Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Outdoor Theater on a Budget

The weather is breaking so that means time to fire up the outdoor theater!!!!!  Here is how it developed. Last spring I was cruising around the web looking for parts for an old projector. I came across www.backyardtheater.com, an incredible resource for all things outdoor projection. I was hooked. Now how could I do this without spending a fortune. BYT has great suggestions and I used them to formulate my own solution. I wanted something big, quality, and easy to put up and take down. I started with a 20ftx12ft grey tarp. Mounted it on 2 12ft high pressure treated 4x4's. I tethered them with 18" landscape stakes. The key to this early project was the tension to reduce the creases. I was ready for a show. Had my projector rebuilt, sound system in place and ran power and coax out to where the projector would go. Turned it on, and WOW!!!!  A TV screen 20x10. It was pretty incredible, but after the WOW factor I began to pick out improvements that needed to be made. The finish on the tarp created shiny hot spots of reflection and the creases from lack of center support needed to be addressed. So back to BYT for some research. Behr makes a paint called Silver Screen. It was designed just for projection systems. Question was, could I really paint a tarp?? Well, not exactly with great results. I was into this project far enough that it was worth the try. I primed the tarp then applied 2 coated of SS paint. I created 2 pvc stand alone post with hooks on the end to simply apply upward pressure to relieve the creases. I was ready for another showing. This time an even bigger WOW. Picture was outstanding. Creases were invisible and hot spots were gone. It was done. 20ftx12ft screen. Great picture, 1/2 hour to put up and take down. All was good. Then I realized why you can't paint a tarp, the expanding and contracting from both temperature and wind began to crack the paint in spots. I could live with this. A 5 mins touch up before viewing. The the storm of June hit. We had a ferce storm come through our area very quickly and I did not have time to take down the screen, 80mph winds, the screen lost that battle. I knew that a professional screen would run about $200, but I decided to replace the tarp for $55 including paint. This system lasted until October. Many nights of fun. A graduation party, having the kids friends over for a movie night. Countless sporting events. Well worth the time and money spent. As the fall hit, the chipping to the paint was more severe and it was obvious that this had now become a part of our home, so I put out the $200 for the professional screen. I used 8in buggee cords to secure it to the posts. Now this was even better. I vinyl screen, able to withstand temperature changes and 30mph winds. This was what I had envisioned in my crazy head.

The screen was on almost every night. Baseball playoffs, football games all looked and sounded great. Family, friends and neighbors all enjoyed the invites, and a hidden benefit, everything was outside, so very little clean up or mess as compared to entertaining inside. I had a process down of 5 minute equipment setup. I built a small platform to hold the projector, STB, dvd and sound amp. Everything fit nicely on a 24"x18" platform. Speakers are 10lbs a piece. So my setup was to pickup the platform from the shed with all of the components in their place, carry it about 20ft, place the speakers in the yard. Connect the 25ft speaker wires to the amp, connect the coax to the STB and plug the power strip in. All done. Take down was just as fast.

So, over the winter, I began to think if there was a market for this type of service, outdoor theater. I talked to many of the people who experience our system and their response was quite positive from both the rental standpoint and design build. I then started to research what the competition would be in my area. I put down on paper a business plan, ran the financials and talked it over with my partner(my wife). For the investment, it seems to be a viable business plan. So born was Twilight Theater Productions, www.twilighttp.net. A DBA, website and some graphics work and we are off!!

So, for those who are intrigued by this type of home entertainment, I will spell out in my next post the details on how to build your own, step by step and what I learned. The cost for DIY should be under $1000.00 and around 4 hours of work. For those who either want a rental or to purchase a turn key system please visit the website. For those outside the PA, NJ and DE area, drop me a note and I will connect you with a good, honest company to help.

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