Now that spring weather has arrived and we are coming out of lockdown, this article focuses on Outdoor Entertainment and how to turn YOUR GARDEN into an outdoor cinema experience.!

We have put together the following information to help you with any questions and help make informed choices on things you should consider.

This article relates to installation of outdoor projection cinema screens. A large TV could be installed as an alternative (separate article), although this will not recreate anywhere near the same big screen impact or wow factor.

Turn your garden into a movie theatre:
Since lockdown, holiday cancellations, the closure of cinemas, theatres, and bars, much more time is being spent at home and the garden.  With more emphasis on social interaction outdoors, the garden, rooftop or patio has become a focus for entertainment with outdoor bars, gazebos, hot tubs, speakers and TV screens being installed. With the warmer weather and lighter evenings coming up, and the Euros football tournament starting in June, now is the time to think about getting ready to have fun again. Many homeowners do not have the luxury of space for a dedicated cinema room indoors BUT the garden has the potential for more flexible and un-confined options for large screen entertainment that can really add the ‘wow’ factor for your garden event or house party. However, there are a number of important factors to consider before inviting everyone over to watch the football or the latest movie on the big screen outdoors.

Brightness and daylight/sunlight:
Projectors and screens were traditionally designed to be used indoors, in a dark room with lights off and curtains closed. With vast developments in optics/bulbs over last 5 years, many projectors can be viewed under ambient light or even in daylight, although the quality is always diminished compared to a darker environment. However, no projector on earth is going to beat the output from the sun! Therefore when choosing a location for the cinema screen, ensure it is not positioned where it will receive direct sunlight. There are ways to prevent this by building a cover above to provide shading, either via a simple temporary canopy or a solid permanent structure such as a gazebo. Alternatively you will need to wait until the sun goes down! Unfortunately in the UK, when it is finally warm enough to sit outside in the evening, daylight hours can extend up to around 10pm, so it can be a bit late to start a movie, and most football games will be all over by then! A covered permanent venue/structure is also far more warm and cosy once the temperature drops later in the evening.

Electrics and weather:
Some of the equipment used for a big screen projection system will have electrical requirements. Certainly the projector itself will need mains power, the mini battery powered portable projectors are unsuitable outdoors. An electric screen may be convenient and there will also be power required for speakers/amp and any video source. Therefore an electric supply needs to be considered. It could be run as a temporary solution from an extension lead plugged into nearest socket in house, garage or shed. Alternatively an outdoor rated electrical socket/armoured cabling, could be installed for a more permanent/safer option.

Any electrical components should be installed under some form of weatherproof cover unless it is going to be set up temporary on each occasion only when the weather is dry – just don’t leave equipment out overnight! Also bear in mind it is not just rain that is a problem, the morning dew can also cause moisture ingress.

Projector options:
Generally, unless budget is not an issue, you aren’t going to spend same amount of money on an outdoor projector, than you would in a home cinema room inside the home. You probably won’t want a really expensive piece of electronics hanging from top of the gazebo outside! You will probably also be less concerned or critical with having the very best picture/sound quality system outside. The goal is more about having the impact of ‘big movie screen’ entertainment, which you can watch and enjoy anywhere outside with friends/family on special occasions. For more permanent, enclosed and secure structures, it could also be a venue which you may use on regular occasions.
So the good news, there are some low spec projectors that can be relatively cheap, and are reasonably bright, as long as you get the right one. Cost range will be from just £700 up to £1,500 depending on picture quality, brightness, and flexibility of installation. At all price points, you will be able to project an image up to 12ft wide which is more than enough for any garden. For outdoors, you ideally need a projector with a specification of at least 3500 lumen brightness. The higher the value, the better, especially when watching in daylight.
Avoid the really small gimmick portable projectors as they rarely have brightness above 500 lumens, and battery powered options just aren’t powerful enough.
A lower resolution of 720/1080/HD (rather than 4K) is also going to be plenty good enough for casual watching of TV programmes, sport and movies.
Projector positioning should also be considered – it can be safely and securely mounted on a bracket/pole out of the way with image perfectly aligned to screen. Or it can be placed upon a table in front of the screen and aligned/focused upon each use and then put away at the end of the night.

