Cheap Camping Projectors – Worth It?

I bought a “Mini Outdoor HD LED Projector & Screen” – $59 AU a few months ago because I was interested in finding out if this device had any real world use – particularly if the image quality was watchable. Here’s what I found:

I ordered this from Aussie Traveller, and going back now it’s price really is back up to $199AU so appears that it was a legitimate discount at the time. It’s listed in other places with other generic sounding titles such as “Portable HD LED Projector with Soft Screen White”
This even comes with a “screen” (more on this later) with the description:

The Xtend Outdoors Mini Outdoor HD LED Projector is perfect for movie nights with the family while camping. Easy to use, simply connect to your laptop or phone via USB/HDMI and stream your favourite movies & shows.

The projector has built in speakers, as well as a built-in battery with a wireless run time of 90 mins, a projection distance of up 250cm and enables manual image focusing to ensure you get a crisp image. The included white projector screen features 6 eyelets to safely hang screen at your campsite.

  • HD Resolution: Up to 1920 × 1080px
  • Light: LED
  • Focus Mode: Manual toggle
  • Projection Distance: 90cm to 250cm (40-60” wide)
  • Projection Ratio: 1.5:1
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 and 4:3
  • Colour: 16770K
  • Power: Built in lithium battery (1600mAh)
  • Charge time: 180min
  • Runtime: 90min
  • Inputs: HDMI, USB 2.0, microSD, AV
  • Outputs: Built-in speaker or 3.5mm Audio Jack
  • Screen: Soft fabric 1.3m x 0.7m

Although we don’t have a lumens reference to know how bright it is, it does claim actual HD resolution, and even has a built in batter to run 90 minutes without being plugged in. Plus, a built in speaker – so if you plugged something like a Google Chromecast into it, does it become quite a nifty portable/put a screen on any wall TV?

Receiving the box in the mail, it appears the brand is ‘XTEND OUTDOORS’ and I found their official page here with the projector. I’m not going to review all aspects of this device, but more talk about the practicality of a device like this and some considerations on what situations this might be useable.

  • Starting up the device, it is running a fan to cool it down so there’s a small amount of noise, probably similar to a laptop running when it’s working hard. Noise importance: Low
  • The tripod style of this makes it useful for putting outside on uneven ground, but may limit where you can sit the device inside as you’ll need a wide enough spot to cover the 3 legs (maybe 10-15cm). Also if you try to angle the device too much while plugged in, it loses it’s centre of balance and tips. Unit shape importance: Medium
  • There is no keystone correction of any sort. unless you have the projector placed adjacent and at the height of the middle of the screen you’re projecting, it’s not going to be a square. Keystone feature importance: High
  • The included screen is just a thin white sheet with some eyelets. Really, you can project onto anything fairly plain coloured, so it does give projecting locations a lot of options, almost any light wall works fine. Surface/Screen importance: Low
  • The image size is set by the distance of the projector from the surface. No resizing, so projector placement is critical, along with the lack of keystone correction. Roughly, a 2m distance gives a 32″ display size. Size adjustment importance: Medium
  • Focus is manual, but that’s quite easy to adjust and should be set and forget and it’s just a physical slider to change. On this particular device, easy to adjust but hard to make micro changes, so you’ll probably settle on ‘close enough’ Manual focus importance: Low/Medium (as long as it’s easy to do, accurate, and can take tiny adjustments easily)
  • Inbuilt this can support a MicroSD card and a bunch of video formats, but these days I’m not sure people care about this too much. The HDMI port means you can plug anything in, and I tried the Google TV with Chromecast and it worked fine. Inbuilt USB port didn’t have enough power to run it, so I had to use external power. I’m sure a Firestick would be similar. Inbuilt player importance: Low (fixed with cheap addon device)

Here’s the best I could do putting an image on the wall from about 4m away, in a reasonably dark room with the lights off.

It’s watchable in an occasional camping type scenario, but I wouldn’t want this set up as standard.

You can probably tell at this point, I wouldn’t really recommend a projector like this unless it really IS for a camping type scenario, even at this price.

You’d be better off finding a cheap ‘normal’ projector that covers as many of the features in the dot points above, and you’re going to have a better time. There are cheap options out there, and if I find one myself I’ll share my findings.

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