After spending several nights this summer reviewing outdoor TVs under the stars, the gears in my head started spinning. If I could watch live sports and shows outside, why not bring a gaming system or computer too? I brought some concepts to my father, a wood-flooring expert who often knocks out DIY woodworking projects in his spare time. Together we designed a multi-functional Projectorcade (projector arcade)—an all-in-one outdoor entertainment center that holds a two-player arcade cabinet pedestal at the top and shelving for an outdoor projector, plus additional devices like a laptop or speaker, within a portable structure atop a set of locking wheels.
At just over 50 pounds, it’s light enough for one person to easily lift and push from a living room to the backyard using the built-in side handles or attached wheels. You can play a majority of arcade titles and console video games released up to the 21st century using authentic joystick controls and mechanical buttons of a classic machine. If you don’t feel like playing retro games, you can simply use the projector as a streaming device for watching media from video apps like Netflix or sharing home movies from your phone up to a 120-inch screen. And because the projector I used has two 5-watt midrange tweeters and one 10-watt woofer built in, the speakers get loud enough for streaming Spotify day or night with booming sound. Here’s what you’ll need to make your own.
Pick The Right Outdoor Projector and Arcade System
A projectorcade is made up of two core pillars: a projector for displaying visuals and an arcade for computing power. I chose the BenQ GS50 projector for this setup for two reasons—its high level of performance and ruggedness to brave the elements. The GS50 displays a crisp picture accompanied by sharp sound, which earned it a spot in both our Gadget and Yard & Garden awards. In addition, it has inputs for multiple sources such as the arcade system or a gaming laptop. The GS50 uses an Android TV interface for downloading all your apps and, using the remote, I can switch over to the arcade HDMI input in a tap. With that said, you can save some serious money on this build by purchasing a more affordable projector. Now for the arcade itself, I went with the AtGames Legends Gamer Pro system you see above.
More From Popular Mechanics
The Gamer Pro is an arcade system consisting of a streaming puck and two-player control deck. The brains of this system and its game library are held within this small computer puck that connects to the control deck wirelessly. A HDMI cable on the backside of this streaming device connects to the projector to display the picture. You navigate and play using the control panel consisting of two joysticks, 16 mechanical action buttons (eight per player), a trackball, and four side flipper buttons for pinball games. This control versatility means you can play a variety of titles, from Street Fighter to Golden Tee. AtLegends system can even connect to a gaming laptop or computer to play modern games using the control deck as an input device. I’ve launched demanding titles like Soul Calibur VI from my laptop’s Steam library to recreate an arcade feel for a modern game right in my backyard.
Woodworking Tools and Materials
We drafted the sizing specifications to create the portable arcade pedestal, storage shelves, and backing with a single standard 4 x 8 sheet of plywood in mind. Your local home store will even make cuts for free, which is handy if you don’t own a saw. The dimensions for my plans are above for both time-saving and transportation purposes. But if you prefer to make your own cuts, a circular saw, track saw, or table saw will get the job done. I recommend using a jigsaw for curved cuts, but a coping saw works if you don’t have that power tool. Other than a saw, you’ll want a brad nailer for assembly, but a hammer with some wood glue and finish nails works just as well. The final tool you’ll need is a drill for installing the caster wheels.
I took a trip to my local Lowe’s with a crisp $100 bill and our design plan in hand to buy one full sheet of 3⁄4 CDX plywood for $53.08. This provided a majority of the components for the projectorcade, from the sides to the shelving. For stability and easier access to the wheels, I grabbed two 18-inch 2 x 4s my dad had laying around his workshop to widen out the bottom. Speaking of wheels, I purchased four of these 2-inch locking caster wheels with brakes so that the whole projectorcade can easily roll then stay in place even when I get to button mashing. We were then left with two choices—paint the projectorcade or wrap it. I opted to wrap it with three rolls of this PVC black marble peel-and-stick wrap contact paper from Amazon for a sharp look I wouldn’t have to wait around for or hit with another coat. All together, the projectorcade platform cost just $99.58 to make.
