Dotdash Meredith and Yahoo Inc. may earn commission or revenue on some items through the links below.
Create your own outdoor movie theater with these (surprisingly affordable) picks
Combining movie magic with the great outdoors is a recipe for a unique and memorable experience. Bringing the movie theater to your own backyard is simpler than you might think. Once you’ve got your outdoor projector, the next step is the screen — the canvas for those beautiful, moving images. While “a flat wall with a special coat of paint can do the trick” when it comes to at-home projection, according to Bill Ng, an audio and visual technician for Skyline Drive-In NYC, for quality outdoor projection, you’ll want a “proper screen that’ll help boost contrast.”
Choosing the right movie screen comes down to functionality, durability, and image quality. We tested 9 movie screens for 63 hours to find the best ones out there. Read on for our favorite screens for your outdoor movie theater.
Best Overall: Elite Screens Manual B Pull-Down Projection Screen
We mounted this screen on an exterior wall during testing, which proved to be very secure and stable.
We found storage and repeated use of this screen super easy thanks to its retractable design.
This screen can only be mounted on a wall or hung from the ceiling of an outdoor structure.
We felt the need to supplement the screws provided for added stability.
Elite Screens’ Manual Pull Down Projector screen checks all our boxes for an optimal at-home viewing experience. Setting up this screen took about 5 minutes and was very simple. Our tester mounted it on an exterior wall, which was straightforward but did require two people. (This screen only came with 2 screws, but we added 4 more to ensure stability when installing.) Once installed, we were super satisfied with how secure and solid this screen felt during repeated viewings. The bottom of the screen is weighted for additional steadiness.
Storing this screen was so convenient during testing because it simply retracts into itself until the next viewing. No need to refold or pack it away, and no wrinkles or creases to contend with for the next time. This screen can also be mounted from a ceiling and would be a great addition to any outdoor structure, like a porch or gazebo. Unfortunately, it cannot be set up to stand on its own, so you’ll need to mount it onto a wall or overhead structure. This might not be possible for everyone, so it’s something to keep in mind.
We were impressed with this screen's picture quality: Images were bright and crisp when viewed from any seat or angle. We didn’t experience any “hot spots” or areas of noticeably different brightness in our tests. We found the image quality far superior when projected onto this screen as opposed to the exterior wall. Using this model is so simple and convenient, and during testing, it inspired more spontaneous outdoor movie nights without the fuss of a complicated set-up and breakdown. For under $300, this high-quality screen will be a great addition to your outdoor space.
Price at time of publish: $268.30 (orig. $442)
Size: 108.7 x 76.1 inches | Type of Mount: Wall, Ceiling | Projection: Front | Aspect Ratios: 1:1, 4:3, 16:9, 6:10
Best Budget: Mdbebbron 120-Inch Projection Screen
This screen was the easiest to store after disassembly and in between uses.
It is far and away cheaper than any other screen we tested.
Some of the self-adhesive hooks lost their stickiness during testing.
Outdoor movie magic is available for any budget. For only $25, this screen can turn almost any outdoor area into a movie theater. It is the most basic, pared-down version we tested, but we were still impressed with the image quality. The included self-adhesive hooks and rope allow for versatility in terms of setup, so it can be installed on an exterior wall or structure. We opted for the self-adhesive hooks during testing. Some of the hooks lost their stickiness, but these types of hooks are affordable and easy enough to replace. Our setup time was about 10 minutes to secure all the hooks onto an exterior wall, but that was cut down to 3 minutes for repeated test viewings.
The grommets on the trim of the screen allow for further reinforcement with the included rope if necessary, though we didn’t find the need for it during our tests, because it remained flat and didn’t billow. We noticed a few wrinkles on this screen, but they were easily fixed by adjusting the tautness from the corners. The picture quality was bright and rich: Colors were vibrant without being oversaturated. Projecting onto this screen yielded much higher quality images than the exterior wall alone. At such a low price and offering incredible portability, this screen is a great choice for camping and traveling.
Price at time of publish: $24.99
Size: 104 x 58 x 0.2 inches | Type of Mount: Self-Adhesive Hooks and Rope Included | Projection: Front, Rear | Aspect Ratios: 16:9
Best Inflatable: Holiday Styling 19-Foot Giant Inflatable Outdoor Projector Screen
Setting up this screen was consistently simple and easy throughout our testing process.
The super large screen made for a fun and immersive watching experience.
Folding and storing this screen wasn’t as easy as some other screens we tested.
When it comes to movie screens, the bigger the better. For a large at-home outdoor movie setup, an inflatable screen is the way to go. Similar to an inflatable mattress or bouncy house, the fan does most of the work with this inflatable screen. It’s an impressive 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide, but the setup was super straightforward and only took about 10 minutes. Disassembly was just as simple. Folding and storing this screen, however, was a bit tougher. There’s no storage case included, so you’ll have to find a container large enough to store it. We were pleased that this screen’s fan maintained a low hum that didn’t detract from our movie-watching experience.
