Outdoor Projectors and Outdoor Movie Screens 2019

Hey, I’m Steve Scott and I created this website for one very simple reason – to teach people how to setup outdoor home theaters. It’s funny how something as simple as watching TV can be a totally different experience when you’re sitting outside. Something about sitting under the stars, the fresh air or the feel of the grass under your feet changes the movie experience into something very different.

I now run a backyard theater installation business where I teach people exactly how to angle, setup, and purchase the best theaters and projectors.

Over the years I’ve been asked by countless people how to make your own DIY setup and I’ve broken it down into some really easy sections that explain exactly how.

I Have No Idea What I'm Looking For:

For Even More Fun With Some Other Outdoor Movie Theater Ideas

header image for the intro to backyard cinemas

Setting up an Outdoor Movie Screen and Projector

Ah, the joys of an outdoor cinema. Putting on a movie in the fresh summer air in your backyard is the perfect way to relax and spend quality time with the people you love. Planning a movie night using a backyard cinema can be the best way to enjoy your weekends and have a fabulous time.

It doesn’t have to be an everyday thing, but it can be something you schedule every now and then with the people who matter to you. Everyone’s expectations are high when it comes to movie night, and pulling off the perfect outdoor viewing can be tough.

Everyone wants to do it, but many of you are put off by the thought that the project will cost too much, or because of a number of other variables. Well, it isn’t really difficult at all! Your first step, obviously, needs to be choosing the right spot to have your backyard movie night.

Picking the Perfect Outdoor Home Theater Spot

The right spot is more important than you think. If you choose the right spot, your loved ones and you are going to have a fantastic time. If, however, you don’t think things through very carefully before choosing a location, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble as the night wears on.

The right spot for your outdoor cinema can be anywhere in your garden or outside your house. This can be in the backyard, in your garage, on the patio, or even on the porch. Just because it is called a backyard cinema doesn’t mean you have to have it in your backyard.

The key here is to figure out a spot that gives you the most control over the light that is being projected onto your screen. This can be more difficult than it sounds. There is so much ambient light in the towns and cities of today, even at night, that finding the place with the least noise pollution is a chore but an essential to any quality outdoor movie theaters.

When you’re looking for a good spot to set up, look for streetlights in the immediate vicinity. Keep an eye out for any other light sources including the moon. The least light translates directly into the most enjoyment.

Of course, a garage might seem like the perfect location. However, you have to think about other factors too. In a garage, the smell of engine oil and other strong scents prevail.

If your garage has a particularly pungent smell, you may not want to go ahead and have your movie night in it. The last thing you need is for your guests to be coughing and gagging during the playback of Return of the Jedi!

Space is also important when picking out the best spot for your backyard movie night. You need enough space to set up your equipment, including projectors. In addition to this, there needs to be ample seating space and leg room for all your moviegoers!

Think about how many people are coming and whether any special accommodations will need to be made. Don’t be ashamed to enlist the help of your friends when setting up.

The Ultimate Guide to Outdoor Movies and Backyard Theaters

Projectors for Outdoor Movie Theaters – What You Need to Know

The next step is your projector. If you plan on displaying your movie using a different medium, that’s okay too. For the ultimate backyard cinema experience, though, you have to use a projector.

Projectors might seem expensive when you try choosing one without considering the different factors involved. However, if you can choose wisely and without prejudice, you should have the time of your life at the movies with the people you love. There are some things you need to consider above all others.

These are especially important when it comes to backyard home theater projectors because of the very different lighting requirements and power needed.

Aspect Ratio (Native)

ideal aspect ratios for home unit

How to Calculate Aspect Ratios

The aspect ratio of a projector is the size of the image that is projected. If you haven’t noticed before, a widescreen display at the movies is wider than it is tall. This is an aspect ratio called 16:9 and is ideal for movies outdoors.

For the most part, unfortunately, movie projectors have aspect ratios that are natively only 4:3. Look for a projector that supports switching to 16:9 if you want the most realistic movie experience with your guests in your outdoor home theater. Most HD movies including modern BluRay discs support 16:9 display.

Check out this aspect ratio calculator to find yours.


This is a very important factor to consider when buying a projector for the outdoors. There is more ambient light outside than inside. You can control the light shining on your screen to some extent, but you won’t be able to get rid of it all. Without a bright projected image, you won’t be able to see half of what is happening on screen during your movie.

When shopping for a projector for your outdoor movie, check the brightness rating. You will see the rating in “lumens” which is the unit of brightness. Check this out to learn more about lumens.

how bright should your projector be

Best to Wait Until Nighttime

If you want a truly stellar outdoor cinematic experience, you should look for a projector that is rated at over 3000 lumens.

While the cheaper models on the market have a 1000 lumen rating or are in that range, you won’t get nearly as high quality an image as you would with one 3 times as bright.

