Over the last decade we’ve seen a massive increase in the availability and range of portable outdoor movie projectors, meaning that anyone can put on a backyard movie party or night at a reasonably low cost.
When you add in the trend for drive-in movie theaters closing down around the United States, there has been an explosion in people running their own outdoor movies nights, either as one-off events, or as longer-term hobbies. It’s certainly a growing and popular activity.
Put all these factors together and what you get is a large amount of used and second hand outdoor movie projectors being sold on websites such as eBay and the Facebook Marketplace – and there can be some great deals to be had, if you know what you are looking for, and can find a reputable seller.
But a question I am often asked my visitors to the Outdoor Movie Projectors website, is:
“Is it worth buying a second-hand or used outdoor movie projector?”
In this guide I am going to try to answer that question, highlighting the pros and cons to doing so, how you can get a great deal if you do decide to shop for a second-hand projector, plus all of the pitfalls you need to be aware of as a buyer.
Why Buy a Used Projector?
These are my overall pros and cons to buying second-hand. The odds are massively stacked in the favor of buying from new. Scroll past these bullet points where I go into a lot of detail on all these points.
- You can get something cheaper than a price you see online
- Erm… that’s all there is really!
- You won’t have a manufacturer warranty if it breaks down
- The technology is changing rapidly, so your projector won’t be up to date
- Replacement lamps for older models can be very expensive
- Other replacement parts could be hard to find
- You don’t know its history and the environment it was used in
- It might not be ideal for watching movies or sports outside
Before we get into the detail of what you need to look for plus my buyer’s advice, I want to say one thing.
“I would thoroughly recommend that you consider buying a new one before looking into second-hand models. In the last 2 years alone, the prices have dropped significantly do around 60% of the initial cost.”
It used to be case a few years ago that if you wanted to plan an outdoor movie night then you would have to spend at least $500 on a projector and then shell out on an expensive screen as well. That’s not the case now, with some excellent models being available for under $250.
Elsewhere on my website you can see a list of my recommended outdoor movie projectors, with different models to suit different budgets. Go take a look, as you might be surprised at what you can pick up.
Tips for Buying a Used Outdoor Movie Projector
If you do still decide to buy a used model, then there are some important things you should be aware that might make you change your mind. Consider this a buyer’s guide, with essential aspects to look out for and consider.
You Probably Won’t Get a Warranty or Guarantee
For example, if you buy second-hand and used, you aren’t going to get a warranty or guarantee like you would if buying from new. Most manufacturers offer a 3-year warranty on their projectors, and chances are that will no longer be valid by the time you own the product.
The Technology is Always Changing
Not only that, the technology with movie projectors is changing constantly and getter better all the time. It’s a market that is adapting and improving almost every 6 months.
If you buy an older product it probably won’t include improvements such as noise reduction, the running costs, the size and weight, and how reliable it is – if you buy from new then you can take all this for granted most of the time.
You Might Need to Buy a Replacement Lamp
One of the biggest considerations though when buying used or second-hand projectors is the lamp. Lamps in modern movie projectors will often have up to 30,000 of continuous use before they fail – to put that into perspective that’s around three and a half years. Insane isn’t it?
Older projectors might not have that length of lamp life, or the lamp could be due to fail sometime soon anyway. The lamp life that manufacturers promise should be taken with a pinch of salt anyway as in my experience you are lucky to get half of the advertised estimate especially if watching high contrast movies on them.
Lamps can become damaged very easily and are also prone to fail on projectors that have been moved around a lot, or if they have been frequently used in damp, dusty, humid, cold, hot, or smoky conditions. If you are buying a used outdoor movie projector it’s probably going to tick all of those boxes unfortunately due to the nature of backyard movie parties.
When you buy a used projector there’s no guarantee of how long the lamp is going to last and you also are never truly going to know the history of its use. When that lamp fails, it’s probably going to be very expensive to replace, or you might not even be able to find that correct lamp due to it being discontinued by the manufacturer.
No matter what the buyer tells you, assume that you are going to have to replace the lamp regardless – so before you hand any money over, research how much replacement lamps for your chosen model are going to cost, and even whether or not they are available anywhere else to buy.
