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Outdoor Movies How-To Guides
Where To Begin

How-To Guides > Guide #2: 
Where To Begin

Professional Standards

Outdoor movie audiences, organization stakeholders, event sponsors and anyone paying to hire a movie screening service are quick to judge technical quality and operational practices.  With that in mind, here are four elements which define professional movie entertainment:

Hospitality by the pool

  • A flat, creaseless projection surface that does not flutter in a breeze or move/distort when the wind blows
  • Bright, sharp, high definition, high contrast, color-accurate projected images without ambient light bleed or projection hotspots
  • Undistorted audio reaching the entire audience at a comfortable volume
  • Low risk of delay or cancellation due to equipment failure or accident/injury related to safety practices

Avoid Substandard Gear

Disappointed audiences chip away at future attendance, referrals, revenue and reputations. 

Presenting spectacular images and sound is a top priority. Doing so consistently and reliability in an outdoor setting requires audio/video equipment engineered to:

  • Perform in extreme temperatures, variable humidity and with repeated exposure to grass, dirt, insects and more
  • Endure frequent moving, setup, runtime, tear down, packing and storage cycles

Low-Quality Screen

The correlation between higher cost and superior quality becomes very, very real when the use and abuse endured by outdoor equipment is taken into account.

With rare exceptions, consumer/prosumer audio-visual gear is unsuitable for presenting large scale outdoor movies. Bright and loud falls well short of the critical specifications behind commercial-quality projection and sound.

Separate from specs, the long list of commercial/pro product lines dwindles to a relatively small subset of models proven to provide exceptional value in an outdoor movie setting.  We’ll name names.

Bottom line: Avoid inferior A/V products. Your organization will save time, money, aggravation and everyone involved will be happier with short and long-term outcomes. 

Entry Level Outdoor Movies

Not Too Small

Know your venue(s)!  Maximum attendance and profit potential (if applicable) will be limited by screen dimensions and lines of sight.

Audience capacity certainly matters to community organizations, local media, promotional partners and any other sponsor capable of drawing thousands to attend a well-planned event.

Even at a more modest scale, individual venues and ambitious mobile movie services underserve a substantial share of the outdoor movie market without a screen, projector and sound scaled to entertain up to 500 people.

From an audience’s point of view, the picture is never too big (at a safe distance).  And yet …

Not Too Large

As the area of a screen surface increases, the cost of projecting an acceptably sharp and well lit image grows faster.  Brighter projectors with a bigger digital light processor (DLP) or liquid crystal display (LCD) command a premium price per square foot.

Outdoor entertainment opportunities have been expanding at a rapid pace in every region. When targeting a popular or underserved segment in your service area, it’s wise to invest in a screen and system no wider than the smallest venues can accommodate:

  • 12’ wide for backyard birthday parties and similar small gatherings
  • 16’ wide for small parks and venues sized to entertain up to 250 people
  • 20’ to 24’ when 500 to 750 people will be seated in the audience
  • 30’ for an audience up to 1,200 or a small drive-in theater

Just Right

An entry level commercial-grade outdoor movie system currently costs $9,000 to $12,000, a budget that buys:

  • A reliable 12’ to 16’ inflatable movie screen with commercial-quality projection surface
  • High-definition digital projector with enhanced dynamic range
  • Powered speakers on telescoping stands
  • Rack mounted pre-wired components (power conditioner, audio mixer and Blu Ray Disc player)
  • Every essential accessory

Explore what your budget can buy. Our essential equipment guides for inflatable movie screen frames, outdoor projection surfaces, digital projectors and outdoor movie audio weigh the pros and cons of key features and underlying technologies.

Turnkey Outdoor Movie Theater Systems

Buying a bundled outdoor movie theater package streamlines your equipment evaluation process, optimizes interoperability, improves training and support (for example, try calling Amazon if you can’t get light out of your projector).

Turnkey outdoor movie system

Best of breed packages pair a right-sized outdoor movie screen, digital projector and speakers with a rack mounted power conditioner, audio mixer and playback source(s) in an ATA-rated road case.

The most trustworthy dealers and systems integrators:

  • Are longtime outdoor movie operators
  • Keep up with the evolution of new technologies. Staff engineers are manufacturer-trained and certified.
  • Translate firsthand experience with manufacturers and models to identifying the best cost-to-value options
  • Aggregate input and feedback from customers to build better turnkey systems
  • Purchase large quantities of bundled components and share discounts with their customers
  • Supercharge training and support sessions. Questions get answered faster when dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of near-identical systems operating in the field.
  • Save customers time and money for all of the above reasons

Audio/visual standards ensure products communicate.  However, they do not guarantee a bundled system has been optimized for interoperability and performs well. Component matching is part art, part science, and relies heavily on training and experience.


An entry level commercial-grade outdoor movie system currently costs $9,000 to $12,000, a budget that buys a reliable 12’ to 16’ inflatable movie screen with commercial-quality projection surface, HD digital projector, powered speakers, rack mounted pre-wired components (power conditioner, audio mixer and Blu Ray Disc player) and every essential accessory.

A 12’ wide outdoor movie screen is great for backyard birthday parties and similar small gatherings. A 16-foot wide screen can entertain up to 250 people, 20′ to 24′ when 500 to 750 people will be seated, and 30’ for an audience up to 1,200 or a small drive-in theater.

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