Outdoor projectors: how to get a better picture on movie night

Top quality viewing from your own garden is guaranteed with our advice on choosing all the elements of your outdoor projector set-up

Outdoor projector in use in garden with couple laying on floor
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Having an outdoor projector really is the cherry on top of a long Bank Holiday weekend where we are likely to be blessed with warm weather. Because long summer nights enjoying your garden AND watching your favourite films, the latest releases, and unmissable box sets sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? But to get the very best picture on your outdoor projector movie nights, you’ll need to choose the right elements and set up your garden just right. 

That’s where we come in. We’ve rounded up all the advice you’ll need to make viewing pleasurable. 

You’ll find the best outdoor projectors in our guide, then just follow our tips on choosing, the screen, getting the best picture, and the light in your outdoor cinema. Just scroll down.

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How to choose the best outdoor projector

When you’re buying, pay attention to the specifications of the projector. Brightness is the first of these you should be aware of, and this is measured in lumens. Look for at least 2,000 lumens, but 3,000 lumens or more might be preferable to get a quality image in the garden.

An HD projector may be what you’re after – although it’s not a pre-requisite if it’s more the outdoor cinema experience you’re after. To spend less, you can get away with an 800 x 600 SVGA resolution projector, but better is at least 1280 x 800 WXGA.

You’ll also see the contrast ratio specified. This is the difference between the darkest and lightest images that will be visible. High contrast is good, but bear in mind that ambient light in the garden will reduce this.

What about your outdoor screen?

An outdoor screen should be white, non-reflective and flat. If you’ve got a nice white wall to project on to, you’re ahead already. Most of us don’t, though, and you might have read that you can use a white sheet. True? Well, it could fulfil those criteria, although it won’t give you the best picture possible. 

If you are taking the white sheet route, you’ll need to make sure your sheet doesn’t move around if there’s a breeze, so choose a sheltered spot, weight it at the bottom, or hang it using hooks and nails. If it needs to go on the washing line, peg the bottom corners to the lawn as well as the top to the line.

If you want to make your own screen but create something a little more sophisticated, you’ll need to get yourself some black-out lining – the same stuff you’d use for blinds or curtains. Sew sections together to make the screen and attach timber battens at top and bottom. You can then fix hooks to the top batten, and position fixings in the wall to hang your homemade screen from.

For a superior movie-watching experience, we recommend buying a projector screen that’s specified for outdoor use, and that you can hang on a wall or fence, or the back of your house. You can choose from motorised or non-motorised versions. The former start at very affordable prices – in other words, you can save your sheets for the job they were meant to do. Motorised designs are more costly, but if you’re going to use it indoors as well when the weather’s not good, it could be worth the extra spend for push-button control.

Improve the picture on outdoor movie nights

When you’re watching films outdoors, dark is good. You may want to start an outdoor movie night early (especially if we’re talking a long film), but you’ll struggle to see the screen if there’s too much daylight still. Wait until dark has started to fall, at least.

You’ll need to avoid positioning the screen near any street lights, and you need to consider the lights inside your house, too. These could reflect on the screen, compromising the quality of the picture. Think about the screen’s orientation as well; it should be in shadow if you are beginning your screening before it’s fully dark.

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