Watching a film outside on a big screen is a great thing to do and is popular for both children’s and grown-up parties. We receive lots of enquiries about hiring the equipment to show a movie outside so we’ve put together this guide to help you understand what you need and how to set it up.
Before writing this I read various other articles about this subject and found that most concentrated on the look and feel, the location, the food, the drink and only touched on what equipment you need. I also felt that some of the articles led you well and truly down the garden path or skipped over some crucial elements. Many of them were accompanied by photographs of the physically impossible having been heavily photoshopped. I don’t want to put anyone off doing something which is great fun but I also don’t want you to be disappointed or frustrated when trying to achieve a good result.
In this blog I will guide you through the techy bits in an easy to understand way so you can choose your kit and create the best experience. Choosing the film, cushions, the food and drink I will leave up to you!
Have you got the power?
First off, you will need mains power for the projector and possibly for whatever you are going to play the film from. If you are setting up your cinema at the bottom of your garden make sure you have enough mains cable to safely get power to where it is needed.
Nowadays most people stream films from services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. Streaming is great but it will rely on good wi-fi or mobile data. It would be really irritating if the film keep stopping and buffering due to a poor signal. You may have great wi-fi in the house but what is the signal strength in the garden where you want to setup your cinema? Check the signal is OK and if necessary you could download the film in advance. If you plan to download check that you have enough space on your smartphone or tablet as a feature length film can eat up space.
A laptop computer is probably a better option than a smartphone or tablet. It will have more storage and will most likely have the right connector to plug straight into the projector. Failing that you could go old-school and playback from Bluray or DVD.
The all-important projector
This is the key ingredient and I’m going to have to get moderately techy here. The brightness of the projector is somewhat important. There is a rule of thumb that if you want to see an image on the screen the amount of light that the projector produces needs to be several times more than the amount of ambient light that is hitting the screen. What this means in practical terms is that it needs to be at least getting dark before you show your film. Trying to show the film in bright daylight just won’t work as the image will be completely washed out.
There are various websites and apps that will let you know the exact time that the sun sets on a given day at a given location. Use these to look up what time sunset is but bear in mind that the light drops significantly before that time and is also affected by the weather. When it is cloudy it is not nearly as bright as on a clear day.
As a rule I would go for a projector of at least 3000 ansi lumens. Brighter would be better if you want to start the film earlier. Once it is completely dark having a particularly bright projector doesn’t matter so much unless you have a really huge screen.
You can go full HD if you want to but it’s more about the fun experience so don’t obsess over it. We have full HD and WXGA projectors in various brightnesses available for hire.
If you are planning on buying a projector read the specifications carefully. All the main manufacturers will list the brightness in the ‘ansi lumen’ scale that allows you to make comparisons. The ‘ansi’ bit is important as it refers to a specific way of measuring the light output. Some other manufacturers quote just lumens or lux which can be meaningless. Pocket sized projectors that make bold claims all most certainly aren’t going to cut the mustard for this purpose.
So…. can I project a film during the day?
This is the big question that we get asked so I’m just reiterating what I have said above in a slightly different way!
If you want to show it outside then probably no. It’s usually just too bright. I read several other articles that said things like ‘modern projectors are so much brighter than they used to be’. That may well be true but they definitely are not brighter than the sun!
In theory if you could reduce the amount of ambient light that is hitting the screen to such an extent then you may be able to see the film but realistically that probably means that you’ve moved it into the shed or that the weather has deteriorated so much that the sky has gone black and a storm is about to break. Either way, it doesn’t sound much fun!
As a way of demonstrating how projection is affected by sunlight, we set up a 6ft matt white screen and used a new projector with a light output of 5000 ansi lumens. These pictures were taken at 4 pm on a clear day in mid-May in the east of England.
The screen is positioned entirely in shade. You can make out the image when there is a nice bright bit of the movie.
When in direct sunlight you can’t see any of the projected image at all.
During a darker bit of the movie the image almost completely disappears and only the brighter parts are visible.
Here the screen is partly covered with shade so you can clearly see the difference between shade and direct sunlight.
Where to put the projector
There are some projectors that have special wide angle lenses so that they can be positioned close to the screen. Most projectors have a zoom lens and at the widest setting would require the projector to be 1.2 to 1.5 times the width of the screen. Think about how you might set this up because sometimes that can mean putting the projector right where you want to sit as the projector will need to be directly in front of and perpendicular to the screen.
