With summer officially in full swing, you can finally get back to some of your favorite outdoor activities. It’s hard to beat outdoorsand patio dining, but you can use your backyard for even more — including entertaining on the big screen. All it takes is a decent projector and a few other accessories, and you can turn your backyard into your own personal drive-in movie theater.
Below are some ideas and product recommendations to help you organize a movie night in your own backyard. We’ve broken down our top projector and audio picks by whether you’ll need a power supply, like an extension cord or, or whether you intend to rely on the device’s built-in battery. You can also bring cushions, pillows and a lawn chair or two to place as much space as you need around the projection screen. Just don’t forget the popcorn, ice cream and more .
For the biggest movies, you’ll need a projector. Any projector will work, but the brighter it is, the easier it will be to see the image. This is especially important outdoors, when even on a dark night some ambient light – from your neighbors, your deck lights or tiki torches – can affect the image. Brightness also determines how large an image the projector can create. The BenQ HT2050A is the best projector overall, and one of the reasons is its bright image.
To use this projector in the backyard, you’ll need to run a power cord. If you can’t or don’t want to bother, you’ll need a portable, battery-powered projector.
There are many other great plug-in projectors to choose from. Here are some alternatives for backyard movie night.
- Epson’s ($900) is smaller than the BenQ and has a better built-in speaker, though not as bright.
- The Optoma UHD35 ($1,300) is the best 4K projector for the money we’ve tested, and it’s more detailed and much brighter than the BenQ.
Check out our listand for more options.
This AAXA is the brightest portable battery-powered projector we’ve ever tested, but it still pales in comparison to a plug-in projector. The BenQ HT2050A above, for example, measured more than three times brighter in our tests. However, if you don’t mind its (relatively) small, blurry image, a projector like the AAXA can be a great backyard companion.
It’s MUCH lighter and more compact than most plug-in models, and the built-in battery lasts longer than most of its competitors. It’s also less than half the price of the BenQ and hundreds less than many other portable projectors. It lacks built-in streaming, but has an HDMI port and USB power so you can plug in a streaming stick and stay wireless.
As with their plug-in brethren, a number of other portable projectors are good alternatives. Here are a few that work well for backyard movies.
- The ($550) is darker than the AAXA, but has a comparable battery, a better overall picture, a better-sounding speaker, and built-in streaming.
- The Anker Nebula Solar Portable ($600) is darker than the other two, but its 1080p resolution produces a sharper picture.
Check out our listfor other options.
Assuming you don’t have analready, you could bring your outside. Keep in mind, however, that TVs are very delicate. One wrong twist and you can crack the screen. Even small TVs should be carried by two people. Treat it like you’re carrying a thin, expensive sheet of glass. Technically, that’s exactly what it is. . That’s sure to destroy it, and quickly.
You’re also not going to want to rely on any projector’s built-in speaker. Here are some options to let you hear the movie as well as see it.
If you’re using a traditional projector, you’re going to have to run electrical power. Since you’re running power anyway, why not just connect an actual speaker? A good soundbar will be significantly louder than a Bluetooth speaker, and probably sound a lot better too.
We like the inexpensive Vizio V21, which can connect via HDMI or analog and produces a surprising amount of bass for its size and price. More expensive soundbars might have better sound overall, but you can’t beat the Vizio for its combination of price and power.
Read our Vizio V21 review.
Don’t forget that you’ll need a cable to connect it to the projector. Nearly all projectors have an analog audio output, which can connect to most soundbars, including Vizio. Some have HDMI, so you’ll need anfrom the soundbar to the projector.
Anker’s $109 Soundcore Motion Boom is what Executive Editor David Carnoy calls a mini boombox speaker. It has a big handle, weighs a little over 4 pounds and even floats. A plug-in soundbar like the Vizio will sound better, but if you don’t want to run a cord, you’ll want something that sounds big and has a battery.
It’s not quite as loud as some bigger, more expensive options like JBL’s Boombox 2 ($500) and Ultimate Ears’ Hyperboom ($450), but it’s a lot louder than similarly priced compact BT speakers.
