30 Pro Tips for Outdoor Electronics

Custom electronics pros share their advice on locating TVs, speakers and other technologies in the great outdoors.


Installation by Electronics Design Group. Credit: William Psolka

So you want audio and video in your backyard?

Fair enough, although it’s not as simple as hooking up a TV and some speakers. Maybe you’d also like to control that outdoor system from a handheld remote … and control the swimming pool system, and automate the sprinkler system, and trench wire out to the cabana for a home theater.

All of a sudden, this has turned into quite a project.

First order of business: Find waterproof and weatherproof electronics—there’s a difference. Do this unless your electronics are going to be very well protected from the elements, such as located inside a roofed cabana or closed-in patio. Second order of business: Plan ahead. Know how your outdoor gear is going to be wired. You can always let your custom electronics (CE) pro handle it, or you can read these 29 tips and wield your own shovel and wire stripper.

1. Place your TV somewhere where it’s protected from the weather, as well as from dirt, moisture and insets. This is especially important if your outside area is exposed to salty ocean breezes.

2. Use a TV meant for the outdoors. “Products from SunBriteTV, Seura and Pantel keep condensation (and insects) out of the TV and are very specialized to last,” says Josh Christian of Southern California-based DSI Entertainment Systems. (More about what goes inside an outdoor TV)

3. Minimize glare by placing your display in a shaded area. Use an LCD TV instead of a plasma-based model, which is more susceptible to glare (all outdoor-rated TVs are LCD).

4. Even with a weatherproof TV, try to install it under an overhang, in custom cabinetry or behind a glass enclosure. A custom cabinetmaker can work with your CE pro to add watertight rubber seals around doors and pressure-treat the wood accordingly. (Check out this rooftop TV that rises automatically out of a custom cabinet.)

5. Want an outdoor projection setup? Motorized drop-down screens or inflatable ones can be used with a carefully housed or portable projector for after-dusk viewing. You may still want a bright LCD TV for daytime viewing, though.

6. Locate a projection screen where it can roll up and away when it’s not being used, suggests Erich Allen of EAG Design in Kingsport, Tenn. Tucked into a soffit, for example, it will be protected from the elements and raise no visual distractions with the landscape. (Check out this backyard private theater with views from the swimming pool)

7. Consider installing a weather meter indicator, so if conditions get too breezy the screen will retract automatically into its housing, when tied into some sort of automation system.

8. For audio, think in terms of coverage, not loudness. What you want is even coverage throughout the outdoor area, without any hot spots or dead spots. “The best way [to accomplish this] is to use a lot of smaller speakers,” explains Neal Edmiston, co-owner of Southern California-based Vision Systems Automation.

9. Position the speakers so that they’re firing toward the house. You’ll get better sound coverage, and you’ll be a better neighbor. Plus, when the speakers are placed away from the house, they won’t conflict visually with your home’s design and architecture. Blend the speakers into the landscape by choosing models that resemble rocks, planters and other backyard objects from SteroStone, Rockustics, Niles, NuTone and other manufacturers.

10. Need more bass? Complement your outdoor speakers with in-ground subwoofers. “What’s great about the in-ground sub is that only part of it sticks out. This allows us to put smaller, more inconspicuous, speakers in other spots,” that a subwoofer might otherwise occupy, Edmiston says. Terra Speakers’ AC Sub is a good choice for this. And know the difference between waterproof and weatherproof, especially when it comes to speakers. Waterproof speakers are design to stand up against a summer storm and poolside horseplay. Weatherproof products, on the other hand, will be able to withstand many other conditions, such as drastic changes in temperature. Keep in mind, not all weatherproof speakers are also waterproof.

11. Locating and wiring source components to an outdoor video display can be a major challenge. The first rule of thumb is to try to keep as much of the gear inside the house as possible, preferably in a central equipment rack.

12. Work with the home or landscape architect early on so conduit and electrical cabling can be trenched into the ground. Ask for multiple 2-inch conduits or larger.

13. Run all outdoor cabling through conduit. This will protect it from rodents and garden tools.

14. Even if you’ll be using conduit, always use direct-burial cables.

15. It’s always a good idea to separate power and A/V cables. Run two or three conduits to accommodate all types of cables and to future-proof your outdoor area.

16. The length of outdoor cabling can cause problems. “You really have to think about what the distance will do to the audio, video and control signals,” says Curt Hayes of Audio Design in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

17. Wiring runs often can’t be completed at rough-in, so look to “stub out” cable bundles to a weatherproof, surface-mounted box where connections can be made later.

18. Run 14/4 speaker cabling between the source components and an outdoor junction box with a cover plate. Use direct-burial cabling from the box to the speakers.

19. RG-6 and Category 5 Ethernet cabling are safe bets for all other outdoor equipment. Dedicate an individual Cat 5 for each audio, video and control path or two shielded Cat 6 for an HDMI extension.

20. Some CE pros add fiber-optic cabling for HDMI, especially when the run is over 100 feet. Hayes says it’s less expensive and has become easier to terminate, but he warns not to run it in lieu of Cat 5 (just in addition to).

21. Rule number one: Don’t bring the remote control near the pool. Rule number two: Always, always, obey rule number one. The exception is if you use a waterproof remote like the ones made by URC or Crestron. Since many people are now using their smartphones and tablets for the control interface, take special care that those don’t get wet or lost.

22. If simple A/V controls are all you’re looking for, a simple weather-resistant controller like the RTI U1 is inexpensive and easy to integrate with either local or distributed sources. Its simple design and rugged weatherproofing make it perfect for poolside A/V control.

23. If you’re interested in controlling an entire home automation infrastructure from an outdoor environment, a step-up controller like RTI’s weather-resistant U2 can facilitate.

24. An RF (radio frequency) remote is often preferred over IR (infrared) in an outdoor setting, both for greater coverage and to avoid IR interference from sunlight. But if you plan to use an infrared remote control outdoors, you’ll need to install an infrared receiver somewhere to capture and relay the signal to the equipment inside. Carl Bevando of multiroom technology manufacturer Xantech suggests locating the receiver in a shady area for the best response. Smart phones and tablets will connect to the control

25. For good wireless roaming range, “we will put Crestron RF repeaters out in the yard and hide them in weatherproof boxes that are hidden throughout the landscaping,” says Christian of DSI Entertainment Systems.

26. If you’re using your smart phone or tablet as your control interface, make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi signal outside so your control device can connect to the network.

27. If you have a swimming pool … and a home control system, think about tying the two together. This way, the operation of the pool system can be synchronized with the settings of the outdoor lights, music and video. Jandy’s Aqualink RS Series, for example, is a pool system designed to work in concert with home control systems.

28. When more elaborate pool system control is needed independent of an existing automation system, many pool installers turn to the Pentair IntelliTouch system, which offers valve control, chemical monitoring, security integration and other automation features.

29. Consider adding a pool alarm, especially if you have children. Mark Ontiveros of Tustin, Calif.-based Audio Images looks to SonarGuard products to provide peace of mind for clients with kids. Control touchpanels around the house can be triggered by SonarGuard annunciators alerting homeowners “very loudly that ‘a child is in the pool.’”

30. Ask your CE pro to integrate your irrigation systems with your home control system. Right from a home control keypad or touchpanel, or remotely from a phone, you’ll be able to view the status of the sprinkler system and adjust the settings if necessary.

Read more about planning an outdoor audio/video system here.


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