Camping is all about returning to nature, friends and family, and “roughing it,” right? Ideally yes, and it is often a great way to detach ourselves from technology and the daily digital addiction our device provide. It’s good to disconnect from time to time. Lord knows, I barely ever do it and having to pry my daughters’ phones from their hands is like trying to remove a limpet from a wet rock. But there may be an occasional instance when being able to show a movie or stream a broadcast (provided you have a good data plan and connectivity) is ok within a camping environment. This article is NOT about the good or the bad of bringing and using technology while camping (although many camp sites are starting to have free WiFi for better or worse). It is more about setting up a small portable camping theater, with the primary device being the AAXA P5 Pico Projector.
When you go camping, especially if you have to hike to a campsite where you pack in all of your gear, you need to be very concerned about weight and the size of the things you bring. If you are car camping, you still need to think about space. Either way, if you do decide to bring technology to a camping environment, make sure it is small and lightweight.
This article is about some ideas on setting up a portable yet quite functional camping theater. Obviously, the gear that you bring may be different but I wanted to provide some thoughts on what you may want to bring.
The Packing List
If you do intend on sneaking some technology on your camping trip, whether it is to keep the kids entertained in the tent while the adults enjoy a cool (or warm) beverage by the campfire, or you want to catch up on the latest game, or you simply want to share previous camping videos around a digital campfire of sorts, you need to select the appropriate gear to pack. I will speak a bit generically here, but also provide some product thoughts (especially if I have reviewed the technology before).
The Video Source
Here you have the most options. You can bring a portable DVD player, or a smartphone or tablet, or even a laptop. You could store videos (music or photos) on a thumb drive or an SD card. Or you could stream video via your phone (provided you have a good WiFi or cellular connection – watch out for those connection fees though!). For this article, I chose my Apple iPad Mini 2.
The Video Content
When it comes to content, the sky’s the limit. But here are some things to consider. Having “local” content, that is to say, content that is stored on your device, thumb drive, SD card or hard drive, could be better, especially if you do not have access to a cellular or WiFi signal. Be sure you transfer all of the video or movies before you leave your home. Thumb drives are great for storing multimedia because they are very small and extremely portable. Similarly, if your tablet or smartphone has a lot of storage, you can load it up with content ahead of time.
If you do have access to a WiFi connection (or cellular, although I wouldn’t recommend streaming video from cellular because of the scary bill you will receive later), you have the option to watch from a variety of streaming sources like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Apple, HBO and others. For this article, my friend and I set up a tent in his backyard to simulate a “high-tech” camping environment. I was able to connect to his WiFi network. We did this for Super Bowl 50 and had the game streaming to my iPad from my DISH Anywhere app. (The latest DISH Hopper has Sling built into it meaning that you can stream most live TV broadcasts or your recorded content directly from you home.)
There was a bit of a delay streaming my home’s live TV to my iPad, so we appropriately named the test tent theater – the “replay booth” – as there was about a 10 second delay and we could race out to see a “replay.”
The Power Source
Out in nature, you typically have to rely on Mother Nature for your lighting and even power. Sure, you could bring a loud generator along…but I feel there is something dramatically wrong with doing that. You could also bring a bunch of back-up batteries (I have reviewed quite a few here, here and here) or even, if you have the space, have something as elaborate as the solar-powered GoalZero and use the sun to power your devices.
You could always use your vehicle’s battery as well. There are a few gadgets that will definitely need some energy: the video source (see above), the sound source (see below) and the video projector (also see below). Those are the critical energy-sucking devices that you need to make the portable camping theater work.
The Audio Source
Ready to break the golden silence of Nature? There are a few ways you can do this. If you don’t have too many people who will be watching and listening to the show, you can bring along some corded headphones. That way, things stay silent on the outside, but you can enjoy loud action movies, for example, without bringing hordes of armed park rangers to your camp site thinking that there is an invasion going on.
You could bring a pair of speakers. I would recommend some Bluetooth speakers or some that are battery-powered. There are many, many options to choose from, just remember that it is probably better to stay small and portable.