As a price example, if you are looking at a second-hand projector that’s one year old and has a 2,000 lumens rating, then it will probably use a 200w lamp which could cost $280 to replace. A lot of money isn’t it? And that’s not even to mention the fact that 2,000 lumens is not going to be enough to watch movies in your backyard.
If the used model you are looking at is three years old, then the bulb could be 250w and cost around $480 to replace. That’s just crazy money, and it could even cost you more than the actual projector does to buy second-hand.
The key here is to carefully research the cost of a replacement lamp and take into account what your total cost would be. It’s so important to do this.
The bottom-line here is that it’s often cheaper to simply buy a new movie projector than it is to replace a lamp inside of it. You are going to be far better off buying a new model, I promise you.
Be Aware of Unscrupulous Sellers
Now unfortunately there are also some sharks out there selling used projectors.
I often compare the buying of a used projector to the same process and risks you would go through when buying a used car. Let me tell you why.
Many projectors will come with an internal lamp hour running counter. They are actually quite easy to re-set and turn back. It’s not just used car salesman that know this trick. What you read on the counter for the lamp life, could actually be completely false and not representative of the true facts.
That’s not the only thing to look out for though.
Don’t Buy Unless You See it Working
Never, ever, buy a second-hand projector without seeing it working. If you are planning on using yours for a backyard movie night, then you might not be able to see it working in the dark. If that’s the case, and you can’t see it running in a night-time environment then don’t even consider buying it.
Want to read more tips on how to choose the perfect outdoor movie projector? Read this guide that gives you a list of all the things to look for.
If you don’t see the projector working before you buy it, then you might get stung with a malfunctioning product. It’s not just the lamp that can be faulty, there are other internal components that might have stopped working, especially if the unit has been dropped at some point.
It might be cheap, it might look like it’s being sold by a reputable seller, but unless you see it in action, don’t even consider it.
Providing you have seen the projector working, done you research on replacement lamp costs, and are confident it’s a good product, there are some additional tips I now recommend.
Find Out How it’s Been Used Before
What you should do is get some history on the outdoor movie projector. Find out where it was used, who owned it, and how often it was used.
Many second-hand projectors you see for sale will have been used in far from optimum environments to keep them free from issues. For example, if it was used in a bar or nightclub it will have been subjected to sonic vibrations, possibly smoke, and humidity. In other words, all of the things that lead to faults.
If the projector was used in an environment such as those, then a DLP projector would be a far better choice than an LCD model. DLP projectors tend to have better seals on them to protect against smoke damage. The components just stand up to punishment a lot better.
Overall though, second-hand projectors from places such as this should really be avoided, unless they come with a guarantee from the seller.
Also, ask to see the original receipt or proof of purchase from the seller. I say this because projectors are popular items to be stolen, and I have no doubt that there are countless stolen items being sold on eBay, Craigslist and similar websites.
It Might Need Expensive Servicing and Repairs
The next concern would be if the projector is going to require any servicing or repairs. Having work like this done outside of a warranty can be tricky, and above all, expensive.
Most faulty projectors will need to be sent back to the manufacturer for a repair, as it’s rare for anyone else to have the necessary expertise or replacement parts to fix them properly.
This can be costly due to the way in which projectors are made, using multi-layered PCB and densely packed SMT components. It’s certainly not something that your local TV repair guy is going to be able to repair as he simply won’t have the knowledge or parts available to him.
Will it Work Well Outdoors?
Also, think about the environment that you will be using your projector in. You want to buy one that’s going to be ideal for backyard movie nights. That means anything with less than 3,000 lumens isn’t going to cut it outside as it won’t be bright enough.
Some sellers know that people new to outdoor movie nights don’t understand this and will advertise a projector with less than 3,000 lumens as being perfect for outdoor movie nights. It won’t be, I promise you. It will be a massive disappointment.
What you will need to do is buy a movie projector with at least 3,000 lumens. If you don’t, the images and video that you project onto your outdoor movie screen will be hard to see due to ambient light sources outdoors. If you need more information on what lumens are, and how this applies when buying a projector for backyard movies, then take a look at this guide.
Projectors Tend Not to Hold Their Value
Lastly, I don’t believe that used outdoor projectors really hold their value, or even have much value in the first place unless they are coming with a guarantee or warranty. You certainly won’t be able to re-sell it at anything like the price you purchased for.
