Eager for a night of outdoor movies?

EZCast Beam J4a portable projector. EZCast

My wife is enamored with the idea of outdoor movie nights.

You’ve probably seen them in commercials or TV shows, where people are sitting on blankets or lawn chairs watching a movie projected on a sheet in the back yard or on a camping trip.

Seems great, right?

I agree, but when I see those outdoor movie night scenes, all I can think of is, “That’s a lot of equipment to bring out to the backyard” — 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 lot easier.

One small package

The EZCast Beam J4a portable projector ($242.99, amazon.com) is small enough to fit in your hand, but don’t let that fool you. It can throw a 100-inch diagonal image on a sheet, portable screen or even the side of the garage.

The J4a can run 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 all that big and you’ll probably want to look for better options. Luckily, EZCast gives you a few options for improving the 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 picture is bright and clear, but it looks better in a darkened 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). It looks just fine for backyard movie night, but I don’t think you’d want a projector of this size or resolution to replace the TV or projector in your living room.

Getting it set up

Once you unbox the J4a, the first order of business is to install the wireless dongle, which comes packed separately. There is a recessed USB port on the back of the projector that is designed to receive the wireless dongle, which resembles a small flash drive. Once the dongle is in place, it sits flush with the back, and there isn’t an easy way to remove it (not that you’d want to remove it).

I’m not sure why the dongle isn’t installed at the factory or why Wi-Fi isn’t just built-in, but the installation took about three seconds.

Once you power on the projector, you can enter the settings and set up the Wi-Fi connection.

There are buttons on the top of the projector that allow you to navigate around the screen and enter text for logins and passwords.

There is also a very slick remote control that needs two AAA batteries (not included) that allows for easier screen navigation.

The remote uses Bluetooth and must be paired to the projector before use. Once paired, when you are using the remote, a pointer shows up on the projector screen and you can move the pointer by waving the remote in the air. It is pretty slick.

The projector has auto vertical keystone correction, which automatically adjusts the sides of the image when the projector is angled upward. The adjustment happens only when needed.

Connections

The J4a gives you several ways to project your video content.

It has built-in Wi-Fi and it has a processor running the Android 10 operating system.

This means the projector can connect to a Wi-Fi network or hotspot mode on your cellphone to stream video from the internet.

It is amazing to think this small projector can sit in the middle of your backyard and stream Netflix or Disney+ with no wires at all.

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 might surmise that it would allow you to “cast” wirelessly to the projector.

You can wirelessly cast video from an iOS or Android phone or tablet or from a Windows or Macintosh computer.

To cast, the projector and phone, tablet or computer need to be on the same Wi-Fi network.

I have to say, getting the wireless casting set up took me about 20 minutes, which isn’t a huge amount of time, but I would not call it a simple setup.

Getting the projector to talk to my Wi-Fi network took four or five tries, and when I thought everything was set up right, the projector was supposed to show up in the list for screen mirroring on my iPhone or Mac.

I’m not sure why things took so long, but after messing with the settings and restarting things for about 15 minutes, the projector finally showed up in the settings of my phone and laptop and I was able to cast without issue.

I did notice there was a bit of lag between the video and the audio, so the voices were out of sync to the lips of the people speaking. This wasn’t an issue with HDMI or flash drive videos or with streaming.

How did it work?

The J4a is a very nice option for outdoor movie night.

I added a Bluetooth speaker into the mix to improve the sound, and getting a portable screen or even a nice white sheet will make the picture look great.

The projector ships with a tiny tripod and a carry bag.

Personally, I’m going to wait until October for outdoor movie nights at my house.

Pros: Easy to carry, decent battery life, many ways to connect.

Cons: Setup could be easier, no HD output, tiny speaker.

Bottom line: My wife is already planning our outdoor movie schedule.

Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at jrossman@dallasnews.com.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Tribune Wire

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