If you do happen to get yourself a projector that isn’t the brightest, you don’t have to give up hope! Just look for a spot to hold your movie night that is sufficiently dark to keep the projected image clear and defined.

Another tip when selecting the right brightness is not to overdo it. There are larger, more powerful projectors out there rated at 6000 lumens and more. You don’t need to splash a large amount of money on one of these if you don’t plan on making an outdoor movie theaters business.

These large-scale projectors are used at drive-in cinemas, schools, and other applications with large numbers of viewers. 3000 to 4000 lumens is the perfect range for you.

The Resolution

The resolution is defined as the number of little dots of light that make your projected image visible. The resolution is a value that determines the quality of your outside movie theater. If you have ever watched a movie in HD, or have adjusted the “Quality” on a YouTube video to 1080p to make it clearer and more defined, you’ve already been introduced to the concept of resolution.

When you go out and design to pick an outdoor projector for your movie night, you have to think about the fact that some of the projectors you see will project at a higher resolution than others.

how to check resolution

Your Best Bet is to Use the Default Resolution

With an outdoor projector, you need the resolution to be as high as it can be for your budget. Quality is key here because of how much interference you’ll be seeing anyway when playing a movie outside.

Whether you’re going to actually be watching a movie or even playing a video game on the screen, the higher the resolution, the better your experience is going to be. Most mid-range projectors today project images that are either 1920×1080 or 720p which is more than enough your average outside movie theater.

Ideally, you would pick one with a 1080p / 1080i resolution. Another reason to opt for higher resolution with a backyard cinema is the seating.

Since seats will be spaced out and will be further from the screen than most people are used to, a crystal clear image is paramount to having a great outdoor movie screen.

Connections and output

basic connections needed for wiring

Basic Cable Jacks

Getting a great HD movie projector for a bargain price? Check that the connections are what you need. Don’t assume that every projector is ready to accept an HDMI input. There are many situations that would require you to adapt to a different connection type. For example, if you want to play a flick on your outdoor home theater via an older laptop that doesn’t have an HDMI-out port, you will have to use the older DVI out cable.

If your projector doesn’t have a port for this cable, you’re not going to have a good night at the movies at all. Double check that all the ports supported by your standard movie devices are available as display and playback options on the projector you’re considering buying.

For more cable info check out this Digital Trend’s article.

Display distance

the wiring guide for connecting your projector

It’s Really That Easy

This is one of the last outdoor-projector-specific factors to consider when buying a projector for your backyard cinema. The display distance or throw distance is quite literally how far the projector can throw your image to hit a screen. The larger the value of this distance, the more space you will have for seating your guests as you will be able to position the projector further back. Calculating the throw distance is easy enough. Simply take the area of your screen in square feet. Then correlate the two by assuming that every square foot needs 2 feet of throw distance. This is the easiest way to calculator your outdoor movie screen distance.

projector throw distance

When In Doubt – Just Aim Down

You have to take your time when making a buying decision for your new outdoor movie projector. This is the device that the rest of your experience will hinge upon, after all. Make a wise decision by considering all of the factors prior to rushing into a purchase. Ask questions from store assistants and other experts in the outdoor movie scene. Choose wisely!

Outdoor Movie Screen template

Choosing the Top Outdoor Movie Screen for Your Outside Movie Theater

Now that you know what to look for when selecting a video projector for your backyard home cinema, you are going to have to choose a screen to project your movie on. The type of screen you select is a decision that will take more time and thought than you expected it to. It depends on the projector you get, your expected guests, the frequency of watching movies outdoors, the lighting in your location, and even the distance from your screen to the projector.

Screen size

Great Setup

The most popular display size for a movie is the widescreen style. This is the style you see in cinemas all around the world. It makes for a truly cinematic experience, with images being far more immersive during the playback of the movie.

If you are playing a movie off Netflix, DVD or BluRay, you’re probably going to see a widescreen default projection. Just like you would pick a video projector based on this aspect ratio, you also need to select a screen size that is friendly to the same ratio. 


You can’t choose a 4:3 screen size for a 16:9 native projector. Parts of the image are going to be outside the viewing area of the screen! Thankfully, most screens today are compatible with 16:9 and 4:3.


Today, there are many types of projection screens available. You don’t have to be stuck using a single type. However, there is a wide variety in terms of how portable these screens are. A truly portable screen can be dismantled and carried into and out of a house at will. Look out for screens that do not offer this functionality. When buying an outdoor movie screen, ensure that it can be rolled up and carried inside when you’re done with the movie night and are cleaning up for the night.

While portable projector screens are definitely the cheapest option, they are also the most annoying to set up. They take ages to adjust in order to get the right distance from projector to screen, and the right image quality for your outside movie theater.

