Remember when you were a kid, and you never went inside during the summer, except to ask permission from your parents to run around the neighborhood with that new kid you just met, or to get another PB&J, which you promptly marched right back outside?
Let's all do that again. Let's embrace bare feet, and staying up too late, and smell like chlorine and sunscreen. Let's have a summer.
Of course, it doesn't mean you still can't relax and watch great movies and binge on your Netflix series. It just means you should do it outside. Here's everything you need to turn your yard into an outdoor “sit-in” theater.
The Projector. Of course, you gotta have one. Digital projectors have dropped in price in the last five years that they now cost less than most HDTVs, and can create much bigger images. You can rent one, or borrow from a friend or work situation, but if you're looking to buy, we recommend the ViewSonic PJD5155 SVGA HDMI DLP, 3300 Lumens Projector. It's bright enough to use at dusk, and has simple HDMI inputs to connect all your devices without adapters. Just place it on a flat and stable surface when using, to avoid debris and allow the fans to keep things cool. While you're at it, go ahead and pick up a dedicated outdoor extension cord and multi-outlet strip so you can project from anywhere. 16-gauge should work just fine.
For the source, you can use whatever you've got: laptop, DVD player, Apple TV, Roku, Xbox. If it works with a TV, it'll work with the projector.
- ViewSonic PJD5155 SVGA DLP Projector
- Coleman 50-Foot 16/3 Outdoor Extension Cord
- Belkin 6-Outlet Surge Protector with 2.5 feet Cord
The Audio. Many projectors have built in speakers, but you'll likely want another source for louder volume. You might have a portable Bluetooth speakers for smartphone use, and those work great for this application. If you don't have one, you don't need to pay for Bluetooth or wireless options just for movie watching; you can plug in with a simple cable. There's lots of ways to go here, just make sure you get one that's rated as LOUD so the whole yard can hear. Stereos, guitar amps, PA systems – anything you have will help. Also be sure to get a nice long cable so you can place the speaker away from the projector so you can hear easily.
- Divoom Voombox
- Anker SoundCore Bluetooth Speaker
- SHARKK® Boombox Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
- Anker Classic Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
- RCA – to 1/8″ stereo cable
- Hosa 25' Headphone Extension Cable
The Screen. You can buy one, sure. But you can save tons of money and dial in the perfect size. First, get yourself some opaque fabric, like Carl's Blackout Cloth. Then,
- Get two lengths of 1/2″ PVC pipe and fold and sew a channel along the bottom, and basic sleeve at the top, leaving some space to insert the hardware. If you don't have a sewing machine, you can try a strong adhesive like E6000 or PVA glue, or you could even use a medium weight staple gun.
- Then, insert some evenly spaced grommets along the top.
- Slide in the PVC and cut to size, and use rope and hooks to mount it (on a wall, your roof eaves, a shed, a tree, etc). You can easily remove the PVC and fold it up for storage, and insert some eyelet screws in your ceiling for indoor use.
This method gets you a very large screen for about $60 in materials. If you don't have a tree or wall or fence to hang it from, you can build a frame from PVC pipe or aluminum conduit, and keep it taught by securing guylines and stakes, like a tent.
The Seats. Of course, you should use what you have: patio chairs, lawn chairs, those stacking plastic Adirondacks from the hardware store. Anything will work. If you're looking to seat a bunch of people and allow everyone to see, just get a few military-surplus style blankets, and have everyone camp out on the ground. Done and done.
- Outdoor Clothing U.S. Style Wool 3-Pound Military Blanket
- Swiss Army Blanket
- Rothco Grey Wool Rescue Blanket
The Snacks. If you're turning on the grill or lighting up the firepit, s'mores taste pretty great on a blanket in front of an outdoor movie screen.
But if you want to keep things simple? Popcorn, duh. It's the movies. Not the microwave junk, but real popcorn. And if you want to make great popcorn at home, you need to know one thing = only use white popcorn. It beats the pants off the yellow stuff, and in my experience, cooks more easily. It tastes great with just a little oil and salt, but welcomes butter and fancy seasonings perfectly.
You can make a bunch ahead of time and store in little bowls or just brown paper lunch bags. There's lots of great techniques. My current faves are the wok and lid method, Alton Brown's stainless steel bowl, and the America's Test Kitchen tester kernels.
So! Put some drinks in the cooler, plug in that projector, and enjoy your summer.
Photographs by Margaret Jacobsen.