Well, summer has finally arrived, and if you live in the Northern hemisphere and have had enough of the cold, you can understand my excitement for the upcoming warm months. Although I have spent a substantial amount of money and time in my dedicated theater, I don't always want to be cooped up in my bat-cave. I really enjoy being outdoors, but I also have an obsession with watching movies. So a couple of years ago, I started thinking about bringing the theater experience outdoors. I can tell you it isn't easy, especially when the wife only budgeted for the basement theater. But I can also tell you anything is possible.
Every year, I try to find new and better ways of making the outdoor theater a plausible solution for anyone on any type of budget. Because I live in the suburbs away from the city lights, I was able to choose a projector with a lower light output. I also opted for a smaller screen (70 inches) to make it nice and discreet. I use a pico projector (small form factor) along with an AppleTV. This creates an ultra-portable solution that offers pretty much any type of media at my finger tips. It also is very easy and quick to set up.
So what do you need to get started?
In general, you will need five things: a projector, a screen, a source, speakers, and people. People are the easy part—build it and they will come.
Projector—Your target audience and how large an image you want will determine how bright the projector needs to be. If you're always inviting the whole block, a larger screen may be needed, and therefore a brighter projector. If that is the case, you might need a larger, more conventional projector since little pico or portable projectors put out a lot less light. You will need to decide if you're accommodating a small number of people or the entire neighborhood.
Screen—Depending on your geographical location and your backyard layout, you can choose a portable solution or go with a fixed installation. A fixed screen, usually installed where it is shielded from rain and cold weather, removes the hassle of setting up the screen each and every time you watch a movie outdoors. A portable screen is made to set up just for that particular event and take down afterward. Inflatable or tensioned screens can be found online, while others can be DIY'd using white sheets and some pull cord.
Source—There are many solutions for sources. Whether it is a Blu-ray player or an old DVD player, anything will work. My favorite is a media player. There are many available; I use the AppleTV. It's small in size, wireless, and allows me to access my entire movie collection from my server as well as movies from Netflix. Today's media players are pretty much all small in size with many brands to choose from.
Speakers—This is a tough one as it requires you to pass some wiring. Some use powered pro-audio type speakers, while others take their AVR and hook it up outside with two speakers. For this, you will need to determine how often you'll be watching movies outdoors. If it's a monthly event, maybe lugging around larger speakers won't be a real issue, but if it becomes a weekly thing, it might be easier to work with two powered portable speakers. Others may choose the fixed-install route, where you have two speakers permanently installed under a soffit of some sort.
There are many different ways to bring the theater experience outside; it's a matter of imagination. The most important thing to remember is that it's supposed to be fun. If the whole setup is complicated, time consuming, and a pain in the butt, you might get discouraged every time and not enjoy yourself as much. Doing research is key, and what better place to start but right here on AVS?
For those of you already into the outdoor-theater scene, please share your setup with us. If you have any tips or tricks to share with anyone starting out or upgrading, please post your thoughts.
Happy outdoor viewing!