Unlike other electrical items you have in your home such as TVs and games consoles, projectors also don’t tend to be as reliable. This is why outdoor movie projector rental companies sell off their stock frequently.
Once the warranty has expired the movie projector is probably living on borrowed time. Just because the projector might have cost $1000 three years ago, it doesn’t mean it’s worth anywhere near that now.
If I have not managed to convince you yet as to the merits in buying new instead of used, and you are still determined to buy a second-hand outdoor projector despite my advice, then I want to offer you some further information on how to ensure that you buy the best available used product for you.
Tips for Buying a Used Outdoor Movie Projector
Second-hand movie projectors come onto the market for a number of reasons. It could be that the rental company hiring them out them wants to upgrade, a business no longer needs it, or a consumer has bought something more up to date or didn’t even know how to use it properly in the first place.
So don’t rush into a purchase, even if you do manage to find something that looks like a bargain.
Many visitors to my website come to me for advice on buying a new outdoor projector after buying a second-hand one, primarily because they didn’t research properly about what they needed for the best outdoor experience.
Don’t make the same mistakes they did. If you want to buy a used model, then here are the things that you will need to consider when choosing what to buy second-hand.
The Type of Projector
There are so many different types on the market now, with hundreds of models. It’s really complicated knowing what you should buy and requires a lot of research before doing so (which I am going to help you with below). Essentially there are 4 different types available, and before buying a used model, you need to know the differences between them.
You can read on for a short overview of how they differ, or alternatively read this more in-depth guide to choosing a projector for outdoor movies.
They use an RBG (red, green, blue) approach and are very popular with businesses and people wanting a cheap and portable projector for indoor use.
Most of the time, they are best used indoors, and not outdoors. That’s not to say that they won’t work ok in a backyard, but they certainly won’t be the best that you can get.
LED projectors tend to last a long time, which is probably why you see so many being sold on the used marketplace. They are reliable, in the main because they don’t burn out like standard lamp-based projectors do.
They offer a brighter image than LCD projectors and use less-energy, but they will won’t offer the type of results you would want when watching movies outside, as they typically come with a low lumen-rating. If the environment is an important factor for you, it’s also good to note that LED projectors are easier to recycle as they don’t contain hazardous mercury.
For outdoor movies, I always recommend DLP projection. This is because they offer a sharper image, with far less pixilation which can occur when projecting a large image onto an outdoor movie screen. It’s really important for backyard movies.
DLP technology uses millions of micro-mirrors which offer highly-detailed images projected onto your outdoor movie screen. It’s a more complicated technology than LCD and results in higher resolution images – although they aren’t complicated to use, trust me.
A few years ago they used to be very heavy and not that portable, but in recent time have become more lightweight and portable, hence now being ideal for backyard movie nights.
Don’t even consider pico projectors for outdoor use. They are micro-small and designed for handheld operation. The image quality will be poor and you won’t be able to scale up the projection without it looking like an absolute mess on your outdoor screen.
These types were developed to work as portable and compact projectors to use with devices including smartphones, PDAs, and digital cameras – they are never going to work outdoors for watching a movie or sports.
Features to Consider
So now you have a better idea on the type you should buy, what about the features? Please don’t just choose something because it’s second-hand and cheap, but instead consider the features you are going to need for outdoor movies and understand what they all mean.
How bright the movie projector is will be measured in lumens. Projectors will range anywhere between 1,000 to 5,000 when shopping in the used market.
If you are buying for indoor use, then most of the time you don’t really need to worry about the lumen-rating of your projector as ideally your room is going to be completely pitch black and dark. But things are completely different when planning for watching movies or sport outside.
Don’t even consider buying anything with less than 3,000 lumens. The reason being is that when you watch movies outside there will be ambient light sources that will interfere with how well you can see the projected image.
Ambient light sources include things like fire (from a BBQ or fire pit), street lights, lights from a house, passing traffic, and so on. Because of this you will need a projector that is going to be bright enough to counter act that interference… and 3,000 lumens should be the minimum amount of lumens to do so.
All this means is how far your projector and screen will be set apart. If you have an idea of how your backyard is going to be set-up then you will have a good idea on what the throw distance between the two items will be, so check the throw distance on the second-hand projector to make sure it will produce a good enough picture.
