Watching a movie outside on a nice summer night is an amazing experience whether you’re a ten year old kid, or a 40-year old adult.
I’ve seen a lot of different set ups over the years. Just last week I visited a friend’s house who had a fifty foot HDMI cable running across the floor in his basement to an outdoor projector. Granted, the picture quality was good, and he had a lot of options for programming, but he was likely paying up the nose for the service, which is something streaming fanatics like me, refuse to do. Creating a streaming set up is not hard, and not super expensive either. Here’s how I did it:
This is the one place I’m going to recommend not spending a lot of money. I went to Home Depot and bought a large plain white Martha Stewart curtain for $12. I put two nails in the bottom level of our deck and hung the curtain between them. Done, and it looks and works great. If you want to darken the screen even more, buy two curtains and hang one in front of the other.
You can buy a fancy screen if you want, but it’s really not needed. You can even beam the picture onto a part of your house or garage if you have a nice clean light colored surface. I’ve used older projectors in the past (the ones that weigh ten pounds, cover an enormous foot print, and have connections for a bunch of cables no one’s used since the early 2000s). Thankfully those days are over. The new projectors are brighter, clearer and easier to see on a wider variety of backdrops.
Final thoughts on the screen: I’d start inexpensive and go up from there until you find something you really like.
I started with one of the huge aforementioned projectors and it worked ok, but the color was inconsistent, and it wasn’t as clear or as bright as I hoped. With young kids, they were still fascinated by the whole idea of watching something outside, but I needed more.
I hunted and hunted on Amazon, reading almost every review for the new wave of portable projectors that are popping up. I saw one demonstrated at the Salt Lake City airport at a Sharper Image store, and right away knew I was on to something.
My searches on Amazon led me to the RIF6 CUBE, which is the smallest projector I could find (it’s not much bigger than a GoPro camera). It seemed like it did everything, and did it well. Hop on over and read them yourself. This is a magical little device. It’s not without a few issues (cheap remote and mediocre audio), but overall, it’s a purchase I don’t think many people would regret, especially if you’re making an outdoor theater.
The projectors I viewed at Sharper Image would work fine too, and they might have been a little less. The CUBE is on sale on Amazon for $269; Sharper Image has some starting around $100. Several of the other portable projectors are likely to be good picks too, and they are priced less than the CUBE. There’s just something about the CUBE that drew me in, and when I got it, I fell in love.
(FYI – I did not receive any of the products mentioned here for free. I purchased them all, and I am sharing what really worked for me.)
Good audio is key to the outdoor movie experience. The CUBE has a built in speaker that would be nice if you were around a conference room table in a quiet room with five people. But it can’t handle the sounds of a real movie outdoors.
I recommend using a Bluetooth speaker, and not connecting it via Bluetooth. Rather, use the headphone jack. I say this because I’ve experienced audio lag via Bluetooth especially when streaming a show from Netflix or my media server. Hard wiring the audio from the headphone jack on the CUBE into the Bluetooth speaker via a little $5 cord like this, alleviated that lag.
For Bluetooth speakers, I have an original Jambox which doesn’t really have the juice to hang with a loud action movie. I also wanted one that could hold a charge for a long time, and I was more concerned over quality than having it be super small. I bought this Yamaha speaker, and it’s perfect: The Yamaha NX-P100 Portable Bluetooth Speaker. The sound quality is superb, the bass comes through, it brings the movie alive, and it only costs $120. We use this speaker constantly, for more than movies.
I’ve covered this quite extensively on this site, but in terms of what to watch….as long as you have a device capable of reaching your wi-fi connection, the possibilities are endless. We use Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu quite a bit (just finished the Bloodline series on Netflix which was fantastic). You can now subscribe to HBO and watch True Detectives, which is on my list, along with all their other great original content.
And I also use the Western Digital apps to connect to my cloud media server which opens up all the content that I’ve saved there in digital format. I stream all of this from an iPad. You can even play apps on the big screen or anything else that’s on your iPad. This opens up YouTube which can be a lot of fun. The rest is up to you.
The Bottom Line
Let’s add this up. The curtain (your screen) costs around $12. The CUBE is $269 and the Yamaha speaker is $120, if you need an audio cable it costs $5. That’s around $400 for some great equipment, that will not only provide a fun outdoor movie streaming experience that will make you the envy of your neighbors and their kids, but you will definitely use the CUBE and the speaker for more throughout your daily life. It’s a win-win.
Enjoy, and please let me know if there are other tricks or cool equipment you’ve found for outdoor movies, particularly those of the streaming kind.