How to Build Your Backyard Movie Theater


Since many families are forgoing their annual vacations and staying put for the summer, people are looking for creative ways to bring their loved ones together at home. With social distancing still the norm, setting up an outdoor movie theater in your backyard is a great way to get your family and close friends together to have some fun and be entertained in a safe manner. Creating a backyard theater may sound like a daunting task, but it’s easier than you may think.

Choosing when to have your outdoor movie night involves some considerations. Since you’re going to be operating electronic devices outside, you’ll definitely want to pick a night that promises fair weather. Another less obvious element to consider is not to start too early, because your projector will provide a brighter picture when there’s less ambient light. If you have a very bright projector, you might get away with starting just before sundown, but to be on the safe side, starting after sunset will ensure clear, crisp visuals. Another important thing to think about is the size of your yard, because that will factor into choosing a screen size, which will in turn dictate how far away the projector needs to be from the screen. Luckily, there are a few great projection-distance calculator tools that are available to help with this, which I’ll share with you.

Pick Your Projector and Select Your Screen

A key spec to consider when using an outdoor projector is lumens, or the brightness output of the projector. A simple rule of thumb to live by when considering outdoor projectors is the more lumens, the better. We usually recommend 3000-4000 lumens to overcome any ambient light. One great solution is the BenQ MH733, putting out 4000 lumens of brightness, as well as giving you full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution. If you end up going with a screen that’s 100" diagonally or larger, the combination of lumens output and high resolution that this model has to offer make it a great choice. If you’re on a tight budget, and especially if you don’t have the room in your yard for a massive screen anyway, the InFocus IN136 may be the solution that best fits your needs. While it may not sport HD resolution, the 1280 x 800 resolution that it does offer will work just fine on backyard-sized screens, and the 4000 lumens of brightness that it puts out is pretty impressive for its price range.

InFocus IN136 4000-Lumen WXGA DLP Projector

Since backyard movie theaters are typically very temporary installations, you don’t want to waste a lot of time setting up and breaking down. Elite Screens offers backyard-sized folding screens that are super easy to set up, and they come in a variety of sizes. Specifically, the Elite Screens Yard Master 2 Front Projection Screen series features a lightweight aluminum frame that can be set up in minutes. If you’re planning on going for one of the larger screens, like this 135" model, then you may want to consider the BenQ MH733 projector I mentioned above, with the full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution, because it will give you a sharper picture. Again, if you’re on a budget, the InFocus IN136 will get the job done, too.

Elite Screens Yard Master 2 Front Projection Screen

If you’re working with tight space, you should spend some time playing around with these great projection-distance calculators from BenQ and InFocus to make sure that you have enough room to project a large enough picture for the screen you pick. For instance, with the InFocus IN136 and 100" diagonal screen size, you would need 11' 10" of space between the projector and the screen. To use it with an 80" screen, you would only need 9' 5" of distance.

Epson Duet Ultra Portable Tripod Projector Screen

Your Video Source

If you have a strong wireless Internet connection, you can’t go wrong with a high-quality streaming device, like a Roku Streaming Stick+. This method is the easiest, because it connects directly to your projector’s HDMI input, and if your projector has a USB port like the two I mentioned above, it can be used to power your streaming device, reducing wire clutter. Of course, if your laptop has an HDMI out, you can simply connect it to your projector using an HDMI cable for streaming. If you’re having doubts about your Wi-FI connection reaching outside, you might want to consider a Wi-Fi range extender to give you that extra reach.

Roku Streaming Stick+

If wireless isn’t an option, using a great Blu-ray disc player like the Sony BDP-S6700 is a great solution. And, if you already have a Blu-ray player set up inside the house, rather than break it down, you could always run a long active HDMI cable to the projector outside to save yourself some trouble.

Sony BDP-S6700 4K-Upscaling Blu-ray Disc Player with Wi-Fi

Sound Reinforcement

If you want the movie-theater experience, the internal speakers on your projector are not going to cut it. I suggest a pair of powered speakers, like the Pyle Pro Dual High-Powered Active / Passive Speaker PA System. This affordable kit packs plenty of power, features dual 8" loudspeakers, two speaker stands, and even comes with a wired handheld microphone in case you want to address the audience, for any reason, during the movie. Be sure to pick up a 3.5mm cable that’s long enough to connect the speakers to the projector.

Pyle Pro Dual High-Powered Active / Passive Speaker PA System

You Have the Power

Last, but certainly not least, you will definitely want to make sure that you pick up any outdoor extension cords and power strips you might need. Nothing ruins movie night quite like not being able to watch the movie, so having these utility items on hand is essential. Want to know another thing that can ruin movie night? Mosquitoes. Make sure you load up on insect repellent to keep those buggers away so you, your family, and friends can enjoy the flick in peace!

Watson AC Power Extension Cord

I hope these tips and solutions for building your backyard movie theater are helpful. Do you enjoy backyard movie night with your family? If so, we’d love to hear about it in the Comments section, below. If you need help building a new system, please feel free to ask any questions you have in the Comments, and someone will be in touch to give you a hand.