Watching a movie outdoors is much better with a projector. But even the best projector doesn’t quite work without a good screen, and to make sure you have the best movie experience you need to know how to set up a projector screen the right way.
What you have to understand is that having a great time watching a movie on a projector screen isn’t all about the technical specs of your equipment. Sure, as an audio-visual aficionado, you enjoy optimal color saturation, excellent dynamic range, and even D65 color temperature.
But those mean nothing when your screen doesn’t make you feel comfortable when you’re watching. You may just end up with neck fatigue and eye strain. Your own comfort means just as much as those complicated specs.
The 3 Basic Rules
When you’re setting up your screen, you need to take into account the following factors about how to install screens:
Screen at the Right Height
With the right height the screen can enhance your physical comfort while you watch your movie. To determine the ideal height for your screen, you first start by imagining that the screen is divided into 3 horizontal parts. The top line defining the bottom third of the screen should be about 42 to 58 inches from the ground.
Your Eyes at the Right Height
When you assume your usual position when watching the movie on a projector screen, your eyes should be within 42 to 50 inches from the ground. Normally, you can assume that they’re about 48 inches (4 feet) from the ground).
Proper Alignment of Screen and Eyes
This means that if you do things right, the level of your eyes should be aligned to that line denoting the bottom third of the projector screen. This alignment minimizes the head movements you need to take so that you can see everything happening on the screen.
Indoor Screen Location
If you’re watching a movie inside your home using a projector, then you better know where you will want to put your projector screen. A nice bare wall will do, whether in your living room, entertainment room, or even bedroom. You may just place a projector screen mount against a wall.
It’s best, however, if the wall doesn't get direct light. The more lights you have that hit the screen, the more likely it us that the video images will look washed out. So you may want to pick a room that doesn’t have a window (like your basement), or place effective screens on any window to block out the sunlight. After that, you can just turn off the lights so it’s as dark as any regular cinema.
Space is also an issue. It’s not a problem for a small projector screen or a mini projector screen, but some projection screen sizes can be rather large. You have to make sure you have enough space not just for the screen. You also have to take into account the AV receiver, speakers, and maybe other furniture you want to put around the screen.
How what about the height of the screen? As we’ve already mentioned, you can divide the screen into 3 horizontal parts and then the top of the bottom third should about 42 to 50 inches from the floor. Another nice rule of thumb is to have the bottom of the screen at a height of about 24 to 36 inches from the floor. This is best if you only have a single row of seats.
But what if you have several rows of seats? You may then have to raise the screen a bit higher so that the people in the back rows can still see the whole scree completely. Some feel a drop down projector screen is best for this situation, as they can be set somewhat higher.
Just keep in mind that you should sit about 10 feet away from a screen projecting a 110-inch image. If you’re going to go with larger video images, you’re better off sitting farther away.
Before you actually mount the screen, you still have to find the right location for the projector itself. Only then can you really get the right height for your screen. It does take a lot of tweaks and moving about for your projector screen and projector, which is why you may want to use painter’s tape first to mark out where you want to place your screen.
You need to keep in mind that many projectors need at least 10 feet of distance from the screen to project the same-size image. You may even have to get the HD projector screen located farther if you want a larger image. It all depends on the projector screen size.
However, there are alternatives known as “short throw” projectors that don’t need as much distance from the screen.
Some need only a few feet of distance to project a video image measuring 100 inches (diagonally). There are even ultra-short throw models that can project 100-inch home theater screen size from a few inches away.
When you’ve then tested the projector and mounted it, only then should you also mount the home theater screen. It would be very annoying to mount the screen to your wall only to find that it’s just a bit too low or too high.
Mounting a Screen to Your Wall
In most cases, when you buy a projector screen you also get a manual with directions on how to mount it. These directions can be very specific to your screen model, so screens may be mounted in different ways depending on the model.
The steps can very similar in general, assuming that you’re not going with a retractable screen. If you’re going with a fixed frame wall mounted projector screen, here are the steps you need to take:
Assemble the frame.
Temporarily, mount the frame on the wall. You have to make sure that it is horizontally level and also perfectly vertical (“vertically plumb” in construction lingo).
Now take down the frame and then you can attach the actual screen onto the frame.
Mount the frame again now that the screen is attached and then re-check that it’s perfect along the vertical and horizontal.
The DIY Outdoor Projector Screen
What if you want to watch a movie with your projector outdoors? While some folks seem to think that it’s okay to just project the movie to a side of a barn or the side of a house, that’s not always the best option for your movie projector screen.
