It is a fantasy for many people to host a movie in their backyard or in the driveway and chill out the whole night by watching a film in the breeze of a summer night. Moreover, it is a cult American adventure everyone wants to experience especially when the summer season rolls out. However, setting up the outdoor movie theater is the hardest part as you will have to make a considerable arrangement and a simple mistake will hinder the whole approach. So we have created a proper guideline which will assist you to create your outdoor movie in your backyard.
However, to put everything in order, you will need a lot of items which will ultimately help you to set up the backyard theater.
- A video projector that is suitable for outdoor movies.
- A large screen with full size.
- An audio system with powerful speakers.
- A laptop, Blu-ray player, DVD player or any other external media device.
- Power extensions.
- Electrical tapes.
Follow These Steps to Set Up an Outdoor Theater
1. Choosing and Setting Up The Projector Screen
The screen serves as one of the vital parts of the whole outdoor movie theater set up, and it is essential that you should choose wisely. A top class projector pull up screen is always an excellent choice for the setup, but it entirely depends on the area where you will mount and budget.
1.1 You can use a plain white sheet as your screen but you won’t get desirable quality if you are using a $1000 projector. However, if you are reluctant in spending a good chunk, then you can use regular bright white bed sheet screens, but you should always use at least two bed-sheets by stitching them together.
You just need to hang them on the back of your wall and use clips to ensure to keep it correctly stretched. Bungee or any stretchable cord can be an excellent option to use the bed sheet as a screen. In addition, you should also use anchors to keep the screen taut from every side.
1.2 However the more straightforward way to get a screen for your outdoor setup is to buy a dedicated projector with an enormous screen size range and minimum 16:9 aspect ratio. They are a little expensive but offers much better quality than a regular bed sheet.
These screens are made up of cinema-grade materials which provide high reflectively, and they are specially configured to sync with projectors. You can easily hang them on the back of your outhouse or just hang them between two trees with standard bungee cord and fasteners. However try to avoid hanging them in front of windows, doorways, light post or pathways as it will cause lot of issue in the middle of the movie.
1.3 You can even employ an electronic automatic projector screen for your outdoor movie theater as it will not ease up your set up process but will also offer a lot of functionality and better quality. Generally, an electronic projector screen is really expensive as they carry high-end materials, high durability and wide aspect ratio range.
Setting them is entirely pure as they atomically expand the screen with one button press and the only thing you will have to do is hang them from a wall. The best part of using them is that the resolution won’t get faded if there is any ambient light while watching movies. However, try to place them on level ground so that you can get proper view.
1.4 Portable projector screen also serves as a great option at a decent budget. The quality of screen entirely depends upon your budget, but most of the standard models offer top-notch quality. You won’t require any walls or tree to hang, as they either set up using screen stands or they are mounted on an inflatable body.
It would be suitable for you if you are hosting a movie screening in a place that doesn’t have a proper place to fit the projector screen. However when you are inflating them with inbuilt motor or external blower, always make them entirely blow otherwise the screen would face wrinkles.
However, if you are a user with a deep pocket, then you can opt for inflatable screens that common in movie theaters, concerts or luxurious places. These screens easily inflate in a few minutes, and they have their own amplifier and speakers.
If you are planning for long-term use, then, always go for readymade projector screens as they offer better durability and functionality. When you are placing any type of projector, you should make sure that it should be far enough from the projector and have a background that doesn’t get any interference from light.
2. Buying And Readying Up The Projector
A high-end expensive projector screen won’t matter since the projector decides the quality of the visuals, not the screen. So at first, you need to have the best possible projector for outdoor movies, and if you have them in your entertainment, then it becomes easy for you. However not all home theater projector possess the capability to play videos in high quality as they tend to get distracted in the presence of ambient light or light pollution.
2.1 We would suggest you go for a highly efficient outdoor movie projector only if you don’t have a projector suitable for the outdoor purpose. The budget for your projector entirely depends on you, but we would suggest saving more for the projector rather than spending on other parts.
There are a plethora of choices and higher the resolution of the projector the higher will be the quality. However the budget will be a constraint, and we suggest to never go below 720p native resolution. But for the optimum quality, you should go for 1080p or 4K resolution as they will mesmerize everyone with its cinematic output. Nowadays, you can quickly get a 4K projector at the decent price range, and moreover, it acts as a future investment.
Most of the movies now release in Full HD resolution, so high-quality film visuals are your priority than getting 1080p projector will meet your need. Many projector brands might boast 1080p support, but the quality varies by a margin when compared with a native 1080p resolution.
Along with resolution, an outdoor projector needs to have high lumens number otherwise it would fail to bring the vividness that is required to deliver good quality images. Outdoor areas will somehow get light interference, so minimum 2500 lumens is needed to maintain the brightness of the movie images. Last but not least, if you are a 3D movie buff and won’t mind spending some good chunk, then you will find a lot of potent options from some famous brands.
