Projectors can be tricky to get right, and especially when it comes to brightness and daytime use projectors can really start to show their weaknesses. Bright light can lead to washed-out/dim projector images, but you can get projectors that work well during the day, indoors and out.
For good projector performance in daylight (either fully outdoors or with high levels of ambient light from windows) the projector has to have high lumens, typically at least 3000 and higher for brighter circumstances. A few great options for most people are:
- ViewSonic PRO8530HDL 5200 Lumens 1080p Projector
- Optoma HZ39HDR 4000 Lumens HDR Projector
- Optoma HD146X 3600 Lumens Projector
There are lots of projector specs that you could get confused in (check out our full write-up on projector specs in a separate article), but for the purposes of this discussion, let’s turn our attention to lumens, aka brightness, and understand how the lumens value impacts projector use during the daylight.
Are Projectors Any Good in Daylight?
If you’ve committed to the big-screen life, then you know projectors are an incredible way to get a 100+ inch screen without breaking the bank. This feature of a big screen at a lower cost (compared to Televisions) can really make an impact, but projectors have some drawbacks as well. The brightness, for instance, can get a little complicated when you’re going to daylight (and especially outdoor) projector use.
While a pricey Television like the Samsung 65” Q60 Series (on Amazon) comes in at a much higher price-per-diagonal-inch than projector options, it boasts “QLED” technology and a built-in backlighting system that keeps the picture bright. This isn’t usually something you’d think about, but it helps us understand why projectors suffer in bright light: the projector is projecting an image onto a screen that doesn’t have any backlighting involved. So a TV produces its own light behind the panel, but a projector bounces the image off a screen.
Daylight (or any bright light) complicates projector use because projector screens are designed to reflect the light from the projector very well, but they reflect all the other light in the room too. Whether it’s an indoor screen like the HOIN 120” screen (on Amazon), or an outdoor inflatable screen like this VIVOHOME 14 ft. option (on Amazon), these screens are going to reflect all light including what’s coming from the projector and that washes the image out.
But can this problem be solved? Projectors can work in the daylight, and they can even work well, but because of how projecting and projector screens work you have to make sure you produce the brightness you want at the projector. That means you probably need to get a slightly more souped-up projector with the right amount of brightness, or “lumens”, to push through that ambient light and make sure the picture isn’t muddied.
How Many Lumens Do You Need to Project in Daylight?
To make sure you’re selecting a projector with enough brightness for daylight use, you need to focus on a very specific parameter: the projector’s lumens. This is how much light is coming from the projector, and the numbers vary widely, from the low hundreds for portable projectors to higher values as you move up the price scale.
For daylight viewing, you want a projector with a minimum of 3000 lumens. There are great options in the $500-$600 range that will meet this criteria, and you can go brighter if you want to have sharper colors and better contrast. You may need to go even higher for outdoor daylight viewing, targeting between 6000 and 8000 lumens.
This may seem extreme, but when you consider the light intensity of daylight, it starts to make a lot more sense. This number has been measured, and you can see on Wikipedia where the lumens brightness of sunlight at the Earth’s surface is somewhere around 100,000 lux (lumens per square meter).
So, compared to the projector lumens this number is obviously pretty silly, and it will also vary by region, time of the year, etc., but the point is clear: a projector is competing with a lot of ambient brightness when daylight is coming in the windows, or if the projector is outdoors in direct sunlight.
3 Best Projectors to Use During the Day
You can easily head to amazon and search “outdoor projector” or “high lumens projector,” but the results are a little tricky. There are options that appear to have high (>7000 lumens) brightness that have suspiciously low prices, and of course, they’ll all say they work in “partial daylight” or something like that. But really, there are some more specific use cases that are worth looking at projectors for.
Best For Direct Daylight/Outdoor Use – ViewSonic PRO8530HDL
Best For High Ambient Light/Indoor Use – Optoma HZ39HDR
Best Budget Option for High Lumens – Optoma HD146X
1. Consider the Time of Day
This isn’t rocket science-the sun is likely going to be brightest where you’re at during the middle of the day. Planning to use your projector during the brightest part of the day will mean playing this whole brightness/projector game on hard mode, so if possible you can optimize the time you’re planning to use your projector.
For most people with an indoor projector, this work may be mostly done for you already if you’re working during the day and parking it in front of the screen in the evening. Weekends, days where you want to watch something in the middle of the day, that can be handled by some clever light management (see below) or getting a high brightness projector like described above.
2. Make Sure the Screen is Ready
The screen is what reflects the projector’s light back to your eyes. If you spend a lot on a nice projector with high brightness, it’s not going to perform well (or as well as you’d like) without a proper projector screen to go with it. If you’re projecting onto a white wall, or a bedsheet, something like that is going to make it harder to manage brightness.
What you want to do is get a screen that is designed for projector use at the very least. And if you have the extra cash for it, splurge for a slightly better screen with better reflective properties. Once you have the screen ready and in place, you may need to clean it every so often to keep dust from collecting and forming a film that will further scatter light and reduce brightness. This isn’t going to be a big deal, buf if you’re trying to manage the brightness problem, it’s worth thinking about.
3. Block/Close Windows or Use a Shaded Area
Finally, you can just do some intentional management of the light that’s coming into your space and causing the projected image to fade. If you’re inside, you can consider closing window shades or otherwise blocking large light sources. If you have big picture windows you may not be able to block them, but if it’s important to you you can definitely find automated options that can raise and lower larger screens across the windows at the push of a button (like these Yoolax motorized blinds (on Amazon)).
If you’re outdoors, the light is coming from above, and the best way to block it out is to seek some shade! If you can set up your screen and projector under a tree, or around the side of a building where there’s some shade, that’s going to be the best way to quickly manage and boost projector performance. Obviously this is going to be a little tough if you just have no shade options, but do what you can with what you’ve got.
You can even consider adding an awning to your setup to add at least some shade from the sunlight. Look for tents like the MasterCanopy Pop-Up Canopy Tent (also on Amazon) that you can set up your screen under. This can make a huge difference, especially if there’s no other options for some light shading. And don’t forget the most obvious: aim the screen so that it’s not facing the sun!