Can't I just project my shiny 4K video onto my garden wall and be done with it? No! Well maybe yes, if you don't mind sacrificing precious video quality on the new projector you just invested in.
No matter how great your video projector is, the type of screen you have will always dictate the overall quality of your image.
And although the rules for your outdoor cinema are slightly different than your indoor cinema, following our top 5 tips will help you to get the most out of your money.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST OUTDOOR SCREEN FOR
We've all had our brains fried (more than we'd like to mention) by numbers and jargon, so let us break it all down for you in easy bite size chunks.
This guide will help you to asses your backyard and viewing conditions to easily choose the perfect outdoor screen for your back yard cinema. All products and information shown are relevant to an outdoor cinema. So we won't bog you down with the unnecessary while you're here on this journey with us. Lets get started.
1. Aspect Ratio
The first point you should assess is what aspect ratio would you like to view your videos in. The aspect ratio is basically the shape of the screen, for example 16:9 is 16 inches wide to every 9 inches in height.
There are many aspect ratios out there, with some having the slightest variations to another. So it's easy to go blank as to which is the right one for you. We feel it boils down to 2 choices that will give you the widest selection of videos you can display in your home cinema.
Your aspect ratio will depend on what type of videos you would like to view. Originally, TVs were in the ratio 4:3, a more square shape. However now, with HDTV being standard, a more rectangle shape has been adopted and most TV shows are in the ratio 16:9.
Movies on the other hand, with greater panoramic views are usually filmed in 2:4 among others. Also commonly known as Cinemascope, 2:4 offers a super widescreen image like your movies on Blue Ray. Although many films are still shot in 16:9 (also known as 1.78).
Take into consideration what you intend on watching the most in your back yard cinema but also note these tips on getting the best from the aspect ratio you choose.
Often known as 'letterboxing', black bars can come with 2:4 movies to fit to your 16:9 TV screen without losing any resolution. This is a great option as you get the whole image in proportion. The black bars also help our eyes to focus more clearly on the moving image with minimal eye strain, like turning off the lights to watch your movie.
With other commonly used ratios in film such as 1.85 which is very similar to 16:9 this would also appear with thin black bars along the top and bottom of a perfectly fitted 16:9 screen.
If you solely intend on running big block busters in your garden, then go that extra step into squeezing every last pixel for your penny, and browse for a 2:4 screen. 2:4 screens aren't as tall as 16:9 screens, so will be more suitable for a smaller yard. A 5 feet wide 16:9 screen would require you to sit further back to absorb the whole image, where as a 5 feet wide 2:4 screen has a smaller surface area so you can sit closer.
However, if you'd like to watch a TV show that is in your standard 16:9, you could either use your zoom feature on your projector to fit the whole image inside your 2:4 screen. This would result in blank white spaces on the left and right of the screen. Or zoom in to remove the blank side spaces but lose parts of the image.
If you're still unsure, we suggest a 16:9 aspect ratio as it's one of the most common screen ratios used in TV and cinema. It covers you whether you want to watch your beloved high definition movies or binge watch that TV show with your neighbors with minimal image loss.
If you'd like to watch a wider screen format like 2:4 you would be given black bars along the top and bottom and no blank space. Your 1.85 aspect ratios would have very minimal top and bottom black bars as it's slightly wider than 16:9. Again, if you don't like the sound of this, you can zoom your image to remove the black bars but then you will lose parts of the left and right sides.
2. Viewing Distance
Next, I want you to consider the distance between the screen and your audience. You want to aim to calculate the furthest optimal viewing position so that your guests can move themselves according to their preference. The closer they sit from here, the more immersive the movie will be.
Your viewing distance is closely connected to your screen size. Your screen should be no lower than 50 inches from the ground or too high that you have to strain your eyes or neck.
Generally you should follow this rule-
THE SCREEN WIDTH SHOULD NOT EXCEED HALF OF THE DISTANCE TO THE FIRST ROW.
For example, your yard is 12 feet long and 12 feet wide. You could have a 3 foot wide screen with a comfortable vieiwng distance of 6 feet. You can then play with the size of your screen based on how large your audience is and the size of your space. These calculations are based on a 16:9 ratio screen at 1080p resolution.
Take note of where the sun sets in your garden as this will alter where you place your screen and your viewing distances. You want to avoid direct light onto the screen as this will weaken the image, this may mean that you cannot optimize the full length of your garden to get the biggest screen possible.
3. Size of Screen
Ideally, you'd like the largest screen possible for maximum impact varying on your budget. But bigger is not always better. The larger the screen, the further the comfortable viewing distance is. Imagine you're in the cinema but the seating area is the size of your back yard...now unless you're lucky enough to own acres of land, I'm pretty sure you'll get square eyes after so long.