Lastly, one of the most important aspect you should consider the throw ratio as it will determine the place you will place the projector. So if you are hosting an outdoor movie session where there is a shortage in space, then go for a projector with a short throw ratio.
2.2 Suppose if you already own a potent outdoor projector, then you just need to place your projector in-front or back your screen, but you should put them at the right distance. Follow the projector’s ideal throw distance and set it accordingly.
It would be a smart move to keep the project on a small stool or projector tripod and place them on an even ground. It is not always possible that you will get the perfect alignment, so you need to play with the lens angle and keystone until and unless you get the ideal size as well as quality.
Although if you are planning to use your home projector on a regular basis for outdoor movie screen purpose, then it would be ideal to buy a separate outdoor movie projector. Moreover, it won’t be possible for you to daily set up the projector for your entertainment room and outdoor movie session.
3. Connecting Video Source
When you plan on watching, then apparently you will require an external device that will assist you to play the move as they a projector won’t be able to play it. DVD players, laptop, and mobile commonly serve as the primary source for playing the movie, especially in an outdoor scenario.
You just need to connect any one of them with proper cables, and you will be all set. However, there are many other sources through which you can easily play your movie like wireless media streamer, DTV converter box, SD card, and USB drives.
3.1 For connecting the DVD player first you need to connect it to the power source. Then join the RCA cable to the RCA ports located in the back of the projector, and you shouldn’t mismatch the color. Then using the other jacks in the cable, you should connect it to the back of the projector.
Then turn on the projector as well as the DVD player and the projector will project the UI of the DVD player. However, if you face No Signal issue, then you should change the source of the projector to video, and it will automatically switch.
There is some up-scaling DVD player that can be used as an alternative to the Blu-Ray player but don’t go for them until and unless you are short on budget.
Connecting the Blu-Ray is almost similar to the DVD player, but here you just need to connect the HDMI cable. Both Blu-Ray player and projector carry HDMI ports, and you just need to hook them with any side. Alternatively, you can also connect the Blu-Ray player using the PrPbY component connection port, and for that, you will need an RCA cable.
However, if you don’t want to connect and disconnect your DVD or Blu-Ray on a regular basis for your outdoor setup, then you can use a portable player. They are quite inexpensive, and it won’t make a hole in your pocket once you get out to buy them.
3.2 Hooking your DLP or LED projector with the laptop is quite important as you will need only one cable to connect both of them. Before joining, you need to keep both the device in switched off position. First, you have to plug one end of the VGA or HDMI cable to the projector port and hook other ends of the wire to the VGA or HDMI port located on the side.
Then after switching on both the devices, you will now have to replicate your monitor display on the projector. It can be accessed by pressing FN and Display key simultaneously which will provide you the option for the duplicate.
Then you to go the graphics properties of your laptop by right-clicking on the desktop. Then you will have to change the screen resolution according to the resolution of the projector and then apply. However, if you face any issue with the connection, you should press the source button or computer button on the projector.
3.3 DTV box can also be used for projecting your favorite movie from any TV channel as most of the projector doesn’t come with an inbuilt TV tuner. You will have to connect the DTV box with the projector using RCA cable. The DTV will receive the signal of a respective channel and they will relay those signal to the projector.
The quality will differ by a good margin as you will be only able to see a standard definition. Nowadays there are many external TV tuners that can also be used and you can hook them either through RCA cable or USB.
3.4 You can also use your smartphone to stream your movie through a projector, and this will shed the burden of connecting series of wires. You can use any wireless app to stream your favorite movie but it will require the projector to have a specific app as well as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity.
You can even use Chromecast, Airplay or Miracast device to stream movies and all you will have to do hook them to the HDMI port. Apart from these, you can also use HDMI adapter, mini HDMI and MHL to connect your smartphone. Nowadays, many smartphone support MHL connectivity, so you will have to hook the cable to HDMI adapter and then HDMI port.
3.5 You can also use SD or micro SD card to play your movie on the projector and it is only possible when your projector has SD card slot. First, you will have to copy your film to the SD card and then insert it into the SD card slot. Most of the projector automatically detects when you will enter the microSD or SD card. However, if it fails to identify, then using the source button or media devices you can find your movie file.
3.6 USB can also be utilized as a source for playing your movie file and almost every projector offers a USB port. The process of performing the movie is similar to SD card but is recommended to use a USB drive with good speed.
4. Hooking The Sound System
Connecting the sound system is quite, but it gets tricky when you plan to connect 5.1 speakers or any home theater system. The 2.1 sound system is considered as the optimum as the setup process is simple and it is adequate for an outdoor movie session.
