How to DIY Your Own Outdoor Movie Theater
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There’s nothing quite like watching a movie on a big screen, but it’s a shame to squander those glorious summer evenings hanging out indoors. Why not enjoy the best of both worlds by creating your own cinema experience in the comfort and privacy of your backyard, if you have one.
Building your own outdoor movie theater is far easier than it sounds, and can be easily scaled to suit your budget—from a simple projector/sheet combo to a full-fledged theater, with a big outdoor screen and speakers to really up the video and audio quality.
Here’s a look at what products you’ll need for your outdoor theater, along with some tips on how to make everything work together.
Though it’s possible to haul your TV outside for the occasional movie night, it’s not going to have the “wow” factor of a big-screen projection system. Modern home theater projectors offer excellent picture quality, and usually a far brighter image than you’d expect—not bright enough to watch outside during the day, mind you, but ample for a movie night under the stars.
Most of the projector recommendations from our guide to the best budget projector for a home theater will also work in an outdoor setting. (Not permanently, of course. You don’t want to leave any electronics outside that aren’t designed to live there.) They’re small and light enough to carry outside and set on a small table, yet they put out enough light to produce a large image. Want a 100-inch-diagonal screen? No problem. Consider first our top pick, the BenQ HT2060, which has good light output, wonderfully accurate color, and a respectably robust built-in speaker.
The one thing to think about with the HT2060 is that you’ll need at least 10 feet of space between the projector and the screen to create a 100-inch image. If your backyard is shaped or sized in a way that this won’t work, the BenQ HT2150ST uses a short-throw lens that lets you place it as close as 4.9 feet away from your screen to create a 100-inch image.
If you want something a little smaller, with a more rugged and portable design, we like the BenQ GS50. This little projector is designed for outdoor use: It is splash- and drop-resistant, it has a USB-C port to directly connect a mobile device for media playback, and it has a built-in battery with a longer life than the other portable mini projectors we’ve tested. It has a decent built-in speaker, supports Bluetooth audio output, and even comes with some built-in streaming apps, so there’s no need to attach a separate media player.
While it’s fairly bright for a portable projector, the GS50 is significantly dimmer than the other BenQ projectors, which means you won’t be able to get nearly as large of an image—and the overall image contrast isn’t as good. But if you’re looking for the simplest option, the GS50 is your best bet.
There are less expensive projectors on the market that will do for the occasional outdoor movie night, but understand that they may not be as bright or they may just have worse image quality than our picks—so they aren’t going to look as good when showing movies on a large screen.
A projector screen (or not)
The simplest way to watch an outdoor movie is, of course, to just shine the projected image on a wall of your house, but we don’t recommend this approach. There’s a reason why movie screens are so smooth. You’ll be able to see the texture and surface of the “screen” material no matter how bright the projector is. So if you’ve got wood shingles, you’ll see those shingles all colorfully lit by your movie. The same is true with stucco, or any other surface. The film’s colors will also shift with those of the wall. This option is certainly simple (and free), but you can do better.
A big white sheet is the most affordable solution that can still give you a decent image. The texture issue mentioned above can still be a concern, but it’s less so if you keep the sheet wrinkle free. Even a slight breeze will cause your screen to move, though, so for the best, least-distracting experience, you’ll want to pull the material as taut as possible when attaching it to a wall or homemade frame. We got surprisingly good performance from these Target sheets when we tested them for our guide to outdoor movie screens.
If you want the best image out of whatever projector you choose, you should get an actual outdoor screen. We like the Elite Screens Yard Master Plus, which comes with a sturdy frame and ground stakes so it won’t blow over if your backyard gets a little windy. The Yard Master Plus is available in sizes ranging from 100 to 200 inches (in the 16:9 shape) and includes a storage/carrying bag.
If you want an even faster screen setup and don’t mind a bit of fan noise, the Gemmy Airblown Inflatable Deluxe screen inflates quickly and offers solid performance.
A media player
What are you going to watch? Or, more importantly, how are you going to watch it? Long gone are the days when you needed to bring a DVD or Blu-ray player out to the yard along with the projector. I mean, you could still do that for sure, but there are easier options.
A streaming stick, such as the Roku or Amazon Fire TV, connects directly to the HDMI input on the projector, draws power from the projector’s USB connection, and uses your home’s Wi-Fi to stream movies from the ol’ interwebs. Just make sure your projector has a powered USB port that supplies at least 1 amp of output. Older projectors might have the USB port but may not be able to provide enough power. In that case, you’ll need to supply external power to the streaming stick.
