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The 5 Best Outdoor Movie Screens of 2023, Tested and Reviewed

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Enjoy your own at-home drive-in theater with these great options.

<p>Real Simple / Marcus Millan</p>

Real Simple / Marcus Millan

Skip the hassle of movie theater tickets and expensive popcorn—you can enjoy the cinema from the comfort of your backyard or patio with an outdoor movie screen.

“Having an outdoor movie screen allows entertainment to be experienced in outdoor living spaces,” says Jaime Abrego, product manager at Elite Screens, a projection screen manufacturing company. “No longer are we confined to indoor movie watching. Outdoor screens come in a variety of types, from permanently installed or portable, so you can take them anywhere.”

To find the best outdoor movie screens, we tested nine options in real-world conditions, evaluating each screen on factors like durability, design, value, and more. We also spoke to Abrego for her expert insight on how to use your screen for optimal viewing.

Best Pull-Down Outdoor Movie Screen: Elite Screens Manual B Pull-Down Projection Screen

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Buy at Adorama.com

What Stands Out

  • The crisp and bright screen can be viewed from any angle.

What Could Be Improved

  • It may start to curve at the edges after ample use.

Pull-down movie screens are as convenient as it gets—you can attach them to a wall or hang them from the ceiling for easy, on-hand access, and this option from Elite Screens is the best of the bunch. During testing, the screen was easy to assemble and pull down, requiring just a few screws to attach securely.

This 4K Ultra HD screen is available in five sizes and four aspect ratios, giving you plenty of options to suit your outdoor space. While it boasts a low price, it offers a very high-quality picture, creating a crisp and bright viewing experience no matter where you sit. Plus, it works with all projectors and has a two-inch auto-lock mechanism to change the height. It’s also very compact and can be rolled up easily into its steel case when not in use, preventing wrinkles.

After a good amount of use, you might find that the screen starts curving slightly at the edges, but with proper care, it should still last for years.

Price at time of publish: $432

Screen Sizes: 80, 100, 120, 125, 135 inches | Dimensions: 108.7 x 76.1 inches | Aspect Ratio: 16:10, 4:3, 1:1, 16:9 | Accessories: Carrying case | Gain: 1.1

Best Freestanding Outdoor Movie Screen: Elite Screens Yard Master Plus Folding-Frame Projection Screen

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Buy at Adorama.com

What Stands Out

  • It comes in nine sizes and three aspect ratios, giving you plenty of options.

What Could Be Improved

  • It can be tricky to adjust the height.

If you prefer an outdoor movie screen that stands on its own, we recommend the Elite Screens Yard Master Plus Projection Screen. This freestanding screen requires a large area to set up, but once you have it assembled (which takes minimal time thanks to the included stakes and rigging cord), it provides a fantastic viewing experience.

This wider-than-average screen allows for an equally bright image quality no matter where you sit or where you place it. It comes in nine sizes and three aspect ratios to suit any outdoor space. During testing, we noticed a few wrinkles when we first unfolded the screen, but they aren't super noticeable when video is playing. When you’re done watching, you can collapse the frame to place the screen and stand in the included storage bag, which was super convenient during testing.

On the downside, it can be difficult to adjust the height since it requires removing screws. But its top-notch picture quality, large size, and portability make it a worthwhile purchase.

Price at time of publish: $336

Screen Sizes: 96, 100, 110, 120, 135, 145, 150, 180, 200 inches | Dimensions: 110.4 x 64.7 inches | Aspect Ratio: 4:3, 1:1, 16:9 | Accessories: Carrying case | Gain: 1.3

Best Budget Outdoor Movie Screen: Mdbebbron 120-Inch Portable Projection Screen

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Buy at Walmart.com

What Stands Out

  • It’s easy to set up and take down as needed.

What Could Be Improved

  • It only comes in one size and gets dark if you sit off to the side.

For any shopper who wants to entertain on a budget, opt for this solid option from Mdbebbron. It has a low price tag but still offers a bright, rich picture for backyard viewing.

When we tested this compact screen, we found it easy to assemble; just tape it to the wall with command strips or adhesive hooks. While it has a lightweight feel, it’s thick enough to completely obscure the wall behind it, though you might spot a wrinkle or two. On the upside, the sound quality is impressive (the speakers wrap around the projector), and when not in use, you can fold the screen up for storage (a bag isn’t included).

