When you hear the words "Home Theater" do you think of something complicated and expensive? It can be but doesn't have to be if you follow our tips.
Let's get started!
Keep a Budget in Mind
The big question is always "How much do I need to spend?". The answer depends on whether you are assembling your system from scratch or are you starting with a TV and building out?
The best way to formulate a home theater budget is to determine what you want in your home theater setup and then base your budget on what will take you to that goal without emptying your wallet.
Pick a Room
Here are things to look for in the room you plan to use for your home theater.
Room Size isn't a direct issue but might be a determining factor for the best screen size, seating position, and the type and power output of the audio system that will work best.
If your room is square it will work, but if it's slightly longer than wide it has the potential to provide a better surround sound experience. The room should also be closed on all four sides, except for a door. A windowless room is best to minimize light reflections, but if you have a window, make sure you have blinds or curtains.
A flat ceiling will contain the sound evenly in combination with the flat rectangular walls.
Drywall with wood-frame support is better than wood paneling or another type of hard wall surface. Drywall with noise-reducing qualities will provide the best result, but for a modest setup, replacing standard drywall with noise-reducing drywall is expensive.
This prevents unwanted sound reflection off the floor and also limits unwanted extra vibrations from the low frequencies coming from a subwoofer. If there is a room directly above, that room should also be carpeted to limit sound vibrations coming from the home theater room below it.
The TV Option
The most common device to watch your movies, TV shows, sporting events, etc... is a TV.
In addition to getting the best screen size for your room, you want to make sure that the TV has the features you need to provide a good viewing experience. Here are some features to consider:
- 4K UHD Resolution
- HDR (High Dynamic Range)
- Smart Features
- The correct type and number of connections (HDMI is standard)
Select a TV type:
If you want the best color, contrast, and widest effective viewing angle, consider an OLED TV.
If you want something that pushes brightness as high as possible without washing out the color, then consider a QLED TV (This is an LCD TV with LED backlighting and quantum dots).
If you have a limited budget, consider a good quality LED/LCD TV with full-array backlighting.
For full details on the above features and TV types, refer to our companion article: How To Buy Your Next TV.
The Video Projector and Screen Option
TVs are the most common home theater viewing solution, but another option to consider is a video projector.
Unlike TVs, projectors require two pieces, the projector and a surface to the project the image onto, such as a screen or wall. Projecting onto a screen is preferable to get the best quality image, but you can use special paint to make your wall better at reflecting bright images back to the viewing point.
Setting up a video projector is a little more involved than setting up a TV, and a room that can be light controlled is desired as most projectors require a darkened room for best results. Video projectors can be mounted on a ceiling or table.
Most projectors can display images in several screen sizes depending on the distance the projector is placed from the screen or wall in combination with an adjustable zoom lens.
However, some projectors (or projector/screen combos) can be placed at a fixed or short distance from the screen. These types of projectors are referred to as Short Throw or Ultra Short Throw (UST) projectors.
TV vs Video Projector
Bright images displayed on a built-in flat screen.
Images are not as bright as most TVs.
Each TV has a designated screen size.
Variable screen size based on the distance between the projector and screen/wall.
Available in 720p, 1080p, 4K, and 8K resolution
Available in 720p, 1080p, and 4K resolution.
May use LCD, LCOS, or DLP technology supported by Lamp, LED, or a laser light source.
Most TVs include smart features
Most projectors don't include smart features.
Almost all TVs have a built-in tuner and antenna connection.
Most projectors don't have a built-in tuner or antenna connection.
All TVs have built-in speakers, but can be used with external audio systems.
A limited number of projectors have built-in speakers. External audio systems are a necessity in most cases.
In order to enjoy your home theater, you need content.
- Almost all TVs are smart TVs that provide an abundance of TV shows, movies, videos to watch via streaming services (provided the TV is connected to the internet).
- Antenna and tuner for receiving local TV broadcast stations.
The following sources can be connected to a TV or video projector:
- Cable/satellite boxes.
- DVD/Blu-ray Disc/UHD Blu-ray Disc players (most also provide access to some streaming services in addition to disc playback).
