How to Make Your Own Home Movie Theater
You can sit and watch your favorite movies on a giant screen with high-quality sound blasting from all around without having to leave your home.
Watching a movie on a laptop screen or a tiny home TV doesn’t generate the thrilling sensation as watching a movie in the theater does.
If you are a millionaire, you can have a mini home theater built in your mansion. If you are not, you can still create your own home theater room.
Having a home entertainment room is not just for the rich. You can build one on your own with careful budgeting, adequate planning, and some research in advance.
Budgeting early on will prevent you from overspending on the equipment you need.
It’s important to research well in advance to find out what home movie theater equipment you will need.
Then you will need to learn how to place and install everything, especially specialist tasks like building a home audio system.
Before you start:
You will need a room in the house for the movie room setup. For most people, this is the living room or the room where the TV already is.
If you live in a small place, like an apartment, you can designate a small area for the theater and partition it with curtains or cubicle boards.
You will also need to buy sound and video equipment in addition to what you already own.
To learn more about creating your own home theater room, read the guide we've put together just for you:
Home Theater Package vs. DIY Home Theater
There are two main ways you can create your own home theater:
buying a ready-made home theater setup, or buying equipment individually and building a DIY theater room from scratch.
There are pros and cons for each.
Points to Ponder
If you are buying a ready-made setup package, the main advantage is convenience.
You will get all the equipment you need in one package. You can then easily install and plug in everything in one go. Some packages may come with technical support.
For those who are not well attuned to technical aspects of designing a home theater, buying a package is a good option.
However, there are disadvantages too:
The main problem is a lack of customization options.
You will be stuck with the equipment you get in the package. If you want an additional item, you will have to pay more.
Considering that home theater packages are rather expensive, buying more items may be too much.
If you are building a DIY movie theater, you can buy whatever you want and customize as you like.
You can decide on which areas to spend the most. For example, if you want great audio, you can invest in a good sound system and cut back on something else.
You will also have the advantage of choosing the best home theater items suiting your budget.
Some packages may combine high-quality items with low-quality gadgets.
You can generally avoid falling into such a trap by buying components individually.
You may also be able to save more money by carefully researching the items you buy.
For example, you can take advantage of deals like Blu-Ray player and sound bar combo packages without overspending.
The drawbacks of building your own home theater system involve having to do a lot of research.
You will have to spend some time to buy the gadgets you need, and then you will have to know how to install everything properly.
How Much Does a Home Theater Cost?
It’s hard to give an exact figure here. It will depend on your individual budget and the gadgets you need.
Your budget can range from as low as $500 to as much as $10,000. Whether you buy a package or DIY will affect the costs as well.
You can buy a low-end budget home theater package for about $500. You can also buy basic panels for around $500 for a custom-built home theater.
If you want to replace your TV, then increase the budget limit to around $1,000.
It’s recommended for budget users to custom build a home theater system. Then you will have to freedom to choose the items you need.
A package may not have everything you need for this price.
If you have some money to spend, you can buy a reliable package for around $2,000.
This option is recommended when you cannot shop for durable individual gadgets.
Designing the Home Theater Decor
Of course, you don’t want the home theater room to look ugly. So, research early to learn about decorating a home theater room.
In short, this is what you want to do:
You may want to put up heavy dark curtains and remove any distractions that will ruin the experience for movie watchers.
You can make your home theater look similar to actual theaters by changing seating or decorations.
Also, you can paint your room in a dark color to make the graphics on screen stand out. There are several great home theater paint ideas out there.
In general, painting the room in a dark color is recommended as it will prevent light spillage.
Ultimately, it’s up to your tastes to choose the design for the home theater room.
Designing the Home Theater Lighting
When designing your home theater room, you must pay careful attention to the lightning.
The room should have thick curtains or window covers to prevent sunlight or outside light seeping in.
Additional sources of light will prevent you from getting a good view of the screen.
There are many home theater lighting design tips, but the main one is to keep the room dark.
You may not want to theater room to be dark all the time, especially if you use the room for other purposes as well.
Therefore, consider buying light fixtures that can be manually dimmed when you are watching a movie.
Energy saving lights with low illumination are highly recommended for home theater rooms.
In general, avoid installing anything too bright that might get in the way of a projector or a big flat screen TV.
Wired Home Theater Systems
Traditionally, home theater systems come with a lot of wires. The TV, the sound system, DVD players, and everything else has to be connected by wires.
