I get a lot of questions about my projector. People usually ask because they want to rig up projectors in their RVs, camper vans, or tiny houses. So let’s get those questions answered!
How do you know so much about projectors?
I work in themed entertainment, and I worked for a company that specialized in “immersive theater” projects for 6 years. What does that really mean? Projectors everywhere! The largest project that I worked on had 10 coordinated projection screens in it.
Why is having a projector in a camper van so awesome?
- Bigger screen
- Takes up hardly any space
- You can bring it outside and host a movie night under the stars for your friends
- Some of them can be hacked to run on a 12 volt solar electric system
- It can be a movie screen, a second computer monitor, or a shadow puppet theater
- Projectors can often take several different kinds of inputs, such as a USB flash drive, micro SD card, HDMI, DVI, and VGA. Most computer monitors and TVs aren’t that flexible.
What is a projector not good for?
- People who want a super high quality picture. Yes, most projectors these days say they can project 1920 x 1080. However, if the projector costs under $500, 1920 x 1080 usually is not native resolution. For example, if a projector says that maximum resolution is 1920 x 1080, and native resolution is 1280 x 800, they mean that the projector can accept 1920 x 1080. It will turn your 1920 x 1080 signal into something that fits inside their 1280 x 800 resolution. Projectors that are capable of 1920 x 1080 native resolution do exist, but they are expensive!
- Watching things while surrounded by daylight. Lots of ambient light will wash out the projected image. It’s best to use projectors in the dark.
What kind of gear do you use?
I use an Aaxa P300 Pico LED Projector with a UE Mini Boom Wireless Bluetooth Speaker. The projector has a headphone jack on the side, so I simply connect the two using a 3.5mm male to male audio cable. When I have free wifi, I stream Hulu or Amazon Prime video using a Chromecast. The Chromecast plugs into the HDMI port on the side of the projector, and I control the Chromecast with my phone.
How do you power the projector?
I power the projector, the speaker, and the Chromecast using my 12 volt electrical system. The projector originally came with a 120 volt wall wart. I noticed that the wall wart converted 120 volts to 12 volts, which clued me in to the fact that the projector runs on 12 volts. So, I cut the wall wart off, wired a 12 volt plug in its place, and now I just plug the projector in to my 12 volt system for power.
I could have just kept the wall wart and plugged the projector into the inverter, but I didn’t like the idea of converting 12 volts to 120 volts, just so it could be converted back to 12 volts again. In any case, I wired the 12 volt plug in such a way that I can reattach the wall wart if I ever need to (as long as I don’t lose it).
Why did you choose that specific projector?
The Aaxa P300 has some features that I really like, which other projectors don’t come with:
- Native 1280 x 800 resolution (best resolution for the price)
- Uses LEDs instead of a lamp
- 400 lumens
- Weighs less than 1 lb.
- Uses only 25 watts
- Has a headphone jack
- MicroSD card slot (can play videos from a microSD card)
- USB slot (can play videos from a USB flash drive)
- Has HDMI in
- Short throw of 1.38
- Has keystoning capability
- Can run on its own battery
- Runs on 12 volts (have to hack the wall wart off)
The Aaxa P300 is the only projector that I’ve found that ticks every single one of these checkboxes. Other projectors lack one or two of the features that I wanted. Since I bought the P300, Aaxa has come out with a newer version, called the P450, but I still like the P300 since the P450 runs on 36 watts, and the P300 runs on only 25 watts.
Is there anything people should watch out for when they look into buying a projector?
Yes, here are a few things:
- Look for an audio out, like a headphone jack. Some projectors don’t come with an audio out, so you’re stuck listening to audio coming out of the projector’s crappy onboard speakers.
- Projectors are noisy. Look at the decibel rating listed under “noise”. Noise isn’t as much of an issue when you’re using rear projection because the projector isn’t next to your head, but if you plan on using front projection in a small space like an RV, having a loud projector two feet away from your head can get annoying.
- Watch out for “1920 x 1080 HD LED projectors”. If it costs under $500, the native resolution is probably around 1200 x 800 or something like that.
- Look at the throw ratio, and know how far away your projector will be from your screen. Calculate if that throw ratio will work for you. To project a large image in a small space, you need a “short throw” projector.
- Make sure the wattage is acceptable for your power source. Super bright projectors look great, but don’t forget that the extra lumens will tax your battery bank.
What kind of screen do you use?
I use a frosted shower curtain. The exact one that I bought is the InterDesign Mildew-Free Shower Liner, Frost. Frosted shower curtains work great for rear projection; for front projection you can use almost anything that is solid and light-colored. A white bed sheet works. A white wall works. Screens made for projection will look nicer, as will surfaces painted with Screen Goo, but they’re not absolutely necessary for those of us who aren’t picky.
Be aware that frosted shower curtains become creased and wrinkled easily. I don’t notice the creases and wrinkles when an image is bring projected, but I suppose others might.
The screen is hung using flexible curtain track from curtain-tracks.com.
Is a projector better a laptop?
They each have their place. Gamers and people who are wowed by superior picture quality should stick with a laptop or tablet because laptops and tablets these days have amazing resolution—far better than any consumer grade projector. Projectors are good for people who want large images, or simply like the novelty, like me.
One of the reasons why I wanted a projector was so that I could use it as a second screen for my laptop. Amazingly, in the last two years, laptop resolution quality has improved by leaps and bounds. So, I when I bought my latest laptop, I essentially rendered my projector useless as a second screen. It just doesn’t work well use a low quality display as a supplement to a very high quality display. So if you’re thinking about getting a projector for that reason, just be aware that disparity between two very different resolutions may be a problem.
What’s the best cheap projector out there?
I think the Aaxa LED Pico Projector is pretty cool. It takes mini HDMI, micro SD, and USB. It has an 80-minute battery, and a headphone jack. The native resolution of 960 x 540 isn’t fantastic, but it’s better than you’ll find in most other pico projectors in the same price range. As far as brightness goes, the Aaxa LED Pico is only 25 lumens, but that’ll probably suffice in a dark van. The upside to a projector that isn’t very bright is that it also doesn’t take up a lot of electricity (only 6 watts in the case of the Aaxa LED Pico).
There are lots of different pico/pocket/mini projectors on the market right now. Some are brighter, some have better built-in speakers, some take VGA in, some are capable of projecting a larger picture, etc. So you might also want to check out the RIF6 Cube, the ABDTECH Full Color LED Projector, and the Brookstone Pocket Projector Micro.