Material and Angle

Reflection is the bane of all video projectors and screens. These are typically designed and built to be as unreflective a surface as possible. Outdoors, one of the biggest issues that people face is the ambient light from the moon, streetlights and more. Because of this, projecting a brighter, sharper and clearer image onto a screen can be difficult.

image of a material for Outdoor Movie Screens

Choosing a screen made of the right material will help you and your loved ones have the best movie night ever without having to ruin your eyes to try and see what is happening with your movie. The material of your screen also determines its gain and the angle for viewing.

Choosing the right outdoor movie screen could make or break your cinema experience. Don’t rush into any buying decisions. Consider all your purchase choices carefully before taking the next steps.

Always watch out for attempts to cheat you out of your money and your time. With enough thought and consideration of all alternatives, you should have the best possible experience.

What to Do Before You Set It Up Your Outdoor Movie Theater

Now that you have your projector and outdoor movie screen decided on, you have to set it all up. With your location already confirmed, you don’t need to think about much else, right?


There are many other things you have to do before you can actually set your movie cinema up and start watching some of the best movies ever with the people you love. While all the technical aspects are just about sorted out, you have to consider the sound, electrical wiring, safety, and some other factors as well.

Meet the Neighbors

This isn’t necessary, but it is highly recommended regardless. Think about your neighbors before all else. In the history of backyard cinemas, none has gone off more successfully than one in which the neighbors were invited. The problem with this type of cinema is the sound.

Playing it out in the backyard or on the front lawn can lead to sound complaints from disgruntled neighbors whom you are rudely keeping awake at odd hours of the night.

The only result this will have is to prevent you from having a trouble free night. Even worse, if your neighbors have little children and you’re playing Bad Grandpa at night, what’s to stop the little ones from taking a peek through their own window and seeing terrible, unspeakable things?

Just saying – be responsible with the movies you show on your outside movie theater.

So the first step to a no-hassle night is to keep the neighbors informed and the movies PG. If you aren’t playing any nudity, no one will see any nudity. It is as simple as that.

Even better, try to invite the neighbors to the movie night. By inviting them, you ensure that they feel like a part of the celebration. Even if they turn your offer down, they will rest easy knowing that the movie night is going on and that they could join you if they wanted to.

They will be far more understanding of the sights and sounds in your backyard that night. By getting their approval before you go ahead with it, you also ensure that you aren’t stirring up unwanted issues with your neighbors.

Get the Seating Plan Down

Seating is the next most important thing to consider when setting up your backyard movie night. Handling the seating should be a task that is given top priority because of the logistical nightmare it could pose if you don’t prepare for it properly.

First, think about the essentials. The kids in the area are going to need blankets to get all cozy.

outdoor seating plans

As Cozy As It Gets

Adults will need recliners, lawn chairs, or even picnic blankets to sit on. Try to separate the kids from the adults so that the noise of the children when they get distracted won’t bug the older crowd too much.

Food is good

You probably have all the snacks and drinks sorted out already. If we are anything, we are masters of food options. However, keeping the food simple shouldn’t be your only plan of action.

There are plenty of ways to make the experience more fun and cinematic. Try getting some good old fashioned popcorn boxes and seasoning. People love going to the movies with all the trappings, and the “real” snack containers add authenticity to the experience.

While it isn’t healthy, it is awesome!

Lighting and Safety for Your Outside Movie Theater

LIGHTING, you say? Well, yes. You have to keep your external lights to a minimum while you are watching your movie, obviously. Having lights will distract the crowd and cause the image on the screen to be blurry, unclear and washed out in terms of sharpness and color saturation.

That being said, you need to plan to have some lighting options available if necessary. Great lighting is essential to setting up your outdoor home theater.

In addition to this, try to place some lights on the ground to mark out pathways for people to take when they want to go to the bathroom or to get more food. Tiki torches, glowsticks and candles are perfect for this. When using candles and fire, be sure to watch out for safety. With children playing around, you may want to opt for different, safer options instead for lighting.

Have a Blast, Young Padawan Learner!

So. You’re probably thinking that all of this is a lot to process for the simple act of watching a movie in your backyard.

Well, it really isn’t. It sounds like a lot because it is your first time trying this sort of thing out. Once you have set everything up for the first time, it’ll start to feel like you have been doing this for years.

Remember something, though.

If you think that you have to blow a ton of money to enjoy your night at a backyard movie, you’re wrong. You don’t need to drop a wad of cash to have fun. You don’t have to get a 4K movie projector with a flat screen made of high-end carbon fiber. You don’t even need a surround sound system to make it great.

Sure, all of these things give you an obvious boost to the quality of your movie watching experience. In this type of situation, though, getting something cheaper isn’t the worst decision in the world. Quality doesn’t translate directly to cost in this case.

There is more to an outdoor movie night than just watching a movie outdoors. The point of the experience is to have time to come together with your friends, family, and neighbors. The purpose is to bond and be happy.

Watching a movie under the stars is the best way to do this, no matter who you are and what walk of life you are from. Good luck for everyone trying to setup their own outdoor movie theaters!

4.1/5 (14 Reviews)