Also, the device you use to project your video content, in this case, the AAXA P5 Pico Projector, might have built-in speakers which means you will have one less thing to pack as well as power.
If you will be using a video projector (see below), you definitely need a surface to project the video on. The screen can be just about anything, provided it is relatively smooth and wrinkle free (good luck with that though, if you have to fit some sort of a screen into a backpack). You could have a roll of fabric or something as simple as a white sheet. You want to be sure that it is not reflectively and is light (preferably white). You could even project onto the side of a tent provided it isn’t too slanted (but you can adjust the keystoning of the projector to make the video display squarely despite a slanted projection surface). If you do use your tent wall, remember that people on the outside will be able to see it as well!
You could even reverse the image being played if you do project onto the wall of a tent from the inside for viewing from the outside. Just be sure that the projector you choose supports that functionality (the one below does).
The Video Projector – the AAXA P5 Pico Projector
Ok, now we have come to the most critical item in the packing list, the video projector. Of course, you could simply play your movies using a tablet, smartphone or even laptop, but that is truly a “small screen” experience and is only good for 1-2 people. And, this article is about making a portable camping theater, which means the “screen” should be big!
For the purposes of this article, AAXA Technologies kindly sent me their latest projector, the AAXA P5 Pico Projector. You could, of course, use another type of projector (a few other projector reviews are here, here and here). And, as a side note, you might want to check out the outdoor home theater writeup for a theater in your backyard which has the same concept as this article, just with larger results.
The AAXA P5 Pico Projector it truly a nice, little device, emphasis on little. If you are looking to pack a tiny projector, the AAXA P5 Pico Projector fits that mold. But don’t let its small size fool you (and just take a look at how big it is compared to the large Panasonic)!
This little pico projector measures 4.5″ x 4.1″ x 1.8″ and weighs a mere 0.9 lbs (so you won’t break your back lugging it around). It has some pretty beefy specs for something quite small:
- Max Image resolution: 1920 x 1080 (meaning it’s HD – 1080P capable)
- Native resolution: 1280 x 720 (720P)
- 300 Lumens – while this isn’t as bright as a traditional projector, in a dark room or outdoors in nature, it is extremely bright!
- Projection image size is anywhere from 10 to 100 inches (the photo further down in this article shows an equivalent of a 50″ screen)
- The light source come from triple RGB LEDs which have an estimated life of 15,000 hours (which means, no bulbs to change!)
- Power consumption is a mere 25 watts
The AAXA P5 Pico Projector can handle a wide variety of music, image and video formats including: MP3/WMA/OGG/WAV/AVI/WMV/SMV/BMP/JPG/GIF/TXT.
More importantly in my mind, is how it can connect to other devices. It has a mini-VGA input to connect a laptop with a VGA output, for example. It has composite A/V video-in port for other devices like gaming systems or portable DVD players. And, most importantly, it has a full-sized (not mini) HDMI port to connect newer laptop or DVD players.
To connect the AAXA P5 Pico Projector to an iOS device, you will need an appropriate adapter. For newer, lightning connector devices, you will need a Lightning Digital AV Adapter, and for older iOS devices, you need an Apple 30-pin Digital AV Adapter. Android Smartphone connection requires an MHL Cable. Don’t forget these adapters!
The AAXA P5 Pico Projector does come with a composite AV cable and a VGA cable, but you have to bring your own adapter for iOS.
As I mentioned, using the Apple Adapter in conjunction with the DISH Anywhere app, you can can fully display live or recorded TV remotely. Or, you can play locally stored content from your iOS device (again, you need the appropriate adaptor).
The AAXA P5 Pico Projector can be either plugged into the wall (it comes with a lengthy wall charger cable) or it can be battery-powered. The AAXA P5 Pico Projector comes with one rechargeable battery which has an estimated life of about 120 minutes (on ECO power mode). I strongly recommend getting another battery to ensure that you can fully watch a longer movie. The battery will charge when the projector is NOT playing. Be sure you toggle the on/off switch on the side (it’s small) to off to quickly charge the battery in an hour or two. If you have a dedicated power supply, you can watch to your heart’s content with it plugged in. The battery does have a quick-release feature to easily swap out. But, since there aren’t really “walls” out in nature, the rechargeable batteries are the way to go!
