The Gadget Q&A
Host a summer screening
Lawn darts, pool parties, barbecues – why not add premieres to your list of warm-weather fun? Here's how to screen films in your backyard.
Tyler Rieg, 13, watches a concert projected on a 16' x 9' outdoor movie screen by Tyler's father, Brian Rieg, in their backyard in Medina, Ohio. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)
With a projector, a makeshift screen and proper planning, you can host your neighbors for al fresco DVDs and a side of Wii Sports Bowling. To pull it off on the cheap, you need your own projector, or you and your friends can pool cash to buy or rent one.
Start out small, then figure out what works and what doesn't so you can improve for next summer. Learn from the mistakes of novices and experts alike at backyardtheater.com and avsforum.com. Here's a timely, updated recap of an article I wrote three summers ago:
Projector: ($300-$1,500): Choose a unit with a rating of at least 1,500 lumens, bright enough for twilight viewing. The projector will be about 10 to 15 feet away from the screen, unless you want a super-big image on a super-big screen. In that case, look for a projector with a long-throw lens and 2,500 to 3,000 lumens. If you'll be displaying an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game, a high-definition projector will make it sparkle, but a standard-def projector will do the job and save you some bucks. A Wii looks best in standard definition.
The projector is the costliest part of your project, but there are companies that rent A/V equipment, and it can be affordable if families setting up the event chip in together. You can rent the fixings for a backyard theater. Digital One (digital-one.com; 888-282-7574, ext. 203), based in Ohio, rents projectors to many cities nationally, starting at $89 a day, plus round-trip shipping of $20 (next-day delivery is available for at least $50.
What to watch: Digitally animated movies ("Cars," anyone?) show up really nicely on screens. Familiar favorites ("The Wizard of Oz") are good, as well as movies that not everyone has seen ("The Water Horse").
Screen: This is the trickiest part — You have to stretch a large length of matte (you don't want shiny) fabric taut enough so that it doesn't sag. The poles that hold up the screen have to be stout and secure to hold on to the screen in breezy conditions. The screen assembly has to be easy to put up, take down and store. It's a tough job that people have tackled in many ways. But you can do it for only a few books. 20 feet of muslin from a fabric store can do the job. For advice in words and pictures, head to backyardtheater.com.
Another option: Buy a $200 Gemmy Airblown inflatable movie screen from stores such as Wal-Mart or Best Buy and online at gemmy.com and amazon.com. The 12-foot screen has a built-in fan that inflates it, and it comes with a storage bag to hold the deflated screen. The inflatable screen is best used on a hard, even surface, such as a patio.
Speakers: Your stereo speakers will suffice.
Laptop, DVD or video game system: A movie night is fun, but why not start off with a Wii game that everybody can play? It keeps everyone entertained till the inevitable latecomers show up.
Supporting cast: You'll need a table or two to hold the projector, DVD player and video game. Sit the table on top of a piece of plywood, to keep the projector level for onscreen viewing. You likely will need an outlet strip; a thick, durable extension cord; speaker wire; and cables to connect your video source to your projector.
Special effects: "Network attached storage" is a fancy phrase for "hard drive connected to your Wi-Fi network so everyone can use it." Something like ReadyNAS from NetGear stores copies of your movies, which you can beam to your laptop, which you connect to your projector. If you don't mind taking your HDTV outside, the Peerless HD Flow multimedia kit connects it to your Blu-ray or DVD player wirelessly, which leaves fewer wires on the ground for running kids to trip over.
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