Chances are, by this point in the Year of the Pandemic, you’ve had a lot of family movie nights. We’ve also had family movie afternoons and family movie Saturday mornings. Perhaps the novelty is wearing thin and what once was a fun weekly treat is now just another mundane, this-is-the-best-we-can-do sort of activity. In that case, it’s time to turn your backyard into your family’s own private movie theater experience.
Evaluate your space
Before you start ordering equipment and getting the kids all excited, you first have to determine whether your outdoor space really is well-suited for a theater set-up. You certainly don’t need three acres plus parking and a working snack stand, but you do need to make sure that wherever you set up, you’ve got access to outlets and space for a retractable projector screen—or some sort of DIY version of a screen, but we’ll get back to that.
You’ll also want to think through the design of your outdoor theater—not just how it looks right now, in the middle of the day, but how it looks at night. Are there streetlights or lights on nearby homes that will throw a glare on your movie screen? Particularly if you’re DIYing your screen, you’ll want to make sure inconveniently placed outdoor lighting doesn’t impede your view because the picture quality will already be inferior to a real screen.
Buy—or make—a screen
Can you buy (and potentially mount) a retractable movie screen? Sure you can! And you can find some that are not terribly expensive, depending on what size and style you go with. Here’s the one our video team used above.
But this is Lifehacker and money is tight right now, so we encourage you to make one. With a bed sheet. Or another smooth, white cloth. (It’ll be fine.) How exactly you install or hang it will depend on the space you’re using—so channel your inner MacGyver—but the main point is to get it as taut, wrinkle-free and movement-free as possible.
Better yet? If you have a white garage door or a plain white wall of some kind on your property, that will probably work and you won’t need to spend any money or craft anything.
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Score a projector and speakers
You need a projector that can be connected to your smartphone, laptop or game system. This one and this one were both recommended by Lifehacker readers. If you want to go even cheaper, you could look for a used option in your area.
A projector with a built-in speaker is your best, easiest bet. If that’s not an option, though, and you don’t already have outdoor speakers, you’ll need some kind of portable speakers or a pair of basic computer speakers. Connect the video signal from whatever device you’re using to play the movie into the projector, and then connect the audio signal from the device with the speakers. (And don’t blast those speakers unless you want to annoy the whole neighborhood.)
Set your projector up on a small, sturdy table or chair, aim it at the screen, and move it forward or backward as needed to get the right picture size. Include the kids in the fun or get your own date night going in the backyard once they’re in bed. Just pull up some chairs or throw down some blankets, pop some popcorn, crack open some beverages, and voilà! It’s movie time.