By Andy Baker, Baker Stone Systems (CEDIA member)
It seemed odd being asked to contribute some thoughts on outdoor cinema on a day when temperatures in the UK had dropped back to near zero and I’d seen snow out of my office window. Whatever happened to global warming?
Anyway, it gave me the chance to let my mind wander back to an idyllic evening sitting in the warmth of a Mediterranean summers evening with the sun setting over the sea, a drink in one hand and an iPad close by while we tested what, for us at least, was the biggest outdoor cinema we’d ever installed.
The first challenge with outdoor cinemas, at least it was for us, is finding a big enough screen.
The required screen was so large that none of the outdoor screens from the ‘normal suspects’ were big enough, so we had to ‘think outside the box’.
We contacted everyone we could think of to find a big enough screen. In the end, almost in desperation, we had an idea that a motorised screen works a bit like a big roller blind. We decided to get in touch with RGB Communications who distribute Oceanair. Initially, RGB thought we were crazy, as we wanted an outdoor electric screen that was just over 5m wide. They passed on our enquiry, and fortunately, Oceanair agreed that this approach could work. They came up with a basic design and price and our client accepted this.
And so, the fun began…
We had installed outdoor direct view screens before with a two speaker setup, but this was a big one for us. The project not only required the big screen, but it also needed surround sound. Besides the equipment challenges, there was also the challenge that the project was over 2000 miles from home.
We now had an idea of how the screen was going to work. Side channels would be vital, so the screen material was kept as tight as possible and didn’t blow around in the local breeze. Obviously, it needed to be waterproof, especially as it would only be 200m from the sea. The screen material also needed to be stable, as temperatures in Cyprus can vary from just above zero to the high 30s. Yes, believe it or not, I have seen snow in Cyprus.
The next challenge for outdoor cinemas is finding an appropriate projector.
With the screen being over 5m wide, we required a ‘serious’ projector and this meant that we needed to use a commercial unit rather than one designed for a home cinema. Once again, RGB Communications helped us with projector and lens choice and we settled on an NEC PH1400 unit. This unit has WUXGA resolution and a wide choice of lenses, so there was one to suit the throw distance of over 10m.
With a projector chosen, we had to find a solution that could keep the projector protected from the outdoor elements.
An expensive projector out in the open really isn’t going to work for long. So, a protective housing was needed and, as often happens, Google and business contacts, came to our rescue. Someone suggested a company that suggested someone else, who knew someone that made projector enclosures, but didn’t have a number for them. In the end, we ordered a unit called The Blizzard from Tempest in California. Luckily, they have a European representative based in the UK, so ordering the unit was relatively straightforward.
An additional custom-made curved enclosure was employed to fit the oval hollow concrete tower, and to ensure the aesthetic was able to match the outdoor shower as part of the stunning project.
By now, we had the makings of a cinema - a big roller blind for a screen, a projector, a waterproof box and a large construction kit of parts for the aesthetic enclosure, but wait we need some audio as well.
The audio was relatively straightforward to design, but we were restrained by what the architect would let us do. However, we managed to persuade him to allow us to knock some holes in the side of the villa for the front speakers, while the rear speakers could mount on the pergola at the back of the open courtyard. Of course, we had to acquire custom grills made to cover the holes in a RAL colour to match the surrounding stone.
We decided to install some of the biggest Sonance Mariner speakers, as these products are waterproof, they sound great and the sound could be ‘aimed’ using the standard brackets that are supplied with the speakers. The speakers were powered from an Integra AVR, housed in a cupboard in the nearby utility room. A sub was located in the base of the projector tower.
When we turned our attention to the control, we opted for Savant, as the owner was familiar with the system, having had it installed in the rest of the villa. IP control of the AVR, the projector and the Lutron motor module that controls the screen was all achieved via Savant. Just Add Power provided the video distribution, again with IP control and POE.
Revisiting the site a few weeks after we completed and tested the installation, it was great to see our client, some friends and their children enjoying their new cinema, blissfully unaware of the technology and innovation behind the experience.
What a relief to say that the job is now done…. Oh, wait a minute, we’ve been asked to do it again in the villa next door!