How to DIY an Outdoor Theater in Your Backyard

You might enjoy watching 30-second viral videos on a smartphone. Roughly 80 percent of humanity does, according to research. But when it comes to watching full-length movies, nothing beats a big screen.

Many are wisely foregoing movie theaters for the time being. But you can get the same kind of AV experience in the privacy and comfort of your backyard.

When it comes to watching full-length movies, nothing beats a big screen.
When it comes to watching full-length movies, nothing beats a big screen.

Building an Outdoor Home Theater

Building your own outdoor movie theater isn’t that difficult. You can easily scale everything down to fit your budget, too.

Here’s a look at our picks for the gear you’ll need for setting up an outdoor home theater. (For good measure, we’ll give you some smart tips for this backyard project along the way, too.) 

A Projector

Sure, you can drag your big-screen TV outside for the occasional movie night. But this summer’s blockbuster action movie will make for even more spectacular viewing on a big-screen projection system.

Our pick for a projector, the DR. J HI-04, is marketed as a “mini projector.” That’s because Dr. J built this projector around the idea of portability.

Weighing around 3 lbs. and measuring just 7.8 x 2.7 x 6.02 inches, it’s not exactly “pocket-sized.” Still, it’s a good deal more portable than you might expect.

We like it because, in addition to being adequately bright, it offers accurate colors. Its contrast ratio is excellent at 3800 to 1. That’s better than that of the Vankyo Leisure 3 Mini Projector. The projector’s built-in sound system leaves much to be desired, though. But we’ll get to that later.

The HI-04 can shoot a screen size of 176-inches. Be warned, though, the closer you get to its limit, the more the quality dips.

With a 1280 x 720 native resolution, the DR. J HI-04 may not sound too impressive. But it can support 1080p resolutions with some downscaling.

This means that, while it does indeed support 1920 x 1080 resolutions, it’ll automatically adjust the input resolution to 1280 x 720 on the screen.

Most watchers won’t even realize this is going on. That’s because the projector will display the screen size at up to 170 inches.

But, as with all projectors, viewing quality is partly determined by factors like lighting, projection distance, and input source.

That said, you’ll hit the sweet-spot viewing-wise under ideal dark conditions and a projection size of 120 inches. Movies will look brilliant and gaming is fantastic.

If you really want a 1080p projector, though, you’ll have to spend a little more. The Dr. J. Full HD Native 1080P Wi-Fi Projector will cost you nearly $100 more. But it’s a great product nonetheless.

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The HI-04 can shoot a screen size of 176-inches.
The HI-04 can shoot a screen size of 176-inches.

A Projector Screen

You’ll need a screen for your projector. You can find good projector-and-screen bundles online. If you’re like most people, you may have already checked Amazon. You’ll get a 100-inch projector screen if you purchase the HI-04 from the site right now.

If you already have a projector but don’t have a screen, a white sheet is the most affordable solution. But then even the slightest breeze will cause your screen to move.

If you’re willing to spend money on a screen, consider Elite Screens’ Yard Master 2 OMS100H2. This is a lightweight, portable projector screen that the manufacturers intended primarily for outside use. (You can use it indoors, too, of course.)

This projector screen comes with a sturdy frame and ground stakes. The frame won’t blow over in all but the windiest weather.

Setting up the Yard Master 2 is easy. It took us less than five minutes to assemble the frame. Adding the screen required no more than 15 minutes.

You’ll be well-advised to read the setup instructions carefully, though. You should also view the setup video on the Elite Screens’ website before you start. Each of these two has at least one tip that the other lacks.

Fully assembled, the frame measures 92.3 inches wide and 78.2 inches high. The distance between the ground and the bottom bar of the screen is around 28 inches.

The screen material includes a black border around the 16:9 white screen. The border helps frame the image, setting it off from whatever is in the background.

The Yard Master 2 is available in sizes ranging from 58 to 135 inches in the 16:9 shape. The screen comes with a handy carrying bag, too.

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If you’re willing to spend money on a screen, consider Elite Screens’ Yard Master 2 OMS100H2.
If you’re willing to spend money on a screen, consider Elite Screens’ Yard Master 2 OMS100H2.

A Media Player

The days of carrying the DVD or Blu-ray player out to the yard along with the projector are long gone. Sure, you could still do that, but there are easier options.

For example, you can always use a laptop for the same purpose. Many laptops can output a video signal via HDMI. You could run an HDMI cable from the computer to the projector or use a wireless HDMI transmitter.