Play with your numbers
My yard for example is around 60 feet long and 40 feet wide. It's tempting to think "Great! I can have a 40 feet wide screen visible from space!" But sadly, no. Look at the length of your garden and the distance you usually sit from a TV or cinema screen. Here, using the calculation above in section 2, you can roughly determine what size the screen can be from your viewing distance.
Can your projector handle a large screen?
It also depends on how bright your projector is. Lumens are the measure of light being emitted. The further they have to travel to create a larger screen, the dimmer and less focused your image may be. For example, a torch creates a more focused crisp circle of light on the wall when it's closer, the circle grows larger as you move the torch away but the edges fade out. More on this here...
If you are still unsure of your screen size, we suggest using an old bed sheet or large piece of MDF. Starting with the largest size possible that you'd like, experiment with your viewing distances and cut the shape smaller to fit more comfortably in your yard.
4. Type of Screen
Now we can choose the best type of projector screen for your back yard cinema, hurray! Here we will go through the different types of screen that are most suitable for outdoor use and cover the majority of budgets.
The factor they all have in common is that they are all free standing projector screens. Soon, as part of our Ideas Blog, we will add a tutorial on making your own outdoor projector screen!
Perfect for outdoor use
Easy set up
Larger sizes available
Noise from fans
Capable of ripping
Screen can wrinkle
5. Screen Material
What are the types of projection screen material? Will this really affect me in my back yard cinema? The gain and color of your screens material are key points to consider when projecting outside as they can adjust your viewing cone and overall image quality massively.
Viewing Cone- This explains the widest angle that someone can sit in relation to the screen to receive the full quality of the image. Outside of this cone can alter color and brightness of your image depending on your screens material. The maximum viewing angle is the point at which the viewer perceives less than 50% of the brightness of the image. Just like looking at a computer screen from the side can reduce brightness, the same applies to projection.
Gain- this refers to the reflective quality of the screen surface. The number offers this as a ratio of light that is reflected from a standard white wall. A screen with a gain of 2.0 will reflect the image back 2X greater. The screens does this by focusing the light into a narrower reflective angle, ultimately, shrinking the viewing angle with an increase in gain.
The texture of the projector screens material can also play a role in the degradation of pixels in your image. Matte screens have become much more significant in the past few years in improving the clarity of the projected image. This is not a crucial detail to take note of when shopping for your screen, but if you'd like to geek out a little harder then maybe take this into consideration.
There are many different types of projection material, however, we will focus on 4 that relate most to projecting outdoors to give your image that extra boost.
Standard Matte White
This is the most common material used within projection screens and has a low gain of around 1.0. This means that a 1000 lumen projector will reflect back the same amount of brightness. It also reduces the amount of ambient light reflected back and offers a wider viewing cone so your movie can be enjoyed from a wider viewing angle in a brighter garden.
High Contrast Gray Surface
This typically has a lower gain between 0.7 and 1.1 and improves the contrast and black levels in your video. High contrast gray is suited to LCD projectors which have a lower contrast, this means the high contrast gray will keep the dark areas bright but still contrasted. It also reflects less ambient light that may be within your projections environment.
High Contrast White Surface
White has a slightly higher gain than gray, between 1.1 and 1.5. The higher contrast ratio your projector has, the more suited you are to using a white high contrast surface as your images will be slightly brighter.
High gain screens are considered to reflect 30% or more light from the screen, so starting from 1.3 gain. High gain material is used when there is a high amount of ambient light within your environment, however, it significantly reduces your audiences viewing cone so make sure to keep seating central.
So we made it! What seems like a minimal part of your back yard cinemas set up, can actually have an immense impact on the immersive quality of your screening. And the whole reason you want your screening outside is to connect and feel the freedom of the great outdoors, that a standard cinema just doesn't offer. If you can apply your preferences to each part of our 5 step guide then you are well on your way to getting the best bang for your buck.
Are projection screens that important for my back yard movie night?
IMAGE BY RTINGS.COM
Not stable in windy conditions
Only offers smallest sizes
Don't usually fit large format videos
Portable Pull Up Screens
Screen kept smooth from pull out case
Scissor action offers sturdier quality
Not stable in windy conditions
Only offers front projection
Sturdy and fixed to a wall
Kept smooth in roll out case
Needs to be professional set up
Cannot be moved
Offers larger screen sizes
More sturdy base that can be weighed down
Offers front and rear projection options
Screen may crease in case
Not as lightweight as others to transport
Quick and easy set up once installed
Cannot be moved around
Needs to be professionally set up
Needs to be protected from water and weather