You don’t need to visit a movie theater to enjoy a movie theater experience. These days, with the availability of affordable and portable video equipment, you can host your own backyard movie nights, sports game parties or video game sessions without breaking the bank. Here’s what you need to share big-screen outdoor entertainment on a budget with your family and friends.

Projector or TV

Once upon a time, hauling a big screen TV into your backyard might have required a team of movers. Today, many models are light enough to be easily carried by one or two people. This simple solution allows you to host an outdoor movie night without making any major purchases, provided you’re comfortable with the minor hassle and risk of moving your TV outside and back.

If you prefer a bigger screen and a more authentic movie experience – or simply don’t want to mess with your TV setup – a video projector is the way to go. Cheap models such as the YABER K1 can be had for as little as $300, although higher-priced models such as the $1,100 BenQ HT2060 will provide better brightness, color and other features. When shopping for a projector, consider the image brightness (a minimum of at least 1,000 lumens is recommended), throw distance (how far the projector can project), image size and aspect ratio (the size and shape of the projected image), connectivity (what cables and devices can interface with the project) and whether the device has built-in speakers.

If you go the projector route, you’ll need something to use as a screen. This can be an exterior wall of your home, a bedsheet or white blackout cloth, a homemade screen or a store-bought screen. Your projection surface should be as flat, solid white and stationary as possible to produce the best image. Freestanding outdoor projection screens, such as the 100-inch Elite Screens Master Plus, cost several hundred dollars. Screens without stands (such as those that are meant to be hung or mounted) or those in smaller sizes generally cost less.

If buying a screen, you’ll likely want to choose one that matches the aspect ratio (shape) of your projector’s resolution, such as the popular 16:9 wide screen format rather than the older 4:3 ratio. Some screens allow the image to be projected from the rear rather than the front, which may be better for keeping your projector and its beam out of the way of your audience.

Video Source

Your projector or TV is no use without something to supply video content to it. If you’re using a smart TV, it may be able to play video content on its own over a Wi-Fi connection. Otherwise, you’ll likely need to plug an external video source into your TV or projector, such as a laptop, smartphone, tablet, streaming device (e.g., Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, etc.), Blu-ray or DVD player or video game console.


If your TV or projector doesn’t have built-in speakers, or if you want better and louder sound, you’ll need to provide and connect your own speaker (or speakers), such as a soundbar or a Bluetooth speaker. This is often possible by running an aux audio cable from the projector or TV to the speaker or connecting via Bluetooth signal if both devices support it.

Other Supplies

Here are some other items you may need or want to complete your backyard theater setup:

  • Extension cords and power strips
  • Media cables (e.g., HDMI)
  • Video content (e.g., digital rentals, video files, Blu-ray discs or DVDs)
  • Food and beverages (don’t forget the popcorn!)
  • Seating (e.g., patio or camp chairs and blankets)

Setup Tips

Once you have all the necessary components, follow these additional tips to make the most out of your big backyard theater night:

  • Test your setup beforehand at your intended viewing hour to ensure that everything works as expected.
  • Check the forecast for weather that might spoil your event, and turn off any automatic sprinklers that could douse your setup.
  • Be a good neighbor by informing nearby residents that you’ll be projecting images and sound in your backyard – or invite them to attend.
  • Review local regulations, and don’t charge admission without the video copyright holder’s permission.
  • If your screen is visible to the public, stick to PG-rated content.
  • Cover cords and cables or keep them out of the way to avoid tripping hazards.
  • Take care to prevent food, children, pets, weather and other hazards from damaging sensitive electronics or knocking over the screen or other objects.
  • Consider using rope lights, solar pathway lights or glow sticks for safety lighting.
  • Refer to your projector’s instruction manual for specifics on outdoor use.


Say goodbye to movie tickets and overpriced concessions, because with this gear and know-how, you’ll be sharing the magic of the big screen in the comfort of your own backyard. Enjoy!