The wide base of this screen proved to be solid and steady during testing. Ground stakes were included for added stability, though we didn’t feel the need for them as it felt sturdy enough on its own during our tests. We experienced minimal wrinkles with this screen and were able to adjust the tautness of the screen easily to eliminate any creases. The picture quality was top notch — bright, saturated, and clear. Projecting onto a wall came nowhere close to the vivid quality we got when using this screen. This inflatable screen would be a super fun way to level up movie night.
Price at time of publish: $309.90
Size: 15 x 10 x 6.4 ft | Type of Mount: Freestanding | Projection: Front, Rear | Aspect Ratios: 16:9
Best Freestanding: Elite Screens Yard Master Plus Projection Screen
This screen is large but neatly folds into an included storage bag.
The included ground stakes kept this screen stable throughout our tests.
Adjusting the screen height required the removal and reinstallation of some screws.
Setup and breakdown took longer than some other screens we tested.
No external wall or outdoor structure to mount on? No problem. This freestanding projector screen from Elite Screens can be set up in any open space. The included instructions made setup clear and straightforward during testing. Initial assembly and disassembly took about 30 minutes, but we found the process went quicker each time as we got more familiar with it. By the third use, setup and breakdown took only 15 minutes. We appreciate that this screen and stand come with a storage bag, making the whole set portable and easy to store.
This screen came with ground stakes, which helped add extra stability. The large 120-inch screen remained steady against any breezes during testing. Due to the nature of how it’s folded up for storage, we noticed some wrinkles during setup; however, those creases weren’t visible once we began projecting. The image quality was nice and bright and it looked great from any angle. Adjusting the height of this screen required removing and re-securing screws, which was more labor-intensive than some other screens we tested. Still, we think this freestanding screen is perfect for a cinematic experience framed by nature, unobstructed by any buildings or structures.
Price at time of publish: $336.00
Size: 127.2 x 110.4 x 64.7 inches | Type of Mount: Freestanding, Stand Included | Projection: Front | Aspect Ratios: 16:9
Best Freestanding (Less Expensive): Elite Screens Yard Master 2 Outdoor Projection Screen
The setup was flexible without the need for a hard install, thanks to its standalone frame.
The included ropes and ground stakes offered additional stability.
This screen took longer to set up and break down than many of the screens we tested.
Two people should assemble this large screen as it was cumbersome at times for just one person during testing.
For anyone on a tighter budget, the Yard Master 2 from Elite Screens is a solid and more affordable freestanding option. For under $190, this screen allows for multiple and varied setups. Initial assembly took about 20 min — more time than other screens we tested, but setup went faster with subsequent uses. We found setting up this 120-inch screen solo a little challenging, so it’s best to rope in a buddy to help. We appreciated the included ground stakes and ropes for added stability, and we didn’t have any issues with steadiness during testing.
There were some wrinkles in this screen from storage, but they didn’t affect our viewing experience at all. We were impressed with the image quality of this screen: The picture was bright and crisp. We also tried projecting onto a wall and garage door, and neither was a match for the image quality achieved using this screen. For maximum flexibility and versatility in your outdoor movie setup at a great price, this screen is a no-brainer. It’s perfect for anyone newer to outdoor projecting and wanting a simple, easy viewing experience.
Price at time of publish: $185.99
Size: 88.9 inch x 109.8 inch x 36.7 inches | Type of Mount: Freestanding, Stand Included | Projection: Front | Aspect Ratios: 16:9
Set the Scene
“A good pre-show experience goes a long way. A nice view of the city or horizon helps,” says Ng. He also recommends pre-show music that ties in with the movie’s theme or time period. (Your backyard might become the hottest movie ticket in town.)
Other Outdoor Movie Screens We Tried
Insignia Outdoor Projector Screen: This $250 inflatable screen was simple to set up and appealing for its standalone nature, but we found it difficult to deflate and store in the included case after using it. This screen is water resistant, which is great for pool-side movie night, but overall, the material of the screen didn’t feel super durable. The picture quality with this screen was also slightly muted compared to others we tested.
VIVOHOME 17 Feet Indoor and Outdoor Inflatable Blow up Mega Movie Projector Screen: We liked the easy setup and disassembly of this $179 inflatable screen. The size made it feel like we were in a drive-in movie theater, which was fun and unique. However, we found the attachment for the fan didn’t feel super secure and had some trouble aligning the screen clips. The fan was a little louder than we liked during our test viewings, and we wished the included ground stakes were more durable.
XHYCPY Inflatable Outdoor Projector Screen: This $129 screen inflated easily for a fairly simple setup process. Breaking down this screen was just as simple, and it neatly folded for storage. We noticed lots of creases in this screen, and despite various attempts to fix this, they remained noticeable when watching a movie. The picture quality was impressive — the colors were saturated and vibrant. However, the fan proved to be distracting, and some mild wind distorted the screen in our tests.
