These are our top picks for the best camper van projector in 2023.
Some of my best van life memories are projecting great movies onto the side of my van with a crackling campfire nearby. Or hunkering down on a rainy day and projecting a TV show inside my van.
Projecting movies onto the side of a van is a great way to meet people at campgrounds, RV parks, or out on BLM land. Not to mention that carrying a projector is much more convenient than mounting a TV inside your van.
Buying an excellent van life projector is different than just getting a high-quality projector though. Van lifers have unique needs. The size, brightness, and battery life are much more important for a van life projector than one you would install in your home.
I’ve used my van life projector for hundreds of hours in my travels, from watching movies and TV shows to playing video games. I’ve experienced how convenient and wonderful a camper van projector can be and also the situations in which it can be quite frustrating.
Our overall best van life projector is the Anker Nebula Capsule Max. It has the best combination of picture quality, size, brightness, price, and features.
Every van lifer is different and has different priorities, so we provide various other “best of” recommendations as well.
Let’s get started.
Our Best Van Life Projectors
- Anker Nebula Capsule Max – Best Overall
- Anker Nebula Solar Portable – Best Picture
- AuKing Projector – Best Budget
- Anker Nebula Capsule – Best Compact Size
Van Life Projector Buying Guide
There are a variety of features you’ll want to consider when researching which van life projector is best for you. I’ll go over the various considerations in order of what I feel are most important.
The brightness of the projector will determine when and how you can use the projector. If it’s not bright enough it will be difficult to see unless you’re inside your van and have all the light blocked out or it’s night and pitch black outside.
You’ll likely see three different brightness ratings as you research projectors: ANSI lumens, LED lumens, and light source lumens. The best van life projectors are rated in ANSI lumens so we’ll use this rating for comparison.
To calculate the differences you use these formulas:
LED lumens / 2.4 = ANSI lumens
Light source lumens x 0.05 = ANSI lumens
This means that 1000 LED lumens are less than 417 ANSI lumens and 1000 light source lumens are 50 ANSI lumens.
The brighter the projector, the easier you’ll be able to see the picture.
If you want to be able to use the projector outside or anywhere else where it’s not plugged into an electrical system, battery life will be an important consideration. There’s usually a trade-off as brighter projectors need more power.
Playback / Ports
It’s useful to think about how you’ll be using the projector. Will you be streaming movies and TV shows via services such as Netflix and Hulu on WiFi? Will you be downloading media to a USB drive that needs to be plugged into the projector for offline viewing? Will you be playing video games?
Consider how you’ll be using it and confirm that the necessary ports and/or apps are available.
In my experience, this isn’t quite as important as brightness when it comes to a quality viewing experience. Whether you’re projecting inside your van or onto the side of your van, you likely won’t be more than a few feet away. So resolution usually isn’t the biggest issue.
Projector Device Size
Space is limited in a van so consider how large the projector is. Most van lifers don’t permanently mount their projector as they want to be able to alternate between using it inside or outside. This means that you’ll likely store the projector somewhere in your van when not in use. There’s a noticeable difference between storing the Anker Nebula Capsule Max which is roughly the same size as a YETI coffee mug compared to the Anker Nebula Solar Portable which is larger.
Throw Ratio / Distance
You’ll often see “throw ratio” or “throw distance” when researching van life projectors. This tells you how far the projector needs to be away from the screen for a certain image size and/or optimal resolution and brightness.
For example, the Nebula Capsule Max has a throw distance of 1.9 to 10.1 feet.
Sound quality varies between projectors. Some work well as stand-alone speakers. Others could benefit by connecting to an external speaker through an audio-out outlet or a Bluetooth connection.
I recommend reading reviews about the audio quality before purchasing. Determine if the projector you’re considering has the ability to connect to an external audio device, as not every projector offers this.
Internet connectivity isn’t always available. Some projectors will allow you to download content onto the device through streaming apps such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. Others will have USB ports so you can download media onto the USB for later viewing.
Some projectors will focus the picture automatically. Others will require you to manually focus. This decision will boil down to your budget and how highly you prioritize the convenience of not needing to focus the picture manually.
Keystoning allows you to project video from an angle that will still display clearly for viewing. If you feel confident that you’ll be able to project straight-on to a screen based on your layout and/or if you’ll use a tripod, this may not be important to you.
