If you're a TikTok user, you've probably spied the latest trend: the Fake Window Challenge. It's not a "challenge" in the traditional sense -- there's no need to dump a bucket of ice water over your head, for example -- and not especially original, as people have been doing this for years.
That said, it's a really fun way to use a projector and leverage an empty wall -- maybe one next to your bed, so you can curl up and enjoy the view, or near your dining table to spruce up a romantic evening.
But the reason this is going viral right now is the projector part: TikTokkers claim this can be done with super-cheap models. For as little as $60 or so, you're told, you can turn your wall into a big, beautiful picture window. Outside that window: live images of a rainforest, mountain landscape, tropical beach or the like. (Harry Potter-inspired Hogwarts window, anyone?)
Here's the question: Can you really do this with a low-price projector? Short answer: Yes, but there are things you should know -- and reasons you might want to spend a little more.
What to look for in a "window" projector
If your primary goal here is fake windows (and maybe some fun effects come Halloween), you definitely don't need an expensive 4K projector. Indeed, while higher resolution is critical for watching movies and TV shows, here it's not the most important factor.
For example, I looked at this Tropical Storm Window at various resolutions ranging from 4K on down to 720p. Could I see a difference? Sure, but it was minimal. That's because the image itself doesn't change much; it's like you're projecting a slightly animated painting. As long as you can see what it is, that's enough. It doesn't need to be razor-sharp.
That said, make sure to get a projector capable of at least 720p. (Also make sure to read my story on the questionable tactics some sellers use when it comes to advertising projector resolution.)
The other key features to look for are brightness and keystone. The former can be challenging, as many inexpensive projectors tout sky-high lumen ratings (3,000! 4,000!) that don't really mean anything. As CNET's Geoff Morrison noted in his collection of six things you need to know about projectors, "There are a lot of problems with this spec. For one, other than the distinct 'ANSI lumens' there's no agreed-upon way to measure lumens. One company's 3,000 might be another's 3,500."
Good news: If you're strictly adhering to the TikTok Fake Window Challenge, you don't need a super-bright model. That's because these windows are generally for nighttime, lights-out viewing. In a dark room, even a cheap projector will probably be bright enough to get the job done.
Ah, but where are you going to place that projector? That can be a challenge as well, which is why keystone is so important: Unless you're able to point the projector straight on, at exactly the right height, the image will appear angled -- and ruin the effect. Keystone controls let you straighten an angled image, to compensate for a projector that's, say, off to one side or down on the floor.
Many cheap projectors offer no such controls, however, and some give you only vertical or horizontal; ideally, you want both. At the very least, figure out where the unit is going to sit so you know exactly what adjustments you'll need.
Where to get your "windows"
In a word: YouTube. A search for "fake windows" will reveal lots of great choices, many of them designed to play for hours at a time. OK, but how do you feed those videos to the projector? Assuming it has no built-in streaming capabilities (most cheap models don't), you may be able to connect your phone or tablet, then mirror the YouTube app. You could also plug in the streaming stick of your choice. Amazon's Fire TV Stick Lite, for example, is just $30, but often goes on sale for even less. Similarly, the Roku Express sells for $30, sometimes less.
If you have a YouTube Premium subscription, you can download fake-window videos to a PC, then copy them to a flash drive or memory card. Pop that into the projector and you don't need to worry about streaming.
Read more: Watch full movies for free on YouTube
Three Fake Window Challenge projectors worth considering:
Let me preface this by saying that cheap projectors are exactly that. They won't be especially sharp or bright, and they may severely limit where you can place them (owing to the aforementioned keystone issues). These aren't the models to buy if you're thinking about a home theater.
But for fake windows? Or maybe a kid's-room movie night? Yeah, these will do. Here are my picks for good, better and best.
Good: Aukey BC MasterAukey
As basic projectors go, this one ticks a decent number of boxes. It offers native 720p resolution, a vertical keystone control (though only 15 degrees, so not a lot of room to play) and an impulse-buy price: $70, minus $10 if you clip the on-page coupon that I'm seeing at the time of this writing.
Cooler still, check out the "special offers" section on the page: You can get a free 100-inch projector screen when you add both products to your cart.See at Amazon
Better: Apeman LC450PFangor
Apeman's stylish model offers native 1080p resolution and dual speakers, impressive given the price. Just as impressive: a full 50-degree range of vertical keystone adjustment. That means if you wanted to, say, park this on the floor just under your bed, it would still be able to project up on the wall.
There's no Wi-Fi, though, so you'll need to BYO streaming. And despite the lunchbox handle, the projector isn't truly portable, as it lacks a built-in battery.
The LC450P earned a solid 4.6-star average rating from over 350 buyers. It's currently priced at $160, with a $40-off coupon getting you out the door for $120. That actually makes this one of the best 1080p-projector deals I've seen.See at Amazon
Best: Dbpower RD828Dbpower
If your budget allows, this is the one to get. Although it has no onboard apps, it does support Wi-Fi, meaning you can pair your phone or tablet for easy YouTube mirroring.
That's a great benefit, but the real news here is support for "4D" keystone correction. That means you can manually adjust all four corners of the image, giving you a lot more flexibility in terms of placing the projector. It can be up high, down low or off to the side.
This is a fairly new model, hence the small number of user reviews. It's currently priced at $240, with an on-page $30-off coupon. However, it was previously selling for $200, so you might want to wait for that price to return -- or for an even bigger discount.See at Amazon
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