Dr. J Bluetooth Projector Screen: This screen is complementary and comes included with the Dr. J Bluetooth Projector. It also came with free self-adhesive hooks for installation, but it was tedious to install as many of the self-adhesive hooks failed to stick during application. The image quality was solid, and there were no hotspots, but we noticed wrinkles on our screen and weren’t able to rectify or adjust the tautness with the included materials. Stability was also an issue during our tests, as it came off the hook twice when the wind blew.
Things to Consider Before Buying an Outdoor Movie Screen
Setup and Design
When choosing the best outdoor movie screen for you, consider the environment for your setup. A deciding factor for where to set up your outdoor screen will be wherever you have the most space. For some, it will be the backyard. For others, the driveway. Where you want to set up your outdoor movie theater will dictate which design is best for you — freestanding, wall-mount, or inflatable. Depending on the size of your space, you may want a screen capable of front and/or rear projection. If you want flexibility to change up your setup, a freestanding or inflatable screen is the best bet. If you want to set it and forget it, mounting a pull-down screen like the Elite Screens Manual B Pull Down Projector Screen on an external wall can make spontaneous movie nights a regular occurrence at your house.
Quality and Clarity
No matter what type of movie screen you choose, the image quality and clarity are of the utmost importance. The picture should be crisp and clear. You want the colors saturated and vibrant. Ideally, there are no wrinkles in the screen material, or they can be easily fixed by adjusting the tautness of the screen.
For anything that’s going to be used outdoors, durability is a priority to withstand the elements for long-term use. Look for high-quality and durable materials. Some projector screens come with additional materials to reinforce stability, like ground stakes or rope. You want your projector screen to feel secure and steady so you can sit back and enjoy your movie.
The spectrum of pricing for projector screens is wide, so there’s something for everyone. The projector screens we tested ranged from $25 to $1,324, with the average price coming to around $303. The more robust the setup, the more expensive it is likely to be. You don’t have to spend much to get a quality projector screen, though. Our most affordable pick from Mdbebbron Projection Screen costs only $25 and outperformed various other more expensive screens we tested.
How We Tested
Our PEOPLE Tested team researched well-reviewed projector screens and sourced 9 for our testing process. We took notes of every detail during unboxing, installation, and our movie-watching experiences.
Installation: Our testers unboxed and installed each movie screen according to the instructions. We made note of initial installation obstacles and then disassembled and reassembled each screen a second and third time to mimic regular outdoor movie-watching.
Stability and Sturdiness: We made note of each screen's stability and how it held up during wind, rain, and normal weather conditions. We also noted if any screens included helpful accessories such as ground stakes or extra screws to increase stability.
Image Quality: We observed the image quality, brightness, and clarity from various angles to see if there were any disadvantages to certain viewing points. To test image quality specifically, each tester projected a movie onto a blank wall and then the screen to compare changes.
Each screen was then rated on a scale from one to five for design, ease of use, durability, image quality, and value. The movie projector screens that scored the highest were selected for this article.
Frequently Asked Questions
What color screen is best for a projector?
In our tests, bright white screens offered the best contrast in the project images. They produced more vibrant and saturated colors compared to other screens we tested that were off-white or beige in color.
Where is the best place to put a projector screen?
As long as the projector screen is perpendicular to the projector, the possibilities are endless. Wherever you have the most space to offer some distance between your audience and the screen is a great place to start. You may want to frame your screen with a view, like the forest in your backyard or the horizon. The best place for a screen is one that allows for a stable, steady, and enjoyable viewing experience.
Should projector screens be square or rectangular?
“Since most modern movies are on the wider end, the more rectangular screen is optimal,” says Ng. Many screens are adjustable to modify the height to get the aspect ratio just right. Any other formats will have black bars on the side of the screen that can still be watched on wider, rectangular screens.
Why Trust PEOPLE
L.A. Hubilla is a freelance commerce writer for PEOPLE and a lifelong cinephile. She also tests products for various digital platforms, including PEOPLE, InStyle, Byrdie, and Travel + Leisure, among others. For this article, she surveyed the testing insights collected by the PEOPLE Tested team and interviewed an audio and visual technician from NYC's infamous drive-in movie theater.
Meet Our Expert
Bill Ng is an audio and visual technician for Skyline Drive-In NYC who is super passionate about high-fidelity audio and video. For this article, he helped inform us on how to pick the right movie screen and set the scene for a successful outdoor movie night.
What Is People Tested?
We created the PEOPLE Tested seal of approval to help you find the very best products for your life. We use our unique methodology to test products in three labs across the country and with our network of home testers to determine their effectiveness, durability, ease of use, and so much more. Based on the results, we rate and recommend products so you can find the right one for your needs.
But we don’t stop there: We also regularly re-review the categories in which we’ve awarded the PEOPLE Tested seal of approval — because the best product of today might not be the best of tomorrow. And by the way, companies can never buy our recommendation: Their products must earn it, fair and square.
In short, PEOPLE Tested provides recommendations you can trust — every day, every purchase.
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.