The Best Gear for Building Your Home Theater

Posted by Dorothy Robinson On July - 21 - 2016

Everyone loves watching a great movie on a big screen with a kickass speaker system, but few would complain about losing the sticky floors, uncomfortable seats, and kids with smartphones (unless they’re your own kids). Our A/V team spends thousands of hours each year to find the best looking and sounding home theater equipment. Whether you have a dedicated theater room planned or are thinking of upgrading your weeknight living room movie night, we have recommendations covering whatever space and budget you have.

Almost all of these recommendations (and more) are available in our Theater Audio,TV, Projector, and Theater Extras categories, but we understand that it’s not totally clear how everything fits together. This guide compiles everything you need in one place, along with some new reviews of stuff like projector ceiling mounts and TV wall mounts not covered elsewhere. You’d be surprised at how little it can cost to upgrade your at-home movie-watching setup from functional to enjoyable. For less than $1,000, our $500 TV and budget soundbar will offer a huge step up in quality from most existing setups and leave enough money in the budget for a Blu-ray player and universal remote. The same goes for the cost of a high-performance dedicated theater compared to what home theater enthusiasts would have you believe. Our best home theater projector, screen, receiver, and speaker system cost less combined than the street price of a single 4K projector (as of January 2016).

The dedicated theater

So you’ve got a basement, attic or spare bedroom you want to convert into a theater. That’s awesome. Your neighbors will be jealous.

In a dedicated room, we’ll assume you have control over the ambient light—light leaking in from doors or windows—and that you can make it completely dark when it’s time to press play. Additionally no one should be surprised or bothered by the sight of big speakers and subwoofers position around the space. A projector hanging from the ceiling also won’t look out of place. Dedicated home theater rooms also let you go a little wild with the decor. You may not be able to get away with a life-size Chewbacca cutout in your living room, but movie-themed accessories are great additions to a home theater.

If you have a space that fits this description, you should go big. Literally. That means a projector, screen, and surround system. Even with high-end equipment, a projector and large screen will generally give you more display for the dollar. (Well, not at the seriously high end, but we’re not recommending these for DIY theaters.) Don’t assume that any space is good enough, even if it’s dark and soundproof. Measure first to make sure you have the wall space for a screen of at least 100 inches and the throw distance to match your projector to that screen.

Best home theater projector

Most projectors, including our recommendation, will come with a chart to help you determine throw distance (the distance required between the screen and the front of the lens), but you should confirm what your room can accommodate before you tear open the projector box (and ideally before you put down your money). A typical basement rec room is about 300 square feet (20 by 15), which is large enough to easily fit a 100- to 120-inch screen and a projector, but you can find a few good apps andonline calculators out there that make the process of figuring out what’s right for your room quite easy.

If your room’s measurements fit the bill and you want the best picture quality for your home, we heartily recommend the Sony VPL-HW40ES. After testing five leading models in the same price range, our projector guru Geoff Morrison concluded that the Sony offers the best combination of performance and price, with lens features that make it easy to install, as well as very low operational noise (which is great if you have a small room and the projector is mounted above your head). “The HW40ES is one of the best projectors in its class at color accuracy,” Geoff notes in his review. In fact, at its current price, it’s even cheaper than our runner-up pick, the Epson 5030.

However, Sony has replaced the VPL-HW40ES with the VPL-HW45ES, and stock of the former model is thinning out. We’re getting a test unit of the new projector in soon, but we’re confident that it will offer similar performance. We also think you’ll enjoy theEpson 5030, our runner-up recommendation, which was a little louder and less bright (in its most accurate mode) when we tested it side by side with the Sony VPL-HW40ES. We’ll be testing the new Sony VPL-HW45ES and Epson 5040 together as soon as we can.

While 4K is catching on for TVs, it’s still too expensive—even low-end 4K projectors still cost $10,000. So we’re pretty happy with 1080p projectors. Brightness, contrast, and color accuracy are bigger components of image quality than resolution, plus today’s 4K projectors are currently priced way out of the bounds of most people. That may change in a couple years, but we’re not holding our breath.

The Best Gear for Building Your Home Theater

Comments are closed.


About Me



    Activate the Flickrss plugin to see the image thumbnails!