If you don’t want to get a streaming stick, many laptops have the ability to output a video signal via HDMI, or through an HDMI adapter. You could run an HDMI cable from the computer to the projector, use a wireless HDMI transmitter, or explore other options for wireless connection.
The BenQ GS50 mentioned above makes this part simpler, since some streaming apps are already built in. You just need a Wi-Fi connection strong enough to reach your backyard.
A better speaker
You probably want to be able to hear your movie, too. Technically, you can use the projector’s built-in speaker. As we mentioned above, the one built into the BenQ HT2060 has solid dynamic ability. If we’re talking about a few people seated close to the projector, that internal speaker might be fine. But if you’ve got a big yard or any kind of background noise (quiet, kids!), it could be hard to hear. Besides, if you’ve got a big screen, wouldn’t it be great to have big sound to go with it?
The easiest way to add a better speaker is to use the projector’s analog audio output, which lets you connect any speaker that has an analog input. Many Bluetooth speakers have this, as do most soundbars and, really, just about any speaker system. You’ll need an audio cable to connect the two, either a 3. 5-mm–to–3.5-mm stereo cable or a 3.5-mm–to–RCA cable.
If you want (or need) to go wireless instead, you’ll have to use Bluetooth. A growing number of projectors (including the BenQ GS50) are adding a built-in Bluetooth connection to easily send the audio to a higher-quality Bluetooth speaker. However, this approach may create a noticeable lip-sync issue, wherein you see something happen on screen and hear it through the speaker an instant later. This is a common Bluetooth issue, but for an outdoor movie night it’s probably not a dealbreaker.
You also can connect a Bluetooth speaker to a streaming stick, if you’re using one. With a Roku, you can make this connection via the Roku mobile app on your phone. It’s a little convoluted, so stick with me (pun intended): You connect the Roku app to your Roku stick, which is easy as long as you’re on the same Wi-Fi network. You then connect the Bluetooth speaker to your phone or tablet. The audio from the streaming content will go through your phone to the Bluetooth speaker. If you have an Amazon Fire TV Stick, you can connect directly—just go to the settings in the main menu.
If you’re not using a Roku or an Amazon stick—or another source device that has Bluetooth, like a laptop—another wireless option is a Bluetooth transmitter. These devices connect to the audio output of the projector or source and send the audio wirelessly to your Bluetooth speaker, just like if the source had built-in Bluetooth.
Some helpful accessories
The items above are the core components you’ll need for your outdoor cinema extravaganza. Depending on your house, yard, and so on, you might require a few other things to get everything up and running.
Extension cords are, of course, rather vital to your endeavor. Some cords have multiple outlets at the end, letting you run just one cable while still being able to plug in numerous devices. You could also get a power strip.
If you’re trying to stream video outdoors and your Wi-Fi signal isn’t strong or stable enough, your home’s Wi-Fi network may need a little help. Before you buy an extender or a new router, check to see whether your home network is as fast as possible.
And, of course, the outdoors is full of biting and stinging things. Don’t let them ruin your good times. From sprays to fans, we have several picks for the best bug repellants and mosquito-control gear.
The BenQ HT2060’s good contrast, bright output, and impressive color accuracy make it our pick for the best budget home theater projector.
The Best Budget Projector for a Home Theater
If you want the best, brightest picture quality for your outdoor home cinema, you should use an outdoor movie screen. Here are three options we like.
3 Outdoor Movie Screens We Like
Our media streaming device pick has all the features we look for in a media streamer, and it has the best interface for finding and organizing content.
The Best Media Streaming Devices
If you want to send HDMI signals wirelessly instead of through cables, the Nyrius Aries Home+ performs reliably and has more features than the competition.
The Best Wireless HDMI Video Transmitter
The Polk MagniFi Mini AX is the all-around best soundbar because of its big, immersive sound, small footprint, affordable cost, and easy operation.
The Best Soundbar
The UE Wonderboom 3 is the all-around best portable Bluetooth speaker because it sounds good and looks cool, and it’s the most rugged model we’ve tested.
The Best Portable Bluetooth Speaker
The Best Gear for the Big Game
by Wirecutter Staff
Whether you’re hosting a few friends or a multiscreen viewing party, you can rely on our picks to take the guesswork out of big-game viewing and party planning.
Wirecutter is the product recommendation service from The New York Times. Our journalists combine independent research with (occasionally) over-the-top testing so you can make quick and confident buying decisions. Whether it’s finding great products or discovering helpful advice, we’ll help you get it right (the first time).
