With indoor movie theaters largely off limits in these days of social distancing, what better way to take advantage of warm summer nights than creating your own backyard screening room? In this blog post, we’ll talk about some tips for building an outdoor movie theater big enough for you and a small crew of friends to kick back and enjoy a socially distanced cinematic evening.

What you will need:

  1. A projector and stand
  2. A video source – computer, media streamer, DVD or Blu-ray player
  3. An outdoor projector screen
  4. Powered monitors
  5. Cables – HDMI and audio connections
  6. Power strip

Mackie helps build an outdoor movie theater projector

Generally speaking, the more ambient lighting, the harder your projector has to work to produce a clear picture that’s not washed out. And the larger your screen, the harder your projector has to work to produce a clean, crisp picture with good color and contrast.

Many home theater projectors are designed for the controlled setting of an indoor theater, with lights down low and curtains closed. Showing movies outdoors, particularly in less than full darkness, you’ll need a projector that delivers a clean, sharp image, with plenty of brightness.

LCD-based projectors tend to offer the sharpest imaging. Look for one with a brightness rating of at least 2,000 lumens.

Video Source

 Mackie helps build an outdoor movie theater video source

If you’ve heard the old saying “garbage in, garbage out,” it easily applies to home theater. A blurry, low-resolution video will look even more fuzzy and pixelated on a big screen. Start with a high-definition source and you’ll have a much better chance of it looking sharp on the screen.

For recorded media, Blu-ray is one of your best options. DVD is also good, though make sure your DVD player and program material are HD quality – many older DVDs are lower resolution. If you’re building your video theater from scratch, it’s best to go with a Blu-ray player, as they’re backward compatible, meaning they will play DVDs as well.

If, like most of us, you’re mainly streaming content, go for a high-definition streaming box like a Roku or Apple TV. Many Blu-ray players also include Roku or other streaming applications.

Another consideration if you’re streaming content is to make sure your Wi-Fi network is up to the task. If the signal won’t dependably reach to the back yard without dropouts, you may want to consider a mesh or other Wf-Fi signal booster.

Mackie helps build outdoor movie theater projector screen

While you may be tempted to project your movie onto the side of your house or a sheet hanging on a clothesline, it’s best to splurge and get a dedicated screen. The difference in image quality alone will make it well worth the investment. And portable screens have become much more affordable, convenient, and easy to set up and take down. These days, it’s easy to find outdoor screens in sizes ranging from 120 inches and larger, usually in their own carry bag for portability.

Most screens are designed for front projection. Front projection offers the easiest system setup though it does add the potential of people getting in the way of the picture as they get up and move around. Rear projection screens are also available (as well as dual-function screens that do both), where the projector is placed behind the screen and the image is projected backwards through the screen. Another advantage of this setup is that you can confine cabling to behind the screen, where it won’t get in anyone’s way.


Mackie SRM portable loudspeaker series is perfect for outdoor movie theater

For a true outdoor cinema experience, don’t scrimp on the sound! As any director or cinema buff will testify, a great movie is only as good as its audio. If your sound is weak and lacking punch, even the biggest blockbuster will not measure up. Your audience will overlook a slightly lower resolution picture if they have to, but serve them bad sound and you’re bound to hear about it.

This is where Mackie can give you the edge. Our SRM Series powered monitors are a standard among live musicians, DJs, performers, and live events companies, so you know they can deliver the goods when it comes to your movies. Mackie gives you a wide range of all-weather outdoor speakers to choose from, too, from our flagship SRM V-Class to SRM Portable and Professional Series, DRM, and Thump Series. With a wide range of powered monitors to fit every need and every budget, it’s easy to find the right system for your outdoor theater.

Mackie’s SRM V-Class, for example, give you a lawn-thumping 2000 Watts of power, with crystal clear highs and powerful lows for a true theatrical experience, Integrated 4-channel mixers with Bluetooth mean you can easily connect multiple sources and even stream background music from your phone or tablet while you’re waiting for sundown. Plus, you can wirelessly link two SRM V-Class speakers together for the ultimate in easy and cable-free setup.

Some Closing Tips

Plan out your setup and if possible try it out in advance. You don’t want to be running to the hardware store for extension cords, wiggling loose connections with a flashlight, or having someone trip over a cable and bring the evening to an abrupt end, so it’s best to sort out all potential pitfalls before your first movie evening.

Get one or more heavy duty power strips and enough heavy duty extension cords so you’re not running wires where people can potentially get caught on them. Cover any cables with tarps, blankets, or anything that will prevent people from tripping over them in the dark. Invest in sturdy stands for your speakers and projector, and set them up where no one will bump them or knock them over. Keep in mind that people may be moving around in the dark after staring at a bright screen, so make sure to allow for limited visibility.

On warm summer nights, there’s nothing better than a great movie with friends and family. So take the time to put together a well-coordinated system, pick up a popcorn machine, and let the fun begin.

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