15 Apr Show Thyme: How to Build an Outdoor Theater in Your Garden
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Movie night under the stars — in our own garden — is one of our favorite luxuries. The tips of our rosemary hedge or an aloe on the succulent table might poke shadows along the bottom of the screen…but that only adds to the cozy theater feel.
The modern frame that supports and encloses our pull-down screen was designed and built by Ryan back in 2011, a little while before we started blogging. (Our reasoning: an outdoor living room wouldn’t really be a living room without a TV.) He built it under our tangerine and orange trees, and since then, we’ve watched concerts, feature films, documentaries and old episodes of Beat-Club featuring Chuck Berry in our yard after dark.
We also used the outdoor theater while hosting a Super Bowl party, which became controversial in the comments section of Apartment Therapy; we’re also sensitive to the noise issue and we swear we haven’t had any complaints from neighbors, thanks to generous-enough margins around our properties. Keeping the volume at a reasonable level and inviting our neighbors to the parties in question has also helped. Also, wireless headphones are essential! We use them whenever we watch movies.
To broadcast sound outside we connect RCA cables from our receiver‘s Zone 2 output to another amplifier that we mounted under an eave. From the amplifier we connected quality weatherproof outdoor speakers. We own four wireless headphones but only need to connect one of their bases to the receiver’s headphone jack. RF headphones work great because there is no visual/audio delay in the sound broadcast and there is no limit to how many people can listen in.
If you do not want to hard-wire your sound, you can use a low-latency Bluetooth transmitter to broadcast sound from your laptop to your low-latency Bluetooth headphones or outdoor speaker system (using a low-latency receiver). This will work great if you are projecting from an HDMI output on your laptop. Make sure to check that your Bluetooth transmitter can accept multiple connections if you want to enjoy movie night with friends without disturbing the neighbors.
As far as logistics go, we bring our programs to the big screen using an HD projector that we switch between indoors and outdoors. To simplify moving the projector outside, we hard-wired a long 75FT HDMI cable from our indoor receiver’s second HDMI output to the projector’s location for outdoor projecting. We also have a second power cable pre-wired in that location, too, so setting up the projector outdoors takes less than five minutes.
If you don’t want to hard-wire your outdoor connections, these new portable projectors seem to be a great solution for quickly setting up your outdoor theater from a laptop near the projector.
Last summer, we added a trellis to the top of the screen because our Costa Rican butterfly vine (Dalechampia dioscoreifolia, also bow-tie vine) needed more space to spread. Today, the curtain of leaves and flowers and the citrus trees arching overhead create a certain effect — that you’re watching a great story unfold somewhere just as wild. A garden theater.
Want to make your own? Here’s the DIY, complete with sketches we made on the amazing 3-D program SketchUp. Since we first built our theater five years ago without the trellis top, these instructions are slightly different from—and better than—how we built our own.
If you decide to take on this project, let us know if you have any questions in the comments! And hey, maybe invite us over for a screening…
DIY Outdoor Theater
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