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Moonlight Cinema at Home

by editor

During this Covid-19 pandemic we are spending more and more time at home; our working and home life has possibly changed forever.

Over the last two years we have seen an explosion in home renovation. Furniture retailers can’t keep up with demand. Garden centres have had their best sales in over sixty years. Likewise, landscapers are backed up reconfiguring client’s backyards to suit a new type of lifestyle that incorporates a mix of going to the workplace whilst making one’s home a workplace. Communications technology has played a significant role in this transformation.

Where once we came together during summer in our hundreds to enjoy moonlight cinema; once restrictions are lifted, we will gather in small groups probably at home with family. It’s also become easier for us to enjoy our backyard for longer at night because of LED lighting installations and the many economical heating methods now available to us.

This provides landscapers with the opportunity to offer the installation of a Moonlight Cinema as part of any landscape project package. We can design and build a bespoke space. As for the technical equipment needed for a cinema – that’s the easy part. It’s a screen big enough and good enough for say a maximum of 20 people to clearly see without being on top of each other, a good quality projector with internet connection and two or more Bluetooth speakers. 240V power should be accessible and close by. Too easy, but the devil is in the detail.

Regularly we would expect two to six people to be enjoying outdoor movie night at home, so our space needs are minimal – ideally: seating should be located a distance from the screen that is no less than double the width of the projected image, and no more than five times the width of the image (the furthest seat from the screen.)

Store bought screen sizes range between 3m x 2m to 12m x 7m. The former is perfect for up to 50 guests and the latter is perfect for 5,000 moviegoers. The bigger the screen, the bigger the space you need to project it and accommodate the crowd.

The cheapest way to get started in outdoor home cinema is by utilising a white queen- or king-sized bed sheet from the linen press. After ironing out the wrinkles, clip the top of the bed sheet to something sturdy like the garage roof gutters or a swing set and then clip the bottom of the sheet to a broom handle to provide weight and tension. It might not look super professional, but when the lights are out, nobody cares.

If you want to keep things cheap, go to a fabric store and buy blackout cloth. It’s a cotton/vinyl blend that is intended to be stitched to the back of curtains to, as the name implies; black out a room. The cloth itself however is a uniform white colour and very sturdy. If you clip it to something sturdy, it resists the wind very well. Build a frame using treated pine or electrical conduit fittings with the blackout cloth stretched over it.

For best quality, ease of setup and long life; buy an inflatable self-supporting screen. They come pre-boxed for carrying and storage. Installation of the 3m and 4m screens needs only one person for setup. Usually, they withstand wind speeds of up to 20 kms per hour.

If you want to buy everything needed in a high-quality product package; a 4m inflatable screen, blower, projector, two speakers on tall stands and a carry case; then be prepared to pay about six thousand dollars.

Otherwise, buy that same necessary equipment and in brands which best suit the budget of your client.

An average quality inflatable movie screen (4m x 2M) with blower and rope supports costs $250. Setup by one person takes less than ten minutes.

A popular projector in 2021 is the PIQO mini projector for about $600. It fits in the palm of one’s hand, has 200 lumen brightness, an amazing picture quality of 1080p, touch screen, remote control, an inbuilt Harman Kardon speaker, 5 hours of video playtime before fast recharging, takes USB sticks, HDMI cable, offline storage, connects wirelessly to all operating systems, supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5 stream Netflix and YouTube. Brilliant!

Most people would expect to see resolution at the top of the list for projectors – after all, resolution is super important to picture quality, right? The reality is that resolution isn’t as important as you think outdoors. In the home? Sure. On an HDTV you’re sitting relatively close to? Sure.

But in these cases, you’re using your projector/HDTV under optimum conditions, where the quality of the image is going to attract close scrutiny. During a backyard movie night, however, you aren’t viewing a movie under optimum viewing conditions. You’re viewing the movie under optimum fun conditions. The last light of sunset will impart a haze. There will be ambient light of a greater or lesser degree that may or may not pollute the purity of the projected image. The screen might have wrinkles in it if it’s a bed sheet. There might be kids running around casting shadows everywhere. Under those kinds of conditions, it matters more that the image is bright and crisp (because you have lots of lumens and have adjusted the focus/ keystone/shift correctly) than it is the highest resolution available.

A sound choice for a waterproof Bluetooth speaker/s to pair with the projector and place behind the moviegoers for an immersive sound; would be the Sonitrek XL with over 12 hours of play time and the most advanced Bluetooth 5 chipset. It charges in under 30 minutes with included USB-C rapid charging port. It has built in deep bass boosting power and comes in a range of colours. www.mifo.com.au sells it for $130.00 with free shipping. Another speaker option is the JBL Flip5 portable Bluetooth speaker for $164.00 from www.officeworks. com.au with similar features.

If your client has enough room, you can split the space up so one part of the yard is the viewing area (typically dominated by kids) and the other part is an adult sit, drink, and chat zone.

Clients should think about having preshow entertainment before sunset – like karaoke on the mini merbau deck that you built, snacks on the BBQ that you just finished building near the sandstone firepit with inbuilt seating that you constructed, and a magician who performs amongst the guests.

Guests should remember to bring bug spray to ward off the mozzies, a jumper or blanket for after sunset and their favourite bean bag.

At the end of the day, this open-air movie experience should be about getting neighbours, friends, and family together; not obsessing about a perfect setup or putting it off for lack of top-tier gear.

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