However, you can also go for 5.1 surround system, but you won’t be able to get the surround feeling as your ears won’t get that clarity. Moreover, it is quite hectic to pack and unpack the whole system every night and move them to your house.
Before you use any of the speaker systems, you might need to buy an amplifier as the built-in amplifier won’t be able to provide the volume you will require in outdoor movie session. Amplifiers are not that expensive, and if you go to any e-commerce site, you will quickly find a potent at a budget price tag.
2.1 You can either use your old stereo speaker for audio purpose but they won’t able to churn good quality in the outdoor environment. It would be a good idea to purchase any floor stand, wall mounted or regular outdoor speaker as it will quickly do the job. While buying speakers, look for receivers with minimum 75-watt per channel power rating.
The speaker connection is effortless as you will only have to hook the designated audio cable to the audio port located in the back of the projector. Some 2.1 speakers nowadays also come with a USB port so you can also connect it using that port.
The projector will automatically get connected, and you should place a speaker close to the projector screen. If you are using wall mounted speaker try to hang them to the side of the screen stand. Similarly, if it is floor standing type, then keep them close to the screen and keep them at an angle so that they directly face the audience.
2.2 If the budget is not any constraint, then you can pour some reasonable amount of money for purchasing a Bluetooth speaker. To connect the speaker to the projector, first, you will have to switch on the Bluetooth of both devices.
Then either using your speaker or projector, you will have to pair the devices. Once they are matched, the projector will automatically configure as the native audio output. However, after pairing up both the devices, there is no sound output and then go to the projector’s audio menu and select the Bluetooth speaker as the sound system.
5. The Final Preparation and Testing
This is the final phase where you have to connect all the device together and hook them to the electric switchboard. To keep things in the proper position, you will require some extension cords but remember they should possess surge protection. These type of extension cords and surge protectors are readily available in various e-commerce sites, and they cost only a few bucks.
It is advisable to opt for an extension that offers more than three plug points. You can even choose for costly cords that are generally waterproof and have thick insulation coating. However, you should keep the power off while hooking all the power cords into a surge protector.
Now, your last job is to check whether you have connected all the devices properly or not. Always go for long audio cables so that you will be comfortable moving them whenever it is required. For other wires try to keep the length as minimal as possible because it will shed the chance of signal loss. So after setting everything, you just have to switch on the central power, and you will be all set to host your first outdoor movie session.
Before marking an end, we would like to provide you with some suggestions that would be helpful for you while you set up your outdoor movie theater:
Suggestions to Set up A Backyard Movie Theater:
- Always take permission from your neighbor and cooperate with them if there is an issue. But the best way to keep things in order is to invite them to your outdoor movie theater and serve them good food while watching a movie. However, it is not possible to ask the whole neighborhood but try to call people who matter.
- Always inform the local authority before you host your outdoor movie session so that you can avoid any mishap. If required take all the necessary permission from the authorities which will bar you facing any hassle by local police.
- Before setting up your outdoor theater, always check all the building regulations, CC and R’s that will provide you with details of all the restrictions regarding any outdoor activity. It is recommended to write a letter to the building association head for permission.
- It would be better to check noise law in your state rather than violating noise law while you are enjoying your outdoor movie session. You should discuss this matter with your community head as they will help you to tackle the situation. If possible take the signature of approval from your neighbors and present it to the community head.
- While watching a movie, always keep your surroundings dark otherwise it would hamper the video quality of the film. Moreover holding the area dark will also bar you from irritating your neighbors in the night.
- It is advisable to avoid any loud sound while you are watching a movie as it may disturb other people in the locality. Inform them beforehand about your outdoor activity so that they don’t get alarmed by sudden loud noise.
- Avoid charging money from an outsider for watching the movie because as per law you can’t charge anyone while displaying any visual publicly. If the local authority catches you for charging anyone for film, then you will be prosecuted for violating public entertainment law.
- Never place your devices near the pool, water body or grill as it increases the chances of accidents. There are chances that a sudden touch or wind blow can cause the projector, speaker or screen to fall on the water or grill which can cause damage or accident.
- Before setting up your theater, always check the weather because rainfall can ruin the whole projector setup. Try to place your screen and other devices in an area that is slightly protected from the wind. For safety purpose, you can use a trampoline to save your device sudden gust of wind or rainfall.
- Use storage racks for placing all your devices which will be useful while you operate and also dismount.
- Until and unless you are really short on budget, try to avoid projector below $500 as most of them don’t have 1080p native resolution.
Raymond is a Product Support Specialist at Canon USA. He mainly deals with the projectors. He completed graduation in Computer Science from Broome Community College. He is a former Performance Improvement Specialist of Jewish Home Lifecare. He conducted a lot of webinar as a guest speaker.