There is nothing quite like a midsummer night's patio party with the Beach Boys pumping through outdoor speakers or an impromptu showing of Some Like It Hot on your outdoor TV. To create the perfect outdoor entertainment escape, though, the rules are slightly different than those for indoor audio-video.
According to Gretchen Gilbertson, CEO of Séura, manufacturer of Storm outdoor TVs, one of the biggest mistakes people make when creating an alfresco AV space is putting equipment that doesn't belong outdoors. TVs designed for outdoor use can withstand extreme heat, cold and insects, are brighter and more rugged, and contain antiglare properties. "This means your TV won't fail right before your big dinner party because a tennis ball hit it," says Gilbertson. "You can also trust it to perform flawlessly when you're watching HGTV at high noon."
For a backyard movie bash with a projector and huge screen, you'll want to start the show at night because most projectors can't compete with unbridled sunlight. Some people use a white sheet for a screen, but there are many screens designed specifically for outdoor use, like Airblown's inflatable 12-foot model ($195).
For a better picture, get a portable screen like Da-Lite's Portable Insta-Theater ($420), which you can take in and out of the house as you like. Stewart Filmscreen offers high-end permanent custom solutions, like weatherized screens that descend into or pop up from custom housing. You can also permanently install a projector outdoors, but you'll need special housing to protect it from the elements.
If that's not a viable option, there are a lot of excellent portable projectors available. Epson’s PowerLite Home Cinema 500, for example, lets you connect directly to a pair of speakers or a Blu-ray player, simplifying setup.
You'll need a good sound system to go with your outdoor display, but it's hard to know how many speakers will fill a particular space. According to Dave Raines, president of Osbee Industries, Inc., manufacturers like Sonance will help you calculate how many speakers you need. "If the budget allows, more is actually better when designing an outdoor space," he adds.
When choosing speakers, pick those designed for outdoor use ($60-$600). Joe Nelson, president of Connected Technology, suggests looking for a speaker ingress protection (IP) rating of five or better. "The five indicates the liquid ingress protection equivalent to water jets sprayed at the speaker for several minutes from three meters away," he says.
Speakers mounted on the wall are common, but for an area where surface-mounting isn't possible, companies like Stereostone and Rockustics offer outdoor models disguised as rocks or garden features. Outdoor speakers often come with a variety of mounting choices for flexible placement, including ground stakes and tree-mount kits. If you are hiding speaker wire in the ground, you'll need to use direct burial wire, preferably in conduit. Don't forget the bone-shaking bass, attainable via an outdoor subwoofer like Terra Speakers’ ACE.SUBe subwoofer, which you can partially bury in the ground so that it isn't obtrusive.
Of course, there is a whole new crop of wireless speakers that you can move out to the patio as you like, and many are actually designed for outdoor use, like Brookstone's $150 Outdoor Wireless Speaker, which streams music directly from your smartphone.
Finally, since your electronics — such as a DVD player and receiver — will be located inside, it's important to get a good universal remote that will work through walls. A weatherproof or waterproof remote is not a bad idea, like URC's MXW-920 ($500), which you can operate while floating in the pool.
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