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Do I need a projector screen for outdoors?

Watching movies outside is an exciting experience. You breathe fresh air, enjoy summer evenings and watch your favorite content -- be it a game with your friends, playing for your party music in the background or reminiscing of good old times with your family members watching home videos.

There are two items that are unavoidable if you want to watch movies under the stars. It's your projector and a media player of your choice. Some projector models have a USB-stick media player built-in. (So technically it makes it just one indispensable item.)

To enjoy your experience truly you will want more outdoor system components: powerful outdoor speakers for a better sound quality and bigger audience, audio mixer to set volume, brighter projector, subwoofer, Netflix media player etc.

Today we will talk about an outdoor projector screen and whether you need one.

Do you need a projector screen for your backyard?

Does a projector screen really matter for the outdoors?

If you have only a projector, some kind of a media player and a flat vertical surface outside (even if it's not a white surface) we encourage you to go try watching your content outdoors.

But you may notice that a randomly chosen reflective surface does not provide the same image quality as a dedicated projection screen. Your contrast, brightness and -- especially -- the color scheme of the projected image will suffer significantly.

So, we can assume that the most important component of your outdoor movie system that you will want to upgrade in the first place is your outdoor movie screen.

Why do you need a screen for a projector outdoors?

Say you have a bright and fancy projector. But any other surface than a specialized projector screen will see that fancy projector's precious lumens decrease. Such a surface will also distort the colors of your image.

Even more importantly, an outdoor movie theater is about big audiences. And your outdoor projector screen is responsible for making your image visible from different angles.

Can you paint a wall instead of buying an outdoor screen?

A painted wall is a lot better than an unprepared flat surface. However, a professional projection screen will deliver a much better-quality image.

Most of the walls you can normally find outdoors won't have a sufficiently even surface to reflect the light emitted by your projector in a proper manner.

Can you project outdoors onto a white sheet?

Similar to a painted wall, white sheets will not allow you to achieve a proper screen gain (the ability of your projector screen to reflect light properly).

Apparently, using a white sheet is a worse solution than using a painted wall. It's almost impossible to stretch such a sheet to get it rid of those nasty wrinkles.

Projecting on a sheet is a bad idea

Aspects of high-quality outdoor screen

There are different types and kinds of outdoor projection screen constructions:

  • Inflatable screens.
  • Foldable screens.
  • Motorized and non-motorized permanent screens.

Inflatable screens

Inflatable screens can provide a wide variety of sizes. The largest outdoor movie screens are typically inflatable. Foldable screens are too sensitive to wind speeds. While permanent screens will be too costly when you need a really large screen.

If your choice is a 20' outdoor movie screen you want to opt for an inflatable. Typically, it takes less than 15 minutes to set up and anchor your inflatable screen. And when packed away it won't take much storage space.

Check out this collection of best-selling inflatable movie screens from Open Air Cinema.

Cabin in the woods and inflatable projector screen

Foldable screens

Relatively small foldable screens (150'' in diagonal) are a convenient solution if that size is sufficient for you. Folding screens require a solid frame for its construction.

This is why even a 9' folding screen (which for the inflatable screen family is considered to be a small size) will be too heavy and will take a lot of space when stored.

Permanent screens (motorized and non-motorized)

The main advantage of the permanent screen is that you don't need to set it up each time you want to screen content outdoors. It is always there for you when you need it.

Non-motorized permanent screens are rained on, gather dust and so they require frequent maintenance.

Motorized permanent screens are hidden from the elements by design. But they have limitations in size -- and they are pretty costly.

Are ambient-light-rejecting outdoor movie screens any good?

Light rejection of the projector screen is achieved by the low screen gain, with a black-grid structure embedded to absorb the ambient rays of light. White elements of the screen reflect projected light directly to the viewer.

This is how ambient light rejecting screens work

While the technology itself sounds exciting, the image projected on the light-rejecting projector screen is visible from a limited number of angles.

So, it's not something that can be recommend for outdoor movie equipment setups or large audiences. Also do not expect that your ambient-light-rejecting screen will be light to move around.

Read our article where we explain why daylight projection is practically impossible.


Watching your content outdoors is about the right kind of atmosphere and pleasant experience. A limited set of equipment available to you shouldn't stop you from trying out this pastime.

It will be easier for you to understand which components of an outdoor movie system that you currently have you might need to upgrade -- to ensure an even more pleasant viewing experience.

A good outdoor movie screen should be treated as an investment. You might want to start by renting a screen to understand how it works to meet your needs. After reading our article you now know what you could look for later.

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