DIY Make Your Own Outdoor Cinema

The drive-in theater was once a common sight in rural towns. It’s easy to see why this is appealing. There’s something special about viewing a movie under the stars—and it’s even better if you don’t have to leave your house to do it. Setting up an outdoor movie theater is easier than you might think. You can also do it on a budget. The projector may be your only substantial expenditure, depending on how intricate you want to create your theater (and how much elbow grease you’re prepared to put in).

Where do I begin?

It would be best if you first decided on the style of your outdoor movie theater before you begin constructing it. Ask yourself the following questions while sitting down with a pen and paper:

  1. How many guests are you expecting? If you’re only going to watch movies with your family in the backyard, a smaller screen would suffice. A larger screen will be required for larger gatherings in order to provide everyone with a good view. The maximum screen size for most home theater projectors is between 100″ and 300″ diagonal (about 8-12 feet tall). The more people you wish to fit in the theater, the higher you’ll need to go on that scale.
  2. How much room do you have available? A screen’s recommended viewing distance is about 1-1.5 times its size. You can see how this corresponds to common large projector screen sizes by looking at the table below:

Screen SizeMinimum DistanceMaximum Distance
100″8.5ft12.5ft
120″10ft15ft
150″12.5ft19ft
200″16.5ft25ft
300″25ft37.5ft

As you can see, you need quite a lot of space for a 300″ screen. The flip side of this is you’ll have more room to accommodate more viewers.

3. What level of portability do you require? If you want to watch movies in your garden, several elements can be permanently installed to make the setup easier. The screen’s setup time and storage dimensions are likely to be more essential if you want to take an outdoor theater with you on camping trips or family road trips.

After you’ve answered those questions, you can get down to the business of putting your home theater together.

Step 1: Purchase a projector.

This is the most crucial part of your setup. Purchasing the projector first allows you to customize the rest of the theater to accommodate it. Get the most significant resolution you can afford—at the very least, 1080p, but 4K is worth it for outdoor viewing if you can afford it.

Because most outdoor movies are seen at night, brightness isn’t usually an issue for an outdoor theater projector. If you’ll be using it in a city with a lot of light pollution, this is an exception. Look for the brightness of at least 3,000 ANSI lumens in this situation. This is where you’ll find our selection of the most excellent outdoor movie projectors.

Step 2: Prepare your sound system.

No matter what projector you buy, the built-in speakers will not be sufficient for an outdoor movie theater. An Echo Tap or comparable Bluetooth speaker might be a terrific option for family movie evenings and other informal parties. Wireless dongles are available for projectors that do not have them built-in.

You’ll probably want to invest in a portable PA speaker for larger parties. For roughly $50-$100, you can acquire one that’s good enough for outdoor movie evenings. If your backyard theater is semi-permanent, waterproof speakers will undoubtedly be worth the expense. They’re a little more expensive than portable speakers, but they’ll give you a better sense of surround sound. If it helps you justify the expenditure, you can also use them to play music while entertaining or working in the yard.

Step 3: Purchase or construct your screen

If your home is white, you may already have a wall in mind. If not, a simple white sheet strung from a roof, clothesline, or tree limb can serve as an adequate (and completely free) screen for family movie evenings.

You can buy several outside screens if you want to take things a step further. There are two types of inflatables: inflatable and metal frames. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Make sure it will fit comfortably in your vehicle if you plan to take it with you on the road.

Permanent backyard movie theaters are an excellent location to put projector paint to use. You can use any wall as a projector or build a weather-resistant screen of wood, metal, or plastic. Because projector paint can be used on almost any surface, it opens up many creative possibilities.

Step 4: Make a content plan.

If your Wi-Fi network extends to your garden, a streaming stick plugged onto the projector’s HDMI connector is the most convenient solution. Some projectors have USB connectors, allowing you to watch movies directly from a portable drive, another excellent alternative for watching movies on the road.

Different projectors have different connection choices, which will affect where you obtain your material. The best option for portability is to connect the projector to a laptop via an HDMI connection (our detailed instructions on how to do it can be found here). Because you can download movies directly to your computer, you can watch them even when you’re not connected to the internet.

A Raspberry Pi can be used as a deliciously portable media storage unit for tech enthusiasts. These tiny computers cost less than $50, are smaller than a cell phone, and are reasonably simple to turn into dedicated media players. If you wish to pursue this path, you can find how-to manuals online.

Step 5: Empower it

This step is simple for a backyard movie theater: simply run an extension cord from the nearest outlet and you’re ready to go. However, if you want to be able to view movies anywhere you want, things get a little more tricky.

Although battery-powered projectors are available, it’s more likely that you’ll need to offer a power source. There will also be a requirement for power for some inflatable screens, multimedia sources, and speakers. A portable generator is the most convenient alternative. They are frequently available for both rental and buy at home improvement stores. Look for the quietest one you can locate so that the engine noise does not disrupt your movie viewing experience.

Putting everything together

You can create your own outdoor movie theater as basic or as elaborate as you choose. The projector is the only significant cost. For anything else, repurposing items you already own in new ways can help you stay within your budget.

Don’t forget to personalize your outdoor theater with personal touches. A popcorn maker can be added to your grill setup to turn it into a concession stand. You may make an outdoor theater your new favorite summer ritual in a variety of ways. Hopefully, this instruction has sparked your interest in creating your own!


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