Building a home theater: You can do it, too!

If you’re an avid movie lover, you’ve likely wondered what it’d take to bring the movie-theater experience into your house. After all, who wants to deal with the hassle of traffic or the high price of a movie ticket, when you could install the same viewing experience in the comfort of your own home?

Luckily, the process of building a home theater has come a long way from the days of boxy television sets. Today, you can build a unique home theater tailored to fit your specific needs – a perfect project for a homebuyer looking to undertake a home renovation.

Crafting a home entertainment system can become an integrated ordeal, though, and before you know it, you can end up spending anywhere from $2,500 to $450,000. However, this large budget differential relies on your choices along the way, regarding quality and customization, so you don’t necessarily have to spend as much.

Dan Fulmer, CEO of FulTech Solutions and chair of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) TechHome board, has worked with homeowners on home theater systems for over 20 years, advising many DIYers on starting their own improvements. He suggests you approach building a home theater by thinking about four main areas:

1. The Visual

Start with the screen. You’ll have to pick between a large television screen or a projector screen.

If you have windows in the room, a projector can be tricky, because it projects light, so be sure to invest in heavy-duty curtains. While a projector is perfect for movie screenings, it may not be crucial for watching sports.

As any moviegoer knows, it’s all about size when it comes to television screens. The largest screen that’s not cost prohibitive is around 90 inches. If you’re looking for something larger, it’s best to go with a projection screen. Other important details to consider include:

  • HDMI (1K) vs. 4K: Movie theaters are 8K, and the technology for home theaters attempts to replicate this experience. If you’re buying new, 4K is the way to go. For watching those old discs on a 4K television, you’ll need a Blu-ray player or better. Netflix and similar services offer 4K streaming, as well.
  • Laser vs. bulb: New projectors have LED lighting, and some have laser technology, which essentially lasts forever, Fulmer says. “With laser, the projector is going to break before your light source breaks.” Considering it costs $300 to $800 to replace a projector bulb every one to three years, it might be a better value to pay more for laser. Plus, the quality is better, an aspect film lovers will definitely appreciate.

2. The Audio

“Most everyone wants surround sound,” Fulmer says, “but it’s taking a back seat to Dolby Atmos, which is like surround sound on steroids.” To use Dolby Atmos, you’ll need to buy special receivers, which run from about $900 to a few thousand. Speakers have an even wider range, from $300 each to more than $7,000 each.

Fulmer’s best advice is to stay away from the bottom rung offering from a top brand. You’re better off with the best offering a lesser brand has than the cheapest offering from the brand you really want. In fact, when it comes to home theater products, that’s true across the board.

3. The Control

Control is where Fulmer’s company specializes. You have all these sources, such as a TV, a DVD player and a streaming source, but how do you make them all work together seamlessly? Will you need eight different remotes? With a universal remote, you’ll still have the issue of volume, unless you buy a more expensive, sophisticated remote. Even then, if just one thing is messed up, it can all get out of whack.

“The key to a good home theater is that if a kid came in and messed with it, you can hit one button and restore it,” Fulmer says. You’ll want a controlled system programmed to work through a tablet with one touch. A control system for a home theater is basically a brain. It’s the one thing you can’t see or hear, yet it determines everything.

4. The Seating

A home theater is about the experience, and it doesn’t stop with the right tech. Things like ratio of screen size to how far away you’ll be sitting matter a lot. Many brands provide calculators. Every movie lover is different, so you should dedicate some time to fine-tuning your theater to successfully transform it into your ideal viewing space.

For example, don’t overlook furniture. If you already plan to buy a couch, why not choose one specially made for a home theater? “Spend the money smarter,” Fulmer says. You want to be as comfortable as possible when you sink into your favorite seat for a marathon of your favorite films.

Does your home have space for your very own private theater? Consider the aspects needed to create the home theater of your movie-loving dreams, and start building today!