Bring it Outdoors: The Latest in Sound and TV for Your Deck, Yard or Patio

If you’re planning your new home, you’ve probably noticed that “interior” design has found its way outside.

In modern homes, the backyard patio, deck or pool area can often be as elaborate as any inside space, sometimes incorporating a full kitchen, extensive seating and dining areas, and, of course, electronic entertainment. That means getting sound and video, normally enjoyed under the protection of a roof, safely outdoors.

In fact, according to a 2016 study by the American Home Furnishings Alliance, more than 70 percent of U.S. households have outdoor living spaces and about 71 percent of those consumers would like to enhance these spaces. So, here area few tips to do so:

Outdoor Sound Abounds

For most people, the minimum for an outdoor entertainment space is enjoying your favorite music along with guests. There are several approaches ranging from simply plopping down a wireless portable speaker to permanent, wired solutions.

The easiest way to get good sound outdoors today is with the new generation of high performance wireless speakers. Most use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi communication (often Apple’s AirPlay technology) to route Internet radio services like Pandora or your favorite playlists from your phone, tablet or computer to the speaker.

Keep in mind that Bluetooth transmission range usually tops out around 30 feet; Wi-Fi solutions will go farther.

For now, it seems the best-sounding and most attractive units are those intended for indoor use — they can live day-to-day in your kitchen or bedroom, but are easily carried outside in fair weather and placed anywhere there’s a wall outlet to power them. Examples include B&W’s A7, which uses Apple AirPlay, and NAD’s VISO 1 AP with Bluetooth and AirPlay. 

On the other hand, some new models designed from the get-go for outdoor use are starting to hit the market. Soundcast Systems is well regarded for its outdoor wireless speakers and the new compact Melody offers both battery operation and excellent sound quality in a truly portable, splash-proof cabinet.

Pioneer’s A3 portable wireless speaker, engineered by renowned high-end speaker designer Andrew Jones to deliver good sound at a low price, also features a weather-resistant casing and built-in rechargeable battery. Acoustic Research offers wireless speakers that look like outdoor lanterns in either Main Street or Mission styling; they can receive signals via Bluetooth or from a separate transmitter (included) that can be connected to an indoor sound system and can be used alone or in stereo pairs.

OSD_Audio Rock SpeakerOnline retailer OSD Audio, which specializes in outdoor speakers, offers a pair of rock-style outdoor Bluetooth speakers that resemble garden boulders.

For a more stealth installation, you’ll want to run outdoor speaker cable from a hi-fi or multi-room audio system in the house to traditional outdoor speakers. You might consider a custom electronics integrator to help run cables in the wall (or underground).

Lots of in-ceiling and in-wall speakers intended for home use are weather resistant and approved by the manufacturer for use on covered decks, but other options abound. Traditional outdoor box-style speakers, many of which have weatherproof cabinets, are a better-sounding option well suited to under-eave placement, which protects them from the elements and also bolsters bass performance for richer, fuller sound.

Many of the best-known home speaker manufacturers make excellent-sounding outdoor speakers, including Bose, Polk Audio, Boston Acoustics and others; specialty manufacturers include Niles, Speakercraft, Sonance and James Loudspeakers. The Klipsch KHO-7 is unusual in its use of a horn-loaded tweeter that improves efficiency and allows the speaker to achieve higher volume in an open-air environment. 

If you’re running wires, you’ll find a number of camouflaged speaker options. Rock speakers, which look like garden stones, sit low to the ground and disappear among the shrubs. Popular brands include Niles, Stereostone and Rockustics; opt for a two-way speaker for better sonics and look for a six- or eight-inch woofer for best bass performance.

For a serious party system, consider adding a large outdoor subwoofer like the Niles GSS-10, which gets buried underground; bass is ported to the surface by a small tube. Polk Audio makes the Sub 10, an affordable, terra cotta-styled outdoor sub that sits on the ground. And you’ll find speakers masquerading as planters from brands including Niles and James Loudspeakers.

Let The Games Begin

Enjoying your outdoor space can also mean watching television sports coverage by day and sharing a movie by night. Bringing video outside is more complicated than audio due to both the weather elements and the need to feed both audio and video signals along with AC power, but there are options for both temporary and permanent installations. 

If you only desire to keep an eye on the big game while you put away a few beers with the gang, most small indoor LCD televisions (say, 22- to 32-inches screen size) are light enough to carry outdoors in fair weather and plop down on the patio table.

There’s a new breed of wireless adapter kits that can then transmit the full high-definition HDMI signal, both picture and sound, from a cable box or Blu-ray player to the television. These range in price from about $100 up to $300, from manufacturers including Belkin, IoGear and DVDO, among others. 

But for a bigger screen and more permanent arrangement, you’re probably looking at investing in a dedicated, weatherproof outdoor television. Manufacturers like SunBrite and SkyVue make LCD televisions up to 80 inches that are ensconced in housings designed to keep the elements (and animals) out and temperatures within normal operating range.

Be prepared to pay a premium for the privilege — perhaps up to $4,500 or more for a 60-inch model, for example, plus the cost of installation. To facilitate these installs, Peerless-AV offers the unique PeerAir outdoor wall-mount, which combines an articulating arm for HDTVs up to 63 inches with a wireless HDMI transmitter kit that’s sealed inside a weatherproof box. 

Of course, the ultimate outdoor big screen experience calls for home theater-style front projection, with a separate projector and screen. A permanent high-end installation might involve the use of a glass rear-projection screen mounted on an exterior wall facing the outdoor viewing area. A dedicated projector shed can also be created with the screen mounted on the side facing a pool or patio area, though forced ventilation or even air-conditioning might be required to keep the projector cool. 

EliteScreens_outdoor movie screenIf you just want to enjoy the occasional movie night with a large gathering of family or friends in safe weather, you can always haul out a front projector and wired or wireless sound system, then blast the image up on a temporary or permanent screen.

Elite Screen’s Yardmaster and DIY series screens come in sizes up to 180 inches, and are designed for stand-mounting (ropes and stakes included) or hanging on a shed wall or garage door.

Want bigger? Backyard Theater Systems sells outdoor screens on collapsible rigging at sizes up to 16 feet and for larger crowds, inflatable screens can be had from Air Screen and other sources at sizes up to 40 feet wide. Then all you’ll need is two dozen bags of chips and a five-gallon tub of salsa.
Rob Sabin is editor-in-chief of Home Theater magazine/ and is a CEDIA-trained (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) electronic systems integrator.

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