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Setting up your own home theater is not as expensive as it sounds. The idea is to watch a movie outside, not try to replicate the 5.1 surround sound of your inside home theater. Drive in theaters were nowhere near IMAX quality anyway. A decent outdoor venue can be created with a homemade screen, consumer level projector and receiver, standard stereo speakers and a laptop/Blu-Ray player/game console or set-top box. A simple setup like this is also desirable in case you need to take everything inside if Mother Nature decides to crash the party.
Sound: For the outdoors, a simple 2-channel stereo setup is ideal for two reasons. The first is ambient outdoor noise. There is no way to completely shut out ambient outdoor noise without walls and insulation. The second reason is that you do not want to annoy your neighbors and people the next block over with ground-shaking bass. Teenagers with oversized car stereos already have a lock on that.
This brings up a good point. Always invite your neighbors to your outdoor screenings. This lets them know about your planned event even if they can’t attend.
Picture: Unless you have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on your home theater setup, you will need to wait until it is dark before showtime. When you set up your screen, make sure that outside light pollution like a neighbor’s porch light or street lamp does not interfere with the picture. Even a full moon can detract from the picture’s quality. A screen can be as simple as an ironed bed sheet strung up on a wall, or a sophisticated inflatable screen like the Airscreen Airtight. Any consumer-grade projector will work fine as long as it is set up properly. Many projector set-up guides exist online to help you find the perfect projection angle. Likewise, the Web has numerous tutorials on building your own screen for indoor or outdoor use.