Entertainment

HandiTheatre Review: A Blow-Up Cinema For Your Backyard

The HandiTheatre is a blow-up home theatre solution that comes with (almost) everything you need to set up an outdoor cinema in your backyard. The star of the package is a custom-built inflatable screen of up to four metres in length. We tested out the HandiTheatre with a screening of Grease (as you do.) Read on for the Lifehacker verdict.

The HandiTheatre is a DIY outdoor cinema that has been designed with easy assembly and storage in mind. The package includes a 3200 ANSI Lumen 720p projector, an aluminium tripod with projector stand, a pair of 8in speakers, a separate subwoofer, the aforementioned blow-up screen and an electric air pump. The only thing that’s missing is a media player to connect to the projector. You’ll need to source this yourself, be it a laptop, Blu-ray player or video game console.

Pricing ranges from $1799 all the way up to $4998, depending on the screen size you plump for. We tested the entry-level 2.5m version which is large enough to provide “comfortable viewing” for up to 50 people.

First the specs:

2.5M HandiTheatre HD Outdoor Home System
Contents 2.5M HandiTheatre HD Screen with supporting beams, HD projector (720p) with projector stand, Logitech Z623 w/ subwoofer, electric blower, tethers, repair kit and stakes (pack of 4), canvas carry bag with hold cables
Shipping $50 Australia wide
Price $1799

Design & Setup

The HandiTheatre comes in an over-sized dufflebag, rolled and folded like a giant’s sleeping bag. The projector, speakers and accessories are housed in a separate box. The entire package is compact enough to toss inside a car boot, although we wouldn’t recommend lugging it around by hand: when piled together, the contents are extremely heavy.

Setting up the HandiTheatre is surprisingly quick — the supplied electric air blower inflates the screen in seconds. (The connector will also accept a regular air pump if you prefer to do things the old fashioned way.) Once it has been inflated, the screen needs to be secured to the ground with ropes and plastic pegs, just like a tent. It’s then a simple matter of setting up the speakers and projector as you would in any other viewing situation.

All told, the setup process took around 10 minutes, which is imperative when you’re hosting a screening for impatient kids. The package includes a step-by-step guide for tech shy customers although it’s all pretty straightforward.

Now, before you start planning horror movie marathons in the woods, it’s important to note that the projector and speakers are not battery operated. If you don’t have a portable power generator, you’re going to need to connect it to a wall outlet with a bunch of extension cables. This shouldn’t be an issue for most backyards but it’s something to keep in mind if you live on a very large property.

Features & Performance

The HandiTheatre is wind, rain and sun-proof, although it’s not a good idea to leave it permanently erected in your backyard as the projection surface is pretty light and flimsy. The display has a windrating of 35khp, which means you can continue to use it in gusty conditions.

The screen is constructed from a lightweight stretch Lycra fabric which can be removed from the inflatable bezel for washing. This is similar to the material they use in movie theatres and is optimised to make projected images really “pop”. However, you really need to use it in the dark to get the best results. (This is no different to regular projectors which struggle in bright lighting.)

Cleverly, HandiTheatre has included a space at the bottom of the screen which serves two functions: it ensures people’s heads don’t get in the way of the people behind them and can also be used for branding if you’re using the theatre for business purposes. (Adding your own company logo, for example.)

After positioning and calibrating the projector, we were good to go. I connected the supplied projector to my PlayStation 4 via HDMI. We whacked on Grease for the kids (skipping the rude bits, natch) and the result really was like having a movie theatre in our backyard.

Just like real cinema screens, the projection shows through on the other side of the screen as a reversed image. This means you could potentially seat people on either side of the HandiTheatre for double the fun. (Although you’ll obviously need to give subtitled movies a miss.)

The included speakers and projector did a pretty decent job during testing. (We were given an Acer P1383W projector and Logitech Z623 speakers but the supplied models apparently vary.) Despite our home being situated on a noisy highway, we could still hear everything perfectly, albeit at full volume.

If you already own a home theatre system and projector, you can buy the HandiTheatre screen as a standalone product: the 2.5-metre version costs $899, the 3-metre version costs $1499 and the 4-metre version costs $3498. You can purchase them here, here and here respectively.

You might be wondering how the HandiTheatre is any different to tossing a white sheet over your clothes line. We actually put this to the test using the supplied projector and the results were markedly worse. There really is no substitute for a proper projector screen — for those who can afford to buy it.

The HandiTheatre definitely has the “wow” factor you would expect from a product that costs north of $1000. Our neighbours — who have a commanding view of our backyard from their patio — were astonished by the product and were keen to snap up one of their own.

Conclusion

The HandiTheatre is an enticing proposition for Australian movie buffs. Whether it’s worth the $1799 asking price depends on how often you think you’ll use it. If the notion of weekly movie nights sounds like fun it’s definitely worth considering.


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