And you know what this means:
A huge mess on the floor! You can go wireless, but wired systems are better for getting higher quality audio and video.
Wired sound systems are generally better than wireless ones.
To avoid a huge, tangly wire mess on the floor, carefully plan how you install everything.
Do not twist cables as that could damage them or make them prone to more entangling. Individually draw the wires so you know which wire goes where.
You can use Velcro strips to keep wires together, or keep long wires short so they don’t get entangled here and there.
The wires should be kept out of sight as well. So draw them behind the screen and the TV.
Always lift wires up or remove them when you are vacuuming or sweeping the theater room.
It’s best to attach wires to walls without leaving them lying on the floor. You can use crown molding to hide wires if you want.
Don’t forget to buy extra cables just in case a wire gets damaged. You may also want to buy extension cords for short wires too.
Wireless Home Theater Systems
A wireless home theater system is one where some gadgets operate using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals.
Keep in mind:
There are no 100 percent wireless home theater systems.
Most gadgets will need to be wired, such as the TV. But you can generally save yourself the headache of hooking up wires by buying wireless sound systems and similar gadgets.
Setting up wireless gadgets is pretty easy. But keep in mind that nothing should interrupt the Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals.
If you have routers or other such equipment that can disrupt electronic gadget signals, keep these away from the theater system.
To get the best connections, place the wireless gadgets as close to the TV as possible. The farther away you place the gadget, the weaker the receiving signal gets.
Keep in mind that physical attachments cannot be avoided. Even if you buy a wireless speaker system, the speakers will have to be plugged into a power source.
Amplifiers need to be physically connected too. So, what you mostly get is a partially wired system, not a completely wireless one.
Which TV Sound System Should I Choose?
The biggest aspect of a home theater is the sound system. This is what will make your movie watching experience “theater like.”
There are different types of sound systems you can buy for your home theater.
Read on for an explanation of each type, and the pros and cons, so you can decide which sound system suits your needs the best.
Surround Sound System
As the name suggests, a surround sound system for home theater is an audio system where the sound surrounds the viewer.
And how does this work?
Simply put, these systems achieve this effect by audio tech, and also by strategic placing of speakers.
When you set up a surround sound system, you will place speakers in various corners of the room so you can hear audio from every angle.
Surround sound also diversifies audio, which means that it can create sound effects.
For example, if an explosion happens on screen, the surround sound speakers would create a loud bass noise that reverberates through the floorboards.
If there’s a suspense scene, the speakers can create skittering noises that feel real. This is what creates the exciting, IMAX-theater like experience at your home.
A surround sound system usually comes with five parts, including a center speaker, subwoofers for thunderous bass, and amplifiers.
When you want to be completely enveloped by audio that transports you into the movie, then this is a system well worth investing in.
Pros and Cons
The main advantage is that surround sound systems create life-like audio effects that allow you to be completely immersed in what you are watching.
These systems are generally good at delivering high-quality audio compared to other systems.
The main drawback of a surround sound system is that it can be costly. Also, you will have to hook up a number of speakers, which means a lot of cables and wires.
How Much is a Surround Sound System?
The costs vary depending on the sort of quality you are looking for.
You can generally get a good budget surround sound system under $200. A really good system would cost over $1,000.
A sound bar is a small bar-like gadget that delivers audio.
We highly recommend sound bars for home theater rooms without much space. Sound bars can be wireless, but most are connected to the TV or a DVD player with a single wire.
Sound bars do not generate sound that envelops the room like a surround system. However, these tiny gadgets can deliver powerful unidirectional audio.
You may not be able to experience things like vibrating bass, but you will still get high-quality audio.
Pros and Cons
Sound bars are typically less costly than surround systems. They can be neatly placed near the TV, and do not require drawing cables around.
As for cons, sound bars do not create sound effects like surround systems can.
How Much is a Sound Bar?
Sound bars are highly affordable. You can purchase a decent sound bar for less than $100 (see related links). Sound bars rarely cost over $500.
Soundbases are a lot like sound bars so people compare them a lot.
We'll break it down:
Soundbases are usually bigger and thicker than sound bars. You need to place them on the floor near a TV or under the TV.
Soundbases come with base drivers to provide extra bass. So they are like sound bars with bass.
Unlike surround systems, a soundbase only includes a single speaker.
We would recommend soundbases, which are loud, when you want good unidirectional sound and bass without adding a subwoofer.