That’s especially true if you don’t have a wall that large by your backyard (and you don’t have a barn either).
So instead, you can always make one on your own. It’s a fun project for a DIY enthusiast, plus it won’t cost as much. You may not have to spend more than fifty bucks for everything.
You will need to have (or borrow if you don’t have one yet) these two tools:
A sewing machine
A handsaw or compound miter saw to cut pipes
Once you’ve checked that you have these 2 tools, you then need to buy the following:
Four 10-ft long pieces of 1.5-inch PVC pipe (thinner pipes just won’t do as they’re not very stable for this project)
Two 45-degree elbows that will fit in the PVC pipe
Four T-fittings for the PVC pipe
8 to 10-inch spikes (which you can find in the nails section of your hardware store)
6 pieces of ¾ grosgrain ribbon, each measuring 18 inches long.
A full-sized white sheet
Building the Frame
Now that you have your materials, here are the steps you need to take to build your own projector screen:
Start by getting one of the 10-ft PVC pipes and use the saw cut it into a 7-ft pipe and a 3-ft pipe.
Do this again with another of the 10-ft PVC pipes. This leaves you with two pipes measuring 7 feet and another 2 pipes measuring 3 feet.
Next, get another of those long PVC pipes and cut it into 3 pieces. These will be a pipe measuring 6 feet and 2 pipes each measuring 2 feet.
Cut another PVC pipe to get another 6-ft pipe.
Assemble the frame so that it looks like a large H with a bar on top.
The horizontal bars in top and in the middle will be the 7-ft pipes
The top arms of the H will be the 6-ft pipes.
The legs of the H will be the 3-ft pipes.
Use the 45-degree elbows to connect the 7-ft top bar to the 6-ft pipes acting as the top arms.
Use the T-fittings to connect these 6-ft top arms to the 7-ft horizontal bar in the middle.
You can then connect the 3-ft legs to the T-fittings of the middle horizontal bar.
Finally, use the T-fittings at the bottom of the 3-ft legs so that you can connect the 2-ft pipes to act as the “feet” of the frame. Set these pipes at a perpendicular angle.
If you’ve done this right, you then have a rectangular frame for the screen while the 3-ft and 2-ft pipes hold it all up from underneath.
Putting in the Screen
The sheet is of course the screen that you install in your frame. Here’s how to hang a projector screen:
Use the top hem and it turn it down one fold.
Run a stitch close to the edge so you have a pocket for the top of the frame.
Place it on the frame, and then measure where you need to hem on the bottom.
Take it off the frame and run another pocket for the bottom.
Sew it just a teensy bit small, so the screen will stretch out and prevent any wrinkles.
Sew the ribbons on the sides at the top, middle, and bottom by folding the ribbons in half and then stitching it down to make tabs to tie it to the sides of the frame.
Different Screen Types
Of course, nowadays you can always just buy a ready-made screen and be done with it. These will have their own screen installation methods, and all you need to do is to follow the manual instructions.
The setup will also depend on what type of projector screen you get. A wall-mounted screen will have its own frame and all you’ll need to do is to mount it to the wall.
The same thing goes for a ceiling-mounted hanging projector screen. Learning how to install a screen on your ceiling isn’t really difficult, as you basically just secure the ceiling mounted projector screen base to the ceiling. Since ceilings are generally perfectly horizontal, you’re sure that the roll down projector screen won’t be tilted.
Some have their own stands, and they’re great for the outdoors. There are even some that are weather-proof. They may have a metal base with spikes to secure it to the ground. The screen may also come with the cables you need to attach it to 2 anchors. A similar model for indoor use is a roll up projector screen, which comes with a base and then you just roll the screen up whenever you need to watch your movie.
If you’re willing to spend more money, you can get a motorized retractable projector screen for indoor use. There are also air-blown inflatable projectors that are best suited for both indoor and outdoor use. You just need to make sure you have the space, and then you can inflate it and enjoy your movie. Just make sure you secure it with cables and stakes if you’re using it outdoors.
The simplest rule for installing a projector and screen is to make sure you read the manual instructions. That should make it easy to mount the screen frame to a wall or ceiling.
Don’t forget to put the home movie screen in a dark place without any light hitting it, and see to it that the height of the screen doesn’t cause you any physical discomfort. Now grab a seat, get your popcorn, and enjoy the movie!