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I’m usually not one to care much for entertainment when exploring the outdoors throughout my travels. However, there are times when it can get lonely, especially when boondocking. You may find yourself far away from the ordinary crowd of people and other things that we humans are accustomed to. It can be nice having entertainment and something to make you feel more connected.
The small screen of a phone, tablet, or computer will help a little but having a proper entertainment system can really get you through when you just need that extra feeling of connection and entertainment. I’m not one that has to be watching movies all the time.
I mostly don’t like movies and have too short of an attention span to make it through most of them. Especially today’s movies that have gotten less and less interesting (in my opinion). Instead, I like to have something running in the background just to make me feel more connected to the world around me. This also includes local television so that I can watch the news, weather, and other updates.
A projector is a great way to accomplish this, especially in the small space that a van provides. Rather than having a TV mounted and taking up space, a mini projector takes up much less space and can be easily put away when not in use.
Whether a van or other small camper, the right projector setup will provide great entertainment for the whole family while taking up minimal space. Setting it up properly in your small space is key but once you have it in the optimal position, it can make the experience so much better.
Below, I’ll share what I have set up in my van and explain how I did it along with the parts I used.
Choosing a Projector For a Van
Choosing a projector for your van isn’t like choosing one for your home. You have probably noticed in your search that most portable projectors do not have native HD resolution. This seems odd in the age we live in to even see products like this that don’t have HD. If you were to purchase one for your home, you’d want to choose one with at least 1080p native resolution and perhaps 4k.
However, van life and camping situations present a different need. Portability and ease of use are at the forefront when considering camping situations.
After all my research, there was one projector that stood out above the crowd in key areas. The Nebula Capsule Max was the one I chose for my van.
This projector has a lot of benefits including:
- Native HD at 720p
- Bright enough for a van, RV, or tent at 200 ANSI lumens
- Small & Lightweight
- Easy to sit anywhere and point it where you need it
- Vertical & horizontal keystone correction
- Well-built, feels like it will withstand adventure
- Has great sounding speakers
- Doubles as a Bluetooth speaker
- Built-in apps and wifi to allow you to connect directly to services
- Offline viewing for HDMI devices or USB drives
- Easy to mount on a tripod or ceiling mount with a standard 1/4″ tripod screw or sits easily on a countertop or other flat surface
I feel like this is the perfect projector for a van or for camping in general. With 200 ANSI lumens, it’s fairly bright. It has a lot of great features, great build quality, and multi-functionality.
- Nebula Capsule – This is a budget option from the one mentioned above. It doesn’t have native HD and also only has 100 ANSI lumens of brightness.
- Apeman M4 – A great option that is small and mobile. It has native 480p and up to 100 ANSI lumens of brightness.
- ViewSonic M1 Mini+ – A good small option if you like watching TV in the dark. It only has 50 ANSI lumens and a native resolution of 480p.
Things to consider
- Brightness. Personally, I hate watching TV in the dark because it is hard on my eyes. Most portable projectors have minimal brightness so you’ll have to watch them in very low-lit environments. 200 ANSI lumens is as low as I would go unless you don’t mind having a very dark viewing environment. With 200 ANSI lumens, you can still watch it during the day or with some lights on in a van.
- Keystone Correction. Having a projector in a van or RV might have you setting it up in awkward locations. Because of this, it’s important to have the ability to adjust the vertical and horizontal angles of the screen. It may not always be possible to mount the projector directly in front of the screen.
- Noise. Some projectors are quite loud as their fans work to keep them cool. Be sure and choose one that doesn’t have an overpowering fan sound. The Nebula that I purchased has a light fan sound but is overpowered by the built-in speakers. You can hear the fan running when there is no sound coming from the speakers.
Projector Screen For a Van
After the projector, the screen is the next important part of the puzzle. Some people make their own or just aim the projector at an empty wall. I wanted a proper screen for my van that could be hung in different places and give me a flat-screen. You’ll probably need a small screen for a van rather than one of the huge ones that are typical of projector setups.
I chose a 40-inch projector screen that fits perfectly in all the locations that I would use inside my van.
This screen is great because it hangs in various areas of my van via screw hooks in the ceiling. Once I am finished using it, it folds back down and can be taken off the hooks and put away. This makes it very portable but it still gives me a high-quality flat surface to watch the projector on.
This is a great screen but it’s not perfect. It does have some waviness to it and the sides curl a little but it’s more than sufficient for a mobile environment like a van or other RV.
Setting Up a Projector & Screen in a Van
The setup of a projector and screen in your van will depend on the layout you have. There is typically an obvious place to put it all. If you have a projector like mentioned above, it can sit nearly anywhere and point at a screen or blank wall.
Mounting The Projector Screen
If you purchase a screen as I have, it will come with a single anchor point on the top. Mine was off balance so hanging it with this single point made the screen crooked. If I wanted it to be straight, I would have needed to add some weight to one side. I considered doing this but decided on a different strategy.
Rather than using the one single hook it came with, I installed hooks on both sides. This would ensure a straight hanging screen and also a more sturdy one that didn’t sway and twist around. If your screen already has hooks on both sides then lucky you! If not, here is the solution I used for mine.
I used these stainless steel hooks that came in a package of 8. I used them throughout my van as anchor points for bungee cords and had a few left over for this project. D-Ring picture frame hangers may work just as well depending on the screen you have.