Pros and Cons
Soundbases can generate top-notch audio and bass without the need for a subwoofer. There’s only one part, so installation is relatively easy.
There is no need to set up multiple speakers like with a surround audio system. You can also get some sound effects like with a surround system.
Soundbases can only create unidirectional audio, so you don’t get multi-directional audio effects as with a surround system.
How Much is a Soundbase?
The price of a soundbase typically depends on its size.
For a regular home theater, you can spend less than $100 on a soundbase. If you want a slightly bigger soundbase, set your budget to$200.
Should I Choose a Projector or a TV?
The main feature of a home theater system is, of course, the screen.
You can buy a TV to watch video, or you can buy a projector and project the image on to a canvas, like a real theater might.
Let’s consider which option may be best for you.
You can buy regular TV or flat screen TVs.
Here a quick explanation:
TVs are categorized depending on how each generates graphics. The main types of TVs you can buy are LED or plasma TVs.
LED TVs are designed for brightly lit rooms. These TVs generate sharp and colorful images that can appear visible even over bright artificial lighting.
Plasma TVs generate more subdued images. Plasma TVs are recommended for those who want to reduce eye strain when watching movies.
If you cannot control the light entering the home theater, you should get an LED TV.
If you want super high-quality TV, you should buy a 4K TV. These TVs can generate better quality images than typical TVs, which show only FULL HD 1080p graphics at max.
However, if you buy a 4K TV, be mindful that you will need to buy a 4K DVD player as well. Not all gadgets are 4K compatible.
You can also opt to buy a 3D TV, which is capable of showing 3D graphics with accompanying eyewear.
You can watch a 3D movie using one of these TVs. The TV itself is not capable of rendering regular images into 3D.
What to Look for in a TV
If you want bright and sharp full HD images, it’s recommended to buy an OLED flat screen with considerable screen size.
If you want a 3D or a 4K TV, you will have to spend considerably more.
When buying a TV, first consider the size. The screen size should be relative to the size of the room.
If the TV is too big, the images would appear too bright. If it’s too small, you won’t get the theater like effect.
Don’t buy a TV with a resolution less than 1080p for a home theater. Ultra HD, or 4K, is recommended, but only if you are willing to buy supporting gadgets as well.
How Much is a TV?
Prices of TVs vary depending on the screen size and resolution.
You can buy a Full HD TV with a screen size ranging between 20 and 30 inches for less than $300.
A budget of $500 is sufficient for a larger 50-inch 1080p screen. You can buy a moderately sized 4K TV under $500 as well.
3D TVs are the most expensive and you will have to spend $1,000 or more on one.
What You Should Know Before Buying a TV
Understand the display type, such as LED or Plasma, before you make your purchase. Make sure the display is suitable for the size and light condition of your theater room.
Measure the theater room before you buy a TV. The screen size you buy should be relative to the size of the room.
If you plan on buying a TV for gaming as well, then consider the refresh ratio, which comes as 60Hz, 120Hz, or even 144Hz.
60Hz is suitable for most needs. But the higher the refresh ratio is, the better.
Always check the type of input the TV needs. Some support AV cables, some HDMI. If you plan on hooking up a laptop or a tablet, you might need USB inputs as well.
Don’t buy the TV without checking input.
If you want to stream movies, you should buy a smart TV that can connect to the internet. These typically cost as much as a Full HD TV.
If you want a full theater-like experience, you can buy a projector. The projectors you can buy these days are all digital.
You can hook up a projector to a TV and then directly to speakers for high-quality sound and images.
Home theater projects are a bit more expensive than projectors that you may have seen at work, which people use to project laptop screens on to a bigger screen.
There are two types of projectors: LCD and DLP.
DLP projectors are usually more affordable and can recreate images with clarity without shadows.
LCD projectors are generally considered to be brighter, and therefore better.
How to Setup a Projector
Setting up a projector is relatively easy.
First, you will need to find an appropriate distance from the screen to set it up. Check the maximum distance recommendations for the model you buy.
Mount the projector and test the image to get the ideal distance.
You will need to connect the projector to a player and the audio system. Refer to the manual of the projector to get this right.
Make sure the projector is level with the screen to get an even image. Otherwise, the projection will look tilted.
What to Look for in a Projector
When buying a projector, you must first consider its aspect ratio.
The projector must be able to recreate the aspect ratio of the video, such as 16:9 or 4:3.
For home theaters, you will need a projector is 16:9 aspect ratio. Otherwise, the projector will not be able to faithfully recreate images.
