Home Theater

Here's everything you need to have an affordable outdoor movie night at home

Movie theaters are closed—why not bring the cinema to your backyard?

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Warm weather is right around the corner, but with stay-at-home orders remaining in place across the country, there’s no guarantee that this year’s summer season is going to resemble those of the recent past. A pastime as simple as dinner and a movie is one of many we’re setting aside in order to protect ourselves and those around us.

But while we might not be flocking to the multiplex for hotly anticipated summer blockbusters this year, there are plenty of ways to zhuzh up a stay-at-home movie night for you and the people you’re sheltering in place with. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to have access to a yard, you’re well on your way to curating an outdoor movie night of your own.

A portable projector that won’t break the bank

Anker Nebula Mars II Portable Projector
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

There are certainly better, brighter projectors, but the Anker Nebula Mars II is our pick for the overall best for most people.

The world of projectors is a complicated one; you could spend days sorting through various product listings and technical specifications and still walk away unsure of your options. If all you want is a no-fuss, easy-to-use projector, we recommend the Anker Nebula Mars II, our current pick for the best portable projector.

The Nebula Mars II is a battery-powered DLP projector (with 1280 x 720 resolution) that offers hardware and software flexibility, respectable picture quality, and a friendly, practical design. It isn’t the best, brightest projector on the market, but it does offer the best blend of picture quality and value.

Some key features that make the Nebula Mars II a great pick for outdoor movie night are its 12,500mAh battery (good for about four hours of continuous operation), its HDMI port (should you decide to hook up a Blu-ray player or streaming device), its Bluetooth compatibility, and its 3.5mm audio jack.

But by far the best feature of the Nebula Mars II is its built-in Android operating system. With it, users can easily access streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Video (though it’s worth noting that Netflix in particular might not hit the projector’s 720p resolution ceiling).

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If you’re looking for a brighter projector with a little more oomph, you may want to peruse our round-up of the best portable projectors for a higher-end device. If you’re planning on holding a screening after the sun goes down, the Nebula Mars II is bright enough to accommodate.

Get the Anker Nebula Mars II from Amazon for $369.99

An outdoor projector screen that’ll stand tough

Vamvo Outdoor/Indoor Projector Screen
Credit: Amazon / Vamvo

Available in 80- and 100-inch models, this outdoor projector screen from Vamvo is a great entry-level option for those looking to have a no-fuss outdoor movie experience.

While you’re certainly not going to get cinema-level quality with a budget-friendly projector screen, there are affordable options that’ll serve you well for an outdoor movie night.

Right now, we recommend the Vamvo outdoor/indoor projector screen for most folks. Available in 80- and 100-inch sizes, the screen is easy to assemble and disassemble, fits the standard 16:9 aspect ratio, and can be secured into the ground with stakes to prevent cinematic calamity. You may need to iron out some of the screen’s creases before use depending on your situation, but the screen’s ability to be folded and stowed away more than makes up for the extra elbow grease.

Of course, you could also simply project the image onto the side of a house, garage, shed, or any other flat surface (provided you have such an option), but this solution is obviously not as flexible. The Vamvo screen is a great entry-level option for folks who are looking to have a fuss-free movie night without investing in a premium setup.

Get the 80-inch Vamvo Outdoor/Indoor Projector Screen from Amazon for $89.99

A sound solution for outdoor audio

Bluetooth Speakers
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

A slim, affordable Bluetooth speaker is the easiest way to enhance your projector's audio without spending an arm and a leg on equipment.

Regardless of which projector you end up going with, there’s a very good chance that its internal speakers aren’t up for the task of delivering loud-enough audio for you and your crew. Pairing your projector with a portable speaker, therefore, should be a priority.

You could opt for a premium pair of speakers, I suppose, but we’re aiming for fun and affordability, not precision. Audio fidelity is nice and all, but I imagine that money’s tight for a lot of us at the moment.

Our round-up of the best portable Bluetooth speakers is a great place to start your search. We recommend scooping a speaker with a 3.5mm audio jack for easy connectivity—just in case you encounter some interference while trying to maintain a wireless connection.

Of the speakers we’ve tested, we love the booming, bass-heavy sounds of the JBL Flip 4, our favorite portable speaker on the market. Its battery life is phenomenal, it comes equipped with a 3.5mm audio jack, and its splash-proof design makes it ready for the great outdoors. Plus, when movie night’s over, the JBL Flip 4 will keep on providing entertainment whenever—and wherever—you see fit.

Get the JBL Flip 4 from Amazon for $74.99

Once you’ve secured a projector, screen, and speaker, all that’s left to do is pop some corn and decide which movie to watch. Might we suggest streaming a Marvel movie?


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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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