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How to Set Up a DIY Backyard Movie Theater In Under an Hour
There’s nothing quite like watching a movie outside in your own backyard. Whether you prefer watching films in the comfort of your own home or you’re feeling nostalgic for retro drive-ins, you’ll love taking family movie night outside as the weather gets warmer. And DIY backyard movie theaters are actually more accessible than they sound. You can easily create your own backyard movie theater in about 30 minutes if you have the right equipment (though keep in mind that a permanent installation will require a bit more work). “All you need is a portable projector to turn your own backyard into an outdoor cinema—any backdrop works in the dark. .. a kid’s tent, hanging a sheet, the wall, or even the ceiling of an overhang,” advises style and parenting influencer Alicia Lund. Ahead, learn how to get in on the fun with outdoor projector setup tips, backyard movie theater decor ideas, and some advice on how to keep your neighbors happy (don’t blast Jaws, for example—Encanto, on the other hand, should be blasted at max volume).
What You’ll Need
Sheet or portable screen
A screen will inherently have fewer wrinkles in it than a sheet, which is optimal for clear movie-watching. But if you do use a sheet, make sure you pull it super taut when you secure it to either a stand or a vertical flat surface.
$400 at Amazon
You can buy projectors and screens as a pair for what is supposedly optimal pixel quality, but you only really need to do that for a permanent installation or more serious viewing. Otherwise, you just need a good, reliable projector that you can also use indoors. The one Lund used in this set-up is the Cinemood 360, which is great for families since it has built-in access to interactive and educational content for kids (along with all the go-to streaming services, too.)
Whether you already have an outdoor speaker system set up or you just want to wing it with a portable bluetooth audio, make sure the speakers are loud enough to compete with the outdoor elements like wind.
How to Set It Up
Pick a Location
You could set up a portable screen or sheet in the front or backyard with a stand (many come with them) or against the exterior wall of the home. If you don’t have any yard space, try it in the driveway against your garage door, or strung up between two trees. You could also watch from the pool or hot tub if you have one.
Prep the Sound System
If you don’t already have an outdoor space equipped with speakers, invest in a set of portable speakers that fill the entire area with sound. Harman Kardon has some excellent options.
Zan Passante for Sugar & Charm
Get Ready to Stream
You’ll also want to prop your projector up on a little side table or stool if it doesn’t come with a stand. In order to actually watch a movie, you could connect your projector to your Apple TV or hook it up to a Fire Stick, an Amazon Alexa-equipped remote and media streamer.
Be a Good Neighbor
If you live in a super populated area, make sure you aren’t blasting Silence of the Lambs into the wee hours of the morning. And of course, practice crowd control.
Give It a Stylish Spin
Style your outdoor theater with Pendleton blankets and piles of outdoor cushions to give it a retro camp look and feel. Bring out the wine chillers and snacks and hurricane candles for a romantic ambiance. Hanging string lights from a pagoda or trees is also a good call. Just bring any non-waterproof decor inside at the end of the movie, in case it rains.
Get Ready for Your Backyard Movie Night
Serena & Lily Teak Outdoor Sling Chair
$498 at Serena and Lily
PropVue Projector Screen on Stand
$126 at Amazon
ViewSonic Portable Projector With Speakers
$352 at Amazon
Amazon Fire TV Stick Streaming Player
Shop at Amazon
Pendleton Glacier National Park Quilt
$279 at Amazon
Harman Kardon SoundSticks III Speaker System
$240 at Amazon
Amish Country Popcorn White Old-Fashioned Popcorn
$18 at Amazon
Bayou Breeze Bulb Globe String Lights
Now 24% Off
$19 at Wayfair
Pottery Barn Concrete Accent Stool
$24 at Pottery Barn
Crate & Barrel Large Popcorn Bowl
$20 at Crate & Barrel
H&M Bamboo Candle Lantern
Now 30% Off
$21 at H&M
Crate & Barrel Bash Silver Beverage Tub
$90 at Crate & Barrel
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How to make a cinema at home or in the country
In a situation where the borders remain closed, and domestic tourism threatens to waste time in the observatory, you can safely get out only to your own dacha. And there, among other things, to watch a movie.
Movie theaters are also closed nowadays, so if you watch movies, then only at home or outside the city with your family or closest friends. You can, of course, huddle around your laptop or sit down at the TV, but it’s much better to pass the time in nature and watch a movie in the open air. Fortunately, this is not very difficult to do.
The first thing to decide is the screen for your makeshift cinema. You can get by with the most budget option by using a flat wall of the building to display the image, especially if you paint it with special paint ahead of time. A slightly more complicated way is to pick up a suitable piece of fabric or take an ordinary sheet to turn them into a screen. Well, the most optimal (but also financially costly) way out of the situation is to purchase a special folding screen for projectors, which will provide the highest picture quality.
