Turn your backyard into a movie theater for summer fun

This story is part of home tipsCNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, both indoors and out.

Monday is the 4th of July and for many people that means parades, fireworks and family gatherings. In our family, it was also the day that we let Steven Spielberg’s shark run wild in our backyard. Watching Jaws on the Fourth is a family tradition dating back decades, but we only recently discovered the joy of watching it on the big screen in our own backyard.

We’ve always loved having friends on movie nights and watching everything from the latest Marvel release to classic ’30s comedies. But the pandemic made us wary of inviting anyone to our home. Then it occurred to us: As long as we could avoid man-eating insects, a backyard theater would allow us to continue enjoying movies with friends and family while still maintaining social distancing.

Surprisingly, the process was not very complicated or expensive. After consulting with friends, I came up with a 3,500-lumen ViewSonic projector that could produce a 1280×800 resolution image as large as 120 inches diagonally. Projectors with 2500 to 3000 lumens, which measure the brightness of an image, are generally considered sufficient for viewing outside after sunset, but you’ll want to consider a larger number if you want to watch during the day. Different companies measure lumens differently so it’s not always an exact comparison when comparing models, but it’s a good general guide.

It costs about $400, but projectors can be had for under $100 or over $1,000 depending on the image quality you want. More lumens and 4K capabilities will make you more money.

Read more: Best 4K Projector for 2022

Then came the screen. From experience I already knew that hanging a sheet wouldn’t work as they tend to dull the image by letting light seep in from behind. The first attempt involved using zip ties to attach a folding 120-inch polyester screen to a homemade PVC frame. But this approach proved unstable and difficult to store when not in use.

Although it was a bit smaller, we opted for a Zeny retractable 100-inch pulldown screen. It ran about $60, is wrinkle free and can be easily rolled up and stored when not in use.

With hardware decisions out of the way, the next big task is determining the screen audience setup. We toyed with hanging the screen from a wooden gazebo on the lawn, but weren’t thrilled at the prospect of having lots of power, speaker and HDMI cables draping across the grass.

The sliding door was already flanked by a pair of outdoor speakers under the eve of the roof that would serve as left and right channels, making placement of the screen just outside the door an easy choice. (When extended, the lower part of the screen can easily be moved like a curtain, allowing people to enter the garden.)

Read more: Get ready for the summer movie Under the Stars

It’s also not far from where my audiovisual equipment is set up in the house, which was another plus as we wanted a wired connection rather than a streaming dongle. Many of my friends use dongles like the Amazon TV Firestick, the Chromecast, and Roku Streaming Stick Plus. This is a pretty handy option if you have a strong Wi-Fi footprint and only want to access streaming content. But I also wanted to use my Oppo Blu-ray player, so the course we charted was wired.

And therein lay the next challenge: how to get the signal to the projector. Running the HDMI cable and the center channel wires through a nearby open window didn’t work for long, so I decided to run them through the interior wall separating the living room from the living room, and deliver my cables right next to the back door where I was. intend to place the screen.

After cutting through the drywall and hooking up two newly installed A/V hallway boxes, I was ready to thread the HDMI cable and center channel through the back door directly to the projector 10 feet away. An loot box supplies the power, and an loot box may come one day if I ever get the courage to cut through the outdoor stucco.

Read more: Tips for setting up the projector

Of course, there is no need to make holes in the walls, and there are other options. A wireless HDMI transmitter can do the trick, but they can be expensive and sometimes struggle with walls and line-of-sight problems.

Many projectors also have a built-in speaker, but the sound quality can be disappointing. You can also use 3.5mm audio jacks to connect external speakers to the projector, but this again won’t deliver a theater-like experience.

After the initial setup, the arrangement I’m using can be up and running in less than 10 minutes. It’s just a matter of placing the projector on an outdoor table, placing the center channel on a metal plant stand, moving three speaker wires with banana plugs from one wall plate to the other (like a switchboard operator of yore) and pulling the screen down.

It’s nothing fancy, and this is just one of many ways to create an open-air theater. But it’s reminiscent of dropping the tailgate on warm summer nights at the drive-in theater. And it’s still a great way to come together regardless of the state of the pandemic.

Now let’s grab some popcorn.

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