Whether you’re dangling your leg in a lake from an inflatable boat while watching Jaws on the big screen, or clambering through a wardrobe of old, musty coats before viewing The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe in some quirky venue, outdoor and secret cinemas have never been more popular. However, if scorching temperatures and the call of the barbecue have you more inclined to stay home, then why not set up your own garden cinema?
They’re fun, sociable and not just for summer, either – and I’m talking from experience here. Our first garden cinema was in mid December a few years ago when I came outside to discover (courtesy of the other half) a small marquee housing our projector screen, with fairy lights everywhere, fake snow on the floor and patio heaters set up for warmth. Friends came over, we lounged on garden furniture while sipping mulled wine and watching Christmas movies back to back – festive gatherings don’t get much better in my book.
Skip on to the summer and out came the projector again. It was hooked onto the wall and there it stayed for the duration, where it was used almost every day, whether it was for a film, to show a sporting event (the World Cup happened to be on so you can imagine how popular we were with friends and family that summer!) or to catch up on Love Island after a day’s work (I know, we’re a cultured pair aren’t we?)!
Yes, there’s an initial outlay, but it’s a good investment and not only will you get to choose what films you watch and and who you invite, but you’ll also benefit from front-row seats, the food and drink of your choice, and you don’t have far to travel. Bonus, right?
Fancy setting up your own version but not sure where to begin? Let me help you. I live with the most gadget-obsessed, review-reading, tech-savvy guy who is pretty smart when it comes to getting the best for his money. With that in mind, here’s four steps to get you started…
Okay, this is the biggie – you can’t have a cinema night without the projector. It’s the key ingredient, but also the scariest to buy as it’s the part you don’t want to get wrong. What if you buy one that’s too tricky to use, isn’t right for your garden or, even worse, has a fuzzy picture? Yes, one of the most common misconceptions is that projectors won’t be as clear as a cinema screen, but thankfully that’s not the case and the latest models are bright enough that you can see the screen even with the lights on – or in the case of garden cinemas, with the sun out. There are projectors for every budget, but I’m going to focus on an entry level design and one that’s a bit more affordable. I say entry level, but models under this umbrella will still give you a fabulous picture – they’re just not the ultra-pricy models you might choose for a dedicated home cinema room. I tested the EH-TW650 model from Epson, which is an easy-to-use, full HD projector with built-in Wi-Fi and 3,100 lumens (about 3000 is good for a starter model). It’s capable of creating a 300-inch display and has a 15,000:1 contrast ratio, which produces clearly defined shadows and deep blacks – in short, you’ll get a great picture. It isn’t waterproof so you’ll need to store it safely inside when not in use, which is why this model is ideal as it’s easy to transport to where you want it. Worried you need to be technically-minded to be able to use one? Don’t be. You simply plug it into your electrics (an extension lead will do the trick), line your projector up with your screen/wall, plug in your Firestick or use the Wi-Fi to link to your phone or laptop and play whatever you like – YouTube, movies, regular TV… the world’s your oyster. Cost-wise? It’s not a cheap purchase but if you take into the amount of use it’s going to get and how good the picture is (you might even want to use it over your TV all year round), then it’s well worth its £599.99 price point. My advice? Shop around for deals before you buy.
Next on the list is the cinema screen. Sure, you can try to rig a white sheet to a wall somewhere but for under £100 you will get far better quality and a much better experience with an actual projector screen. We have two screens that we use depending on what we want: one is a large motorised design that hooks onto the back of the house (or an outside wall), and that you control at the push of a button. Made from an engineered three-layer construction with a black frame, this Homegear 100-inch design is a smart option that’s suitable for regular, HD and 3D projectors – we tend to use this when we have friends and family over and in need of a larger screen. Alternatively, if you want a more budget option, the screen we’ve used in these pictures is a non-motorised design available from Amazon and costs just £15.99. Again, you just hang it on hooks and it’s a good option if you fancy taking it with you when you go away, on camping trips, etc, as it folds into a drawstring bag and is quick to put up (you could string it between trees quite easily). Both screens are great for indoors as well as during the winter if you don’t have a plain white wall to project onto.
You’ll need to put your projector at the right height for your screen, and keeping it off of the floor also means you’re not likely to trip over it. You can, of course, put it on a table but, if you don’t mind spending a little more, then one of these handy trolleys are ideal. This one is under £50 and has two platforms, one for your projector and the other for a laptop if you want/need it. The ridged edge means that even if it is knocked, your devices won’t slide off – a good idea because if you’re shelling out money for these gadgets then you don’t want one clumsy knock to be the end of your summer cinema.
Let’s talk sound. We all know that sub-standard speakers just aren’t going to cut it so it’s worth making sure you get this right to ensure you don’t spend the evening straining to hear what people on the screen are saying. You can connect a speaker through your projector’s 2.5mm jack (or go for a model with Bluetooth), and if you’re after one that’s good value for money then this system with subwoofer is a good option. With a whopping 120W of power, you’ll be able to hear the film above any chatter and it’s currently been reduced down to £64.92 – get it while you can.
So, those are the important bits, but now for a few other tips to make sure your garden cinema is picture perfect…
*If you want to watch your screen during the day when the sun is at its strongest, it can be tricky to see, even with the best projector money can buy. We invested in a small open-sided marquee which we put over it for daytime use, along with a blackout board that we made ourselves (that we put behind the screen), and it means you can watch it even when the sun’s glare is on the screen.
*Firepits are all important for evening viewings – there’s nothing quite like having one to a) keep you toasty warm, and b) toast marshmallows for S’mores. We got ours from The Farthing.
*Finish off with an outdoor bar so you don’t have to interrupt the film to go inside and top up. Either an ice bucket with chilled wine, a mini fridge, or a drinks trolley will all do the trick – this serving cart from Wayfair is ideal and you can always paint it if the wood finish isn’t to your liking.
*We put our cinema screen against an old garage we have in our garden that houses tools/bikes, etc. It was a bit of an eyesore, so we gave it a spruce up by cladding it in featheredge wood and painting it using Weathercoat Exterior Gloss paint in black from Homebase. We also added a herb wall to the side to add a bit of greenery, using two Garden Up mesh panels and clip-on baskets.
That’s about all you need to know. Believe me, outdoor cinemas are easier than you think to set up and such good fun for kids, young and old! I’ll sign off with a garden cinema shopping list, with the 12 key items I used. You’re welcome.
1. Acapulco chair, £37.95, Homebase. 2. Rori side table, £18, Homebase. 3. EH-TW650 projector, £599.99, Epson. 4. Adjustable trolley, £49.99, Amazon. 5. Monochrome tassel cushion, £12, Argos Home. 6. Battery-powered black metal lantern, £25, Argos Home. 7. Ragkorn plant pot, £19, Ikea. 8. Rectangular outdoor rug, from £33.74 for a 80 x 150cm rug, Modern Rugs. 9. KPCB 100-inch Portable Projector screen, £15.99, Amazon. 10. Classic festoon lights, £45, Garden Trading. 11. Svartpeppar plant pot holder, £9, Ikea. 12. Garden Up mesh panel, £12, Homebase.