If you zoom the projector to the maximum narrow setting (zoom in) you will be able to move the projector further away from the screen. If you can raise it up and put it on something stable it will be able to shoot over the audience’s heads to hit the screen.
How big should the screen be?
You want to have it bigger than your TV otherwise it’s not a big screen! However, don’t be too ambitious on the size of the projected image. The bigger you make it the dimmer it will be as you are spreading the same amount of light over a larger area. If you double the width of the image it will be one-quarter of the brightness. If you make it three times as wide you will actually end up with one-ninth of the brightness. It’s called the ‘inverse square law’ but all you need to know is to keep it as small as is sensible if you need to maximise the brightness.
What sort of screen should I use?
The basics of any good front projection screen is that it is white in colour, matt (non-reflective) and that it is nice and flat. That is the optimum but you can often get away with a lot less. A white wall could work even if it isn’t completely smooth or even if it isn’t completely white! A classic white sheet is a good option as it is both smooth and white. You will need to stretch it flat and tie it tight as they have a tendency to billow in the wind which can cause the image to go in and out of focus.
For best results you should position your screen in a sheltered spot and bear in mind the direction. The sun sets in the west so positioning it where it will be in a shadow is a good idea if you want to start your film before dark.
We do have various types of projection screens available for hire, however, your care must be taken to ensure that they are stable when setup and returned clean.
Everyone thinks of the picture and the big screen but the sound is so important too. Nearly all projectors have small speakers built in but these will only be adequate for people who are sitting right next to it. They will normally be too quiet and have a thin sound. When you have speakers outside the sound kind of disappears. Without walls and ceilings for it to be reflected off it disperses in all directions and can actually get carried away on a breeze. Generally you will need a bit more from your speakers when using them outside although ultimately it depends on how spread out the viewers will be.
Along with the projectors we have various speakers available to hire that are good for this purpose. These type of speakers tend to be a bit specialised and not really the sort of thing you have around the home. Possible other solutions would be a guitar amplifier with a line level input or the larger type of computer speakers. To make it easy and practical you don’t really want to be moving hifi speakers and wiring up to amplifiers etc. One or two active (built-in amplifier) speakers would be ideal positioned near the screen.
Connecting the equipment is pretty straight forward. Connect your playback device to your projector using an HDMI cable. A laptop PC will normally have a full sized HDMI connector making it simple but if you have a Macbook or mobile device you will need the appropriate adapter to connect to an HDMI cable.
You may be able to run a long HDMI cable from the house to the projector so you can use your Sky box or other playback device. Bear in mind that there are limitations to the length of the HDMI cable which is roughly 10m for HD signals and 20m for SD signals.
To connect to your speakers you will normally have a couple of options depending on the playback device and type of projector.
On most projectors there is an audio output that you can use to connect active speakers or an amplifier. The connectors are normally RCA phono but can sometimes be a 3.5mm jack. Connect you speaker to this output on the projector and the audio from the HDMI source will be played through the speakers.
If your projector doesn’t have an audio output you can still easily connect extra speakers using the 3.5mm headphone jack on the laptop, tablet or smartphone. .
Connection setup showing audio being fed from the laptop (or mobile device) to the speakers. If using a laptop make sure you select the headphone jack as the audio playback output in the PC’s control panel.
Connection setup showing audio being fed via the projector to the speakers.
If you need some help choosing the best equipment for your outdoor cinema please get in touch using the details below.
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projectors & screens
AV Stumpfl 10’2 – 3100×1800 (3000×1700 viewable)16:9 Projection Screen
AV Stumpfl 12’8 3860×2260 (3660×2059 viewable) 16:9 Projection Screen
AV Stumpfl 15’1 4600×2700 (4400×2500 viewable) 16:9 Projection Screen
AV Stumpfl 8’4 – 2540 x 1470 (2440 x 1370 viewable) 16:9 Projection Screen
AV Stumpfl Projection Screen Flying Brackets
Christie H Series D12WU DLP Projector WUXGA 12000lm
Christie H Series Flying Frame
Christie H Series Zoom Lens 0.84-1.02:1
Christie H Series Zoom Lens 1.5-2.0:1
Christie Q DWU951 DLP Projector WUXGA 8900lm
Christie Q Series Short Zoom Lens 0.8-1:1
Christie Q Series Zoom Lens 1.7-2.6:1