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Summer is traditionally a time of movie blockbusters, but the past few years have been anything but traditional. Still, as the weather heats up and vacations begin, we're all itching to get outside and take advantage to the fullest. While some of us might not feel comfortable flocking to the multiplex for summer blockbusters this year, there are plenty of ways to zhuzh up a stay-at-home movie night for you and your friends.
In fact, if you’ve got a backyard, you’re well on your way to curating an outdoor movie night of your own. Here's everything you'll need to host movie night under the stars.
A great portable projector
If all you want is a no-fuss, easy-to-use projector, we recommend the $500 Anker Nebula Mars II, our current pick for the best portable projector. It's 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 a great 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.
Thanks to its built-in Android operating system, you can easily access streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, but because Netflix is capped at 480p (projector software is often poor), we suggest using a streaming stick from our list of the best streaming devices, like the Roku Streaming Stick.
For a little extra brightness oomph, the Anker Nebula Mars II Pro is rated for 500 lumens of brightness (as opposed to 300 of the non-Pro version) for only $50 more. You'll find all the same other features, including battery power long enough to make it through the director's cut of Fellowship of the Ring, Android OS, and the built-in carry handle for easy portability. If you’re planning on holding a screening after the sun goes down, the Nebula Mars II or Nebula Mars II Pro are bright enough to accommodate.
Best projector on a budget
Sometimes good things come in small $269 packages. The AAXA P400 weighs just over a pound, and fits in the palm of your hand, so bringing it anywhere is easy. But don't be fooled. Its performance far outpaces its diminutive appearance.
The P400 can throw a 1080p image on the screen with plenty of brightness for nighttime entertainment, especially if light pollution is limited. Its short throw distance means a 100-inch image is possible from just over 5 feet (the Anker above needs almost 9 feet of space for the same image size). There's an onboard media player, but you'll still want to pair the P400 with a streaming device.
The P400's biggest drawback is the two-hour maximum battery life in Eco power mode, so an extension cord is required for a longer movie. (Then again, you'll need a power source for your streaming device anyway.) The contrast also isn't the best (this is an issue with most LED projectors), but for a quick and inexpensive movie night setup or to watch the ballgame, the AAXA P400 is tough to beat.
Two outdoor projector screens that’ll stand tough
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. A white wall or bedsheet will do in a pinch, but if you want to bring things up to the next level—and you find yourself indulging in backyard movies often—you'll want a dedicated screen.
If you need a screen with a stand, we recommend the Vamvo outdoor/indoor projector screen for most folks. Available in 80-, 100-, and 120-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.
For a truly budget option, the Mdbebbron 120-inch Projection Screen costs less than taking the family out to the theater. It doesn't include a stand, but it does come with a bunch of hooks to hang the screen on a wall by the grommets around the screen's edge.
A sound solution for outdoor audio
Regardless of which projector you end up going with, there’s a very good chance that its internal speakers aren’t up to the task of delivering solid audio for you and your crew. The sound can make the movie, so pairing your projector with a portable speaker should be a high priority.
The JBL Flip series offers some of the best sound and durability you can get. Its battery will easily last through a movie and then some, it supports Bluetooth 5.1, and its weather-proof design keeps it safe from dirt or an errant drink. And since it's perfectly suited for the outdoors, the JBL Flip 6 will keep on providing entertainment whenever—and wherever—you see fit.
You could opt for a premium pair of speakers, or one of our best soundbar recommendations, but for a quick and easy setup, a portable Bluetooth speaker is the way to go. Audio fidelity is nice and all, but there's something to be said for ease of use (and affordability).
Our round-up of the best portable Bluetooth speakers offers multiple other options as well.
If you really want to feel the movie you're watching, the JBL Boombox 2 delivers loud, thumping, cinematic sound to match the big screen. And to go along with the big bass is good presence and clarity across the frequency spectrum. Like all JBL speakers, it's thoughtfully designed and rugged. There's also a built-in handle for easy portability. It's pricier than the Flip 5, but it's perfect for stepping up the audio. Did we mention it's loud?
Many of us already have a collection of speakers around the home, maybe without realizing it. With an Amazon Fire TV as your streaming device, using your existing Amazon smart speakers is a breeze. You could even set up some entertainment routines with Alexa and automate the evening.
Once you’ve secured a projector, screen, and speaker, all that’s left to do is pop some corn, decide which movie to watch, sit back and relax. There's a whole host of backyard chair options, and movie choices are endless. Might we suggest introducing the kids to the Star Wars universe or streaming an action movie?
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.