Just make sure you have clearance enough to do this. The screen I used had plenty of space to install these without being in the way of the screen functionality. I drilled a small hole and used small bolts and nuts to hold these hooks in tightly.
Once you have hooks on both sides of the screen, you can simply use some sort of hooks that install on the ceiling or wall to hang it.
I placed hooks in two different locations in my van so that the projector screen could be used in multiple ways. In the rear of my van, I used simple screw hooks that screwed directly into the wooden trim. This holds the screen so that we can watch the projector in bed.
In the front of my van, I used 5/16″ Rivet Nuts and bolt hooks to create an additional place to hang the screen above the side door. I used this solution so that I could easily remove the bolt hooks when not needed. This gives me a place to watch TV while lounging in the dining area, or sitting in the swivel seats.
Placing The Projector
The Nebula Max projector that I used in my van has a handy 1/4 20 threaded hole in the bottom of it. Most projectors will have this so that they can easily be mounted to a tripod or a ceiling mount. The shape and style of the Nebula make for easy placement. You can just sit it on a countertop or the dining table or pretty much any flat surface.
The Nebula doesn’t have to be positioned directly in front of the screen. This is a benefit of having keystone correction. The vertical and horizontal keystone correction will straighten the screen up no matter where it’s located (within reason). The only problem with this is that horizontal keystone correction is manual so you’ll have to go into settings to fix it each time.
Because of this, I chose to mount my projector in two different locations directly in front of the screen locations.
I chose to mount my projector in various locations that would line up perfectly with the screen mount locations. I tried two different options for easy mounting but settled on one in the end.
Mounting The Projector
You can purchase a mount made specifically for projectors. However, these usually extend down too far for the small setting of a van or other RV. They are meant to be used in a home environment where you have much more headroom to work with. You’ll have to be a little more creative in your van to make this work.
Option 1 – Magnetic Mini Ball Head Mount
This option requires you to mount a metal bracket to your ceiling unless you have access to bare metal in your van or RV. The idea is that you can have multiple mounting locations and then simply place the magnetic mount at your desired location when ready to use. For this to work, you’ll need a strong magnet mount.
I chose this ball head and magnet combo. It will hold up to 24 lbs (with 10mm thick metal) but I will be putting less than 2 lbs on mine.
However, I ended up only using the magnetic base out of this combo. The ball head was cheap and unusable. I ended up using a different ball head (Camvate mini ball head) that I ordered. I couldn’t find a magnetic mount by itself but between the two solutions I ordered, I ended up with the perfect solution for my needs.
For the metal bracket that mounts to the ceiling, I used a simple flat washer made of steel. I purchased a 1 5/8 inch washer with a small hole in the middle and screwed that to my ceiling via two small holes that I drilled on each side. You can find washers like this at any home improvement store.
I also attached a safety strap to the flat washer by wrapping it around the screw on the ceiling side. This safety strap will clip to my projector, giving greater safety in the event that I accidentally hit it with my noggin. I built my own safety strap out of paracord using a custom version of the simple technique explained in this video. For the clip, I used something similar to these Op/Tech mini connectors.
The magnet mount attaches perfectly to the steel washer mounted to the ceiling and it and has a super strong bond.
Once, clipped in, there is no chance of my projector falling.
There are other solutions you can try as well. Metal plates can be purchased that are used for cell-phone holders. However, my washer solution was simple, small, cheap and it works great. I don’t see a need in using anything different.
As you can see in the picture, I can mount my projector in one location and if I want it somewhere else, just take it down and mount it in that location using the same magnetized option.
Option 2 – CCTV Camera Mini Ballhead Mount
If you don’t want to go the magnetic route, you might consider a small CCTV camera mount. I tried this as well but the problem with this, in my case, is that you have to leave the mount on the ceiling at all times. It does hang down a bit and hitting your head on it isn’t fun.
The mount I tried was the Camvate mini ball head. It’s a much better ball head than the one mentioned above.
The mount itself works the same as the magnet one above. It has a ball head on it with a lever to tighten or loosen it allowing you to move the projector into the perfect position. There are no magnets to mess with and your projector is tightly screwed in. This may seem more secure, especially if you have a heavier projector.
I ended up screwing this ball head directly to the magnetic mount and using this as my solution rather than screwing it into the ceiling.
Either of these options work great but in the end, the magnetic mount made more sense for me. It makes it easy to hang the projector and put it away with only a flat washer remaining stuck to the ceiling. In my van, the washers blend in with the lights and aren’t really noticeable if you aren’t paying attention. They also don’t present a dangerous place to hit your head on.
If you have high ceilings, option #2 will work great and give you a very sturdy mount for your mini projector.
Using a mini projector in a small area like a van, tent, or around the campground is so cool. It provides a great entertainment system for those times when you need it. It comes in handy when the rain is coming down and you are trapped inside the van. You can put on a movie or downloaded show and have some background entertainment to keep you company.
There are many different ways that you can install one of these systems in your van but one thing I would recommend is to get the brightest lumen projector that you can. The brighter the better because you’ll be able to watch it even with some light pouring in. The cheap models on the market will usually require you to have a dark room to be able to even see the screen.
With the sound and HD quality of the Nebula Max, it makes the movie-watching experience such a pleasure. It’s much better than watching it on a tablet or laptop and can give you the option to take it outside as well. Project the screen onto the side of your van or RV while sitting by the campfire to make it a night you’ll never forget.