You don’t need to visit a movie theater to enjoy a movie theater experience. These days, with the availability of affordable and portable video equipment, you can host your own backyard movie nights, sports game viewings or video game parties without breaking the bank. If you’re concerned about the coronavirus, having a get-together like this in your backyard can be a great way to invite friends over for some socially distanced fun. Here’s what you need to share big-screen outdoor entertainment on a budget with your family and friends.
The central component of any backyard theater is, of course, the projector. Electronics stores and online retailers offer a plethora of options, with suitable entry-level products, such as this GooDee Movie Projector, coming in at around $200. Consider the following features when shopping for models:
- Image brightness: how bright of an image the device can project, measured in lumens. A higher brightness can be seen in lighter surroundings, although all projectors require a fairly dark setting in which to work. A minimum of 2,000 lumens is recommended.
- Display resolution: how much detail the device can project. While 4K resolution may be a popular choice for TVs these days, 1080P (1920 x 1080) should be sufficient for a projector you’ll occasionally use.
- Maximum size and throw distance: how big of an image the projector can project and what distances from the screen it can operate at. Use calculators like this one to find out how to match screen size with projector distance (or vice versa) for a given projector model so you don’t end up with a mismatched setup.
- Built-in speakers: whether or not the projector has built-in speakers. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to supply and connect your own speakers, though you’ll likely get better sound quality by doing so.
- Connectivity: how the projector receives audio/video content. HDMI is the most popular standard, and most modern entertainment devices can output to HDMI directly or with the use of an adaptor. Make sure all the planned devices in your setup have compatible connectivity before you make any purchases.
- Keystone and lens shift: the ability to correct image distortion caused by the angle and position of the projector and screen. A model with physical/optical controls rather than electronic correction is ideal.
Once you have your projector, you’ll need something to project the image against. This can be an outside wall of your home, a bedsheet or a white blackout cloth suspended from a line or between poles, a homemade screen or a store-bought screen. Regardless of which route you go, your projection surface should be as flat, solid bright white and stationary as possible to produce the best image. Freestanding outdoor projection screens, such as the 144-inch Camp Chef Entertainment Gear screen, can be had for under $250. Screens without stands (such as for hanging or mounting) or those in smaller sizes cost less. If purchasing a screen, you’ll likely want one that matches the aspect ratio (shape) of your projector’s resolution, such as the popular 16:9 wide screen format rather than the older 4:3 ratio. Some screens allow the image to be projected from the rear of the screen rather than the front, which may be better for keeping your projector and its beam out of the way of your audience.
A projector is no good without something to supply video content to it. These days, just about any entertainment device that has a screen or connects to one can also be connected to a projector, although some may require add-ons, such as HDMI adaptors, to do so. Here are some popular video source devices that can work well with an outdoor setup:
- Blu-ray or DVD players
- Smartphones or tablets
- Digital media players (e.g. Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, etc.)
- Video game consoles
If your projector doesn’t have built-in speakers, or if you want better and louder sound, you’ll need to provide and connect your own speaker or speakers. This can be the trickiest part of your setup as you’ll often need to find a way to send a separate audio signal from your video source to your speakers. The simplest solution can be to plug a Bluetooth transmitter into your video source (if supported) so that you can broadcast your sound wirelessly to a suitably powerful Bluetooth speaker. Transmitters, such as the TaoTronics Bluetooth 4.1 Transmitter, cost about $30, and a quality Bluetooth speaker, such as the JBL Charge 4, costs about $130.
Here are some other items you may need or want to complete your backyard theater setup
- Extension cords and power strips
- Media cables (e.g. HDMI)
- Video content (e.g. Blu-ray discs, DVDs, digital rentals or digital files)
- Food and beverages (don’t forget the popcorn!)
- Seating (e.g. patio or camp chairs and blankets)
Once you have all the necessary components, follow these additional tips to make the most out of your big backyard theater night:
- Test your setup beforehand at your intended viewing hour to ensure that everything works as expected.
- Check the forecast for weather that might spoil your event, and turn off any automatic sprinklers that could interrupt the show.
- Be a good neighbor by informing adjacent residents that you’ll be projecting images and sound in your backyard – or invite them over to attend.
- If the coronavirus is a concern, you may wish to ensure your guests are seated at least six feet apart and/or wear face masks.
- Review local regulations, and don’t charge admission without the video copyright holder’s permission.
- If your screen is visible from neighboring properties, stick to PG-rated content.
- Cover cords and cables or keep them out of the way to avoid tripping hazards.
- Keep hazards such as food, kids and pets away from sensitive electronics to prevent damage.
- Consider using rope lights, solar pathway lights, TIKI torches or glow sticks for safety lighting.
- Refer to your projector’s instruction manual for specifics on outdoor use.
Say goodbye to movie tickets and overpriced concessions, because with this equipment and know-how, you’ll be enjoying and sharing the magic of the big screen in the comfort of your own backyard.