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How to Set Up Your Own Backyard Outdoor Movie Theater

When it comes to movies, we love projection. This means using a projector to show the movie on any blank surface, anywhere. Even your backyard can become your own theater under the stars. We have set up backyard movie theaters in many locations, even when out camping! Today we’ll walk you through what you’ll need to watch TV outside or host an outdoor movie night.

Lights, camera, and action! Let’s get started!

What Is a Backyard Movie Theater?

A backyard movie theater recreates the cinematic experience in the comfort of your backyard. These settings typically include a large screen, a projector, a sound system, and plenty of comfortable seating for everyone.

An outdoor movie is a perfect way to end the day during a family gathering or summer party. Creating a cinematic atmosphere will give everyone a fun and memorable evening. 

Backyard outdoor movie set up with candy
Plan the perfect movie night by setting up your special screening outside.

What Is the Best Way to Watch TV Outside?

The best way to watch TV outside will depend on your preferences and budget. A large TV screen will do the trick if you want to watch your favorite team play in the big game. You can stream the game if you’re near a WiFi connection and have a smart TV. Basically, you can just set up your inside equipment outside.

Our preferred way to show movies and TV outside however is to use a projector. This will typically cost a bit more as most people don’t keep extra projectors laying around. This will also require a surface to project the image onto and a speaker. This typically requires a generous amount of darkness to enjoy a crisp and clear image.

A tablet or laptop can do the trick if you’re on a budget or looking for a more low-key setup. However, you’ll likely need to be near a WiFi connection. This can allow you to enjoy your favorite flick from the comfort of your porch, patio, or backyard.

Pro Tip: If you live in an RV and don’t have a backyard, this is How to Stream TV and Movies in Your RV.

Couple and kids watching movie outdoors
Stream a sporting event or watch a movie in the comfort of your backyard.

How Can You Create an Outdoor Movie Theater?

Do you like creating an outdoor movie theater for yourself and your loved ones? If so, it might be easier than you think. You may already have everything you’ll need for an epic evening you’ll never forget. Let’s take a look!

Pick Your Spot

The first thing you’ll want to do when creating your outdoor movie theater is to pick the right spot. You’ll want to avoid having intense or bright lights behind or near the screen when watching TV outside. This can create a glare on a television screen or wash out a projected image.

While you should be away from lighting, you’ll want to ensure your spot is near a power source. You must plug in your television, projector, or other electronics. If you need to run an extension cord, ensure its rating can handle the load. 

Choose and Set up the Right Equipment

Once you have your spot, ensure you have the right equipment. If you plan to host a large party, a 32-inch TV isn’t likely big enough for everyone to see clearly. Additionally, a massive projection screen with a crystal clear image is useless if you and your guests can’t hear the movie.

If you decide to use a projector, it’s crucial to know that you measure the visible light a source emits in lumens. You generally want to use a projector with at least a 2,000 lumens (not Lux) rating and a resolution of 1080. This may seem low compared to a 4k tv, but it generally looks better when projected compared to a TV. We will cover this in more details later.

You also need a good screen to project on. There are plenty of inflatable screens you can purchase specifically for this purpose. However, we recommend using a sheet or any other white surface. Projecting on something that is not designed as a screen sometimes adds a fun aspect to an outdoor movie!

Lastly, you need to get the sound right. A standard television will have built-in speakers. However, depending on the size of the area, they may be insufficient to do the job. Many times when you take a sound system outside, it sounds much quieter as the sound does not get reflected. Almost all projectors and TV’s have an audio out or Bluetooth option. Using a Bluetooth speaker that has an auxiliary audio input jack and a 3.5mm cable is a great way to get loud, clear audio on a budget.

backyard theater equipment graphic
We love adding a propane fire pit on cool movie nights!

Create a Comfortable Seating Area

Anyone joining you at your backyard outdoor movie theater will need a place to sit. Unlike your favorite local movie theater, everyone’s choice of seating will look a bit different. You may encourage your guests to B.Y.O.C. (bring your own chair) to ensure everyone has a place to sit.

Some of the best seating options for an outdoor movie night are an old-fashioned camping chair, an inflatable lounge air chair, or an outdoor bean bag chair. Regardless, do your part to ensure everyone has a comfortable place to sit.

Pro Tip: Grab your popcorn and watch a movie in one of these 5 Best Portable Hammock Stands.

