Home Theater in the Great Outdoors
Learn how fresh air and home theater can finally come together.
outdoor home theater
An open-air patio or loggia can make a great home entertainment space. Photo by Michael Neveux.
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June 04, 2007 by EH Staff

Anyone who’s ever been to a drive-in movie theater knows that special feeling of watching a movie outside. There is something magical about enjoying a show in the open air. And now you can have the same feeling in your own backyard—without the tinny audio-speaker sound, questionable snack bar fare or having to sit in your car. Also, you don’t have to wait until it gets dark.

You can watch a movie or a sporting event by the pool or on a deck or while sipping a tropical drink. Outdoor theaters can be in cabanas, pool houses, covered patios, outdoor kitchens, bar areas—you name it. You can even position the video display so you can see it from a hot tub or spa. Sound can come from in-wall or in-ceiling speakers or even speakers that look like rocks, all designed to withstand the elements. You can even have underwater speakers in your pool.

Flat-panel and traditional direct-view TVs are primarily used outside, but you can use a front video projector and screen, especially if you intend to watch movies at night. Gathering to see a good flick under the stars is still a tradition in some places—and it can be the same for you. There really is something wonderful about sitting beneath the stars as you watch the stars on the screen.

Great Entertaining. Experience sights and sounds from DVDs, CDs, cable or satellite channels by the pool, on a patio, or by an outside bar or kitchen area. There’s no more missing the big game because it’s nice out. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and the size of your outside space.

Weather or Not. You don’t want bad weather to cancel that movie you’ve been planning to see. So if you’re in a colder or rainy climate, think twice about doing a home theater outdoors. They’re most practical in sunny climates, though usually as a second entertainment system.

Shades Required. Watching a flick while basking in the sun sounds great, until you turn on the display and you can’t see the picture because of the glare. You’ll need to place any outdoor video display in a shaded area. That means cabanas, covered patios or bar areas with overhangs. You can stay in the sun as long as the picture is shaded. Flat-panel screens and traditional direct-view TVs are commonly used because of their brightness. Front video projectors with screens require darker areas but can be great to view at night.

Think About Protection. For your electronic equipment, that is. You don’t want your expensive audio/video gear splashed by pool water, splattered with grease from the barbecue or overheating in the sun. House the electronics in a cool, dark area. Beneath a bar or in a closet might work, but best would be inside your house or a well-ventilated outbuilding. If you live on the coast, salt air presents even more dangers. Flat-panel and direct-view TVs tend to work best in outdoor environments. And any video projector should be light, portable and easy to set up, because you won’t want to leave it outside. Also make sure all your speakers are weatherproof, no matter where you live.

What About the Neighbors? It isn’t polite to share your sounds without their consent. Be a good neighbor by placing most of the audio speakers away from your house and pointing toward it, as opposed to hanging speakers on the exterior walls and blasting the neighborhood.

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