Along with roller skating, baby pools, and three to five of my exes, the drive-in movie theater is an unexpected comeback kid of 2020. So if you’re blessed with a local drive-in theater and a car, this summer might be less of an unending hellscape for you than for other less fortunate souls. But if you’re not located near one, that hardly excludes you from the joy of being able to project a movie outside on a summer night. Rather, it just means you’d be wise to learn now how to DIY your own al fresco cinema situation so you can enjoy it for summers to come.
The main lure of knowing how to project a movie outside is, well, that it occurs outside. By opting in, you can snag the healthy benefits of being amid plants and nature, even if your outdoor space is simply a whole lotta lawn. But still, you may not know how to project a movie outside or what equipment is required to make it happen. That’s where Ben Shwartsberg, owner and CEO of technology solutions company Silarius LLC, comes in. Below, Shwartsberg, who was instrumental in setting up Greenpoint’s Skyline Drive-In NYC, shares what you’ll need in order to create the perfect outdoor movie theater right in your very own backyard.
How to project a movie outside in 6 steps
1. Make sure you have the right projector (or invest in one)
Not surprisingly, a projector is the most essential tool you’ll need for projecting movies outside. Maybe you have one already and it’s been collecting dust, eagerly waiting for this very moment. And yet when you put on Jaws or Clueless or Valley of the Dolls (just me?) everything looks faded. What gives?
“Let’s start with the basics: You’re outside, therefore your projector must have 3,000 lumens or more,” says Shwartsberg. “Today, all movies are formatted in a 4K processor lens, therefore you want to ensure your projector is compatible with today’s 4K standard.” If those components aren’t true for your projector, it might be time to get a new one.
2. Set up a projection screen that’s the appropriate size
In a pinch, this could means repurposing a white bedsheet, but you could also just invest in a projection screen. Regardless, size matters.
“Even though you can use a regular white bedsheet, the projection screen should fit your size requirements, and it all depends on the size of your backyard,” says Shwartsberg. “The standard and ideal screen size for personal use in residential environments is 120 inches to 140 inches.” (So, think 10 to 12 feet wide).
3. Set up speakers if you want quality sound
“Whether it’s an action film or a drama film, you want to be able you hear everything loud and clear,” says Shwartsberg. “From my experience, residential cinemas are limited in the sound decibels due to noise restriction during the evening. When watching outdoor movies, don’t aim for Dolby Digital/ DTS sound experience. Stereo is the way to go.”
Shwartsberg recommends 8-inch speakers between 150W and 200W for an optimum sound experience that won’t wake up the neighbors. If you’re in a sparsely populated area with no noise restrictions, though, you can pump up the volume with a 12-inch speaker, which can blast more sound and doesn’t require an amplifier.
4. Use amplifiers for passive speakers
“Most common speakers are passive and do not amplify themselves, therefore you need to have a proper amplifier/receiver to amplify them and take advantage of their membrane design,” Shwartsberg says. “If you already have a receiver at home, that should work on any passive speaker, so use it. If you don’t have a receiver, we recommend getting an up to 250W amp that supports Bluetooth technology as well.”
5. Make sure to be prepared for a rain-out
“Most personal-grade equipment today is not waterproof, so make sure you are ready for a rain shower to come at any second and that you can immediately cover your gear at the right time,” says Shwartsberg. Also, you know, check the weather before deciding that your movie night needs to be outdoors.
6. And of course, don’t forget your snacks and drinks
4 must-buys to project a movie outside
Still confused about what equipment is ideal for your home theater? Here are a few recommendations to get you started.
1. A projector
This video projector has strong reviews and is a comparatively affordable option for backyard screenings.
If you’re looking for a high-quality screen for all your viewing needs, here you go! This can be tethered to trees, walls, garage door frames, or pole supports, all while maintaining a flat, even surface for watching your favorite flicks.
These allow you to get that surround sound going. They’re also water-resistant, and will come in handy for barbecues and parties for sometime in the—sigh—distant future.
4. A stereo amplifier
Finally, if you have passive speakers that need to be taken up to the next level, this stereo amplifier is a quality option. It’s Bluetooth-compatible and can play the radio as well.
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