Projection Screen options:
A screen/surface is going to be required to project the image onto. The better the screen surface, the brighter and higher quality the image will become. The most important requirements; make sure it is bright white and it is smooth/flat. There are not many walls that I’ve come across that can achieve this – therefore I strongly suggest that a dedicated projector screen is used. There are many options to choose from. At the most basic form, you can buy very cheap white material screen or roller blind that you tie or stick to a wall or frame – in the advertised pictures they look great and they will just about work if you really want something cheap and cheerful. However they are not particularly good, the projected image quality will be reduced, and they don’t last very long. They will get creased and dirty and will flap around in any breeze.
I’ve seen huge inflatable portable screens which are ok for one-off larger events/venues but not really the most practical solution for a garden.
The ideal option is to use a ‘cinema’ screen, made from similar high quality multi-ply fabric used in higher quality indoor projection screens. These screens provide much better image properties, and will have a backing material to prevent daylight washing out the image from behind. The main options would be fixed frame, a manual pull down roller design, a pull-up tripod design or fully electric. Same principles apply to selection of the screen as it would with the projector, it is not really worth having a really expensive screen sitting outside, exposed to outdoor elements – therefore the cheaper models will normally suffice and it is worth spending between £100-£600 on this. Some budget electric versions can cost as little as £100 but you get what you pay for! All screens can be fixed to outside walls/buildings/fence posts or within the frames of gazebos and pergolas.

Audio options:
Many people forget that unlike TVs, most projectors do not have speakers. For those projectors that do emit sound, it is very weak and limited and not really suitable for outdoors. Projectors are primarily designed to project a large image, and not to provide any form of stereo or surround sound!
However, all projectors do have an ‘audio out’ socket which can be connected to an amplifier and a pair of speakers or directly to active/powered/PA type speakers. Therefore, speaker cost, cabling and installation requirements need to be factored in when setting up. This does not need to be particularly complicated or expensive but definitely needs to be included in the installation. There are many speaker options to choose from and many of you may already have an old spare pair of speakers that could be integrated into the system.
A surround sound system could be installed for more permanent or larger installations. High volume, portable PA speakers can be used for temporary events where sound needs to be heard over a crowded party or even linked to music videos etc.

Source/content options:
Now that you a have a cinema system, you need something to watch! Projectors are essentially the same as TVs – feed them with a HDMI source from a DVD player or digibox and the content will appear on the screen. Many projectors can also be set up with wireless connection to stream content from a phone or tablet although this can be unreliable and I wouldn’t really recommend that option.
If you just want just a movie screen then simplest method is to connect to a spare/cheap DVD player and load up your favourite films. You could also link up to a laptop to play digitally stored/streamed movies.
Most of you will want to watch TV, Sky and Netflix programmes. For watching live TV you will need a Freeview or Freesat digibox which need to be connected to your aerial or satellite dish. You could connect a temporary cable to a nearby aerial/satellite point indoors or have a more permanent aerial point installed in the desired location outside. Alternatively a ‘streaming media’ box can connected to projector. This would just need a wi-fi connection or a hardwired internet connection which could be more straightforward.
My personal favourite option is to use a Sky Q mini box, perfect for those of you that already have Sky Q system installed. What I like about these boxes are they are very portable, and will give you access to all live TV programmes, sport and movies, as well as recorded content, catch up/on demand, and Netflix. A wi-fi or hardwired internet connection is required but this does not necessarily need to be too difficult to achieve. We can install permanent outdoor wi-fi emitters or outdoor network points right next to the projector location.
A final option is to use transmitter/receiver units and single ethernet cable to remotely transmit video from your existing TV system that stays indoors (such as Sky HD, Virgin, DVD player etc). More expensive hardware is required to do this, but is does mean that equipment can be kept indoors.

We cover all aspects of the supply/installation of cinema systems and can provide full consultancy over the many options available and to suit most budgets. We can also assist with the design and construction of simple covered gazebos or fully enclosed outbuildings, as well as the installation of key services such as electrics, internet and aerial/satellite connections.

From the supply ‘one-off’ hired equipment for an event, or for portable, semi-permanent, or fixed installations, we can take care of all aspects.

Please get in contact for a quote or further information and allow enough time to get everything installed in time for the summer.

Email us or call Gavin on 07961801488