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Provided you are using a suitable projector. TechInsider devoted a separate material to the choice of this device, so we will not repeat ourselves – everything can be found in this text. But if you are not going to constantly watch movies in the open air, then it is not worth buying a projector specially designed for this and it will be enough to get by with what you or your friends already have. The main thing to remember is that with a projector, a film show in nature must be arranged after sunset, otherwise the rays of light will not allow you to see anything.
Having dealt with the image, take care of the sound. It is not necessary to use professional acoustics or home theater kits. If the projector supports connecting external speakers via Bluetooth, then portable speakers will suffice. Ideally, those that make it possible to connect several devices at once. Speakers must be placed either directly in front of the screen or behind it. If there are several additional sound sources, then they can be placed around the audience seats.
In a situation where you are not using a projector and screen, but a TV, things are simplified. You just need to find a reliable stand for the device, resolve the issue with power supply and stretch the extension cord to the outlet, and also do not forget to bring the TV indoors after the movie screening is over – spending the night in the fresh air will not benefit the electronics. However, this is true for the projector and for acoustics, if we are not talking about special accessories for working in nature.
Remember safety. Make sure in advance that the electronics are not in contact with water anywhere, everything is securely fixed and will not fall. Since we are talking about a movie show on the street, it will not work to turn on the light in the impromptu hall with the beginning of the final credits, and therefore it is better to keep everything you need to watch a movie at hand and remember about possible obstacles in the darkness around.
Try to minimize the number of wires that you can stumble over in the dark, keep away everything that can be dropped and broken, or rather, get unbreakable dishes for snacks and drinks in advance, place a flashlight within reach or light candles. They will not only create a special atmosphere, but also illuminate the surrounding space – most importantly, place them behind the projector so that the flame light does not spoil the picture.
Don’t forget about the things that we don’t think about when we go to the cinema. For example, prepare blankets in advance that will come in handy at dusk, and also prepare mosquito and midge repellents – annoying insects can easily spoil the impression of even the most interesting movie. And, of course, remember that a movie in nature should not turn into a tedious fuss – if preparation for viewing kills all the pleasure from the movie itself, then is it worth starting all this at all?
how to set up an outdoor cinema
Residents of the city, even being in nature, are not able to refuse the benefits of civilization. They strive to provide themselves with the conditions of life to which they are accustomed. And this means that we do not plan to part with video and television. On the contrary, summer and fresh air are pushing us to move this popular pastime from the stuffy room to the yard. Agree that there is something romantic about watching a movie about love right under a summer night sky strewn with twinkling constellations. Many came to this conclusion, after which the idea of building an outdoor home cinema ceased to be exotic.
Everything conceived can be realized if you set yourself a goal and move in its direction. If you still have doubts, check out one of the already implemented projects for creating such a video hall.
A fairly simple version of a cinema hall with a projector, screen and folding chairs that can be installed and then removed. The most important thing is a pleasant friendly atmosphere
So that you can enjoy your own outdoor home theater, you need to know the features of its creation. This knowledge will help you ensure not only the high quality of this entertainment right in your backyard, but also its safety. After all, you didn’t seriously think that all the work to create such a hall would consist only in equipping an external outlet? No, you don’t need to solve any difficult tasks, but, nevertheless, you will have to work.
1 Projector or TV?
2 Be prepared for bad weather
3 Beware of bright sunlight!
4 Keep yourself safe
5 To avoid straining your ears
6 Convenient location – comfortable stay
7 Choosing the right furniture
8 A few last tips
Initially, you should decide what exactly our home theater will be. As its basis, you can use both a projector and a TV.
The TV literally transformed this building, making it a cozy center for country leisure. Comfortable furniture and pleasant lighting in the evening will allow you to have a good rest
The projector is a fairly compact device capable of broadcasting an image to a large screen from a media such as a DVD player or laptop. An LCD projector is considered a budget option. If you choose a DLP projector, you will pay more but get a better image and better color reproduction. In addition to the projector, you will need a screen. A sheet stretched over a frame will look too simple, and light-colored canvas will be harder to find. You can just buy a screen or make it like in the video below.
Most often, homeowners stop their choice on TVs. But modern models of these devices are also diverse. Before making a choice, it is necessary to determine the future operating conditions.
If the TV is installed outdoors, you can be sure that its contact with atmospheric moisture is inevitable. Therefore, it is necessary either to isolate it from such influence, or to choose a model for which this circumstance does not matter.