When plugged in, the AAXA P5 Pico Projector has three power modes: bright, standard and Eco. “Bright” is only available when plugged in. “Standard” has a louder fan noise but a brighter image and a 90 minute battery run time. “Eco” is slightly dimmer with a less pronounced fan but a 120 minute battery run time and probably the setting you would want when camping. The brightness is strong enough, especially if the environment is dark.
There are button controls on the top of the AAXA P5 Pico Projector which enable you to both navigate the settings as well as adjust the keystone ratio. One quick tip: I do recommend going into the settings and change the OSD (On-Screen Display) settings to something longer than the 3 second default because you exit the settings menu just a bit too quickly at 3 seconds.
There is a manual focus wheel on the side next to the lens.
The back of the AAXA P5 Pico Projector has a variety of ports: DC (power), HDMI, Mini-VGA, Composite, audio out (to physically connect headphones or speakers) and a full-sized USB reader (for thumb drives or hard drives, for example).
On another side, there is a Micro SD slot and the tiny on/off switch. I didn’t actually know about the switch until I read about it in the manual. I had noticed that when I thought I had the AAXA P5 Pico Projector off, it was actually in “standby” mode. I had noticed a red light on, even though I thought the device was off. Toggling the on/off switch actually turned the projector off (and this is a better state to charge the battery in).
When you do power the AAXA P5 Pico Projector on, because of the solid state LED light source, it is almost an instant power on, so there is no need to wait before the lamp “warms up.”
The image is bright and crisp, but this does depend on a few factors: 1) the power mode it is in, 2) the ambient lighting (darker is obviously better) and 3) the distance from the projector to the “screen”. The longer the distance between the projector and the surface of the screen, the larger/darker or smaller/brighter the image. If you are 10″ away from the screen, the screen size will be about 8″ diagonal. At 40″ away, the diagonal is about 31″. And at 80″ away, the diagonal is 62″. The image below is an actual shot of the projection. We measured it at about 52″ diagonal.
The AAXA P5 Pico Projector does come with a tiny tripod with very flexible legs. You do need to carefully adjust them to be sure the projector doesn’t become top-heavy and tip over.
Obviously, I place a lot of emphasis in choosing the right projector for this type of project, but you do have choices. I kind of liken it to choosing a needle for a record player (yes an OLD technology). The better the needle, the better the sound playback.
Beyond the Camping Experience
A good projector can work well in any environment, from simply playing a movie on the wall of your kid’s room to projecting a presentation in a conference room. When it comes to camping, you want something that is portable, light-weight and doesn’t consume much power. For this, the AAXA P5 Pico Projector works quite well.
But remember these things when you pack a portable theater for camping:
- A place to store your video content,
- Something to power your electronics,
- A good way to hear the content,
- A screen of some sort, and
- A good, portable projector like the AAXA P5 Pico Projector.
So while you may run the risk of annoying some of your camp neighbors (remember, be courteous and keep the volume low and don’t go into all hours of the night), you may also be secretly getting their envy!
HTD says: Bringing the movies to your campsite can be quite easy with the proper equipment. Just don’t forget to bring some campfire popcorn to go with it!
- Price Point
Bringing the movies to your campsite can be quite easy with the proper equipment. Just don't forget to bring some campfire popcorn to go with it! The AAXA P5 Pico Projector is pretty good for a small, portable projector. Without some sort of power source, you probably could only get about 1 movie out of it (so an extra battery is helpful). While the on-screen menus have plenty of settings, sometimes it's a bit difficult navigating them all. But I have used this projector in an outdoor theater environment for my kids during summer sleepovers and it has worked quite well. It's not the brightest of throws but sufficient for darker environments. Definitely a nice portable option to have.