If you know that you’ll want the freedom to place the projector in a variety of locations, you should consider getting a projector that can keystone.
Van Life Projector Reviews
Below is a list of the top five van life projectors. It includes the top features, benefits, and who they’re best for.
Anker Nebula Capsule Max – Best Overall
- Brightness: 200 ANSI Lumens
- Battery Life: 4 Hours
- Playback / Ports: HDMI, USB, DC IN, Bluetooth, WiFi, Screen Mirroring
- Resolution: 720p HD
- Projector Device Size: 3.15 x 3.15 x 5.91 inches
This is the overall top pick for van life projectors.
With 200 ANSI lumens of brightness, it’s bright enough to project inside the van during the day or outside the van at night. If it’s a cloudy or rainy day, I’ve had no problem seeing the picture clearly without blocking any of the four windows in my van. If it’s a bright sunny day you’ll need to block a few of the windows.
A battery life of four hours means you can watch a full outdoor movie or several episodes without needing to recharge the device.
The device has all the major playback ports but other than connecting my Nintendo Switch a couple of times (which worked great with the HDMI port) I’ve primarily just used the built-in apps for Netflix, Youtube, and Amazon Prime.
Netflix and Amazon Prime both have the built-in capability to download content to the device. I’d often download a bunch of things on the off chance that the WiFi wouldn’t be great wherever I wanted to use the projector.
My one complaint about playback is that there’s no built-in app for HBO Max. There are workarounds for this by connecting a laptop to the device, which I’ve done many times.
The picture is incredibly clear at 720p HD resolution and the device is slightly larger than a can of soda, making it easy to store and retrieve. It comes with auto-focusing and keystoning. The auto-focusing is really convenient. Although on rare occasions it will auto-focus over and over while watching something which can get annoying. Restarting the device has fixed the issue every time it has happened.
As for keystoning, it does a great job vertically (meaning if it’s titled up or down it does a good job making the picture clear) but less optimal horizontally. So if you need to position the device off to the side I’d investigate this further. This is a great projector for van lifers who want an easy-to-use system with quality picture and sound.
Lastly, with Bluetooth capability, this projector can double as a Bluetooth speaker for music, podcasts, etc.
Anker Nebula Solar Portable – Best Picture
- Brightness: 400 ANSI Lumens
- Battery Life: 3 Hours
- Playback / Ports: HDMI, USB, Bluetooth, WiFi, Chromecast
- Resolution: 1080p HD
- Projector Device Size: 7.56 x 7.57 x 2.15 inches
The Nebula Solar Portable is our top pick for best picture with 1080p HD resolution and 400 ANSI lumens of brightness. That’s double the brightness of our top overall pick.
There are two reasons that this is not the top overall pick for the best van life projector.
The first and biggest reason is the size. While the Nebula Capsule projectors are only slightly larger than a can of soda, this is closer to the size you remember from older projectors. With van life space being at such a premium, you’ll need to decide if you can make this compromise.
The larger size and form factor of this device does bring the benefit of it having a built-in stand. I can absolutely see this being helpful to get the picture perfect.
The second reason this isn’t the top choice is the three-hour battery life compared to the four-hour battery life of the Nebula Capsules. Even with four hours, I’ve needed to pause the movie and plug in my projector on more than one occasion.
Lastly, I can see built-in Chromecast being really useful. If picture quality is your highest priority, definitely consider the Anker Nebula Solar Portable.
AuKing Projector – Best Budget
- Brightness: 9500 Light Source Lumens
- Battery Life: None. DC only.
- Playback / Ports: HDMI, USB, VGA, AV
- Resolution: 1080p HD
- Projector Device Size: 3.15 x 6.69 x 7.68 inches
This AuKing projector is for those who really want the projector experience but don’t have the budget for one of the more expensive Nebula projectors. This is a great budget projector, but keep in mind that it won’t have the bells and whistles of the other recommendations.
At 9500 light source lumens, this projector should be incredibly bright. That’s 475 ANSI lumens, brighter than any other recommendation in this roundup. I’m pretty skeptical about this number though because repeatedly in the reviews, customers complained about the brightness, saying that unless the room is dark it’s very difficult to see.
