How to Build a Home Theater on the Cheap
It’s easier than ever to build your own home theater! The challenge is to do this without breaking the bank. Surprisingly, a few simple tricks can make this happen.
One of the most common mistakes made when building a home theater is under- or over-budgeting the project. However, knowing which items to skip, which to reuse, and which budget purchases to look at can save you a few dollars without sacrificing the quality of your experience.
This quick guide will show you how to build a home theater cheaply.
Don’t buy everything at once!
Before you get started, this is the most important piece of advice you will need. With the way technology is being updated these days, you won’t find the latest future-proof products in every category at the same time. So if you try to buy all of the pieces together, you will be compromising and may need an upgrade sooner than you thought.
Instead, buy the components you can’t do without now and get cheaper options for everything else – or skip them entirely. Also, research for these important components how long they will last and spend them accordingly.
We’re going to advise you on some of these aspects in this article, but no matter what, don’t buy all of them at once. Relocate your purchases so that you can buy the most future-proof components with the best value for money at every stage.
Buy a good TV and forget about the smart OS
Ideally, you need a TV that supports both 4K and HDR. While it will be a smart TV, it’s fine if you don’t like the operating system or the user interface. You’re going to get a Blu-ray player or some sort of media center that can do everything a smart TV does, and probably better, too.
Read our picks for some of the best affordable 4K HDR TVs you can buy. The size is yours, but for a home theater setup you’ll be looking at at least 55 inches for the most part. Don’t worry about the distance as the rule of thumb in a home theater is to get as big as you can afford.
A projector may not be worth the cost
Instead of TVs, you can use a projector, but this increases the cost in the long run. Since a projector doesn’t have a backlight, you’ll need to use additional materials like blackout curtains and a projection screen like the Homegear 120HD.
Plus, good 4K resolution projectors with HDR support are far more expensive than TVs of the same size at the time of writing. And if you still want to buy a large TV, the reason to buy a projector has diminished anyway.
We have put together a buying guide for home theater projectors.
Consider reusing an old PC
There may be an old PC or laptop lying around somewhere, or you may know someone who does. You can use it to create a great Media Center PC. This is the cheapest way to get a good home theater system.
Even if you have a few things to add, repurposing your old PC is cheaper and makes a well-rounded media unit than any device you buy. Yes, even the Raspberry Pi. Although we’re big fans, there are certain things that the Pi Home Theater can’t do.
The flexibility a real computer gives you cannot be compared to that of a Roku or Chromecast. A PC can do all the tasks a streaming device can do, but it doesn’t work the other way around.
More importantly, a PC keeps your options open for the future. You can add a 4K Blu-ray drive or a better audio card. You can upgrade the processor or add a graphics card to turn it into a game console, etc.
If you don’t have an old PC, get the Sony UBP-X700. It’s a fantastic 4K Blu-ray player with support for all of your favorite streaming services.
Start with cheap speakers
Don’t buy speakers with a “bigger is better” philosophy. Speakers are about how you set them up and the quality of the components they use.
You need to buy the right speakers for your room. If you have a small living room, a 9.1 channel setup is overkill. Depending on whether you are placing satellite speakers in the back or on the sides, you’ll need to choose speakers that offer good bipole or dipole output.
It may sound like a lot of jargon, but the bottom line is that you have to buy what is right for you. This isn’t exactly the swanky 7.1 Bose speaker setup your friend saw.
By default, a home theater system uses a 5.1 setup (that is, five satellite speakers and a subwoofer). Before you buy anything you need to figure out where to put each speaker, how the wiring works, and other details. Once you’ve done this, purchase the Monoprice 108247 Surround Sound System.
If you’re building a new home theater and want to keep costs down, this is a smart buy. Remember, you can always update the speakers later.
Universal remote control: old androids and cheap options
For any HTPC, you need a good remote control to manage all of the devices connected to it. This requires a universal remote control. The best is the Logitech Harmony 650, but if you’re looking to save a few bucks, you have a few other options.
If you have an old Android smartphone or tablet, you can turn it into a remote control for your PC. There are plenty of apps on the Play Store that will make setting up all of the gadgets on your Android device a breeze. The only problem would be if your Android doesn’t have an infrared (IR) blaster.
Instead of using your Android from scratch, you can buy a cheap universal remote for just a few dollars.
It’s not just about the technology
The tech stuff is only part of your home theater experience. You will also need a nice closet to house your gadgets, a good sofa or chaise longue to quietly watch, and maybe a mini fridge for a cold brew. All of these costs add up, so don’t forget about them.
The good news is that this is an area where you can find a lot of freebies or sales. Look for person-to-person local real estate sales, flea markets, and online marketplaces. You can often find items in good condition at a low price.
You can also save a lot of money by regularly checking the Craigslist Free Stuff section for your region.
The only place to pamper yourself: the recipient
The receiver is the most underrated and most important part of your home theater. While this can save you some money, we do not recommend it.
Think of the receiver like the processor of a personal computer, the engine or a car, or the patty of a burger. If you get this wrong, the whole thing will be ruined. If you get it right, other compromises are tolerable.
For most people, the Yamaha RX-V485 is the best budget receiver.
In our opinion, the screen, the receiver, the media player or PC, the speakers and the universal remote control are the must-have items in every home theater setup. But hey, we all agree on that. Some of us say that a home theater is incomplete without a good armchair or sofa, others believe that if it doesn’t support 3D, it’s not a home theater.
While your initial cost is relatively cheap, consider upgrading the room in small chunks over time. Before you know it, you can even have the IMAX experience in your living room.
Image Credit: Bread Maker / Shutterstock
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About the author
(1249 articles published)
Mihir Patkar has been writing about technology and productivity in some of the world’s leading media publications for over 14 years. He has an academic background in journalism.
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