It’s been a little while since I had a good “How-To”, but this one is definitely going to make up for that. My friend Justin over at saving-sherpa.com has provided us with an incredibly informative and detailed look at his DIY portable projector! This guy has some amazing ingenuity and creativity, and it’s definitely worth noting that he is also holding fairly steady at a 70% savings rate! While living in Boston! Get out your notebook and take some notes on this one, and when you’re done head over to his blog for great storytelling and fantastic content!
**This post does include affiliate links but all products linked are ones I actually used or would use if buying new and the links ensure you know exactly what product I’m referring to**
Do you reminisce about the good ole drive-in movie theaters? Maybe you want a cool experience with your kids or entertain people but don’t have the room in your house. Heck it could just be another way to spend a little more time outside with some fresh air. Whatever your reason, this guide will walk you through how to put together a super versatile and portable movie projector setup with ease.
You’ll have up to 100 inches of screen real estate and won’t require access to electrical outlets. Everything can be put together, setup, and taken down by one person. Let’s dive into the nuts and bolts but first a teaser photo of the fruits of your labor. This picture is the outdoor setup in its natural habitat in the Catskills Mountains watching the camping classic, Wet Hot American Summer.
Ok..enough foreshadowing and back to the build. The piece of equipment you’ll no doubt spend the most time researching is the projector itself and rightfully so. They can be expensive and in a day and age of 4K tvs, you’ll want good quality picture. Trust me, don’t stress so much about that. You’ll be watching movies when it is good and dark so the lumens aka brightness won’t be a problem.
The projector I bought was the Insignia NS-PR200. This model normally retails for about $250 but I was able to find one on ebay in perfect condition for $70. I decided to do this instead of some of the other pretty interesting models that come with android built in and weaker speakers due to the price points. I placed the Insignia model beside a Saving-Sherpa business card below for scale. The benefits of this model was the price and the built in speaker.
The speaker actually works really well for settings where everyone can be within 5 feet of the projector. This model doesn’t have as many features as some of the other options on Amazon but at the price point, it fit my needs. The only ports it offers is a headphone out and a full size HDMI. It has a 2 hour battery life and projects well up to a 100 inch screen.
I coupled this with an Android dongle (imagine something like an Amazon Firestick) that I bought on Amazon 4 years ago for $17. Unfortunately I can’t really link to that because they don’t sell that specific model anymore but you can find plenty of these devices on Ebay by searching for Android Sticks. Again these are basically like an Amazon Firestick but a more open version of Android and will be much more like operating any other phone or tablet.
These dongles/sticks allow you to use any app that you could use on your phone and come with built-in Wi-Fi adapter and often Bluetooth which means if you have an internet connection you can even stream live television, watch youtube, run spotify, etc. My main use though was watching movies that I would download prior and thus not need an internet connection. This device takes very little power and can be run via a powered USB port.
The projector I went with doesn’t have any powered USB ports so this means I have to run it off of a portable battery bank. I already had one of these lying around but I also knew I might want to run the projector for more than 2 hours so I decided to go with a more serious setup.
I went with the Omars 24000 MaH Battery Pack with an 80W AC plug. The projector required a normal plug-in like you’d find in your house to charge and I could also use it for things like charging my laptop on the go so I saw this option as an investment for more than just the projector. With this I can run my projector setup for over 7 hours which is more than enough for a backyard movie night, playing Mario Kart, or a weekend of camping.
Now I have the projector, the android stick will be the brains, the internal battery along with the battery bank give me plenty of runtime, but how do I control it? For this, I started by expanding the number of USB ports I had to connect to the android stick. I bought this cheap hub 4 years ago and it’s still going strong. This gave me 4 USB ports now. From there I added a USB mouse to control the android stick and a 32Gb flash drive to give me plenty of memory for movies and music.
For the flash drive there are a lot of cheap options like this 32Gb model for $8.50. Depending on your needs you can always use a larger drive but 32Gb is normally plenty for a few movies and a big playlist. Then you just grab a USB mouse like this neat one for $6.50.
I had both of these already on hand and I’d be willing to bet a lot of you do too. The android stick has one female micro usb input. Mine came with a splitter like the photo from below that I used to connect the usb hub to the android stick for the added memory and inputs. You’ll see the one micro usb male that goes into the android stick, one usb female that connects to the usb hub, and one usb male that connects to your usb power source.
We got brains, power, and control but what about the screen?
The truth is I could have aka should have just bought one for $29.99, but instead I decided to make my own to be a little more DIY. I bought 3 yards of curtain backing material for $17 at fabric.com. A 100” screen is 87” wide and 49.5” tall. The fabric comes 54” tall and I cut the piece to be about 95” wide. The extra room allowed me to add the grommets and still have 100” of viewable space.
