The backyard cinema of your dreams may seem unreachable, but it’s a lot less expensive and more attainable that you might think.
That’s why we’re here to show you not only how to do it on the cheap, but how to best enjoy it. To pull off a perfect DIY outdoor movie night, you’ll need a projector, sound, a media player, a screen and lastly but most importantly some friends and family to enjoy some time under the stars with.
Projectors, in general, are pricey. They can easily reach over $1,000, but you can still get a quality picture for much cheaper on Amazon. When looking for a projector, there are a few things you need to look out for:
When you shop around for projectors the term “lumen” pops up. In a nutshell, the lumen is a measurement of the intensity of light radiation projected by a light source. The general idea is to have a projected throw off bright enough images that are easy to see under normal ambient lighting conditions. For an outdoor projector, you would want somewhere between 2000 to 3000 lumen. Anything above 3000, and you can typically watch an outdoor movie in the dusk rather than wait for night.
Inputs are important, you have to make sure your media source can be plugged into the projector. In general, try to find a projector with a variety of inputs, or at the minimum have some adapters handy. Our recommendation would be that it at least have an HDMI connection available to plug in an Amazon Fire Stick or a Roku Streaming Stick so that you have lots of choices for your backyard cinema night.
Keystone and Lens Shift
For outdoor viewing, being able to adjust the picture on the fly is very important. Cheaper projectors have electronic Keystoning whereas more expensive ones have physical adjustments. Keystoning allows you to adjust the image from the projector to adjust the angle of the projector in relationship to the screen… in other words, it’s very important to be able to adjust on the fly, since it’s likely that you’ll be putting the projector on a makeshift stand of some sort.
Max Size & Throw Distance
When you’re watching a movie outside, biggest is definitely better. When buying a projector you want to make sure of the size it can project and how much distance it needs to project that size. For example, the projector can project a 200″ image, but it’ll need 35 feet of distance for that to happen. You will have to think about the space you will put the projector in and how far the screen will be. That can vary from yard to yard and it’s best to consult the owners manual for the best settings. There are various online calculators that can help you calculate and determine the best setup.
Resolution & Aspect Ratio
When watching outdoors, the resolution is not very important. You aren’t watching under optimal conditions and no one is going to scrutinize the image quality. It’s all about the outdoor ambiance as the sun sets and you get ready to put the movie on. If you have a better quality projector, by all means, use it. If you are going to buy one for the outdoors, don’t worry about having a 1080p projector. What you’ll need is a bright image, some snacks, and a glass of wine (or iced tea for those underage viewers). Similarly to the resolution, the aspect ratio isn’t as important. If your projector can project in widescreen 16×9 and your source is the same, then no big deal. Cheaper projectors will have some light bleed at the top and bottom of the screen because a higher class projector will mask the area by projecting black. In general, if you’re outside having a good time, most people will not notice.
So what should you get for your backyard cinema?
A great suggestion is the Epson Home Cinema 640.
Epson Home Cinema 640, HDMI, 3200 Lumens Color and White Brightness Home Theater 3LCD Projector
The Home Cinema 640 portable projector makes it easy to enjoy big-screen entertainment at home. Get images up to 300″ — perfect for movie nights, outdoor matinees and multiplayer video games. It’s more of an entry level so it doesn’t offer a manual lens shift and it more like what you would find at a company event or classroom. It does provide a bright and vibrant image, so it’s perfect for your backyard cinema.
This part is really up to you. As long as you can play what you want, you can use what you want; a laptop, streaming stick such as the Amazon Fire or Roku Stick, Blue Ray player, or gaming console. As long as you can connect it to the projector it’s all good.
Sound is important because you if it’s too weak, everyone will notice and it’ll take away from the movie/game you are trying to watch/play. In this article, we are going for cheap, so try to use what you have. If you must buy something, I would suggest a Bluetooth speaker such as the Jawbone Mini Jambox Wireless Bluetooth Speaker and a Bluetooth transmitter.
The screen is the least important aspect. You can project on a garage door, the side of the house or a wall. Ideally, a well-ironed blanket works wonders and it’s likely you have an old one lying around, so it’ll be less money to spend. Tie the four corners of the blanket so that the blanket has some tension to it, you wouldn’t want to see any creases or fold marks in the middle of your picture. The screen is probably the least important part. As long as it has space and the picture looks reasonable on it, you can project on anything.
Other things to think about
First thing is to be neighborly. In general, keep the movies rated PG, with no nudity or gore. The last thing you want is your neighbor’s kids accidentally catching a glimpse of something they shouldn’t be seeing. I can guarantee you’ll have a mad parent knocking at your door, and then movie night will be ruined. Also, try inviting your neighbor to the backyard cinema night, its the neighborly thing to do
Think about bugs and mosquitos. You are outside after all. Consider mosquito candles and bug repellant spray.
An important part of enjoying your outdoor DIY theater is where and how you are going to sit. A blanket on soft grass is always great, but if you’re going to be on cement or other hard surfaces consider reclining beach chairs or outdoor bean bags.
Have some snacks available. Everyone loves popcorn. Make sure pre-pop the popcorn and have it ready in individual DIY popcorn buckets. Have a table available to tapas style snacks and drinks.
Last but not least…ENJOY THE MOVIE!