Adam Turner June 06, 2012
If your home theatre ambitions have outgrown your lounge room, the HandiTheatre could be your ultimate upgrade.
If you've ever been to an outdoor cinema in the park and experienced screen envy, the HandiTheatre could be the showstopper you've been looking for. It includes an inflatable outdoor projector screen, known as a HandiScreen, measuring 2.5 metres ($3499) or 3 metres ($3999) diagonally. The HandiScreen comes bundled with a SmartBox which contains an Optoma EW539 high-def projector, Samsung Blu-ray player, digital TV tuner and amplifier all combined in the one sturdy unit. The kit also includes a remote control, two speakers, speaker stands and various cables. Everything packs away into two solid carry cases and a large bag for the deflated screen, all of which have wheels.
The whole concept sounds rather cumbersome and is a little daunting at first, but it's not actually that hard to put up. If you've ever set up and packed away a large tent you'll find this a cinch and it's not a tight fit to get the deflated HandiScreen in and out of the bag. With a little practice two people can have the HandiTheatre up and running in 15 to 20 minutes, but you could probably manage it on your own if you were keen.
The HandiScreen features a similar air valve to a camping mattress and comes with a small rechargeable pump. Where you set up the screen will be limited by the fact that the projector and both speakers need AC power.
When fully inflated, the 2.5-metre model I tested stands around 2.3 metres tall and 2.7 metres wide (with the bottom of the projections area almost a metre off the ground). The HandiScreen comes with straps and anchor points for tying it down and you'll probably need to use them if there's even a gentle breeze. As you can image, the wind is quick to catch the giant HandiScreen and try to push it over. You obviously don't want to mark the projection area on the front or get it wet -- which is why you wouldn't leave the HandiTheatre permanently set up in your backyard and exposed to the weather. You'll also need a make-shift stand for the SmartBox and I found a kitchen chair did the job nicely.
I set up the HandiTheatre in my front yard to entertain the neighbourhood kids with Madagascar on DVD, then after they went to bed I sat back in a deck chair and watched Casino Royale on Blu-ray. To be honest I was a little skeptical at first and thought that the HandiTheatre might be a novelty item, but the Optoma HD projector delivers impressive picture quality. Purists will be disappointed that it's 720p, but the picture still looks great and the action is smooth. The bright, crisp image features excellent contrast and can tolerate a surprising amount of ambient light.
The stereo speakers provide clean sound with plenty of punch, although you'll naturally miss your surround sound system and subwoofer in some scenes. The amplifier's lack of a digital output for connecting to a surround sound system is surprising. A bigger disappointment is that the SmartBox features VGA and composite video inputs but no component or HDMI -- presumably the Blu-ray player is hogging the HDMI input. This will frustrate those wanting to hook up a games console.
Thanks to the size of the picture and the power of the amplifier, you could easily entertain twenty people with the 2.5-metre HandiTheatre. It should suffice for all but the largest of backyards, but you've set your sights on a bigger audience you might consider the 3-metre giant.
While it's obviously a luxury item, the HandiTheatre is actually not bad value for money considering what's included. If I had money to burn, I might be tempted to burn it on something like the HandiTheatre. The big question is, how often would I use it?
I was promised HandiTheatre for review in mid-summer but it didn't arrive until mid-autumn -- which meant I struggled to find a suitable evening to test it. When I managed to find a dry evening that wasn't too cold, the screen still rippled with gusts of wind. I'd say you'd get the best results on a still summer evening, although there's still the hassle of setting it up when you want to use it (and packing it away afterwards).
Queenslanders might find they get the value out of the HandiTheatre, but southerners could well find that it stays packed away for nine months of the year. It all depends on whether the HandiTheatre suits your budget, your lifestyle and your climate.