But the simplest, most convenient streaming option is a streaming stick like the Amazon Fire TV Stick. A streaming stick connects directly to the HDMI input on your projector.

The device draws power from the projector’s USB connection and uses your home’s Wi-Fi to stream movies from the internet.

To use it, make sure your projector has a powered USB port. Many modern projectors have a USB connection for this very purpose. It will need at least 1 amp of output for the streaming stick.

Older projectors might have a USB port that’s short on power output. In that case, you’ll need to provide power from an external source.

The Alexa-compatible 2021 iteration of the Amazon Fire TV Stick adds a host of improvements over previous models. These include HDR capability, a 60fps frame rate, and compatibility with Dolby Atmos audio.

Using the 2021 Fire TV Stick is a far smoother experience, too. The voice-navigated Fire TV platform and ongoing updates have simplified and improved the interface.

There are other notable differences. We liked the inclusion of volume controls and a mute button on the upgraded model’s remote. We also liked the newer version’s ability to connect to – and control – other AV equipment.

These upgrades are especially helpful if your home theater is bigger than just a TV and streamer. They ensure better collaboration between your gear and yourself.

You won’t get native 4K resolution here. You’ll need the Fire TV Stick 4K for that. But for HDTVs and projectors, the 2021 Amazon Fire TV stick is a smart mid-price purchase.

This device sells fast, though. You may have to wait a bit if Amazon is out of stock at the moment.

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The Alexa-compatible 2021 iteration of the Amazon Fire TV Stick adds a host of improvements over previous models.
The Alexa-compatible 2021 iteration of the Amazon Fire TV Stick adds a host of improvements over previous models.

A Speaker System

You’ll want a good sound system for your outdoor theater. You can use the projector’s built-in speaker. However, in most cases – as with the HI04 – this speaker is small and underpowered.

You don’t want that, of course. Nothing ruins a movie’s climax more than a spectacular explosion that sounds – shhh, quiet, everybody! – puny and muffled.

A big screen deserves big sound. For that, you’ll need a good set of speakers. The easiest way to add that to your system is to use the projector’s analog output.

This lets you connect it to any speaker that has an analog input. Many Bluetooth speakers have this, and so, too, do most soundbars.

You’ll need an audio cable to connect the two. Typically, you can use either a 3.5-mm–to–3.5-mm stereo cable or a 3.5-mm–to–RCA cable.

Our pick is the 400-Watt, THX-certified Logitech Z623 Home Speaker System. This Logitech speaker isn’t cheap but its sound and performance make it a worthwhile purchase.

You can connect this speaker to your projector using a 3.5-mm–to–3.5-mm stereo cable. The sound is deep, rich, and as close to ‘three-dimensional’ as we’ve ever heard from a 2.1 system. The bass and treble are perfectly tuned right out of the box.

There’s a slight downside to all these great points. The Z623’s connections make for a terrific muddle of cables. This not only looks ugly, it’s likely to get tangled, too.

The right satellite houses the power, volume, and bass controls. This connects to the sub-woofer through a proprietary VGA-style cable. The left speaker simply connects to the subwoofer with a phono plug.

But the sound more than makes up for this design conundrum. If you want to add more bass there’s a dedicated rotary dial on the right-hand speaker.

The subwoofer looks small, but don’t let that fool you. During our tests, its bass reproduction was as good as those of speakers the size of a small refrigerator.

“The bass is bumping and the music is loud,” says one customer review on Amazon. “I love these speakers.”

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Logitech Z623 Home Speaker System isn’t cheap but its sound and performance make it a worthwhile purchase.
Logitech Z623 Home Speaker System isn’t cheap but its sound and performance make it a worthwhile purchase.

Other Essential Gear

The equipment we’ve listed so far comprises the basic components of your home outdoor theater. Depending on your yard or deck, you will likely need peripheral gear.

Extension cords are, of course, vital to your project. Some cords have multiple outlets at the end. This lets you run just one cable for numerous devices. You could also get a power strip.

If your Wi-Fi signal gets dodgy when you’re outside, your home’s Wi-Fi network may need a little boost. But before you buy a Wi-Fi extender, check whether your network is fast enough. You may need to upgrade your connection.  

Finally, we all know the outdoors are full of biting and stinging little critters. Don’t let them ruin your movie-viewing experience. From sprays to fans, you’ll want the best bug repellants and mosquito-control gear, too!


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