The brightness of the projector is the second most important aspect.
The brighter the projector is, the better the quality of the movie will be. The brightness of projectors is considered in ANSI lumen units. You can buy a cheap
projector with 1,000 to 2,000 lumens. It’s recommended to buy a home theater projector with 2,000 to 3,000 lumens.
An HD projector typically has around 3,000 lumens. You can buy a projector with more than 3,000 lumens as well, but these are really expensive.
Projectors also have resolutions. It is determined by the number of pixels projected. The higher the resolutions, the clearer the projection will be.
You should aim for a 1280x768 projector if you are on a budget. If you are looking for HD projections, you need to aim for 1920x1080 resolution.
When buying, consider how the projector stands. How the projector mount is shaped will affect how you can fit it into your theater room.
What to Look for in a Projector Screen
So get this.
Buying a projector screen is not particularly hard.
The main thing to look for is how clean the screen is. Meaning, you need an even screen without creases or blotches that could distort the image or compromise the quality.
You can even use a bed sheet as a projector screen.
But it’s recommended to buy a white, plastic projector screen like ones used at schools and offices, which don’t crease and are really easy to clean with a wet cloth.
How Much is a Projector?
You can buy a really cheap projector under $100 for 720p projections. But these usually wear out quickly, so it’s recommended to buy a projector for close to $200.
These are suitable for larger rooms.
If you want HD quality images, you might have to spend between $500 and $1,000.
What Should You Know Before Buying a Projector?
First of all, calculate the length of your room. You can then estimate the distance at which you will need to place the projector.
When buying a projector, make sure the product can reach the distance you have in mind.
The distance projectors can reach depends on the model and the manufacturer, so you will have to separately check each.
We recommend that you check projector bulb life as well. This is given in hours. You can determine the durability of the projector by the bulb life.
Unlike room bulbs, projectors bulbs cannot be easily replaced. So pay attention to this spec when buying. A projector with about 2,000 hours of bulb life is considered good.
Blu-Ray Player or DVD Player?
To play movies from discs, you will have to buy a DVD player. These days you have the option of buying DVD players or Blu-Ray players.
Blu-Ray players are known for being capable of playing high-def movies. DVD players are known for being versatile.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of both.
The main advantage of Blu-Ray players is that they can play higher capacity discs that can generate 1080p images.
Blu-Ray players are the only devices that can play HD Blu-Ray discs. DVD players cannot do so.
Blu-Ray players are backward compatible and can play DVDs as well.
While Blu-Ray players are naturally HD, you can buy 4K players as well. These players can play 4K discs especially. Normal Blu-Ray players cannot play 4K discs.
What to Look for in a Blu-Ray Player
Don’t buy a Blu-Ray player if you don’t have a compatible TV. Make sure the Blu-Ray player you buy works with the TV model you have.
If you buy a 4K Blu-Ray player, you need an Ultra HD TV to get the extra benefits of the gadget.
When buying, make sure the player can up convert DVDs, meaning that the player can render typical DVD images better. Most players have this ability.
Check the Blu-Ray output connection. This is typically HDMI. But you can get more outputs with pricier models.
If you want to download online content, buy a Blu-Ray player with Bonus View.
Be careful that some players come with BD Live, which means that the player can download some content, but it will have limited storage capacity.
Cost of a Blu-Ray Player
Blu-Ray players once used to be quite expensive. But these days you can get a player with a budget of just $100.
If you want 4K or 3D capabilities, expect to spend a little more.
DVD players are suitable if you don’t have a budget for a Blu-Ray player.
Unlike Blu-Ray, DVD players tend to be more versatile. However, these cannot up convert video like Blu-Ray players can, nor can they play Blu-Ray discs.
You should buy a DVD player if your TV doesn’t support a Blu-Ray player. Also, you would need a DVD player if you want to write content onto discs.
What to Look for in a DVD Player
Check the resolution capabilities of the player.
HD DVD players generally play high-def discs, but they cannot really match the quality of Blu-Ray players. But you can still get decent quality compared to regular DVD players.
Check the input and output connections.
Most DVD players can support AV connections and USB. If you want HDMI, keep in mind that not all DVD players have this output.
Be careful of region locking. Some DVD players can only play discs from one region. So buy a DVD player with multi-regional capabilities.
Cost of a DVD Player
DVD players these days are really cheap.
