It almost goes without saying that "movie night" means something a little different to most of us than it may have back in the good old days. Once upon a time, it invariably meant everyone squeezing into the family car and driving down to the local theater together to take in the latest new release over a jumbo-sized bucket of buttered popcorn. These days, it's just as likely to mean relaxing together at home in front of the latest Netflix release or a hot new rental from Redbox.

That said, modern families that have made a tradition out of hosting their own family movie nights are always on the lookout for ways to keep the experience fresh and exciting for everyone. Many are even choosing to take their back yards to the next level by transforming them into charming outdoor theaters with an outdoor projector screen – the perfect way to enjoy movie night and make the most of the balmy summer days to come.

However, it's important to understand that your viewing experience will only be as good as the equipment you select. Here's how to make sure yours is everything you need it to be and more:

Understanding How Outdoor Viewing Differs from Indoor Viewing

Many people looking to create a stunning outdoor theater already have projectors and projection screens that work perfectly well indoors. They simply assume that same equipment will perform just as well outdoors only to be sorely disappointed by an experience that's hardly drive-in quality.

When you watch a projected movie indoors, it's generally (and ideally) in a room that's perfectly dark and controlled. This allows for the type of viewing experience you'd expect in a theater environment; however, it's never perfectly dark outside, even after sunset. Your projector will be competing with ambient light from passing headlights, house lights, street lamps, your fire pit, your barbecue grill, the moon, and even the stars on a clear night. You'll need to select a projector and screen capable of offsetting the interference caused by these light sources.

Selecting Equipment That Can Really Deliver

Start by making sure you're using a projection screen designed especially for use outdoors, as it will not only be stronger and better able to withstand the elements, but also may be designed with ambient light interference in mind as well. You can install a permanent screen that remains in place at all times or select a portable model that's a snap to disassemble and bring indoors once the credits roll. The choice is yours!

Choose a projector that is bright enough to project a strong, clear image that will look just as good outdoors as it would indoors. The larger your screen, the more lumen power you'll need to have at your disposal. If you're working with a relatively small screen that measures 9x5 feet, you'll be fine sticking to projectors that pack between 1,500 and 2,300 lumens. However, if you're dealing with a jumbo 40x22 foot screen option instead, you'll need between 5,500 and 12,000 lumens to deliver a quality, theater-grade viewing experience.

You also will need to consider the placement of your projector and screen to determine if you will be using front or rear projection. A front projection setup may be more common but not necessarily more ideal as the audience must be configured around the projector and cannot block its path to the screen.

You will also need to determine which type of projector to use. A standard throw projector will require you to place the projector much further away from the screen in order to project a large image. Short throw projectors allow you to place the projector much closer to the screen to make a large image, however they often lack any sort of optical zoom. This means that they need to be placed in a fixed position in order to make a certain size image.

There are also Ultra Short Throw projectors which allow you to place the projector extremely close to a screen to produce a large image. The  Ricoh PJ WX414N  for example can produce an 80" image from less than 10 inches from the screen!

Ricoh PJ WX4130N Ultra Short Throw Projector

You also need to determine which type of projector screen is best for your outdoor setup. Outdoor projector screens have special surfaces intended to withstand the abuse of mother nature. These surfaces are intended to be easier to clean and are more resistant to the elements.

You will also need to decide on what type of screen to get; inflatable, pop-up, folding frame, or DIY style screens all work well for an outdoor theater and all are portable for easy setup/take down.

If you want a permanent outdoor setup, Draper offers the Nocturne Series E (electric) and Nocturne Series C (manual) lines for a truly impressive outdoor theater system.

Draper Nocturne

Looking for something that is easy to take down and setup? Perhaps an inflatable screen is more up your alley.

 inflatable projector screen

Click here to view all of our outdoor screens

Last, but definitely not least, select equipment from a reputable manufacturer and purchase from a vendor you know you can trust.

What Else Do You Need to Know?

Don't simply assume that an outdoor projector capable of projecting high-lumen images is going to be too large and too heavy for comfort. Today's outdoor projectors are not the same as the ones that were standard even five years ago. Back then, it wasn't uncommon for a 5000 lumen projector to weigh a whopping 90-100 pounds. These days, a projector that is just as powerful or more weighs in at a mere 10 pounds on the average. Much easier to manage and certainly manageable for home or personal use! That said, don't let concerns about potential size or weight stop you from investing in a projector with a high enough lumen capacity for your needs.

You'll want to make sure you understand the importance of keeping your outdoor projector properly maintained as well. Outdoor environments bring factors like dust and wind to the table, making proper filter maintenance absolutely critical. Get in the habit of cleaning your projector's filters after each use to ensure that high pollen counts, wayward dust particles, or even smoke from your backyard barbecue never get the best of your projector. Dirty filters can quickly lead to lasting damage or chronic overheating, ruining your investment.

At the end of the day, the key to an unforgettable outdoor theater experience is quality projection equipment that is up to the task and proper maintenance of that equipment once you have it. Explore your options today and make it a summer to remember!