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How to make a backyard movie theater

How to make a backyard movie theater
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Now that it’s nice out — and you can invite your friends over — a backyard movie theater is a fun way to enjoy a warm summer evening. Best of all, setting up a backyard theater doesn’t require the budget of a Marvel blockbuster.

Here’s all the equipment you’ll need for a backyard theater, and how to get everything set up for movie night.

Set up a backyard theater: What you’ll need

How to make a backyard movie theater

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

A digital projector. Unless you want to re-create a drive-in movie theater, pretty much any projector you find in the $50 to $100 range should suffice. For instance, I have this Naxa projector, which produces a 150-inch image. It’s $65.

Apart from the image size, it’s important to get a projector that has an HDMI port as well as an audio-out jack, for reasons we’ll get to later.

Naxa Electronics Home Theater LCD Projector

Naxa Electronics Home Theater LCD Projector

A streaming stick. Unless you have movies stored on a USB or microSD card, you’ll need a streaming stick to deliver a steady flow of flicks. Among the best streaming devices, the Roku Streaming Stick+, the Chromecast with Google TV, or the Amazon Fire TV 4K are all fine options.

While something like the Fire TV Cube is more powerful, it’s better in this case to go for something smaller that’s easier to set up and plug directly into your projector.

Roku Streaming Stick+ HD/4K/HDR Streaming Device

Roku Streaming Stick+
HD/4K/HDR Streaming Device

A Bluetooth speaker. One downside of budget projectors is that they don’t have the best audio. A Bluetooth speaker can quickly remedy that. The easiest way is to find a Blueooth speaker with an audio-in port, and simply plug it into the projector.

Many of our picks for the best Bluetooth speakers lack an audio jack, but you can also link a streaming stick to a Bluetooth speaker wirelessly.

Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 Portable Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker

Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
Portable Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker

V-Moda Remix Bluetooth Hi-Fi Mobile Speaker

V-Moda Remix
Bluetooth Hi-Fi Mobile Speaker

A large white bedsheet. There are plenty of pop-up and inflatable outdoor screens, but a large white bedsheet held up by a clothesline will do just fine.

A tripod or small table: Your projector will need to be off the ground and leveled. Many smaller projectors have a tripod mount on their bottom, and a tripod is the easiest way to make sure to level the projector with your screen and get it to the height you want. A  small table or chair could also suffice.

Among the best iPhone tripods, the Ravelli APTL3 should be strong enough to support a projector.

A power strip and an extension cord. You’ll need some juice to power everything, so find an extension cord that can reach your ad hoc theater, and a power strip with at least three plugs, so you can plug everything in.

What you might need

A Wi-Fi extender. Depending on the strength of your router and the size of your yard, you may need one of the best Wi-Fi extenders so that your streaming stick can reliably play whatever movie it is you want to watch. It’s best to test your connection a day or two prior to any screening, just in case you have to adjust things.

Chairs. Unless everyone is comfortable sitting on the ground, it’s nice to have some chairs for them to sit in.

Popcorn: No moviegoing experience is complete without popcorn. This popcorn maker costs about $37, makes up to six quarts of popcorn, and is a popular model on Amazon.

West Bend 82505 Stir Crazy Electric Hot Oil Popcorn Popper Machine

West Bend 82505 Stir Crazy
Electric Hot Oil Popcorn Popper Machine

How to set up a backyard theater

You’ll want to give yourself at least half an hour prior to the show to set everything up. Ideally, you should do a test run the night before to see how dark it should be so that the movie looks good.

How to make a backyard movie theater

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

  1. Set up your screen. Attach the bedsheet to a flat surface such as a garage or a wall of your house. Another option is to run a clothesline between two trees, and hang the sheet from the clothesline. Be sure to weigh down the bottom two corners to keep the screen from billowing.

  2. Place the projector in front of the screen using either a table or tripod. Turn on the projector to get a sense of how much it will fill the screen, and adjust it as necessary.

  3. Plug your streaming stick into your projector and turn everything on.

  4. Pair your streaming stick with your Bluetooth speaker. Instructions will vary based on the streaming stick you use.

  5. Try streaming a video. This will let you know if your Wi-Fi connection is strong enough. If it’s not, you may need to move the entire setup closer to your house, or get a Wi-Fi extender.

  6. Wait until it gets dark and start the movie! Lower-priced projectors don’t have as powerful lights as more expensive models (the brightness is measured in lumens), so you may have to wait until it gets dark enough so that you can see the movie well.
Mike Prospero

Michael A. Prospero is the deputy editor at Tom’s Guide overseeing the home, smart home, drones, and fitness/wearables categories, as well as all buying guides and other evergreen content. When he’s not testing out the latest running watch, skiing or training for a marathon, he’s probably using the latest sous vide machine or some other cooking gadget.