the battery, but battery capacity is an important factor. If you plan to use the projector in the car, for instance, you’ll need enough battery to last. It’s best to have at least 2.5 hours t so that you can watch a movie. The good news is that most can use a power supply as well, even if the battery life is drained.

Connectivity is also crucial for this type of projector. The best choices will have multiple connection choices, including HDMI or USB. Wireless projection is excellent for easy setup, so look for either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth capability.

Lumens and contrast ratio are also important for picture quality. Brighter lumens ensure maximum operating brightness, but you’ll have to balance it with battery life; it’s more draining. Contrast ratio needs to be at least 1000:1 to ensure a good quality picture.

What’s the difference between short-throw and long-throw projectors?

Long-throw projectors are typically more affordable than short-throw projectors, but for apartments or travel, they’re inconvenient. So what is throw? Throw is how much distance you need to be able to project a clear picture on the wall. 

Long-throw projectors typically require a distance of at least six feet to handle projection. Short-throw projectors give you more flexibility for set up, allowing you to project from your bed or even in the car. 

What is a contrast ratio?

Contrast ratio helps you determine how clear a picture will be from your projector. It’s the ratio of brightness from an all-white image to an all-black image. If your chosen projector has a contrast ratio of 1,000:1, the white image is 1,000 times brighter than the black image. 

This contrast is critical because if you want to watch your projector in less than total darkness, the contrast will allow you to distinguish the images with some light interference. It allows us to see more subtle images, even in less ideal conditions.

How do I improve my picture?

There are several things you can do to improve the picture quality of your projector screen. Ensuring that there is as little light interference as possible is the first step. Be sure to close blinds and curtains, turn off lights, and, if possible, wait until after dark to start your movie. 

You can also adjust the settings of the screen smaller or move your projector around to find the best balance between the size of the screen and the clarity of the picture. Experimenting with the placement of your projector and the conditions of the room and screen can help provide the best picture possible with the projector you have.

How long do projector light bulbs last?

The bulbs for your projector don’t last forever and will need to be changed just like any regular bulb. It can be a pain to change the bulb, and the cost for some LED projectors is more expensive than a standard bulb.

Most people look at the lifespan of a bulb when choosing a projector. You can find this expected lifespan in hours, with several of the projectors on our list rated for tens of thousands of hours. For regular household use, that lifespan provides enough usage for a long time.

How can I tell if my projector bulb is going out?

If you can’t get a picture despite everything else working correctly, this is a good indication that it’s a blown bulb. Before that happens, many projectors offer status updates. Sometimes, a flashing red or yellow light near a lightbulb icon indicates a problem. Other projectors display a message on the projection area itself.

If your projection is inconsistent with flickering or dimming of the picture, that can also indicate a bulb may soon go out. While bulbs do have estimated lifespans, there is always the chance the bulb will go out earlier than the estimated time or later.

Do I need other accessories for my projector?

The ones on our list offer a self-contained experience, but you can always upgrade a few of your accessories to improve the quality and experience. A projector screen can help make the picture crisper by reducing flaws and shadows, for example. 

People often get external sound accessories, as well. Onboard speakers don’t always have the greatest reach if you aren’t right next to the projector, so additional speakers could improve the experience if you plan to use the projector for more people than just yourself.

How did Digital Trends choose projectors for this list?

All of the projectors on our list offer flexibility and good picture quality for the size of the projector. Each one comes highly rated by consumers who have used the projectors for a variety of use cases, and love the choices available on such small devices.

They each provide multiple ways to connect your favorite movies and media to the projector, including HDMI connectivity, USB, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. Most of them also offer both wired and wireless connections.

Those of you who need speakers or sound, many of the options on the list also offer onboard speakers. While they aren’t the most powerful, with the exception of our Best Overall pick, they do give you the chance to start right away. Later, you can connect external speakers for more vibrant sound, but you’ll have out-of-the-box playability.

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