Summer Fun on a Budget: How to Set Up a Temporary Outdoor Home Theater
With budgets remaining tight as we cruise into Summer 2009, it's clear that cheap summer fun is the order of the season. Even if you don't have enough disposable income to fund the usual family getaway, there's no reason why you can’t enjoy staying close to home. But don't waste all your time and money at the local cinema – after all, ticket prices are inflated and air conditioning can be, well, overrated. Instead, take in some summer blockbusters and fresh air in your own outdoor home theater.
Here's what you'll need to transform your backyard into a slice a home theater heaven:
Screen: When it comes to setting up a budget-friendly outdoor movie screen, imagination is key, and just about anything goes. While you may have seen high-budget outdoor home theaters with custom screens, there are plenty of other (read: cheaper) surfaces that you can project a movie onto. Outdoor home theater DIYers have been known to improvise screens from all types of materials, including while bedsheets, blackout cloth (available at most fabric stores), canvas painter's dropcloths, plywood, and backer board. Or, simply take advantage of a preexisting smooth wall – just make sure that it's painted white, and you'll be good to go.
Projector: The most budget-friendly projector out there is the one that you already own, so if you happen to have an LCD or DLP projector stashed away, just dust it off and bring it outside. But if you need to start from scratch on the projection front, projectors can be purchased new for anywhere from $500 - $1500. Or save some money by combing classified ads, garage sales and reputable online home theater forums for used projectors at deeply discounted prices.
Speakers: While some higher-end projectors actually have speakers built in, you'll achieve the best sound quality by hooking up your own speakers. But don't jump to the conclusion that you need to invest in full-on Surround Sound or dedicated outdoor speakers – while they do sound great, you're better off saving your cash and pumping the audio through old stereo speakers, instead.
DVD Player: Just as with projectors and speakers, you should always start by looking at what you already own before going out and buying a new DVD player for your outdoor home theater. But the great thing about DVD players is that even if you don't have an extra one lying around, a brand-new basic model can be had for under $50.
Video Game Console: If you think that watching a movie in the great outdoors sounds fun, what would you say to open air video games? If you or the kids are feeling too antsy to sit through an entire movie, break out the Xbox or PS3, hook it up to your projector, and find out how much fun the combination of summer breeze and Rock Band 2 can be.
Outdoor Extension Cord: You'll need to get electricity to your projector and DVD player somehow, and we recommend doing so with an outdoor-grade extension cord. Made to withstand weather and the kind of wear and tear that can only occur in open-air environments, outdoor power cords are the safest and most effective way to power home theater equipment under the stars.
Surge Protector: The risk of power surges doesn't end when you move your A/V equipment outside, so never forget to plug into a surge suppressor. While many people invest in higher-end surge suppressors for their indoor home theater and computer equipment, some folks may be wary of letting these pricier units take on surge protection duty in the backyard. If you'd prefer to use a less expensive model for your outdoor setup, we recommend opting for a simple surge-suppressing power strip, like the SocketSense™ adjustable surge protector.
Cord Covers: Every backyard home theater comes complete with extension cords that either hide in the grass or snake their way across the patio. Don't let the fun be interrupted by a trip-and-fall accident; instead, protect your kids, your neighbors, and yourself by keeping power extensions concealed (and safely traversable) with rugged cord covers, like Rubber Ducts by Electriduct.
Tent/Awning: While most summer evenings are undeniably gorgeous, sudden rainstorms aren't uncommon in the warmer months. Ensure that the show goes on by setting equipment up under an outdoor awning or canopy. Even if raindrops start to fall before your electronics can be hauled inside, at least they'll survive to play the next movie.
Lawn Chairs/Beanbags/Blankets: Whether you prefer to perch or sprawl out, be sure to have plenty of comfortable seating options available at showtime. While anything from chaise lounges to picnic benches will do, feel free to get creative (and more comfortable) with blankets, outdoor cushions, or even beanbag chairs with wipe-clean vinyl covers. And on those nights you invite the neighbors to join you, don't be afraid to designate the party as a "BYOS" (Bring Your Own Seating) event.
Rolling Equipment Cart/Stand: You may not be able to leave your outdoor cinema standing 24/7, but you can make it easy to set up and break down. Save yourself the inconvenience of multiple equipment-hauling trips by using a rolling equipment cart to bring everything you need into and out of the house. Not only do rolling carts save time, they also prevent injuries from lifting awkward or heavy components, and greatly decrease the chance of that butterfingered neighbor dropping the projector while "helping you out."
Light Strands: Because ambient light reduces the contrast of projected movies, onscreen images can appear watered-down if patio lamps or floodlights are left on during the feature presentation. But at the same time, it's still a good idea to have at least a little light so that you and your guests can move around during the movie without tripping in the dark. The best way to create a soft glow that won't detract from the onscreen action is to simply string up a few strands of Christmas or garden lights around the perimeter of your "theater." They'll not only increase the safety factor, but also add to the ambiance of your backyard cinema.