There is no battery for this device. You need to plug it in to use it. There’s no WiFi or Bluetooth, and the device has the form factor of an older more traditional projector. Some customers complain about how many cables it uses and that it feels old.
The 1080p HD resolution is great, but as I said in the buying guide, resolution seems less important unless the brightness is sufficiently high.
This is not the best projector on the market, but compared to other ultra-budget projectors it’s a strong consideration. If you’re looking for a projector on a budget, consider the AuKing.
Anker Nebula Capsule – Best Compact Size
- Brightness: 100 ANSI Lumens
- Battery Life: 4 Hours
- Playback / Ports: HDMI, Micro USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
- Resolution: 854 x 480
- Projector Device Size: 2.68 x 2.68 x 4.72 inches
If the size of the projector is your highest priority, the Nebula Capsule is going to be your best bet. It’s over an inch shorter than the Capsule Max and nearly a half-inch smaller in diameter.
At 100 ANSI lumens of brightness and the lowest resolution of any of the projectors in this guide, you’ll want to make sure you can block out any light in your van if you want to watch during the day. But with proper window covers this is easily doable.
Four hours of battery life matches that of the top choice Capsule Max. It’s more than enough for a full-length movie projected on the side of your van at night.
This device doesn’t come with auto-focusing, Chromecast is not supported, and make note of the fact that it uses a micro instead of a standard USB. All that said, it’s a great projector at an even better size. If saving space is your top consideration, consider the Nebula Capsule.
- Brightness: 400 LED Lumens
- Battery Life: 2 Hours
- Playback / Ports: HDMI, USB, Micro SD
- Resolution: 1080p HD
- Projector Device Size: 4.5 x 4 x 2.3 inches
The AAXA P400 projector isn’t the best of anything, but it’s good enough in many regards to still include in this roundup.
At 400 LED lumens (167 ANSI lumens) it fits right between the Capsule and Capsule Max in terms of brightness.
A two-hour battery life means you’ll be cut short for longer movies unless you want to keep it plugged in. But you’ll still be able to enjoy TV shows or a shorter movie experience.
While there’s no Bluetooth or WiFi, you can use a USB TV stick such as Roku to stream what you want to watch.
The device doesn’t have keystoning capability so you’ll need to keep the projector straight at the screen and you’ll need to manually focus the picture.
AAXA apparently has great customer service so note that if it’s a priority for you.
With 1080p HD resolution, it’s a good projector to consider for your van life adventures.
There are a few accessories that will make using your van life projector easier and more convenient.
Using a tripod can help you orient the projector in a convenient place to see the screen better. Make sure that you match the tripod to the projector you buy. For example, Nebula has a tripod specifically made for their Capsule models. I don’t use a tripod personally, but my projector has keystoning capabilities so it’s more forgiving on where I place it.
Projecting onto a flat wall or a white sheet can work, but to get the optimal experience you’ll want to use a projector screen. I use this projector screen for mounting on the side of my van for outdoor viewing. It also folds up and mounts across the bar that separates my cockpit from the back of the van for indoor viewing.
USB Streaming Sticks
Personally, I just use the built-in apps on my Nebula. But sometimes the streaming service you want isn’t offered on the device. Sometimes the device doesn’t have apps at all. Sometimes the device doesn’t have WiFi. In these cases, you’ll want to consider getting a USB streaming stick such as a Roku, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire.
The Nebula projectors have good enough sound that I can clearly hear a movie even outdoors next to a crackling fire. But everybody’s audio needs are different. If you’re looking to get external speakers for your projector setup, make sure that you have the right cables or the correct Bluetooth setup. The Anker Soundcore 2 is an affordable quality speaker.
To mount my screen externally on my van I use adhesive hooks above and bungee cords to secure it below. When I bring the screen indoors I use velcro straps to secure the screen on the bar I use to separate the cockpit of my van from the living area.
That’s everything you should know about making an informed purchase decision for a van life projector. Figure out what your top priorities are in terms of budget, picture quality, size, and playback abilities.
Determine how you’ll set things up to use the projector and enjoy hours of movies, TV shows, or video games.
The Anker Nebula Capsule Max is an incredible van life projector that works great in many situations.