- External media streamers (Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast).
- Game consoles (Playstation, Xbox).
- PCs (usually via HDMI).
Make sure the TV or video projector you get has enough input connections for your devices.
Audio and Surround Sound
Having a room and TV, a video projector, and content sources is only half the equation. The other half is audio.
If you have a limited budget, you can opt for a basic soundbar, but that isn't going to provide a full home theater surround sound experience. Consider a wired or wireless home theater surround sound system with separate speakers.
The most common solution is a home theater receiver connected to wired speakers and subwoofer. The advantage here is that you can buy your receiver and speakers separately, but the downside is that you have to connect all the speakers to your home theater receiver using wires.
A good alternative is a wireless home theater system setup, such as the WiSA Certified Enclave Audio CineHome II or Cinehome Pro. These systems connect easily to a TV via an HDMI-ARC (Audio Return Channel) connection.
Most video projectors don't provide HDMI-ARC, but there are some projectors that do, making them a better match for Enclave’s WiSA-enabled wireless home theater system.
Some projectors that provide HDMI-ARC include:
- Vava 4K Short Throw Laser Projector
- Optoma Cinemax P1 and P1 Pro 4K Short Throw Projectors
- Hisense Laser TV Short Throw Projectors
For video projectors with HDMI, but without the ARC feature, you need to make a video connection from your source directly to the projector and then make a separate audio connection to the wireless surround sound system (digital optical or analog stereo).
Also, unless the video projector has an audio loop through connection, you can't get the audio from a streaming stick (Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast) connected to the projector to route back out to a surround sound system.
For a detailed comparison of the soundbar, wired, and wireless home theater system audio options, refer to our companion article: Soundbars vs Surround Sound
Whether using a soundbar, wired, or wireless surround system, where you place your speakers is important.
If you are using a soundbar, place it below or mount it above the TV. This will project the sound to your seating position so that it appears to be coming from the TV screen.
Surround Sound System
If using a surround sound home theater audio system, here are some guidelines to follow for the most commonly used home theater speaker setup: 5.1 channels.
Center Channel Speaker
If using a wired or wireless surround system, the center channel speaker should be placed just below or just above the TV, similar to how you would mount a soundbar.
Left/Right Channel Speaker
You can place the left and right channel speakers, just to the left and right sides of the TV or projection screen. You may also find that placing them in the space between the screen edges and left and right walls may provide a better sound image. Avoid placing them right up against the wall or wall corners.
Left and Right Surround Channel Speakers
The best spot for these speakers is either just slightly behind the left and right of your seating position or just slightly behind your seating position and the wall. They should not be placed directly behind you.
If you have a 7.1 channel system, there is an extra set of speakers, most often referred to as Surround Back Speakers. These should be placed directly behind your seating position or closer to the back wall (don't put them up against the wall or stuffed into the corners).
Since the goal is to get the best deep bass response, a subwoofer can be placed anywhere this can be accomplished. The best locations are in the front of the room to the left or right of your TV or projection screen, close to a corner (not touching the corner though), midway along one of the sidewalls, or in the middle of the rear wall. Try these positions to see which one sounds best to you.
Seating and Viewing Distance
One last thing to consider for your home theater setup is a comfortable chair or couch placed at the optimum distance from the TV or video projector.
The Bottom Line
There are several ways to implement a home theater experience at home. What you are able to do will most likely be a compromise between your desires and your budget. We have illustrated some of the possibilities above.
Consider a home theater as a long term project. You can start with a TV or video projector. Consider 4K UHD for now, but keep 8K in mind as it gets more affordable and content becomes more available in the future.
Also, add some good sources, and then top it off with the audio system of your choice, with an emphasis on features such as WiSA compatibility for easy wireless setup and eARC (upgraded version of HDMI-ARC) for enhanced audio transfer from the TV and select video projectors to your audio system.
In addition, other great add-ons include:
- Surge Protector(s)
- Universal Remote (including smartphone remote control apps)
- Speaker Stands
- Equipment Rack