Read our Anker Soundcore Motion Boom review.
We don’t have a specific suggestion here, but we do have a few tips while you’re looking.
Rigid-frame screens are more expensive and a little harder to assemble, but are more resilient against wind and typically have smoother screens for a better overall image.
Inflatable screens need to be secured to the ground, and any wind is going to set them rocking. However, they tend to be easier to set up and take down. Keep in mind that their fans run constantly, so in a smaller or enclosed yard, this can be annoying.
There are also infinite DIY options; basically anything fairly reflective and lacking color will work. It’s worth noting that you’ll be able to see any texture in the screen’s surface, so a garage door or the side of your house won’t be ideal because you’ll see any design, seams or imperfections.
The easiest way to get something to watch on your outdoor projector is via a streaming stick. Most modern projectors have a USB connection so you can connect a streaming stick without running an additional power cord.
We like the Roku Streaming Stick 4K for its ease of use and wide range of content options. It’s also a better choice than the Roku Express 4K Plus because it’s a streaming stick, not a small box. Or you can kill two birds — sound and streaming — by choosing the Roku Streambar.
This assumes your home’s Wi-Fi is strong enough to reach into your yard. If it’s not, we’ve got some ways to fix that, below.
Depending where and how strong your Wi-Fi router is, you may not have enough signal to stream anything in your yard. You might be able to fix that: Check out the Wi-Fi tips in our article on how to improve internet speeds for Netflix, Hulu and more.
If none of those options works, consider a Wi-Fi extender. These connect to your main Wi-Fi, then broadcast essentially “more” Wi-Fi from a different point in your house. We like the inexpensive TP-Link RE220 (aka the AC750) best for backyard movie night. As Ry Crist said in his review, “Nothing else I tested was able to match [the RE220’s] level of performance, making the RE220 a steal at $30.”
Read more about improving Wi-Fi in your home.
Or simply connect your phone
Another option that might work is to turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot. This uses the cellular signal for internet and then broadcasts a small Wi-Fi bubble near the phone. However, streaming a movie eats up data, so make sure you have enough or have an unlimited plan.
Most modern phones have a feature that allows you to create an access point. Once it’s active, simply connect your streaming stick or projector to it just as if it were “normal” Wi-Fi.but it will work to connect any device.
Keep in mind, too, that running a hotspot tends to drain the battery pretty quickly, so you should also consider thator connect it via an extension cable.
Non-streaming option: Blu-ray player or game console
If your Wi-Fi isn’t strong enough to reach your makeshift cinema and you don’t want to burn through all your mobile data, Blu-ray players are very cheap and should meet your viewing needs. You still have some discs, right?
For the most part, we recommend getting a 4K Blu-ray player at this time. They’re just a bit more expensive, play both standard DVDs and Blu-rays, and 4K discs are the best way to take advantage of a 4K-compatible TV or projector (and I’m guessing you’ll be using this for indoor movie nights too). Theshown here is our choice for .
Alternatively, you can get aor an for outdoor gaming on the big screen. Both also play Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray.
Having one of these is important for any high performance outdoor theater. Outdoor ones are much more robust, so they should survive being stepped on without a problem. I like the ones with. It is better to have too much than too little. It is probably wise to connect this to a grounded or GFCI outlet.
Or you can connect a power strip with a fuse in it, but these are not designed for outdoor use, so proceed at your own risk
Finally, this is the thing that kept me sane through quarantine. Don’t underestimate the relaxing powers of a good hammock. You could get it from Hammock Hut, Hammocks-R-Us, Put-Your-Butt-There — really any will do. I had ayears and held up surprisingly well.
The only problem with watching a movie in one is that you’ll be asleep halfway through the second act. Nothing wrong with that.
As well as covering TV and other display technology, Geoff leads photo tours of interesting museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000 mile journeys and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his travels and adventures.
You can follow his exploits on Instagram and YouTube. He also wrote aabout city-sized submarines, along with a .