You can set your budget to about $100 for an HD DVD player. It not worthwhile to spend over $100 for a DVD player when you can just buy a Blu-Ray player instead.
In addition to a disc player, you can buy streaming devices for your TV to directly get content from online.
If you have online streaming accounts like Netflix, then having a streaming device would be helpful.
Here is a list of the most popular streaming devices:
Chromecast is highly popular mostly because this streaming device is really portable. You can also conceal them, so you won't mess up your home theater design with too many devices.
Also, Chromecast is compact, so you don’t have to use up too much space.
Chromecast works with your phone mainly.
Unlike other devices, this streaming device is highly versatile. You can stream content from any app on your phone, whether it’s Netflix, YouTube, or Spotify.
We highly recommend this for those who like to stream a lot of content.
This is the best streaming device for iPhone and Mac users.
Apple TV is great for playing iTunes content, and not much for anything else. If you get your streaming content mainly from iTunes, then this is the best streaming device you can own.
Newest Apple TV models are Siri compatible, so you can give it voice commands for easy browsing.
Apple TV has its own list of apps, which numbers in hundreds. As with all Apple products, this streaming device is very visually appealing.
Amazon Fire Stick
This streaming device supports 4K HDR content, so this is the best you can have if you like HD content.
Fire TV streams everything, not only from the Amazon library, but also from other services like Netflix and Hulu.
Fire Stick is best considered an alternative to Apple TV.
Keep in mind that you will need an Amazon Prime account to operate
In addition to the essentials like TV, disc player, and so on, you might also want to consider the following extra equipment when you set up your home theater account:
Surge protectors protect electronic equipment in case there is an electrical surge, such as during a lightning storm. It's better to have this as a protective device than not.
Surges can short circuit your expensive electronic equipment, like TVs, so we highly recommend surge protectors.
You may have to buy more than one surge protector depending on how many devices you have to plug in.
A good surge protector generally costs around $60. Prices could vary depending on the voltage requirements for your area.
If you want to connect a Blu-Ray player or a particular streaming device to your TV or projector, you will need HDMI cables.
Most gadgets that require HDMI cables do not come with them, so you will have to buy the cables separately.
It doesn’t hurt to have an extra HDMI cable around the house just in case.
You can buy HDMI cables in varying lengths. Prices vary around $15. HDMI cables for 4K devices cost close to $30.
A CAT5 Control Wire
You generally use CAT5, or category 5, control wires for accessing projectors with a radiofrequency (RF) remote. They can also connect Ethernet modems.
You would use these cables for carrying multiple signals to a single device.
A 500ft cable would cost you about $30.
Home Theater Wiring
Wiring will be the hardest task of setting up your home theater.
Most people prefer to keep wires out of sight, so in-wall writing is something you can consider.
However, most audio and video cables, including AV cables, are not suited for in-wall wiring. Some in-wall media cables also don’t support 4K or HDR.
If you really want an in-wall home theater system, you will need to use baluns and network cables. Fiber optic is suitable too.
But to do all this you will have to spend a lot of money for the equipment and also for installation.
In-wall wiring is extremely delicate and you should not undertake this if you are not a professional electrician.
If you are concerned about wiring, buy wireless devices as suggested above.
But here's the thing:
Most home theater equipment are plug and play devices. That means you don’t have to mess around with wiring too much.
You can connect the devices, conceal the wires behind the TV or the projector screen, and start watching.
You can use extension cables or multi-socket extensions if you have a limited number of wall outlets.
Use surge protectors when plugging in multiple devices. You can seek help from an electrician if you are not sure what to do.
Before you start wiring, read the manuals for the electronic devices you buy to check the voltage.
If you bought them online, the voltage may be different from what’s standard in your region.
How to Soundproof a Home Theater
Soundproofing is absolutely essential for home theaters. Otherwise, you won’t be able to enjoy your movies in peace.
Here are several tips for soundproofing your theater room:
Use an enclosed area for your theater, such as a room where all doors and windows can be closed.
Don’t use rooms with open entryways connecting to other rooms for your home theater purposes.
If you don’t mind doing some work, you can use zero-sound drywall in the room to completely keep out outside noises. It will also keep the noise from the sound system inside.
Of course, not everyone would want to remodel their home just to install a home theater.
In that case, you can use other materials, such as thick drapes to keep the sound in. Use carpets over floorboards and sound panels as well.
You can mount acoustic panels on the walls to isolated audio and limit sound leaking outside as well.