It’s worth noting that the screen is easier to see when sitting directly in the center rather than off to the sides, and it also only comes in one size, so it might not be the best fit for every outdoor space. But if you want an inexpensive and portable screen, you won’t be disappointed with this pick.

Price at time of publish: $36

Screen Sizes: 120 inches | Dimensions: 104 x 58 inches | Aspect Ratio: 16:9 | Accessories: None | Gain: Not listed

Best Portable Outdoor Movie Screen: Elite Screens Yard Master 2 Folding-Frame Projection Screen

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Buy at Bestbuy.com

What Stands Out

  • It has a bright white background for a strong, clear contrast.

What Could Be Improved

  • It could benefit from more stability.

Want to take your outdoor movie screen on the go? Then consider this highly portable model from Elite Screens. This freestanding screen may not be the easiest to set up, but once assembled, it provides an impressively clear and consistent viewing experience.

Although the screen comes with everything you need, including stakes and a rigging cord to keep it stable, it can still take some time and effort to set up. Still, you can easily move the snap-button and lightweight collapsible frame, making the screen portable. We were impressed by the 4K Ultra HD screen’s bright white coloring, which is ideal for videos and movies. It comes in nine sizes and three aspect ratios, too.

On the downside, we wish there was a connecting point between the legs to steady it even further. The screen also shows some wrinkles after you set it up, but they go away in time. On the plus side, it’s easy to clean and comes with a carrying bag to move it from place to place.

Price at time of publish: $234

Screen Sizes: 58, 75, 90, 100, 110, 120, 135 inches | Dimensions: 109.8 x 88.9 inches | Aspect Ratio: 16:9, 4:3 | Accessories: Carrying bag | Gain: 1.3

Best Oversized Outdoor Movie Screen: Holiday Styling 19-Foot Giant Inflatable Outdoor Projector Screen

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Buy at Walmart.com

What Stands Out

  • It’s extremely durable and stable.

What Could Be Improved

  • It’s hard to fold and store in the bag.

If you want a screen you can use during outdoor parties or large events, this oversized option from Holiday Styling is the one for you. This enormous inflatable screen is far larger than most other outdoor movie screens, but despite its size, its picture quality is equally strong no matter where you sit.

When we tested the screen, we immediately noticed how easy it is to set up and how quiet the included electric blower is during the inflation process. The screen also comes with ropes to help keep it stable on the ground, although the frame is sturdy and thick enough so they’re not always needed. All in all, this is a durable screen that won’t get damaged or creased and doesn’t show wrinkles once it’s tightly secured.

We also loved that this screen offers both front and rear projection, making it even more useful for big groups. However, it’s hard to fold up and store in its carrying case due to its size, and the price tag is higher than most.

Price at time of publish: $309

Screen Sizes: 192, 228 inches | Dimensions: 180 x 120 inches | Aspect Ratio: 16:9 | Accessories: Carrying case | Gain: Not listed

Final Verdict

Our top pick is the Elite Screens Manual B Pull-Down Projection Screen for its crisp picture quality and simple assembly. If you prefer a freestanding screen, opt for the Yard Master Plus Folding-Frame Projection Screen, which stands out for its bright, clear viewing experience available in many sizes.

Our Testing Process

To find the best outdoor movie screens, we tested nine models in real-world conditions. First, we timed how long it took to set up our movie screen using all included equipment (repeated during each use). Then we placed our seating between two and five times the width of the screen away for optimal viewing (for a screen 110 inches wide we arranged seats between 220 and 550 inches away). We also disassembled the outdoor movie screen and recorded how long it took.

Throughout the testing period, we used the outdoor movie screen at least three times to watch movies or shows. During these tests, we assessed the quality of the visuals by using a garage door or building wall and comparing it to the movie screen. We also evaluated how flat the screen lay and if any wrinkles were present, how stable the screen was, how bright the screen appeared, the saturation of the images, and how loud the fan was for inflatable models. After we completed the testing, we used these insights to select the best outdoor movie screens while also considering their overall value.

How to Shop for Outdoor Movie Screens Like a Pro

Size

Outdoor movie screens can vary in size, with some as small as 60 inches and others as large as 200 inches. For those who want an average-sized screen that can fit in most backyards, we recommend a screen around 120 inches, as it’s big enough to entertain a crowd of people sitting at all angles without being so immense that the image gets stretched out and distorted.

