Unruly Hillside Turns Backyard Amphitheater with 220-Inch Disappearing Screen

Home of the Year Gold Winner for Outdoor Space. Impressive combination of Niles Audio speakers, Elan g! app control, Optoma projection and a Vutec motorized projection screen set the stage of big-time backyard entertainment.


When most homeowners add an entertainment system to an outdoor space, they stick with a modest-size weather-hardy TV and surround-sound system.

This type of setup is nothing to sneeze at, but the owner took the idea several steps further by turning an unruly, unusable hillside into an honest-to-goodness amphitheater, complete with big, beefy, professional-grade speakers; a stealthy, motorized 220-inch screen; a full-featured, live-performance stage with connections for musical instruments and microphones; and a slew of automated lighting for visual effect.

Although the equipment and features of this outdoor entertainment system are full-blown and full of bells-and-whistles, the owners need only grab a smartphone and touch a button to cue the sophisticated assemblage of A/V components.

Working the Land

The control of this elaborate outdoor entertainment system might be a cinch, but its implementation certainly wasn’t, says Justin Brees from AM House, the Los Angeles, Calif.-based firm hired by the homeowners to design and install the electronic gear during the drastic renovation of their backyard.

“The entire hillside had to be backfilled, which took 18 months, in order to create enough space for the theater gear and for the hundreds of people the homeowners planned to host during charity events and special occasions.”

Several tiers would be carved into the backyard, creating the look and feel of an actual amphitheater. Using this landscape design as a template, AM House configured a system that would also perform on par with that of a commercial amphitheater, which among other tasks required carrying a 1,200-pound-screen from the delivery truck parked in the driveway at the front of the house to the custom-built stage at the rear of the house.

Stage Presence

The 20 Niles Audio speakers that pepper the grounds were positioned to blanket the entire yard with even, dynamic audio, be it dialogue from a movie soundtrack, tunes from musical instruments, oral presentations from a microphone, or music from a rack of components located inside the house.

When a live performance has been planned, the homeowners can roll out four additional Yamaha DBR12 speakers from underneath the stage, plug them into the system, and use a professional 10-channel Mackie mixing board to tweak the volume, tone, and dynamics of the various audio signals feeding into them  — similar to how it’s done at a commercial venue.

Photos: Big-Time Backyard Entertainment

But no matter what’s playing on the stage — a movie, music, or a live performance — the audio can be directed to every speaker outside, as well as to speakers inside the house, or the owners can choose to have the audio play through only certain groups of speakers.

“For example, they can choose to broadcast audio from a movie on only the speakers near the screen while the speakers around the swimming pool and gardens remain silent, or even play music from a different audio component,” Brees says.

As yet another option, the owners and friends can don a Sony Walkman (20 sets are available) to listen to the movie audio without having to use the speakers. AM House installed FM antennas to direct the audio wirelessly to the portable, wearable players.

“It’s a good way to hear a movie without bothering anyone else who may want to enjoy some peace and quiet,” Brees adds.

App-Controllable Events

The homeowners are able to select and direct music to as many as six different outdoor listening zones via an Elan g! app that was installed by AM House onto the owners’ smartphones and tablets. The same app can be used to operate a 3,600-lumen Optoma video projector, a Vutec motorized projection screen, dozens of lights, and a Jandy swimming pool and spa system.

AM House designed the g! interface to streamline the process of preparing the backyard for parties, neighborhood movie nights, and other occasions. The owners need only touch a button to have all of the appropriate gear activate and adjust perfectly for whatever activity has been planned.

Video presentations are particularly impressive, given the enormous size of the screen, which stretches nearly 9 feet wide and 16 feet tall, the clarity and brightness of the 3,600 lumens hitting the screen, and the remarkable way in which the screen reveals itself.

On command from the Elan g! app, a motorized lift activates and the screen ascends from its waterproof hiding spot beneath the stage. Meanwhile, the super-bright projector fires up from its custom-built enclosure 28 feet away from the screen, and exterior lighting, except for a few step lights, fades to black.

The owners can choose content from an Apple TV located inside the house or a Samsung Blu-ray disc player that shares space with the Optoma projector. The video signals, as well as audio signals, travel to the projector and speakers over avenues of high-speed cabling that was trenched into the yard by AM House during the excavation. 

An Extension of A/V Love

This elaborate outdoor entertainment space may be the most tricked-out area on the property, but it’s not the only A/V locale. The extensive backyard makeover took place more than two years after the homeowners had hired AM House to install a whole-house audio and video system into their 2,300-square-foot home.

This system is still fully utilized, and provided AM House with a solid foundation on which to expand its reach to the outdoors. It also gives the homeowners access to all the features they have grown to love about their initial Elan system, like the ability to view real-time images from surveillance cameras on any display and hear the doorbell ring through every speaker. Their familiarity with the Elan g! system bred a comfort level that gave them the confidence to set the bar high for their newly redesigned backyard.

“They knew they loved the system, so extending its reach and adding new features seemed only natural,” Brees says. 

Systems & Equipment

  • Home Control: Elan
  • Lighting Control: Elan
  • Speakers: Niles, Yamaha
  • Video Projector: Optoma
  • Projection Screen: Vutec
  • Systems Design & Installation: AM House, Los Angeles, Calif., amhouse.net

Next: See the Gold Winner for Most Unique Space

About the Author

Lisa Montgomery:

Lisa Montgomery has been a member of the CE Pro and Electronic House editorial teams for nearly 20 years; most of that time as the Editor of Electronic House. With a knack for explaining complex high-tech topics in terms that average consumers can understand, her style of writing resonates with people who are interested in adding electronic systems to their homes, but are unsure of the steps involved and the solutions available. From basic lighting control systems to full-blown automation systems, Lisa understands the home electronics market well, and is able to point consumers in the right direction on their quest for a smarter, more convenient, efficient and enjoyable home.

Over the years, she has developed close relationships with key manufacturers and seasoned custom electronics professionals, giving her a keen sense of what home technologies are hot now and what is on the horizon. She shares this wisdom regularly through feature stories, product roundups, case studies technology spotlights and comprehensive guides and books.