Your Own Backyard Movies, on a Budget

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We mix things up and today we hear from Geoffrey Morrison and Adrienne Maxwell, our friends at Wirecutter, a product recommendation site for the New York Times. They have tips on how to do a backyard cinema this summer.

Creating your own outdoor movie theater at home can be a lot of fun for your family, but while it’s easy to set up (you only need a few items), the costs can add up quickly.

A good projector can cost a thousand dollars or more, and a dedicated outdoor screen can easily be a few hundred – before you add a media player or sound system. If you want to keep the cost of the entire system at around $ 1,000 (we know this isn’t exactly cheap either), here’s what we’d go for.

(If you have more to spend, check out the full Wirecutter article we published recently for more product suggestions).

One projector

Many of today’s home projectors are small and light enough to be carried outside and placed on a table, but they are bright enough to produce a large image (100 inches or more diagonally).

The BenQ HT2050A ($ 750) is our favorite budget projector for home theater, and the same features that make it a great indoor projector also make it great for an outdoor movie night: it delivers a bright, detailed one Image with better colors and contrasts than others in its price range.

For a smaller garden where the projector is less than 3 meters from the screen, the similar BenQ HT2150ST ($ 800) is a better choice as it uses a short throw lens to create a larger image from a shorter distance .

If you’re looking for something less expensive and even easier to set up outdoors, you can opt for a portable projector like BenQ’s rugged GS2 ($ 600), which has a built-in battery and some internal streaming apps (so possibly you don’t have to connect the media player down). Note, however, that these lower-priced portable projectors are noticeably darker, so you won’t get as large an image as you would with full-size projectors.

A screen”

A large, white sheet of paper is the cheapest solution for the outdoor screen that can still provide a decent picture. (You could also project the image on a wall, but you’d see every bit of wall texture.) We got a surprisingly good performance from these target sheets (starting at $ 50) when we tested them for our guide to outdoor movie screens , but any clean, blank sheet of paper you have should work.

You may need to budget for the cost of materials to secure the sheet so it doesn’t flutter or show wrinkles. This can be as complex as building a wooden frame, or as simple as tightening a few screws or gluing the panel to a wall.

A media player

Gone are the days when you had to bring a Blu-ray or DVD player into the yard along with the projector. You could still do that, but a streaming stick is a much easier option as it plugs directly into a projector’s HDMI input, draws power from its USB connection, and uses your home’s WiFi to watch movies from Netflix, Stream to Hulu or your other services.

The Roku Streaming Stick + is our favorite stick design ($ 50). Some projectors, like the BenQ GS2 mentioned above, have streaming apps built in, so you may not need to plug in a media player at all.

A better speaker

All of the above projectors have built-in speakers, but the performance is lackluster (to put it mildly). We don’t expect anyone to drag a full surround sound system into the yard, but a good portable speaker will be a huge improvement.

We recommend a variety of portable speakers for music playback that are suitable for courtyards of all sizes, but the Soundcore Rave Neo ($ 100) stands out as an affordable option that offers good dynamics and a bit more bass for movie playback.

You can run an audio cable between the projector and the speaker or, depending on which projector you choose, stream the sound wirelessly via Bluetooth. A growing number of projectors offer Bluetooth output: the BenQ GS2 does, but the HT2050A and HT2150ST do not.

You can easily add bluetooth with a separate bluetooth transmitter like the 1Mii B03 ($ 55), or if you use the Roku Streaming Stick + you can play the sound through your phone’s Roku app and pair the phone with the speaker. A potential disadvantage of the Bluetooth approach is that it can lead to lip sync issues where the audio and video are not perfectly aligned.

That’s it. Even if you bought the most expensive items we listed, your total amount is $ 1,000; Go for a cheaper projector and your costs will go even lower. Building your own outdoor theater doesn’t have to be a huge investment of time or money, and the reward is a great setup that can keep you and your family happy for many seasons of the year.

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