Four key ingredients to a DIY Outdoor Movie Theatre

When our good friends moved, not only did they take with them our outlet to vent about the fun of raising two boys, they also took their LCD projector which they were known to setup in the driveway so we could all watch movies.

Well, knowing nothing pulls a neighborhood together like Han Solo projected on a garage door, I vowed to continue the tradition.

There are four major parts: The screen, the screen hanging, the sound & the light

The Screen

The easy part was the screen. While there are plenty of links about how to make an outdoor screen here, here or here I went super simple. By way of Target, I bought an extra wide curtain rod. This made it easy to just screw to small brackets into the flashing over the garage door that is otherwise unnoticed.

Screen hanging device

Next I needed something to hang from the curtain rod. Again, Target to the rescue. I bought the cheapest sheet I could find, in a dimension that matched the width of the curtain rod. A small incision in the top of the sheet (where you would normally pull it up to your chin) made for the perfect holder to slide the curtain rod through.

The last two parts were light & sound.

Sound

Originally I started with piping the HDMI output from the projector through my wife’s old 3 cd stereo (yes, we still have it). It worked absolutely fine, other than having to pick up and move the base unit and two speaker every time we watched a movie. Then for Father’s Day I treated myself to the UE Boom bluetooth speaker. Given how easy it is to pair the speaker between two different devices, I can bounce between my iPhone and Macbook with realitve ease. I now have a super simple (and small) speaker that throws just enough sound to make the movie heard but not so loud that it will bother the neighbors who don’t apprecaite Planes 2: Fire & Rescue. Plus I love that speaker for bouncing around the house and rocking out. Random dance parts have increased by a factor of 12 since I bought that. And really, you can’t have enough random dance parties with a three year old.

Projector

So a good friend recommended the following site for initial research on projectors. While the site was certainly thorough, I ultimately went back to relying on input from Lifehacker (cross referenced by Wirecutter). My constraints (at the time) were:

  •  Under $500
  • Able to reverse the image so I could rear project from the garage (interestingly I thought this was how I was going to set up my system. But having the garage door open and having our “audience” seeing all our bikes, etc, seemed like a less than professional method, so I just went with classic projection style).
  •  The most amount of features without going above the $500 threshold

I looked at a few different models but the one that popped out on top was the Optima H181X. Honestly, looking back, I can’t recall what pushed me one way or another as there appeared to be one or two from each of the leading manufacturers all within overlapping in the criteria. Being complete novices to this, I have to admit it appears we chose very well. The first time we watched a movie, CINCPACHOUSE was incredibly impressed by the resolution and picture quality.

Remaining to do:

I’d like to build a nice little storage box that all of the outdoor movie “stuff” lives in, but that’s a low priority right now. Currently the projector goes in and out of the box it was shipped in. Given the corrosive environment here, that seemed like the best place to keep it.

I’d like to also look into blackout cloth screens. We have a great fence in our backyard where we could do family (vice neighborhood) movies. However, in order not to annoy the folks behind us, I’d like to minimize light leakage that occurs with a standard sheet.

The hardest part of neighborhood movie night is picking the movie. When the audience ranges from 3 to 53, how do you pick a title that everyone’s going to like??? I tend to stay towards the “classic” Disney/Pixar/etc. I’d love to hear others thoughts & inputs on good movie night movies.

Other than that I’d say we are pretty darn happy with the setup we have. Now we just need to use it more!!

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