How to Create an Outdoor Theater on a Dime
White sheets or the siding of your house can be your movie screen, and that's where the fun begins.
Credit: homeowner Rich Morgan/via ProjectorPeople
August 21, 2009 by Lisa Montgomery

The cold front that’s plagued much of the Midwest this summer has finally let up. It’s actually inched over the 70-degree mark at night—perfect weather for the drive-in theater.

Few drive-in theaters still exist, so you’d think that I’d jump at the chance to catch a flick alfresco when there’s a screen just 30 minutes away. By the time it gets dark, though, I’d just rather nosh on Mike and Ikes at home. Plus, I figure I can create a very similar experience right here in my own backyard.

I already have the speakers and a DVD player. The only missing pieces are the projector and the screen. Since I’m not interested in having a permanent setup or shelling out loads of cash, my outdoor theater needs to be portable and flexible enough to function just about anywhere I choose to set up the lawn chairs.

According to the folks at a white sheet or tarp can serve as an outdoor video screen. “Just be sure you can keep it steady on a breezy night,” advises Jennifer Andrews, Internet communication manager. At my house, we could also beam the images directly onto the side of the barn or the garage doors. Andrews says light colored siding typically works better than dark siding.

Another option is the Gemmy Inflatable screen. With a 144-inch image area, it’s much larger than traditional portable screens; priced at less than $200, it’s also less expensive. It self-inflates and rolls up when you’re finished for convenient storage. Since I plan on using my outdoor theater a lot, $200 isn’t too much to spend; however, check with your local audio/video dealer. One A/V pro I recently spoke with rents inflatable screens by the hour. 

On to the projector: For less than $800, there are widescreen projectors like the Epson Home Cinema 700 and Vivitek D326WX. Both project super-bright images (2,000 and 2,600 lumens, respectively), and are compatible with most video sources.

A crossover business projector like the Epson PowerLite S6 ($549), Hitachi CPX5 ($639) and NEC NP100 ($499 MSRP) is typically more affordable, but be sure to check the manufacturer specs for compatibility with your DVD player, computer or other video source. Still too salty? Again, if an outdoor theater is something you’ll use infrequently, check with an A/V shop about weekend rentals.

Finally, if I don’t want to bother with lugging out speaker and a DVD player every time I want to watch a movie outside, I could go with a projector that has all I need built in. The Epson Movie Mate 72 ($1,099) comes with both a built-in upscaling DVD player (up to 1080p) and speakers. All that’s left to deal with are the mosquitoes.

For some more backyard theater ideas, check out more from ProjectorPeople’s backyard page as well as


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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

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