Choose the Right Movie

If you’re watching your favorite team or the big game on the TV outside, you don’t have to worry about picking the movie. However, it can feel like a nearly impossible task to pick a film that everyone will agree on.

When selecting the movie, you must consider the ages of those attending your backyard outdoor movie theater. If any kids will be present, keep the film or show kid-friendly. If you’re not familiar with kids, you may want to run any video selections through a parent that might be attending to ensure you’re on the same page.

Don’t Forget the Snacks

Some people enjoy movie theaters for snacks. To create an epic backyard outdoor movie theater experience, include plenty of snacks, especially popcorn.

If you’re hosting the party, you might ask your guests to bring a snack to share with others. This can help you create various snacks for everyone to enjoy.

Pro Tip: Want to try out camping, but don’t know where to start? These are 7 Great Reasons to Try Backyard Camping.

outdoor camping movie around fire
We love watching a movie by the fire while camping

Equipment Considerations for Outdoor Movie Nights

You will need several things to pull off a memorable outdoor movie night. Let’s look at some of the equipment we think is worth considering for your next event.

Projector

The higher the lumens in a projector, the easier it is to enjoy a crisp and clear image when watching TV outside. Generally, anything less than 2,000 lumens (not lux) wastes your time and money. However, you also want to consider the weight, ease of setup, price, and type of power source the unit requires.

While you can find a projector for less than $150, they can also be costly. A project used in a cinema that costs $10,000 to $40,000 isn’t uncommon.

If you have a very dark space, a cheap unit like BIGASUO might work. Out of more than 6,000 reviews, it sits at a respectable 4.3 stars. However, if you really want to do it right, getting a DLP unit that is brighter will cost a bit more but far outperform the cheaper units.

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Screen

If you’re using a projector, there are a few things you’ll need to consider. Screens can range from inflatable bounce-house styles to a screen on a stand. Additionally, a budget-friendly option is to use a plain white bed sheet. No matter your choice, plan to combat any wind. You don’t want your screen toppling over during the show.

As mentioned before, we love making our own screen out of anything bright white, usually a sheet. We have even been able to lower the awning on our RV and use it as a screen!

RV awning
Yep RV awning used as a screen and portable hot tubs for chairs!

If you purchase a screen, consider how many people are attending and how far they’ll be away from the screen. The Mdbeebbron 120-inch projection screen has an excellent reputation among customers. With more than 30,000 reviewers, it has an incredible 4.5 stars. However, the Inflatable Movie Screen from OUTTOY is a solid option; secure it if the forecast calls for wind.

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Speakers

Simply watching TV outside isn’t enough; you and your guests will want to hear it, too. As a result, ensure you have a quality set of speakers to do the job. If you are the only one watching, it may be easier to use your favorite set of headphones. However, if you’re connecting to a PA system, you’ll want to have long enough speaker cables.

The QFX PBX-61081 is a suitable option. You can use Bluetooth to connect to your laptop or whatever device you’re playing the movie from. If you’re relatively close to the system, it’ll play the audio with no problem. Weighing only 12 pounds for less than $100, you will surely get your money’s worth.

Using any speaker system with a 3.5mm or RCA input can guarantee crisp, clear audio without delay. Plugging the cable into the projector and the speaker is the best way to do this.

Seating

Everyone will need a comfortable place to relax during the gathering. A waterproof picnic blanket is a fantastic option. It protects you from the uncomfortable and hard ground. Additionally, it’s easy to clean should you or someone else spill a drink or leave crumbs behind from snacks.

However, there’s something special about old-school camping chairs, like the Coleman camping chair with a built-in cooler. More than 55,000 reviewers have given it 4.5 stars. You can store enough drinks in the cooler for an entire movie. You won’t have to get up when you need a drink. The inflatable lounger air sofa from WEKAPO is also a popular choice. 

Outdoor Movie Night Ideas

Make Priceless Memories with a Backyard Movie Night

A backyard movie night is a fun and unique way to create lasting memories with friends and family. Planning and preparation allow you to transform your backyard into a movie theater and enjoy your favorite films under the stars. Watching TV outside can be a memorable experience that allows everyone to disconnect from technology and spend quality time with loved ones. So, why not plan your backyard movie night and make priceless memories you and your loved ones will cherish for years?

What movie will you watch first at your backyard movie night? Tell us in the comments!

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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