Outdoor speaker systems have been around for a very long time, but modern trends in outdoor entertainment are moving in the direction of incorporating high quality audiovisual systems into outdoor living. Outdoor systems present several specific challenges to homeowners and installers. Systems must satisfy a number of criteria important to consumers – the system components must be resistive to weather factors, the audio and video quality must be clear and visible during high daylight conditions, speakers should blend into the outdoor landscape, and wiring must be rated for outdoor conditions and hidden from view.

Outdoor television and audio systems present a number of challenges due to exterior environments. Dust and debris, extreme temperature conditions, and moisture all present potential problems to the electronics, connectors, speaker systems, and video displays of such systems. In the past, outdoor video displays for homeowners were limited to systems that could be placed under enclosed patios where they were relatively shielded from weather conditions. This meant that homes that did not have covered patios could not incorporate outdoor video without building special containment facilities.

Newer systems introduced into the homeowner market in 2010 are constructed of sealed aluminum, completely sealing all of the internal components from weather and other inclimate conditions. These systems provide sealed internal compartments where connections to power and auxiliary systems like media servers can be made safely. They range in size from 22″ screens (about 55 cm) to over 42″ (over 1 meter). The newer systems contain internal cooling fans to protect from high temperature extremes and heaters to protect from cold, providing operating temperature ranges from -30C to 50C. These new systems now make it possible for consumers to install outdoor video systems in small courtyards or in large outdoor areas without protection. Superior screen technologies make it possible to view the picture even at mid-day.

Another consideration in outdoor systems is the desire to have a natural appearance of system components – speakers should blend in with the outdoor environment, and wires should be hidden. Outdoor audio is challenging. Without the presense of walls to confine and reflect the sound, audio tends to “disappear” outside. New outdoor speaker systems compensate for this by placing dual speakers within a single faux rock speaker cabinet. The speaker directions are offset by 30 degrees, giving a wide angle of dispersion for the sound. For small patios, a single speaker cabinet will suffice, providing stereo sound. For larger outdoor areas, it is recommended that speakers be placed at angles of 120 to 135 degrees, spaced uniformly around the area to equalize the sound as listeners move about the space.

Obviously, the faux rock speakers are placed at ground level. The speakers should be constructed of weather-proof materials with good seals and drainage paths to handle moisture in the outdoor environment. One advantage of outdoor speakers is that they can be larger and heavier than indoor speakers, and can thus be constructed from more rigid and durable materials.

A key aspect of outdoor entertainment systems is the wiring that is required for both power and audio distribution. Outdoor wiring requires a better quality of wire coating and insulation than indoor wiring. Typically, outdoor wiring is run through conduit, either rigid PVC or metal conduit. Connections between distribution boxes and conduit that is run on the exterior of the home must be sealed with heavy gaskets to prevent the penetration of dust and moisture into the power distribution box. Ground fault circuit interrupters should be used in the event that moisture does enter the box and shorts out a connection.

Exterior wiring should always be run inside of conduit. Rigid PVC or metallic conduit is made to be buried outdoors. The rigid PVC is designed to be buried at a depth of 18 to 24 inches and requires a grounding wire, but does not corrode due to soil moisture and other outside conditions. Metal conduit does not require a grounding wire unless used on devices that are in contact with water, and only has to be buried at a depth of 6 to 8 inches. However, metal conduit has a shorter lifetime because of its tendency to corrode.

Outdoor speaker wires also require special consideration. They should be double-insulated, with the outer layer of insulation being resistant to both moisture and UV. Connectors should form a moisture-proof seal if they are to be buried or exposed to the elements. Also, it should be kept in mind that exterior spaces tend to have greater distances involved, so speaker wiring should be sized appropriately, with the longer runs taken into consideration.

Finally, when running exterior wiring for outdoor entertainment systems, it makes sense to think about what other outdoor features might be desirable, either immediately or in the future, so that wiring can be done at one time, particularly if it is to be buried under hardscaping materials or in the garden! Examples of other systems might include power and switching for outdoor lighting, fountains and pumps, electric heaters or fireplaces, and outdoor appliances like refrigerators or beer kegs. With the help of careful planning, quality wiring, and modern electronics, outdoor living areas can be used throughout the year, and can provide quality entertainment experiences, even in bright daylight.