With a few accessories and the right projector, you can elevate outdoor movie night. Popcorn optional.
The HT3050 projects a bright, 2,000-lumen image, allowing for screens up to 180 inches diagonal, even in a backyard with some ambient light. Since it uses DLP (digital light processing) tech, there's no motion blur — while streaming Netflix from a Roku, we could have sworn we were at the Cineplex. Proper placement and setup requires a bit more time than for the other units we tested, but the lifelike picture, portability, and a wealth of features (three HDMI ports, 20-watt speakers) make this a great all-arounder. [$999; benq.us]
The compact James Bond–worthy LG unit uses a mirror to produce an image size of 100 inches diagonal when placed just 15 inches from the screen — meaning an end to utterances of "Down in front!" It's packed with cool conveniences like baked-in Netflix, MLB, and YouTube and a DTV tuner, perfect for cord cutters. Here's the downside: It was the dimmest projector in our test, so your backyard will have to be truly dark for a vivid picture. [$1,399; lg.com]
If your summer flicks are from the Criterion Collection, the pricey HW40ES is for you. It uses liquid-crystal-over-silicon projection to produce brilliant color. While it's large and best for indoors, the Bright Cinema setting is powerful enough for a backyard. [$2000; sony.com]
Epson Ultra-Bright Home Cinema 1440
There's a reason the 1440 looks a bit buttoned-up: It's based on one of Epson's business projectors. But this isn't a machine for throwing up PowerPoints — its 4,400-lumen output was by far the brightest in our test, allowing for a crazy-big 300-inch-diagonal screen size from about 20 feet away. When viewed indoors, the contrast was not as great as Sony's, and its black levels were far more deep gray than inky black. But if you're primarily using the projector outdoors, its blazing image is reason enough to buy. [$1,700; epson.com]