What the Tech? How to build an outdoor theatre

By JAMIE TUCKER Consumer Technology Reporter

If you’re old enough to remember drive-in movies, you know watching a movie outside is better than in a living room. But which projector is right for you and what kind of screen do you need?

Amazon has lots of cheap movie projectors from brands you’ve never heard of. Some of the ad claims are exaggerated. I haven’t tried them all, but a 4K projector for under $100 is hard to believe. But they may be good enough if you only occasionally watch a movie on a sheet against the wall.

When shopping for a portable projector pay attention to two numbers: Lumens and Resolution. LED and Ansi Lumens are both a standard that measures the amount of light the projector puts onto the screen. This is important if you’re ever watching a movie at dusk. The higher the Lumens, the brighter the picture.

Projectors in HD resolution will be sharper.

For a true movie experience, expect to pay over $300. The Anker Nebula projector is battery-operated and can play movies from a streaming stick, laptop, phone, or anything else with HDMI. It has a cool shape and displays movies in 720 HD with 200 lumens.

Viewsonic has projectors for all budgets. The M1 and M1+ are both good for portability though both project pictures that are in the lower VGA rather than HD. They have 120 lumens, a battery that’ll play for about an hour and a half. It’s super portable, small enough to fit in your back pocket.

Unless you’re projecting onto a screen of over 100 inches, these are fine projectors to take on a camping trip.

For a bright picture, look for at least 1000LED lumens such as the Viewsonic M2E which also plays movies in 1080 HD. I tried it recently for a big backyard party on a 120-inch screen. Even at dusk, the picture was bright enough to enjoy. It doesn’t have an internal battery so you’ll need power.

All of the projectors play movies from a streaming stick, laptop, phone, or anything with an HDMI or USB connection. They also have apps built in to play content from the Google Play Store and Netflix.

As for projector screens, inflatables can be as large as 20’. They require power and the blowers can be a little loud. They’re also difficult to store away.

Freestanding screens like the Elite Screen 120” portable screen have a higher quality material that prevents the picture from bleeding through so it displays all the colors and brightness a projector dishes out.

These are also much easier to set up and take down for storage. The Elite Screen Yardmaster series that I’ve tried takes about 10 minutes to set up and 10 minutes to take down and put back in its case. It’s a one-person job.

Expect to spend around $200 for a premium screen, and $300 or more on a quality projector. There are lots of choices. The best one for you depends on how many people are watching, how dark it’s going to be when you watch, and whether you can plug it into power.


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