If your throw distance is too small, then the image projected won’t focus as well, will look blurred, pixelated, and just terrible. Don’t make the mistake in buying a movie projector with a small throw distance that might be ideal for indoor use but doesn’t work too well outside.
Modern movies and TV broadcasts have an aspect ratio of 16:9. If you want to ensure that you get a great experience when watching outdoors, then choose a projector that has a 16:9 aspect ratio. At this point, I would also recommend an HD projector to take advantage of high resolution formats.
If you already have an outdoor movie screen, then it’s probably one with a 16:9 dimension, meaning if you have a right type of projector, you can watch movies as they were designed to be seen with no borders around it.
If you don’t have the correct aspect ratio then you will experience a problem called letterboxing or pillarboxing. You can see what I mean in the diagram shown below.
Projectors will come with an estimated lamp lifespan.
If you are buying a used projector with a lamp, then check the lifespan of the lamp. It might have an hours-used counter in there, but as I mentioned earlier, some unscrupulous sellers can falsify this information and turn the clock back.
Find out from the seller how often and where the projector has been used in the past, so you can get an idea on how much life might be left in it.
The typical lamp life of an outdoor movie projector can range all the way up to 30,000 hours. But, if the used model you are considering has been used exclusively for watching movies, then it might already be on the way to burning out due to intense usage.
Device Player Compatibility
Don’t make the mistake of buying a second-hand projector, getting it home and all set-up, and then realizing that it’s not compatible with your movie playing device.
Most modern projectors will have connections and adapters for devices such as laptops, smartphones, tablets, USB drives, DVD and Blue-Ray players. This compatibility can be achieved with HDMI, VGA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and more – so just make sure that you check to avoid disappointment.
Why? Because when watching movies outside you are going to need a far more robust audio solution, and I always recommend that you hook up speakers to your projector or media device.
So, whilst it may be something that the seller is making out to be a great selling point, don’t be concerned with it as you are going to need to buy or use additional speakers anyway. I’ve put together a quick guide to the best speakers for an outdoor movie projector with some recommendations for you to choose from.
Size & Portability
Whether you are planning on creating a permanently fixed position for your outdoor movie projector, or will be taking it from place to place, size and portability is a key consideration.
Many older movie projectors weigh a significant amount more than the newer models available on the market. For obvious reasons, the nature of backyard movies requires something that you can lift and arrange easily.
With that in mind, search for something that’s portable and that won’t weigh too much. Most of the time you should be able to buy one that will take up a similar area to that of a sheet of paper.
Additional Tips for Buying Used Projectors
There are so many places where you can buy second-hand movie projectors. These can be as diverse as garage sales, second-hand thrift stores, rental companies selling ex-hire stock, friends, family, and also websites.
If you are buying online, then the only website I would really recommend you use would be eBay rather than the wild west environment you might find on other online sources. With eBay you can filter through most of the features that I outlined in this guide, and also only opt to choose and buy from trusted sellers.
It won’t still be without it risks though, so buyer beware at all times.
The bottom line is, I don’t advise that you do it, and instead you should look to buy a new one. It’s probably going to work out cheaper in the long run, and you have the peace of mind that you will have a warranty, probably for around 3 years as a typical warranty period.
I think I’ve made my own views on this pretty clear. I genuinely don’t believe you should even consider buying a second-hand movie projector for outdoor movie use. Given the risks involved, which I hope I have explained well, and the fact that you can buy new ones now so cheaply, it just doesn’t make much sense.
With a little financial outlay, you can be up and running with your own backyard movies in no time at all, and in some cases by spending under $400 for everything that you need including the actual screen as well.
But, if you are still sure that you should buy a used outdoor projector, then this guide hopefully gives you a great starting point to ensuring you don’t get ripped off and buy something that is going to last for you a long time.
By doing your research, improving your knowledge about this complicated market, and knowing the right price you should be paying, you should be able to get something that will suit you down to the ground.
I wish you all the luck with your search, as once you start throwing your own outdoor movie nights, it’s a bug that it’s very hard to shake off!
If you want to read more on this website, here are some highlighted guides and posts that I feel are going to help you.