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Backyard movie night: Everything you need

Here's everything you need to setup your own backyard movie theater.

Spring has sprung, and summer is coming into view -- what better time to look into how to transform your backyard into an outdoor home theater? All it takes is a few pieces of gear and you can be enjoying relaxing movie nights under the stars with the family.

Good news -- you may already have some of the key components, and others can likely be repurposed from other spots around the house. The list below offers some ideas and product recommendations on how to achieve the best picture and sound quality for a backyard movie night. Just don't forget the snacks!

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

For the biggest movies you're going to need a projector. Any projector will work, but the brighter it is, the easier it will be to see the picture. Brightness also determines how large an image a projector can create. The Epson Home Cinema 2250 is one of the brightest projectors we've ever reviewed, and it's able to create a fantastic image overall.

Read our Epson Home Cinema 2250 review.

 

Alternately, Epson's EF12 is even smaller, and has a better speaker built-in.

The Anker Nebula Mars II Pro isn't as bright as either of those options, but it has an internal battery, so you don't need to be near an outlet. See our list of best projectors for other options.

Assuming you don't have an outdoor TV already, you could bring your indoor TV outside. Keep in mind, however, that TVs are very delicate. One wrong twist and you can crack the screen. Even small TVs should be carried by two people. Treat it like you're carrying a thin, expensive, sheet of glass. Technically, that's exactly what it is.

David Carnoy/CNET

Projector speakers are not loud. Worse, they're often competing with the projector's own fan noise. So if you're sitting close enough to hear the speakers, you're trying to hear them through the whoosh of the fans.

A Bluetooth speaker can connect to some projectors or streaming sticks. The better and larger ones should be plenty audible. More importantly, you can sit farther from the projector and place the speaker closer to where you're sitting.

We like the UE Hyperboom. It's big, heavy and not cheap, but if your screen is 10 feet wide you should have some big sound to go with it. It's loud, but just as important, it has an analog 3.5mm input, so you don't have to worry about lip-sync issues by going via Bluetooth.

Read the UE Hyperboom review.

 

Ty Pendlebury

If you're using a traditional projector, you're going to have to run electrical power. Since you're running power anyway, why not just connect an actual speaker? A good soundbar will be significantly louder than a Bluetooth speaker, and probably sound a lot better too.

We like this inexpensive Vizio, which we've said "If you want to buy a soundbar on a budget, it's tough to do better than this" and that its sound is "unhurried and natural."

Read our Vizio V21 review.

 

Don't forget that you'll need a cable to connect it to the projector. Nearly all projectors have an analog audio output, which can connect to the Vizio. Some have HDMI, so you'll need an HDMI cable from the soundbar to the projector.

Outdoor screen

We don't have a specific suggestion, as there are a lot of variables to consider. But we do have a few tips while you're looking. Rigid-frame screens are more expensive and a little harder to assemble, but are more resilient against wind and typically have smoother screens for a better overall image. Inflatable screens need to be secured to the ground, and any wind is going to set them rocking. However, they tend to be easier to set up and take down. Keep in mind that their fans run constantly, so in a smaller or enclosed yard, this can be annoying.

There are also infinite DIY options; basically anything fairly reflective and lacking color will work. Off the top of my head, the top of my head comes to mind. It's worth noting that you'll be able to see any texture in the screen's surface, so a garage door isn't ideal because you'll see any design, seams or imperfections.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The easiest way to get something to watch on your outdoor projector is via a streaming stick. Most modern projectors have a USB connection so you can connect a streaming stick without running an additional power cord.

We like the Roku Streaming Stick Plus for its ease of use and wide range of content options: "With its simple design and focus on features you'll actually use, Roku's most affordable 4K HDR streamer is one you should get."

Check out the best streaming devices of 2021.

 

You can read more in our guide to the best streaming sticks.

This assumes your home's Wi-Fi is strong enough to reach into your yard. If it's not, we've got some ways to fix that, below.

Ry Crist/CNET

Depending where and how strong your Wi-Fi router is, you may not have enough signal to stream anything in your yard. You might be able to fix that: Check out the Wi-Fi tips in our article on how to improve internet speeds for Netflix, Hulu and more.

If none of those options works, consider a Wi-Fi extender. These connect to your main Wi-Fi, then broadcast essentially "more" Wi-Fi from a different point in your house. We like the TP-Link RE220 (aka the AC750). As Ry Crist said in his review, "Nothing else I tested was able to match [the RE220's] level of performance, which makes the RE220 a steal at $30."

Read more about improving your home's Wi-Fi.

 

Or just tether your phone

hoyle-promo-iphone-11-pro-google-pixel-4-xl-4
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Another option that might work is to turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot. This uses a cellular signal for internet, and then broadcasts a little Wi-Fi bubble near the phone. Streaming a movie chews through data, though, so make sure you've got plenty or are on an unlimited plan.

Most modern phones have a feature that lets you create a hotspot. Once it's active, you just connect the streaming stick or projector to it just like it's "normal" Wi-Fi. This guide is for connecting your iPad to your phone, but will work for connecting any device.

Keep in mind, too, that running a hotspot typically drains your battery fairly quickly, so you should also consider a USB battery pack, or plug it in via an extension cord.

Blu-ray player

Sony UBP-X700
Sarah Tew/CNET

If your Wi-Fi isn't strong enough to reach your makeshift theater, and you don't want to burn through all your mobile data, Blu-ray players are very inexpensive and should have your viewing needs covered. You still have some discs, right?

For the most part we recommend getting a 4K Blu-ray player at this point. They're only a little more expensive and 4K discs are the best way to take advantage of your 4K TV. Not that the projector we're recommending here is 4K. One on our list of best home theater projectors is only 720p! But I'm assuming you'll be using this for indoor movie nights as well. The Sony UBP-X700 shown here is our pick for best 4K Blu-ray player.

Alternately, you could get a PlayStation 5 or an Xbox Series X for some outdoor gaming on a huge screen. Both also play Ultra HD 4K Blu-rays.

Extension cord

Having one of these is important for any high-performance outdoor theater. The outdoor ones are far more rugged, so they should survive being stepped on no problem. I like the ones with three outlets at the end. It's better to have too many than too few. Connecting this to a grounded or GFCI outlet is probably wise as well.

Alternately, you could connect a power strip with a fuse in it, but these aren't designed for use outside, so proceed at your own risk

Hammock

hammocks-rada
Hammocks Rada

Lastly, the thing that has kept me sane through quarantine. Don't underestimate the relaxing powers of a good hammock. You could get one from Hammock Hut, Hammocks-R-Us, Put-Your-Butt-There, really any will do. I've had one of these airy models for years and it has held up surprisingly well.

The only problem with watching a movie in one is that you'll be asleep halfway through the second act. Nothing wrong with that.


As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castlesairplane graveyards and more. 

You can follow his exploits on Instagram and YouTube, and on his travel blog, BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines, along with a sequel

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