You can dodge those sticky cinema seats, provide your own snacks and have a lot of fun with a backyard movie night at your own place. Here’s everything you need to get started.
We can all watch movies from the comfort of our lounge rooms, but there’s something special about changing up the venue. Sure, that could mean going to an actual cinema (if it’s open) or a drive-in (if there’s still one nearby), but your own back yard has a whole host of advantages over either location.
You’re not stuck with the movie choice available at your local multiplex, for a start. You don’t have to deal with other people’s children, and if folks are talking during the movie, the chances are pretty good that you know them by name and can more easily tell them to shut up without a fight erupting.
Here’s what you need to make your next backyard movie night a roaring success.
Is it legal to screen movies in my own back yard?
We’ve covered this question before, but the broad answer is yes… mostly.
You have to possess some kind of title to the film in question – so you own the DVD or Blu-Ray, or have an active subscription to the streaming service, because piracy is by definition not legal. You can’t charge admission, because those licences don’t cover paid performances. You’ve got to obey local noise laws, so having those three million watt speakers pumping the chase scene from Terminator 2 to all and sundry is likely to be a no-no.
You’ve also got to keep your backyard movie experience within the definitions of “private”, so if you don’t have fences and neighbours could peer in, it’s probably not okay. You’re also bound by the law as it relates to obscene content, especially if children are present, so that screening of Debbie Does Dallas is going to have to happen indoors.
Can I show a cartoon before my backyard movie screens?
Absolutely – subject to the same conditions as above – and you should, because it’s a fine old cinema tradition that’s sadly all but dead save for Pixar movies these days. Whether you want to go the full retro experience and run an old school news reel as well is up to you.
What do I need for backyard movies?
At the very least you’re going to need some kind of projector, some kind of screen and some kind of content. You can totally go down the DIY route for a home movie screen with little more than a white sheet, although commercial alternatives with better stands are also readily available.
There’s a lot you can do to bring the movies to your back yard, and plenty to consider. Here’ are some suggested products to turn your outdoor space into a film lover’s dream:
Optoma UHD50 ~$2549
If you want to go all out on this backyard cinema idea, it makes sense to match it up to a top-quality projector, although you will pay a serious price for this kind of kit. The Optoma UHD50 offers 4K HDR10 playback, HDMI 2.2 support and up to 15,000 hours of playback time. That’s a lot of backyard movies per lamp.
Anker Nebula Capsule Max ~$1409.72
If getting power to your projector is going to be an issue because your “back yard” idea incorporates Australia’s wider spaces, you could opt for a battery-powered projector like the Nebula Capsule Max. It incorporates a Netflix client so you can download supported movies directly to it, removing issues of Wi-Fi based streaming, and comes with inbuilt speakers, making it a good solution if you want an easy path to your next movie binge.
There’s a lot of choice in the budget projector space, and a lot of wild claims as well. If you just want an image to throw up between the sheet you’ve strung between a few trees then most cheap projectors would get the job done, but what should you really look for?
Obviously you’re going to accept a few compromises in terms of visual fidelity, but you should consider a few key features when assessing cheap projectors. Maximum and minimum throw sizes are important, because there’s no point buying a cheap projector and then finding out you’ll only get a postage stamp sized screen from it, or that its minimum size is bigger than the area you want to project on.
Brightness is also key – look for as high a lumen rating as you can get – because unless you’re starting your movie in pitch blackness (like most cinemas do, in essence) you’ll lose detail due to other light sources. Being able to adjust the brightness of your cheap projector will make a big difference.
Cheaper projectors also often skimp in terms of connectivity, so make sure that your chosen output device – whether it’s your phone, a home server or a laptop – can hook up to it.
A DIY screen solution is fine if you’ve got the space to build and store it, but commercial offerings can have the benefit of easier transport and folding options to boot.
There’s a lot of variety in features and pricing in the portable screen space, so you’ll likely need to match up your space with the available options. If you’ve got a handy nearby wall you can get away with a hung screen, while if you’re using a freestanding space you’ll need a frame and stand option. You’re not stuck with a hard frame either, because you could always opt for an inflatable outdoor cinema screen.
Take note of whether your area is susceptible to wind gusts, because nothing ruins a movie more than the screen constantly blowing over. Easy storage (and an optional bag) is a big plus too, because you’re not going to be leaving the screen up all the time.
Many projectors feature integrated speakers, but most aren’t really tuned for good cinematic appeal. You’ll almost always get better results from a dedicated speaker, but you can make a few choices depending on the specifics of your projector and movie source.
An outdoor Bluetooth speaker is a good all-round option, especially if it has any kind of IP rating because then it’ll stand up to repeated use even if the skies do start falling.
If you don’t mind a few trailing wires you could go the whole hog and pull a 5.1 (or bigger) speaker system into your back yard, although there is a point where you’re going to lose a lot of fidelity simply because most of those systems are built around the idea of reflecting sound around an enclosed room. You could go nuts and bolt a few Dolby Atmos speakers to your trees if you’re so inclined, but it’s arguably a waste of time and money.
You probably have a few of those cheap and terrible plastic outdoor chairs for the garden, and sure, they’ll do as somewhere to park your backside when the movie starts.
Good luck staying comfortable in them after the first half hour of your movie marathon, however. That’s where a beanbag rated for outdoor or pool use can be a real godsend, because you can easily array them as needed, and every viewer can squish them into the shape that’s most comfortable for them as you make your way through every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Did you really go to the cinema if you didn’t scarf down a bucket of overpriced popcorn?
No, no you didn’t. But the reality is that while popcorn economics supports much of the cinema industry, popcorn itself is cheap and easy to make at home. It’s also more flexible because you can add more than just salt or butter to it and make as much or as little as you like. You can make it simply with a standard pan or go for a standalone popcorn maker if you prefer an easier life.
Your back yard doesn’t have an aisle to roll them down – and it would be a bad idea anyway because you’d attract ants like crazy – but no movie viewing experience is complete without a little (or a lot) of chocolate.
No, don’t argue with me about this. I’m right and you know it.
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