Outdoor Home Theater

Looking for a new project to piss your neighbors off? Do I have a treat for you: An outdoor movie theater!

It's surprisingly simple and cheap, but a lot of its feasibility depends on what you have in your backyard. We happen to have a pergola, which makes the process a lot easier.

The basic components: Weatherproof speakers, screen, projector, amplifier, input devices. And then you need a lot of creativity in finding a place for it all, which will probably involve some fun woodwork.

Let's start with the speakers: I used two Bose 151 Environmental Speakers, and they're awesome. A bit on the pricier side, but they're also really weatherproof, unlike most other wanna-be outdoor speakers, and they have great sound. I didn't even go for the full 5.1 setup, but they create a good enough bass without a dedicated subwoofer. Plus, the pergola adds nicely to the acoustics.

For the screen, the most important thing is obviously the size and aspect ratio, and that depends on the distance between the projector and the screen, and how much space you actually have available. You'll want a retractable screen with CSR (you can go fully electronic if you want, but I don't know of any weatherproof ones). Not that normal screens should be left out in the rain, but having any electronic components makes unexpected rain a lot worse.

The projector doesn't have to be fancy. Since it'll be dark outside, you don't need something extremely bright. I randomly grabbed a ViewSonic 1080p projector with 3D support, it has 2800 ANSI lumen, which is plenty, and it was dirt cheap (under $400 at that time). However, it also sucked for adjusting it - it has a fixed lens and doesn't have little threaded stands in each corner to properly direct its projection, which I had to compensate for by making an adjustable mount.

Amplifier - get whatever you want. I got way more than I needed, a full-on Onkyo amp with multiple HDMI inputs, 5.1 output, etc., just to future-proof the setup. But if you want to do the bare minimum, you can get a very straightforward 2-channel amplifier.

And for input? As it is known, I'm a Google whore, so a simple Chromecast for $35 set me up for watching movies, Netflix, YouTube, my own pictures and videos, and whatever else there is. If need be, I can still schlep a BluRay player to the backyard.

Keep in mind that you won't be able to find weatherproof electronics, at least not for a reasonable price. So instead, you should create a setup that lets you set up your electronics quickly and then allow you to take it back down quickly and store it. I got a few plastic tubs to store the the electronics in when not in use. Never leave them in place, ever. Even dew is enough to ruin them over time.

Well, that was the easy part. This is when it gets less fun.

First off, you need to mount the projector somewhere. The key things to keep in mind here is that you want something that allows you to quickly mount and unmount the projector, and you want something that lets you adjust it (unless you have a projector with a very flexible lens adjustment feature). I built something together with wood. Redwood would be great because it handles itself great outdoors, but you can't easily cut it, so I opted for pine board and painted it to make sure it can withstand rain.

To allow easy adjustment, the mount is suspended with four turnbuckle hook and eyes so you can tweak the projection even with the projector already in place.

Now, the wiring. The pergola made things easy for speakers - run the wires above it, out of sight, then go to the center and head down. Ideally, you get one cable tube that has all the wires (audio, HDMI, projector AC) down together. Then, at the bottom, you lead them to the amp, and the outlet. You can get away with one or two cable brackets.

Amps usually require you to hook up two cables per speaker by screwing them in. Since our mantra is to assemble and disassemble quickly, that's not going to fly. You can get wire jacks, that way you just insert the cables, which is a lot faster.

The only thing left is to get a lot of beer and invite your neighbors at least once in a while so they don't call the cops on you all the time.


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