My wife is in love with the idea of outdoor movie nights.
You’ve probably seen them in commercials or TV shows, where people sit on blankets or lawn chairs watching a movie projected onto a sheet in the back yard or on a camping trip.
Sounds awesome, right?
I agree, but when I see those scenes of outdoor movie nights, all I can think of is, “That’s a lot of equipment to bring into the garden” – including a projector , a laptop, a way to power the projector, and speakers for decent sound.
I guess I’m not as romantic as my wife.
This week, I’m reviewing a projector that would make outdoor movie nights a whole lot easier.
A small package
The EZCast Beam J4a Portable Projector ($242.99, amazon.com) is small enough to fit in your hand, but make no mistake. It can project a 100 inch diagonal image onto a sheet, portable screen, or even the side of the garage.
The J4a can be operated from an AC cord, but it also has a built-in rechargeable battery that will run for up to four hours.
It has a built-in speaker, but as you might guess, the speaker isn’t that big and you’ll probably want to look for better options. Luckily, EZCast gives you a few options to enhance audio.
The projector has a 3.5 millimeter headphone jack on the back, so you can connect a set of computer speakers, and it also has Bluetooth, so you can connect it wirelessly. to a Bluetooth speaker.
The projector uses DLP technology from Texas Instruments, and the image is bright and clear, but looks better in a dark room or outdoors at night. The lamp has a brightness of 300 lumens.
It does not output HD video. The output resolution is 854 by 480 pixels, which is standard definition (think regular DVD, not Blu-ray). Sounds great for movie night in the backyard, but I don’t think you’d want a projector of this size or resolution to replace your living room TV or projector.
Once you’ve unboxed the J4a, the first thing you need to do is install the wireless dongle, which is packaged separately. There is a recessed USB port on the back of the projector designed to accommodate the wireless dongle, which looks like a small thumb drive. Once the dongle is in place it is flush with the back and there is no easy way to remove it (not that you want to remove it).
I’m not sure why the dongle isn’t factory installed or why the Wi-Fi isn’t just built in, but it took about three seconds to install.
Once you turn on the projector, you can enter settings and configure the Wi-Fi connection.
There are buttons on the top of the projector that allow you to navigate the screen and enter text for logins and passwords.
There’s also a very sleek remote that requires two AAA batteries (not included) that allows for easier on-screen navigation.
The remote uses Bluetooth and must be paired with the projector before use. Once paired, when you use the remote control, a pointer appears on the projector screen and you can move the pointer by waving the remote control in the air. It’s quite smooth.
The projector features automatic vertical keystone correction, which automatically adjusts the sides of the image when the projector is tilted up. Adjustment only takes place when necessary.
The J4a gives you multiple ways to project your video content.
It has built-in Wi-Fi and a processor running the Android 10 operating system.
This means the projector can connect to a Wi-Fi network or in hotspot mode on your mobile phone to stream video from the internet.
It’s amazing to think that this little projector can sit in the middle of your backyard and stream Netflix or Disney+ without any wires.
It also has an HDMI port so you can connect a laptop, phone or tablet with an HDMI output.
The J4a has a USB port so you can play video files stored on a flash drive.
Finally, the last way to connect is wirelessly.
The company is called EZCast, after all, so one would assume they would let you “cast” to the projector wirelessly.
You can stream video wirelessly from an iOS or Android phone or tablet or from a Windows or Macintosh computer.
To cast, the projector and the phone, tablet or computer must be on the same Wi-Fi network.
I have to say that setting up wireless streaming took me about 20 minutes, which isn’t a lot of time, but I wouldn’t call it a simple setup.
It took four or five tries for the projector to communicate with my Wi-Fi network, and when I thought everything was set up correctly, the projector was supposed to show up in the list for screen mirroring on my iPhone or my Mac.
I don’t know why things took so long but after changing settings and restarting things for about 15 minutes the projector finally appeared in my phone and laptop settings and I was able to stream no problem.
I noticed there was a bit of a lag between the video and the audio, so the voices weren’t in sync with the lips of the people speaking. This was not a problem with HDMI or flash drive videos or with streaming.
How did it work?
The J4a is a very nice option for outdoor movie nights.
I added a Bluetooth speaker into the mix to improve the sound, and getting a portable display or even a nice white sheet will make the picture look great.
The projector comes with a small tripod and a carrying bag.
Personally, I will wait until October for outdoor movie nights at my house.
Pros: easy to carry, decent battery life, plenty of ways to connect.
Cons: Setup could be simpler, no HD output, small speaker.
Bottom line: My wife is already planning our outdoor movie schedule.
Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.