Moving Pictures Outdoors

With the drive-in theater largely a thing of the past, could outdoor video be the wave of the future? Taking video outside isn't very practical unless you live in an area with a mild year-round climate. But hard-core TV buffs and savvy custom installers are coming up with ways to bring the home theater experience out in the open.

"We haven't seen anything that can last year after year if it's outside all the time," acknowledges Steve Hayes of Custom Electronics in Maine. "Video displays have to be temporarily mounted and moved in and out. But just about anything will work if it's well protected." In soggy Seattle, Craig Abplanalp of Definitive Audio says TVs are usually installed "in areas like a covered patio with a fireplace. And we've done video monitors for people so they can watch a ballgame while sitting in a hot tub."

But even in sunny Southern California, sensitive electronics need protection from the elements. "The only time we do an outdoor video display," explains Michael Taylor of San Diego's Urban Design Technologies, "is a when we install a plasma screen in, say, a cabana."

Russ DuBrow of Electronic Technology in Los Angeles points out that you can find fully sealed, weather-resistant cases for TVs, and some even have cooling fans and heaters. But the outdoors can exact a heavy toll on TVs in almost any environment. "If you live in the desert, you don't have humidity problems," he says. "But you do have extreme heat. And if you're near the ocean, you don't have the temperature extremes, but the TV will self-destruct because of corrosion from the salt air."

Many of Jeff Hoover's customers at Audio Advisors in Florida have to deal with both high humidity and salt air, but his company still does a fair amount of business in outdoor video. When mounting an expensive model like a plasma display outside, Hoover says he usually builds a Plexiglas enclosure to protect it from the elements. "For moisture protection for CRT [cathode-ray tube] sets," he adds, "we use a housing made out of marine canvas with a clear-plastic face stitched on it that drops over the whole display."

The portability of some of the newer, lightweight LCD and DLP (Digital Light Processing) front projectors has made outdoor video more convenient. "Some of the projectors we've done don't even need a screen," Hoover explains. "If you have 20 or 30 guys watching a fight, it can work surprisingly well just showing it on the side of the house if it's far enough away." Hmm . . . kind of sounds like the old drive-in theaters.

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