10 essentials you need to make your own outdoor cinema, from projectors to refreshments

Leave nothing to chance and create the ultimate environment for a silver screen experience in your garden – or anywhere

How to make an outdoor cinema, Anker Nebula Mars 3 Projector
(Image credit: Anker)

An outdoor cinema night presents something of a quandary: do you do it in the middle of summer and risk annoying your neighbours because you're forced to start the film at 10pm when the sun goes down? Or do you wait for winter and annoy your guests by freezing them so hard bits start to fall off? Or do you try to find the autumnal sweet spot in between?

The latter is probably the sensible choice, but given that it's T3's Garden Tech Month right now, there's no time like the present to start preparing your garden (and, importantly, your tech lineup) to ensure your cinematic experience is the finest it can be.

So, let's run down the list and discover the 10 things you'll need to make your al fresco screenings a success.

1. A projector

Acer C2501

(Image credit: Acer)

First things first, you need some way of showing what you're going to show. As you'll be outdoors, something simple, portable and battery powered like the Acer C2501 might do the trick: it's simple to connect to multiple sources, keystones itself automatically, and its image can get quite large. It needs some significant darkness to really shine, though, so a brighter portable projector like the Anker Nebula Mars 3 might be a better option if you can afford it.

Check out our guide to the best portable projectors for more options, or our guide to the best projectors overall if the weather's good and you're happy to trail a cable.

2. A projection screen

Vamvo VA-01

(Image credit: Amazon)

Blasting your movie at your backyard brickwork isn't necessarily the best idea, though if you have a relatively flat wall (and you're happy to recolour it) you could try slathering on some Dulux Grey Steel 2. It's the perfect DIY projector screen colour, which enhances contrast without overly darkening the image.

It may be better to get something more suited to the job, though. The Vamvo VA-01 offers an exorbitant 120 inches of space in a 16:9 configuration, and collapses down into a tiny package when you're not using it.

3. A solid source

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

(Image credit: Amazon)

Although most portable projectors will allow you to hook up your phone – and many even include a built-in Android OS – they're not always the easiest or most up-to-date interfaces. If you really want to get the most out of your content and get it up on the wall in a straightforward manner, plug a small media streamer into the HDMI port.

Take your pick. The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, the Chromecast with Google TV, or the Roku Streaming Stick+, all will do the trick – the Roku in particular has excellent Wi-Fi range.

4. Booming sound

Klipsch AWR-650-SM

(Image credit: Amazon)

A movie isn't a movie without serious sound. Your neighbours won't like it, so we suggest you invite them along. Building a proper surround experience in your garden isn't going to work too well – Atmos, in particular, doesn't do well bouncing its upfiring speakers off of the stratosphere – so just ensure your audioscape is loud enough to be heard.

If you're installing something semi-permanent, the Klipsch AWR-650-SM speakers are a fantastic idea. They can put out 200 watts of power, and are cunningly disguised as sandstone rocks. If you'd prefer a portable option, why not try a couple of Sony SRS-XP700s? They're extremely loud, and the battery lasts 25 hours on a full charge.

Want to invest a little less? Check out our guide to the best wireless Bluetooth speakers.

5. Extra Wi-Fi range

Netgear Orbi

(Image credit: Netgear)

For the benefit of guests determined to ignore your choice of movie and muck around on their phones instead (though mostly to ensure you're able to stream the movie without it dropping out) a strong Wi-Fi signal is essential. Putting a mesh router in your house and positioning one of the nodes at a point where it can beam signal into the garden is far easier than installing an outdoor access point.

If you're really feeling flush, Netgear's top-end Orbi RBKE963 package offers a properly premium mesh experience, but a cheaper multi-point setup like Google's Nest Wi-fi will probably do the job just fine.

Check out more options in our guide to the best mesh Wi-Fi systems.

6. Plenty of warmth

Solo Stove Bonfire 2.0

(Image credit: Alex Cox / T3)

There's no guarantees even the sultriest summer day will end in a warm night, so some comfortable warmth will help keep your cinema experience plenty toasty. It's not like you can light an open fire at your local Vue, so make the most of your outdoor privileges: we'd highly recommend huddling around the nifty Solo Stove Bonfire 2.0 if you want to roast a few logs without getting smoke in your eyes. 

As you'll see in T3's guide to the best patio heaters, you're probably best served opting for something infra-red if you'd rather not get the flames going.

7. Mood lighting

Philips Hue outdoor lighting

(Image credit: Philips Hue)

Is this essential? No. Is it properly cool to be able to hit a button on an app and dip your garden's illumination when the feature presentation is ready to start? Absolutely. Hue's options are top of our list of the best outdoor lights for a reason. They're flexible, great looking, and give you lots of smart options, but don't let that stop you making your space look the part in whatever way you see fit.

8. Good food

Gozney Roccbox

(Image credit: Gozney)

You're probably already considering it, but do make sure you offer your guests some excellent eats before the showing: consider the Gozney Roccbox if you might be interested in some delicious garden-fired pizza, pick up one of the best gas barbecues if you want to get slightly more variety going, and pick up some of the best BBQ gear to ensure your cooking exploits are as flexible as possible.

9. Delicious drinks

NIO cocktails

(Image credit: NIO)

It may not be the entire-gallon-of-Coke experience offered by the cinema proper, but a nice drink will make any movie better. Ensure you have ice on hand – Klarstein puts out some excellent ice makers, like the Ice Volcano – and dish up something tasty. 

If you'd like a boozier than usual movie beverage, try NIO Cocktails to get easy and delicious pre-mixed concoctions delivered to your door. They're not cheap, but there's less chance of an unfortunate mixology accident, and you'll not be mixing any sane drinks after the third one anyway.

10. Something to watch


(Image credit: Disney+)

You're all set up? Great... now what? Load up what you consider to be the best streaming service and slap something on the screen, of course. We'd say that Disney+ has the biggest selection of films at the moment, but don't overlook the more obscure contents of Amazon Prime Video, the ever-changing library of Netflix, or the possibility of sending your own (legally owned) content onto your wall with a tool like Plex or Jellyfin.

If you want more options as far as content goes, consider that international libraries can often contain films which aren't available in your region. You can often access these with the best streaming VPNs, but be careful not to fall foul of password-sharing algorithms...

Alex Cox

T3 magazine's own Gadget Guru is a 25-year veteran of the tech writing wars, and has the scars to prove it. He's written for the UK's biggest technology publications, and knows everything from smart doorbell voltage needs to how to bend Windows to his every whim.