Even though most movie theaters across the country are currently scheduled to be open in July, that doesn’t mean that all moviegoers are willing to brave the risk. If you aren’t quite ready to sit in an enclosed space with strangers who may frequently remove their masks to eat popcorn and drink from two-gallon jugs of soda, there is an alternative: the backyard movie theater.
This spring, my son and I decided to use our time during quarantine to put together an outdoor theater at our home in New Jersey. As COO of Vox, my background is in tech, and he is going to college for audio engineering, so we had a pretty good idea of what we were looking for. We just needed to find the right equipment. After a few days of research, we had everything we needed, including a projector, screen, soundbar, and cables. By the weekend, we were ready for our first screening.
Since the days are longer in the summer, and you still want to get the kids to bed on time, you’ll need to prioritize a projector with sufficient brightness to allow your movie to be visible in early evening light. My eldest son and I avoid smaller, portable, less bright projectors and decided just to put some really long extension cords in our cart instead. We settled on this model because it is highly rated but priced in the middle tier. (Maybe the top of the middle tier, but worth it.) The only downside really is that it doesn’t come with a nice bag or case to carry it around in. Our solution was a repurposed conference backpack that has some padding for a laptop. The extra pockets are helpful to hold the remote, the cables, and even those extra extension cords.
We decided a 120-inch diagonal measurement is the right size to serve a socially distanced backyard of friends and family. Even when we were watching alone, we thought it would be cool to have a big movie experience. We stayed away from the inflatables, because they were reviewed as either noisy or not as stable, and we knew we wanted something that worked for both forward- and rearview, in case we wanted to set things up so that small kids could wander around without interrupting the show. (One important note: It doesn’t matter that your screen can be used in rearview if you don’t have a projector with a “rear projection mode” setting). The Vamvo seemed perfect. It has a high-quality terylene screen, it’s easy to set up and collapse (which is important for parents trying to either quickly get everything ready or tear it all down as we take the kids to bed), and it’s priced right. It weighs only seven pounds and comes in a cool carrying case.
Depending on the size of your backyard and how far you plan on setting the projector from the house, you’ll probably need a long extension cord. This one has great reviews and comes in lengths up to 100 feet.
Any capable laptop can be connected to the projector to stream movies, but if you’re looking to invest in a new computer, take this recommendation from our colleagues at The Verge, who named the XPS 13 the best laptop you can buy right now. (You could also use a Roku or Apple TV.)