The Tech-pert: Build a Backyard Home Movie Theater

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For the past couple weeks I’ve been reviewing Open Air Cinema’s OAC True HD CineBox Home, which provides everything you need for a killer backyard theater: a Blu-ray player, a high-definition projector, a big, inflatable screen, and powerful speakers.

It’s an awesome setup–but also mighty expensive: the kit costs a staggering $5,499. Fortunately, it’s possible to cobble together your own outdoor theater for considerably less.

Let’s start with the projector. If you can swing it, opt for a high-def model, one that delivers 1080p resolution (just like your TV). A solid bet is the Optoma HD20, which is currently available from Buy.com for $899.

If you want a cheaper option, consider a 720p model like the Optoma HD66, which NextWarehouse has for $640 shipped. The movies won’t look quite as sharp, but they will be brighter: the HD66 delivers 2,500 ANSI lumens (the standard measure for projector brightness) to the HD20’s 1,700.

Pair either model with any inexpensive Blu-ray player. Geeks.com has a refurbished Insignia NS-WBRDVD2 for $69.99, a model I own and like.

Next, you’ll need a screen. The cheapest option by far is to hang a king-size bedsheet (either white or light gray) on your garage door. Alternately, if you’re handy with tools, you could build a portable outdoor movie screen for around $40 in parts, as described in an Instructables tutorial.

For speed and convenience, however, check out the Gemmy Airblown Inflatable Movie Screen, which you can get from Amazon for $169.99. It comes with everything you need: a blower, tethers, stakes, and a storage bag.

Last, but not least, the sound system. The aforementioned Open Air Cinema kit combines a Rolls MX122 MiniMix Pro (available online for about $100) sound mixer with a pair of Behringer Eurolive B208D speakers ($185 apiece, also online). If you’ve got room in the budget, I can’t recommend this combo highly enough; the sound quality was phenomenal (and loud).

On the other hand, if you have an old stereo lying around, you could probably pair the receiver with the Blu-ray player, then connect any available speakers (though you might need to spring for longer speaker wires so you can position them close to the screen). Hit up a few garage sales and you might find perfectly serviceable audio gear for next to nothing.

Be sure you have plenty of extension cords on hand, as well as a flashlight or two so you can find the pause button in the dark and take down all the equipment when the movie’s over.

So there you have it. For around $1,700, you can piece together a pretty amazing backyard theater. You can also do it for well under $1,000 if you take a more DIY approach to some of the components. Then invite the neighbors, pop some popcorn, and enjoy your personal drive-in!

Self-proclaimed cheapskate Rick Broida has been a technology writer for over 20 years. He has authored over a dozen books, including, most recently, “How to Do Everything: Palm Pre.” Currently he writes the Cheapskate blog.

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  1. Allegra.Ringo

    3 years ago

    This sounds so fun! If I had a backyard, I’d definitely consider doing it. Outdoor screenings are the best thing. If you can’t afford to build your own backyard theater, I recommend checking for outdoor screenings in your area during the summer. Lots of cities have them, and admission is usually cheap.

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  2. Kenny01

    3 years ago

    This sounds like a great idea, especially considering the fact that summer’s just kicking off.

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