There are all-weather models of home theaters that can withstand not only the morning high humidity, but also watering from a garden hose. In addition, they are able to operate in the temperature range from -40 to +50 degrees Celsius. But, having such characteristics that are important for an outdoor device, they are inferior to indoor TVs in functions: they do not have an Internet connection, there is no 3D. And yes, they are outrageously expensive.
Only an all-weather TV can decorate such a luxurious interior. Gorgeous and reliable – two words that most fully describe what they saw
An ordinary television can also look very nice if it is well protected from rain and a comfortable environment is created around it
Looking for an alternative, some homeowners purchase regular TVs but protect them with special boxes or place them on porches and under awnings. In this case, the danger of a downpour accompanied by a strong side wind should be foreseen. Protection will be more reliable if only the TV screen is outside, and its body is built into a partition or wall.
Direct sunlight is contraindicated not only for indoor TVs, but also for models that are specifically recommended as outdoor cinemas. If you want to enjoy quality daytime viewing, you need to make sure that the sun’s rays do not fall on the screen. In the evening or in the morning, use a special screen for shielding.
Under such a canopy, we are not afraid of the sun’s rays. They simply cannot reach the TV screen, which is very well located above the fireplace
Electrical wiring located outside the home must be carefully protected from negative external influences, which include not only natural phenomena, but also curious animals, as well as birds that nest nearby. To do this, the wiring must be hidden in special boxes, which are to be rigidly fixed. It is better to use a wireless speaker system, and a DVD player built into the overall body of the device. On the street it is necessary to use only those sockets that are intended for outdoor use.
In a closed room, thanks to the acoustics, we can be satisfied with the sound of normal power, while background natural noises force us to increase the volume of the broadcast so as not to strain our hearing. For the operation of the cinema, it is worth purchasing a fairly powerful speaker system equipped with a subwoofer. Special outdoor equipment is protected from natural disasters.
Even a cinema of such a decent size, installed in the backyard and out of reach of neighbors, will not be able to interfere with their peaceful rest
In order not to conflict with neighbors who also want to have a good rest, you need to agree with them in advance on the location of your cinema hall. If you do decide to place it dangerously close to a fence, take care of an acoustic screen. Good relations with neighbors are valuable.
Equipping a recreation area with a home theater, it is very important to make it as comfortable as possible. Are you going to rest? Make sure that the entire control system is located in an accessible place and is actually at hand.
It is not uncommon for a television screen to be placed directly above the fireplace. To some, this placement may seem uncomfortably high. The advantage of this choice is the mantelpiece, which is adapted to store the individual accessories needed during the viewing. For example, a remote control or the same 3D glasses.
The TV is located above the fireplace and although the screen is really high, it is tilted so that the viewers can comfortably see everything that is happening
The seating area must be properly lit in the evening. For this purpose, not only electric lighting is used, but also improvised lamps, the ideas for which can be found on our website, as well as simple battery-operated landscape models.
Another element of comfort has been and always will be furniture. Of course, the choice of furniture is always a personal matter for each owner, but general reasonable recommendations will definitely not interfere with you.
Football fans will appreciate the imitation of a real tribune with wooden benches, and the brazier or bar counter located right there will be perceived by them with genuine delight. Why not make yourself happy? If you are a TV series lover, then the time allotted for your viewing may be delayed. You will need cozy and upholstered furniture, the headrests and backrests of which can be adjusted. However, you can get by with ordinary fabric sun loungers, which are made by hand.
Summer weather changes quickly. If the furniture will be on the street all the time, give preference to one that is well protected from moisture and is quickly cleaned of dust. But the best option can be considered lightweight folding tables and chairs that can be installed only for the duration of the viewing, and then removed again to where they are usually stored.
The beauty of a home outdoor cinema is that you yourself set the rules for visiting it: how it is convenient for you to sit or lie down, so you will settle down in it
With such a wonderful pool, you can do without any furniture at all. It is important to feel at ease
The most budget option is such a rotating TV that can be turned both inside the room and on the open veranda
It’s always nice if you can do something useful well and at no extra cost. Perhaps these tips will help you or give you some great ideas of your own.
- It is not necessary to move the entire cinema to the open air. Sometimes it is enough to move only spectators into the courtyard. If one of the walls of the building is made sliding, and the screen itself is deployed towards the courtyard, all that remains is to use the external speakers. They should be fixed under a canopy in the summer area adjacent to the facade. Do not forget that you need to choose the speaker cable that is recommended for outdoor use.
- If specialized home theater equipment is too expensive, a modern flat-screen TV can be used. The only inconvenience is that each time you have to take it out and return it back after viewing.
- Outdoor home theater functions can be greatly expanded by using devices such as Apple’s AirPlay or IOGEAR Wireless USB.