What the Tech? Outdoor Movie Theatre: Picking the Right Screen

Sometime last year when the world stayed at home, I decided to create a backyard movie experience. Why? It’s cool of course, but at the time my wife and kids were getting tired of my company and wanted to see their friends. With social distancing, we could invite friends over and sit in the backyard at a safe distance apart.

And you know…it’s as cool as it sounds.

Over the past year, I’ve tried different projectors and screens to get the best movie experience. First, I draped a sheet over the garage door. When I wasn’t totally satisfied with the images, I purchased a fabric screen on Amazon for about $30 that claimed the colors wouldn’t bleed through the back of the screen.

But watching a movie sitting in the driveway wasn’t what I’m looking for. I wanted everyone to be able to sit in comfortable chairs or on blankets in the grass. I decided to purchase two movie screens from Amazon that appeared to be what I’m looking for. One screen is from the highly-rated Elite Screens from its Yard Master series. The second was a generic inflatable 18′
screen from a Chinese company I’d never heard of.

Whichever screen turned out best I will keep. The loser in my tests will be returned to Amazon. Here’s what I’m looking for: the best picture (of course) and the ease of setting it up and taking it down and putting it back in the portable case or bag as I plan to take it other places.

First up: The Elite Screens YardMaster. It’s huge at 120″ diagonally. The screen is black on the backside so none of the colors will bleed through. The screen fits nicely into a carrying case.

To set it up, you have to attach metal legs to the frame. This was fairly easy and the sides snapped into place. The Yard Master is sturdy and while you might need to attach ropes and stakes to keep it from falling over in a wind, it’s pretty stout and I didn’t need to tie it down (at least on the night’s I’ve tried it).

The screen attaches to the frame with snap buttons which was fairly easy to do. It was a little difficult stretching the screen the first time I used it which is a good thing. By stretching the screen most, if not all, of the creases and folds disappeared. I imagine the more I set up this projector the easier this will be.

120″ is huge and plenty big enough for most people but when I put the Yard Master next to the 18′ inflatable it looked too small. Note that Yard Master sells a much larger screen that’s well over $200 so I’d settle for the smaller one.

Now the 18-foot inflatable screen from a company named GYUEM. This screen was $155 when I purchased it a few weeks ago. It’s currently $170 at Amazon. When I opened the bag it comes in, the screen and frame were packed nicely. Not once did it cross my mind at the time “how am I going to get this back in there?”

The inflatable screen comes with a small fan you attach to the rear of the screen’s frame.

Attaching that fan was more difficult since it only uses two laces you wrap around the fan’s nozzle to tie. Tie the laces too loose and the fan comes detached and the screen quickly collapses.

The fan must run the entire time and it’s a little noisy. The sound though turned into white noise after watching the movie for a few minutes but my wife said it was distracting.

The screen itself connects to the inflated frame with Velcro which attaches pretty easy however it was impossible to get rid of the creases and folds in the screen. This bothered me more than the noise from the fan.

The inflatable screen really needs to have tie-down ropes because a gust can send it tumbling across the backyard which means it’ll come apart from the fan and you’ll have to start all over.

With a powerful outdoor projector, the picture quality on both screens was incredible. The black-backing made it impossible for colors to bleed through.

Taking the screens down is (to me) more important than the ease of setting them up. You’ll likely put up the screen when there’s daylight. Taking the screen down after the movie or game ends is trickier. It’s dark and trying to get an 18-foot screen deflated and the screen at least taken off the frame to prevent it from getting dirty is not easy.

 

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