Gaming Under The Stars (Part 2)

Summer has come to an end and Southeastern Wisconsin is entering another change in season. The days are getting shorter and things are beginning to cool down. Spring and Fall have always been my favorite seasons. Spring represents new life and an awakening from a long, and often brutal, winter. Fall is a wonderful time of the year as it provides for an abundance of color changes, Halloween (my favorite “holiday”) and the celebration of another year of marital bliss.

In general, there is usually a lot for me to be happy about during this season of change. Unfortunately, Fall also brings about the end of my outdoor theater until the following Summer. The opportunity to indulge my gaming needs with a final round of nocturnal foolishness grows smaller and smaller with the passing of each day. The weather becomes less cooperative as does my motivation to set things up. I can only reflect back on the previous summer and hope that it was a fruitful one.

As I contemplate a final outdoor movie with the family, and ready plans to store away my gear for the long winter, I realize that I still owe the PSNation readers a follow up editorial. Here I am, preparing to wrap things up when many of you haven’t even begun.

We started this conversation with the more difficult process of determining the proper visual necessities for a successful outdoor theater. I opted to get the worst out of the way and, as a result, believe the remaining piece to be considerably less involved and less costly.

Unless your outdoor theater plans do not aspire beyond a foreign film festival or a Nintendo gaming marathon, audio is still a relevant aspect of any theater experience. Up until the advent of High Definition I more often than not placed my audio set-up on a substantially higher platform that anything else. My current indoor theater is inclusive of an Onkyo 7.1 receiver that I had taken days to tweak to optimal performance levels. Although audio and surround sound remain incredibly important to a great percentage of theater enthusiasts it does not hold as much weight when taking things outdoors.

Those of you old enough to have experienced an actual drive-in movie might have fond memories of the tinny sound pumped through a single speaker, hung from the inner window of your car. Thankfully, drive-ins evolved to allow the movies’ sound through an available frequency somewhat easily tuned in via your car’s radio. It is still a far cry from the continually impressive sound system of today’s indoor theaters but it still got the job done; and that, for better or worse, is how I have approached the means by which I provide the necessary audio for my own drive-in.

Your audio options, both in terms of price and availability, are far more abundant than that of the video projector.  Whether it’s an older, retired, receiver collecting dust in your closet or the internal speakers that some (but not all) projectors have built in, how far you decide to go with the sound to fit your gaming needs is really, once again, up to you.

What I might suggest, and what I have decided on for my own outdoor theater, is selecting a mid-to-low level HTiB, or Home Theater in a Box.  They are extremely common, easy to find and come in any number of price points.  They offer a high level of convenience and provide for a more compact set-up process.  In addition, the majority (if not all) HTiB’s come with a built in DVD player.  By having this feature bundled in with the package you have the option to easily switch between starting the evening’s festivities with a movie and ending with a competitive racing event of Motorstorm: Pacific Rift.

Should you go the route of a HTiB you’ll want to ensure that the receiver you have selected allows for at least 1 additional source of external audio connection; for obvious reasons.  Some, like the receiver I currently use, allow for an added video input.  Had I chosen to use this option for my PlayStation 3 connection it would have made for a convenient change in receiver settings.  Instead, opting for a better signal, I run a video line direct from my PS3 to the projector and let my receiver focus on delivering the audio signals.  It’s a matter of personal preference but one that I have been very happy with up to this point.

What type, and the number, of speakers you connect to the receiver of your choosing may be slightly more important.  Keep in mind that all this time and effort in setting up your theater will still be in an outdoor setting.  Unless your surrounding is fairly enclosed the sound that you produce won’t be bouncing off any walls or ceilings as would normally be the case in a home theater.  Therefore, I would suggest using speakers that can accommodate for some higher volume levels and a fair amount of bass.

Over the years I’ve toyed with various different speakers.  In my early, ambitious stages of outdoor theater enthusiasm, I even attempted to set up a 5.1 surround for a showing of Raiders of the Lost Arc.  It worked, but the effort involved and the length of speaker wire needed resulted in a sound that, although impressive, was just not worth repeating.  What I have consistently used over the past several years has been a set of old, yet reliable, Sony tower speakers.  They have larger speakers to help with the low-end bass frequency, as well as the necessary high-end speakers to smoothly even out the action and dialogue of whatever game or movie is chosen.  The best part, these are speakers that I’ve had for many years and had not seen much use; just another example that what you have may already be all that you need.

And that, ladies and gentlemen of PSNation, is pretty much all there is to establishing your own little piece of outdoor gaming nirvana.  I guarantee that should you take the plunge into the world of the outdoor theater (or backyard theater) you’ll find yourself hooked.  You’ll constantly be thinking of ways to improve the sound or the picture.  For me, it has become an obsession with streamlining the set-up and tear-down process.  Each year I get closer to how I really want things to work, how they should be presented and the quickest, most hassle-free method to do so.

But before I store away my outdoor theater for the looming winter, let me provide you with a few additional helpful tips to keep in mind when you start to develop, test and perfect your own ODT.

Safety First – Sure, this might mean safety for the kids involved but what I really mean is being conscious of the safety of your equipment.  You’ll come to realize that after you’ve set everything up there will be an abundance of wires, cords and power strips begging for little feet to trip over – bringing everything crashing down.  Whether you tape your electrical to the ground or throw a rug over it make sure everyone is aware.  Use caution tape or safety cones, it doesn’t matter.  Either way, you’ll be better off.  As I set everything up on my driveway I take extra time running as much as I can into the seams of the driveway slabs.

The bigger the screen size the more it has the potential to mimic the sail of a ship.  Make sure that over-sized kite you’re playing ModNation Racers on won’t just up and fly away like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz; secure it to the ground, tie it to a tree or bungie it to your garage.

Bugs in the summer can be a nuisance.  Mosquitoes can be repelled with a liberal dousing of Deep Woods Off but they, among many of their bug brethren, will continue to show an interest in that projector lamp that pierces the darkness.  Even the smallest of God’s creatures can project themselves to titan-like proportions should they land anywhere near that light source.  It’ll make a close game of Split Second end with crushing consequences as their image blocks any and all action on the screen.  A working solution to those with high populations of insects is to place a small fan next to the projector’s front lamp.  The blowing should be enough to keep most of those winged nightmares from interrupting your evening’s festivities.

This last suggestion is one that I feel is the most important.  If you live in a neighborhood similar to mine the houses are close together and there is little privacy.  Having good neighbors can make or break the neighborhood’s sense of community and they are also hard to come by.  My family has been fortunate to have wonderful neighbors for the past 11 years.  Because of this we will almost always extend an invitation for them to join us for a movie or round of outdoor gaming.  Whether or not they accept should not have any bearing on the entertainment that is selected for the night.  In other words, know what you’re about to project.  Playing as Kratos, as he disembowels all that get in his way, may not account for a moment’s pause from you or I.  My neighbors, on the other hand, might be less inclined to accept our next invitation.  Know your surroundings and who inhabits them, realize that sound does carry and give your neighbors a heads-up each time you start to get that itch.  Have fun but be considerate.

Now, go forth PSNation gamers and create for me the ultimate outdoor gaming rig.  Make me jealous!  If you live in a region that experiences winter you’ll now have months to plan, research and prepare for next year’s unveiling.  I’ve shown you mine, now you show me yours.

Dedicated to my wife Lisa (Happy Anniversary) and children – Raymond, Elizabeth and Katherine.  Without you my life would be an empty screen.  I love you all – game on!

Written by Bill Braun

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