Portability

Depending on the size, many outdoor movie screens are portable, so you can easily take them on the go. If you want to move your screen from place to place, look for ones that are smaller and more lightweight, have collapsible or foldable frames, and come with carrying bags for easy storage.

Brightness and Gain

With movie screens, gain refers to “the reflectivity measurement the screen provides,” aka how many lumens the image in view is, according to Jaime Abrego, product manager at Elite Screens, a projection screen manufacturing company. “For example, if a screen material has a 1.1 gain, the projector would get an additional 10 percent of brightness.”

Most outdoor movie screens for home use have gains between 1.0 and 1.3. A higher gain screen is ideal for use in bright areas with lots of ambient light because it makes the image darker by reflecting less light. But the higher the gain, the lesser the viewing angle, meaning the screen won’t be as clear to people sitting off to the side. High-gain screens can also be more vulnerable to hot-spotting, which is when the center of the screen is bright while the outsides are much darker.

Material and Ease of Cleaning

Most outdoor movie screens are made from either PVC or polyester, as these materials are weather-resistant, non-reflective, and easy to clean. If you opt for an inflatable screen instead, you can find options that are also easy to clean—just use soap and water to wipe off any grime or debris.

More Outdoor Movie Screens to Consider

Vivohome Inflatable Mega Movie Projector Screen: This freestanding, inflatable screen is durable, easy to set up, and available in many sizes. However, the fan is very loud, and the picture can get dark depending on where you sit and what’s on the screen.

Xhycpy Inflatable Projector Screen: Another inflatable option, this screen offers great picture quality and is angled high from the ground, allowing kids to get up close without messing with the projection. But it wrinkles easily, and the fan is loud enough to be disruptive.

Questions You Might Ask

How do outdoor movie screens work?

Outdoor movie screens are made from white materials that reflect light from the projector back to the viewers. They come with sturdy, self-supporting frames that often fold up when the screens aren’t in use. They connect via cord to projectors and are bright and thick to provide a clear and vivid image. The back of outdoor movie screens is typically black so light can’t come through. For the best viewing quality, outdoor movie screens should be taut and flat to avoid bumps or creases in the image.

What is the best size for outdoor movie screens?

There’s no one “best” size, according to Abrego, as smaller screens can be great for individuals or couples, while larger screens are ideal for events and gatherings. Still, he notes that “the most popular size is between 100-120 inches diagonal sizes,” adding that “this is the sweet spot for most outdoor space locations.”

Can outdoor movie screens be used in daylight?

Whether you can use your outdoor movie screen in daylight depends on your unique outdoor space, according to Abrego. “If it has an enclosure, then using a bright projector and mitigating sunlight could allow for a good projection image,” he says. “But if it’s out in the open with sunlight, then the projection image would not be viewable and watchable.”

Can outdoor movie screens be paired with any projector?

Fortunately, most outdoor movie screens can pair with almost any projector, so you can build your ideal streaming set up. If the screen is tensioned (meaning there are tabs at the ends and a string that, when pulled, makes the surface taut and flat), they can “produce a great ripple-free image from a standard long throw, short-throw, and ultra-short throw projector,” says Abrego. Otherwise, “the projection image can reveal minor waves which can distort the image when using ultra or short throw projectors.”

Take Our Word for It

This article was written by Rachel Simon, a writer for Real Simple, Better Homes & Gardens, The New York Times, and many other publications. We tested nine outdoor movie screens in real-world conditions and evaluated them on design, durability, value, and more. For expert insight, we spoke to Jaime Abrego, product manager at the projection screen manufacturing company Elite Screens.

What Is Real Simple Selects?

Next to each product on this list, you may have noticed a Real Simple Selects seal of approval. Any product appearing alongside that seal has been vetted by our team—put through tests and graded on its performance to earn a spot on our list. Although we buy most of the products we test, sometimes we do get samples from companies if purchasing a product ourselves isn’t an option. All products go through the same rigorous process, whether they are purchased or sent by the company.

Love our recommendations? Check out more products that have earned the Real Simple Selects, from humidifiers to cordless vacuums.

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Read the original article on Real Simple.