How to Build an Outdoor (or Indoor) Movie Theater for Under $200
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Bringing the fun of watching a movie on the big screen to your home isn't just for rich folks anymore. In fact, you can put a pretty nice outdoor (or indoor) setup together for less than $200 -- here's how.
As a lifelong fan of movies, there's nothing I love more than watching them on the big screen. I've always dreamed of owning my own movie theater that serves beer and shows classic movies from my childhood like 'Big Trouble in Little China' and 'Road House.' Unfortunately, I ended up being much poorer than I expected and cannot afford to buy a movie theater. Since there are no Alamo Drafthouse locations in our area to fill that void, I decided to make my own little theater... in my backyard. Actually, I made two -- one indoor, one outdoor.
My family and friends have had so many great times sitting near the firepit and watching movies in our backyard. I enjoy it so much that I think everyone should have a setup like this. The good news is that pretty much everyone can afford to have a setup like this -- and I'm going to tell you what you need.
In the last several years, technology has advanced in the world of projectors to the point that you can get a perfectly functional product for relatively cheap. Sure, you're not going to be viewing it in 4k, but who cares? I've been using my outdoor projector (which isn't even true 1080p) for three years and it rules. The picture is great and it's definitely exceeded my expectations. I got it on a flash deal for like $67 years back. If you keep an eye out, you can find a similar deal -- they have them all the time.
Just make sure that it has an audio out/headphone jack, HDMI input, and a USB jack. Mine has that, an RCA input with the adapter, and a VGA input as well. It's nice to have that kind of flexibility for your video source, and many of these affordable projectors have all of those inputs. The one I purchased for myself is no longer available but I purchased this one for a friend and he loves it:
This one comes with a 100-inch screen, but you can find similar projectors without a screen that are slightly cheaper.
If your projector didn't come with a screen, you can either hang a sheet (I did that for a while, but it sucks), make your own (did that too) or spend $20 and get a decent screen. Here's the one I got:
Measure the area you plan to have the screen to make sure it will fit, this one is a 120", which barely fits on the side of my shed. They make them in 100" too. If you don't have a shed or fence to hang the screen on, you may want to look for one that has a stand with it, like this.
Now, I didn't have to spend money on this because I used an old guitar cable, quarter-inch to headphone adapter, and an old amp I had lying around collecting dust. It sounds kind of like the old drive-in speakers, which is very nostalgic and awesome. I've left the thing out in the rain and snow for three seasons and it still works somehow. Chances are, you have an old speaker or Bluetooth speaker with an aux input you could use for sound as well. If not, you could go thrift shopping for a cheap old amp like me or just buy something. Anything with an aux input will do the trick, like this.
This seems extra, but I don't have one and trust me when I say eliminating the frustration I get while trying to wedge enough random objects under the projector to get the perfect angle on the screen is well worth the cost.
I've used an old DVD player, an old smart Bluray player, a computer, and SD stick loaded with movies -- you name it we've used it. Hopefully, your viewing area is within reach of your wifi, because the best and most versatile video source we've used is a streaming stick.
There are few little cords and things you may want to have to complete your setup, and you more than likely already have some of these.
Longer Aux Cord
You'll probably want a few extra feet to move your speaker as needed.
Wifi Range Extender
This allowed us to stream Netflix in the backyard without constant buffering.
You can play stuff via your cell phone with these.
If you have an indoor or pavillion/deck setup, this might be the better way to go. Here's the one I have.
Hopefully, you have plug-ins near your outdoor theater area. I didn't, so I had to run a few of these boys.
Yep, you'll want one of these too.
Trust me -- you'll want a bag to carry all this stuff. Keep the bubble wrap case your projector comes in or replace it with some sort of padded case just to be safe.
I realize that the grand total of all these items is well beyond $200, but you can get the essentials -- projector, screen, speaker, tripod, and steaming stick -- for $185.96. That's all you need to get started. The rest is just icing on the cake.
There you have it. Just add some friends and family, some camping chairs, maybe some adult beverages, and a fire and you're ready to have a good time. If you get all this stuff soon you should be able to sneak in several outdoor movie nights before it gets too cold for that kind of thing... then you can move your setup indoors.