Splendor In the Grass: How to Set Up the Perfect Outdoor Cinema

Your summer vacation presents a dilemma: You want to enjoy the setting as much as possible, but you also need some quality time to veg-out. The solution? An outdoor projector. Drag out an extension cord and a blanket, rig up a screen, and problem solved. Short of passing out in a hammock, you've got the laziest summer pastime yet.

Here’s what you need to make it happen:

Projector

The most important part is also the easiest part. As long as you check the box on a few specifications, says Eric Thies, a founding partner of the A/V company VIA International in Los Angeles, you’ll be good to go.

  • The more ANSI lumens, the better: They’re a measurement of brightness. Fewer ANSI lumens means a weaker projection. It matters, Thies says, because “even if you’re watching it at night, there’s going to be ambient light to compete with.” The Optoma HD25-LV, for $1,030, has a relatively high 3200 lumens.
  • 1080 pixels should be your baseline; anything less and the picture will be grainy on a large screen. Most projectors in the $1,000+ range should meet the threshold, like this Epson Powerlite Pro Cinema model, for $2,699.

Screen

In a pinch, you can “certainly make a sheet work,” says Thies. “The real issue is keeping it flat.” But if you do want a professional display, you have to think about the gain of the screen, a measurement of how much light is reflected. “For an outdoor projector, you want a gain of 1 to 1.3,” says Israel Ael, the director of customer sales at Stereo Exchange, an A/V store in Manhattan. (A gain of 1 means 100% of the light that hits the screen bounces back.)

  • Most matte white screens have gains of 1. You can get a plain outdoor screen like this one from Visual Apex, for $249, or you can go all out and get an inflatable screen like this one from Gemmy Airblown for $169.

Speakers

Few summer delights become sadder than a supersize explosion on-screen accompanied by the tinny sound of your crummy computer speakers. But no need to lug your home stereo speakers outside; you can make things a lot easier by just going wireless. Your Jambox or Bose will do alright, but if those strike you as too small, you can go with a speaker with five drivers and dedicated amps from Sonos, for $399.

This doesn’t have to be perfect. "The performance expectations for a night out on the grass watching a movie are a lot different than a customized home theater," says Thies. "In a lot of cases, 'good enough' is good enough. Don't let the technology scare you away from getting it done and having fun."

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