Building Out The Sides of the Projectorcade
To get started, we grabbed our 40-inch side panels and made a mark 1 1⁄8 inch down from the top edge of both sides. At this mark, we used our jigsaw to create a 3-inch deep notch that was 2.5-inches wide to snugly house the pinball flipper buttons on each side of the control deck. Next we used the curved shape of a decade-old cellphone we found in my dad's workshop as a template for an ergonomic built-in grip. Since the handles were located in the center of the wood, we used a 5⁄8-inch drill bit to make a pilot hole then proceeded to insert the jigsaw to make a rounded cut. To finish up, we lightly sanded each edge and placed both pieces to the side.
Adding Shelves For the Projector, Gaming System, and Storage
Next up we had to cut four shelves for the project. The bottom shelf acts as a support base so we cut it 28.5 inches long, slightly longer than the other three shelves, which we cut to 27 inches. Using that base as a starting point, we attached the two side panels on each end using the brad nailer. We placed a 27-inch shelf 3 inches beneath the top of the side panels spanning between them to create the projectorcade’s frame. We chose this 3-inch depth because it’s the same as the arcade panel’s, which can now sit flush when in the projectorcade yet can be removed easily. Next, we placed the second shelf 14 inches below the top shelf, giving room for airflow to keep the projector from overheating. Finally, we placed the final shelf 16 inches below the projector shelf to accommodate a large gaming laptop, leaving us with 4 inches of storage on the bottom for controllers and a keyboard. With all of our shelves installed, we used a 7⁄8-inch spade drill bit to make holes in a corner of each shelf for wires to pass through.
Finally we added a 27-inch rail across the front at the top, marking it at the 5 1⁄4 and 10 1⁄2-inch points before cutting it there to create a rectangular notch 2 inches deep for easy access to the arcade system’s back ports. Just below this rail, we sealed up the back with the large 20 1⁄2 x 40-inch piece to stabilize the projectorcade during gameplay. Pounding on the controllers or entering combos in fighting games can get intense. For even further stability, we took two 18-inch pieces of 2 x 4 and attached casters to them using 1 1⁄4-inch wood screws. We centered these longer wheel legs along the bottoms of the side panels to connect them to the overall projectorcade structure. These sections of 2 x 4 prevent the build from being too top-heavy and make it easier to reach and lock the casters instead of having to reach under the cart.
Design Your Dream Outdoor Media Center
Applying the contact paper was the final and most time-consuming step of the entire project. For time constraints we used a PVC shelving paper to give the projectorcade a finished look instantly. If you opt for higher quality cabinet-grade plywood (about double the price of the CDX we used), you can stain or paint it to create a unique-looking piece of furniture. Once it was fully wrapped up, we unlocked the wheels, shifted the unit toward our white fence, and slotted the arcade system in at the top. We wrapped up as the sun began to set, so by the time I brought out the projector and gaming laptop, it was time for my dad and me to hop into some of our favorite games that we played together when I was a kid.
My projectorcade is just a template, so feel free to add modifications as you see fit. Some of my future upgrade plans include 3D printing cupholders, adding a chrome trim to match the arcade system, and LED lighting. While it’s plenty functional in its current state as a gaming system and streaming device, you could add even more features such as a Windows PC Stick and a Bluetooth keyboard to make it a portable outdoor PC or even use the extra storage space to create a mini-bar on wheels.
Hunter Fenollol, our resident expert of all things consumer tech, from smart home to VR gaming headsets, has years of knowledge creating product explainers, in-depth reviews, and buying guides to help you get the most from the latest electronics. Throughout college, he covered and reviewed the latest gadget releases for sites like Tom’s Guide, Laptop Magazine, and CNN Underscored. If he’s not elbow-deep in the latest hardware, you can find Hunter at one of Long Island’s many beaches, in Manhattan, or gambling away his paycheck.