DIY Outdoor Movies: Create Your Own Backyard Digital Playground

The following is an excerpt from an article originally published in Popular Mechanics magazine (July 2009 issue) about some Do It Yourself ways to make your backyard as high-tech as your home.

It offers a great start to creating your own backyard home theater or video game set-up. Suggestions on outdoor projectors, speakers, and video game consoles are spot on, but we think they missed the boat on their recommendations for an outdoor movie screen: "any white tarp will do". Anyone with a flat screen, high-def TV will tell you: the screen counts. Sure, a white sheet hanging from some trees will work, technically, but if you're looking for a high-quality outdoor cinema experience, or a projection surface for your video games that rivals your indoor home theater, an inflatable screen is the way to go.

Nonetheless, we loved this article for its DIY presentation and high-tech backyard solutions. This is a great read for dads needing more toys for their poolside BBQs, or anyone with a soft spot for high quality outdoor cinema.

Ah, summertime. The weather is warm, the grass green. It's time to turn off the surround sound, put down the video-game controller and head outside, right? Well, let's hold on just a second. I'm a big fan of fresh air, but must we leave all our music, movies and video games inside? I say, absolutely not! The back lawn is as conducive to high-tech fun as the living room.

The same home theater projector that can turn a living room into an at-home cineplex can also turn your backyard into a drive-in. And screening outdoor movies is made simple with all-in-one projectors such as the Epson Movie-Mate series and the Optoma DV11. These projectors have built-in DVD players and speakers, so the only connection needed to set up an instant backyard cinema is an electrical extension cord.

Backyard Home Theater

If you like your outdoor video entertainment a bit more active, any projector with composite video and RCA audio inputs can easily be hooked up to the Nintendo Wii gaming system, throwing human-size characters on any available projection surface. For the standard-def Wii an ordinary white tarp will do. To ensure a 6-foot-tall image, you'll want a tarp measuring at least 11x6 feet (for a 16:9 aspect ratio) or 8x6 feet (for 4:3 aspect).

Tie the ends to trees or use spring clamps to attach your tarp to a fence. Keep in mind that the Wii needs an infrared-light-sensor bar placed at the bottom or top of the screen to work properly, and the wire for the Wii's IR bar is 11 feet long, which can restrict the placement of the Wii and, consequently the projector. In my experience, you want to get your projector back a good 10 to 15 feet to ensure a large enough image.

That's doable with the existing wire, but you can avoid a lot of potential trips and tangles with a wireless IR bar accessory from Nyko ($20). Also, you'll want to offset the projector to get it out of your way and avoid playing against your shadow. Most projectors have dials that allow you to correct the keystone effect you get when projecting from an angle. Once you're all set up, you and your friends can swing your Wiimots to your hearts' content while racking up strikes in your virtual open air bowling alley.

Source: "Backyard Digital Playground" by Glenn Derene -Popular Mechanics, July 2009.

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