I used a grommet kit like this one which only requires a hammer and a hard flat surface. If you already have the fabric, I would go this route, otherwise I would pitch in the extra $5 and just buy a premade screen. The good thing about a screen this size is that when rolled up on the cardboard tube it shipped on, it fits perfectly under the back seat of my ‘01 Ford F-150.
The final main piece I would recommend is a tripod. There are a lot of DIY ways to make a tripod or mount anything with a standard tripod screw but I already had a nice adjustable one for my camera so I just used it. Having a tripod means not stressing out about what kind of angles or heights your ground or screen end up at.
At this point you have all the main components and understanding of how this thing runs but you still need to execute. So far I’ve used mine in three separate configurations. One is in the backyard with the screen stretched between two poles, one is by binder clipping the screen to an air mattress and propping it up somewhere, and the last is similar to option two but with the addition of strapping it to the cab of my pickup truck.
For the backyard setup I’ve decided to stretch the screen between two 8 foot poles of conduit. Conduit is super cheap and easy to cut to size with a hacksaw. First, drive the poles in the ground. You’ll want the space between the two to be a few inches wider than the width of your fabric screen. I then loop these amazingly handy reusable zip tie sorta things through the grommets on the side of the screen and strap the screen to the poles.
One thing you’ll find quickly is that the tension on the screen pulls the poles together causing your screen to wrinkle. The simple hack I’ve used is leaning a cinder block against the inside base of the conduit. This stops the poles from pulling towards each other. In this terrible image below you can see the first time I ever set it up this way. I know the video looks terrible but I promise it looks great even though my camera could not handle the frames per second.
My most common setup however is by using a full size air mattress to give the screen a solid shape. This method is much simpler. All you need is 4-6 medium sized binder clips and an air mattress of course. You blow the air matress up and clip the screen to the mattress so that there are no wrinkles. You can then prop it up on a table or place it just about anywhere. Below you’ll see the coolest setup I had in this mode in the Catskills of New York at outdoor fest.
Last and certainly not least is the pickup truck setup. It’s very similar to option two but with just a touch more Merica. With this setup you still use the mattress and binder clips but instead of leaning it against any ole object you strap it to the back of your truck cab.
The way I pull this off is by running a strap through the cab and around the mattress. I tighten the mattress down before attaching the screen. You may also want to jam a pillow or something behind it to make the screen more straight depending on the shape of your cab. Again, the photo below is going to look rough but it’s just tough to get a picture of good screen quality especially when you want there to be enough light to see the setup.
All of these options have worked great for me and they all have pros and cons. If you stretch the screen between poles you get the full 100” screen. If you place it on the air matress the setup is much more portable and flexible but you’re limited to a 70” screen on a full size mattress but the aspect ratio is pretty clutch in almost matching a 16:9 widescreen format. Finally the pickup truck options gives you the ability to simply lay in the back of the truck for the ultimate date night. This build can seem expensive if you buy everything brand new but luckily you can find almost all of this used and possibly even have some of it already lying around.
The thing I love about projects like this are that the expense is one time but the enjoyment can be experienced for years to come. Captain DIY was kind enough to host this post for me but if you ever want more insight or advice into living a frugal life and maybe even retiring early, I hope you would take a moment out and visit Saving-Sherpa today and make sure you sign up for the email newsletter so you can always have the latest post delivered right to your inbox.
Thanks for reading!
Projector: Insignia NS-PR200 ($69 w/ free shipping is best deal at time of writing)
Android Stick: Anything Android 4.0+ with usb input (plenty for <$30)
Battery bank: 24000mah with AC plug $76
Flash drive: 32 Gb for $8.50
USB Expansion: 4 port expansion $6.99
Mouse: Wireless mouse for $6.50
Tripod: 50” tripod for $14.99
Screen: 100” foldable screen for $30
2 x 8’ pieces of conduit
Binder clips… But come on now, you know you have plenty at the office
Wow, many thanks to Justin for writing this amazing article! This is such a cool and useful idea, I’m definitely going to try to build something like this myself! Not only does he give us this great portable entertainment build, he is also giving us more reason to spend our leisure time doing fun and, importantly, inexpensive things. If you like camping, hanging out in the backyard, or even movie night in the living room, this is an inexpensive way to increase your viewing pleasure!
Again, I want to thank Justin for his hard work to share this with us, and I highly recommend heading over to saving-sherpa.com to learn more cool stuff!