For D.C. movie buffs, summer means Screen on the Green (www.digitalcity.com/washington/screenonthegreen) -- the free flicks shown Monday nights on the Mall. But why fight the crowds or wait for a worthy movie to crop up on the schedule? You can see your favorite film alfresco -- in your own back yard.
SET THE SCENE. You'll need an outdoor space, but it doesn't have to be huge -- or even a yard. An urban dweller can present a movie on the roof (if management permits, of course); the space needs to be just big enough to seat your friends and place a projector about 15 feet away from the screen. Many people use a light-colored bedsheet, which can be hung on the side of a house, against a fence or off a tree. Ken Weitzel, a Laurel electrical engineer and part-time thespian who likes to show movies in his front yard, stitches a black sheet behind the white one to improve the image's color contrast. Danny Briere, co-author of "Home Theaters for Dummies," suggests hanging a white tarp, which can be obtained for around $25 at a local hardware store. (See www.digitaldummies.com/smarthomes/fun_projects.asp for more of his expert advice.)
THE HARDWARE. In addition to a VCR or DVD player, or a laptop computer with a DVD drive, you'll need a projector. Traditionally somewhat expensive, most DLPs, or digital-light-processing projectors, will run you $1,000 to $2,000 at a store such as Best Buy. Used or older models, though, can be found at flea markets or discount stores for as low as $300. ("For a small group, look for a projector with a bulb of at least 1,200 lumens or, if you can afford it, about 1,500 lumens or more," Briere says.)
For a one-time thing -- especially if you're sharing the cost with friends -- Affordable Projector Rentals (www.affordableprojectorrentals.com) will rent a projector for $99 for a 24-hour period. And if you're working for the man, many companies have projectors that can be used to screen movies -- just get the appropriate adapters at RadioShack. Why not hold a movie night while you have a projector checked out for a business trip, or conspire to involve your office manager in a screening?
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! Place the projector on a cart, hook it to your DVD player or VCR, set up the speakers, and you're ready to go. Computer speakers work fine if you're using a laptop and have a small audience. For more volume, or if you're using a DVD player or VCR, you'll need to hook up your player to an old stereo or boombox with speakers. (Simply use standard stereo audio cables to connect the player's "audio out" jacks to the stereo's "auxiliary in.")
If you're willing to invest a little more for improved sound quality, Briere recommends RCA WSP150 wireless speakers, which provide plenty of power and portability (available at RadioShack, $89.99).
Then choose your flick, butter the popcorn and settle back to enjoy your movie night out.
Want to know how to do something? Send your questions to email@example.com.