Take advantage of the balmy summer nights by moving your movie nights to the great outdoors. Setting up a cinema space in your backyard is much easier – and less expensive – than it might sound, especially if you’re up for a little DIY. Heed our tips for an outdoor cinema setup that will serve you for summers to come.

The Silver Screen

When it comes to putting a movie screen in your backyard, all you really need is a large, light-coloured vertical surface with minimal irregularities. If you have some extra change lying around, and you plan to make outdoor movie nights a regular event, it may be worth investing in a store-bought outdoor film screen. These come in a variety of sizes and forms, from inflatable models to fixed frame ones; expect to pay between USD 200-500, depending on what you choose.

Alternatively, making your own DIY outdoor movie screen is an option for doing it on the cheap, not to mention a fun project for the family. There are endless ways to approach this, from simply suspending a white bedsheet from some PVC pipes, all the way to carpentering a wooden frame and mounting a vinyl projector screen to it. If you’re looking to combine durability, quality and thrift – and really don’t feel like breaking out the electric saw – the above project using white pearlised spandex (a material often used in theatrical productions) and a PVC frame results in an affordable, portable and reusable screen, no nails or sewing needles required.

The Projector

Along with the sound system, your method of projection is one of the most important parts of the equation when it comes to having an enjoyable outdoor cinema experience. This is why, despite the fact that you can fashion a projector out of a shoebox and a smartphone, we don’t really recommend it for this purpose.

The projector you use should be strong, especially if you’ll be contending with street lamps, porch lights and other ambient lighting, but it doesn’t need to be top-of-the-line; a projector with 2,000 lumens should do it. The resolution isn’t quite as critical for screening outdoor movies, so 720p is fine. You should be able to find decent models for well under USD 200, but if you’re lucky, you can score one second-hand for less – especially as offices and schools often sell their old ones.

Don’t forget to consult the specs of your projector to ensure compatibility with whatever device (laptop, TV, DVD player, etc.) you’re using to play the film; realising too late that you needed an adaptor to be able to connect your media device to your projector is the death knell of an otherwise well-planned movie night. If you’re not sure what device you should hook up to the projector, we suggest using a laptop computer: you can stream films from the internet, access a library of downloaded movies or insert a DVD, and it will usually come equipped with an HDMI and/or VGA outlet for connecting with the projector, as well as Bluetooth capability and headphone jacks to facilitate the next component of our movie night setup…

The Sound System

Let’s be honest: none of your fun-loving guests will complain if the DIY movie screen is a bit wrinkled or the picture isn’t sharp as a knife. But if the sound is too muffled or too garbled or unintelligible, you bet you’ll be hearing about it.

Again, your options are many in this arena, but what you ultimately want is powerful, quality sound with as few wires and plugs – and as little faffing – as possible. Enter: the wireless Bluetooth speaker. Get yourself a solid Bluetooth speaker that offers rich sound and beefy bass, like the Nyne Bass. Connect it wirelessly with your laptop, and voilà, a backyard cinema sound system (if your laptop isn’t Bluetooth-compatible, you’ll need a Bluetooth audio transmitter as well).

Alternatively, you can use just about any portable speakers you already have, or even old boom boxes – you’ll just need to ensure that you have the right cables on hand to connect them to your media playing device. In the interest of avoiding last-minute hitches, it’s best to run tests a day or two before the main event, making sure you have all the components you need to connect the projector, media device and speakers.

The Seating

Now it’s time to get comfy …and creative. The easiest, most cost-effective seating arrangement is to spread out various sheets, blankets and pillows for the kids, and add any lawn or camping furniture you may have for adults who don’t want to sit on the ground. For a fun touch that kids will love, consider getting a shallow inflatable pool and filling it with pillows and blankets, or throw around some pool rings and inflatable mattresses to lounge on.

If you want to up your game even more, craft a cute DIY teepee for the little ones, or build some chic folding outdoor cinema chairs. The ultimate addition, however – to both your movie night and your backyard space – is a palette swing. You can DIY your own, following along with this fun video by South African YouTuber Suzelle:

Now, the only thing left to do is ask your favourite people round for an outdoor cinema night – don’t forget to invite the neighbours!

[Photo at top: jason gessner/Flickr]

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