How to Setup a Home Theater on a Budget Under $1,000

Did you notice that the things you miss in pre-pandemic life have become strangely specific after a year in isolation? When it all started I missed the general experience of going to the cinema. And while I’m still looking to be in a goddamn auditorium again – even the crappy, stickiest multiplex will – it’s the little things that I dream of now. The overpriced raisins. The adrenaline rush when I tapped all my pockets and looked for my ticket stubs. And do you remember those little Coca-Cola guys joking around on the screen before the show starts? I would give anything to have her back in my life!

Well nothing. New York theaters will be reopening anytime soon, but I don’t think I’ll be attending screenings of Raya and the Last Dragon until most of us are vaccinated. (I love movies, but not enough to risk catching or broadcasting one of these terrible new variants of Covid.)

Even so, I decided that I just had to go back to the theater experience in my life. And even though money is tight, I am fortunate enough to be busy with a stable income. If you’re looking for a safe way to go to the movies and you’ve been considering losing all of your savings on one of these $ 10,000 laser hyper premium projectors, consider this affordable home theater setup. At prices as of this writing, it cost me less than $ 1,000 and it’s big (and loud) enough for all of the Coca-Cola pre-show robots of my pre-Covid dreams. The movies look pretty darn good too.

The projection surface
$ 80 including hangers

16: 9 pull-down projector screen

Amazon basics

$ 71.99

My journey to building an inexpensive movie theater in my bedroom began when I realized that there really was no room for a TV in my room. I think many apartment dwellers encounter this problem. We tried hanging a flat screen TV on an angled bracket on the wall, but that made it feel like you were in a hospital bed. Meanwhile, there was a huge 80-inch ceiling in front of our cabinet – the perfect place to mount a projection screen. I figured if I could muster the courage to punch holes in my ceiling and hang something up, I should start with the screen. At least it wouldn’t fall on our heads if I screwed it up.

And punch a few holes in my blanket, I absolutely did! I ordered this 80-inch pull-down screen (you know, the type your middle school teacher used in computer class) for just $ 72 from Amazon. After inhaling my first (but certainly not last!) Sip of drywall, I realized I needed something called toggle screws to hang the Amazon Basics screen securely. Two trips later to the hardware store and a near fatal accident with a wobbly footstool and the edge of my girlfriend’s vanity, I had this beautiful screen mounted on the ceiling … on a completely blatant slant. It took me a while to get this clear. Be sure to get a second pair of eyes when trying to set this up yourself (and for the love of God, measure it first).

The projector
$ 708 including bracket

HD28HDR 1080p home theater projector


$ 649.00

With the screen lined up across from the bed and my newfound mastery of the ceiling dig, I was ready for the hardest – and most expensive – part of the home theater installation: finding a budget projector that doesn’t suck. I’ve spent weeks scouring the internet for every projector review published in the past few years (remember, this was in the frozen winter when daily life felt like a lengthy reenactment of the Shining). The judgment? There are lots of cheap projectors out there. Still super expensive. Movie nerds will tell you there’s no point investing in an HD projector or TV when 4K (and 8K, 12K, and probably 8,000 million K) become the consumer norm. But I already have a student loan payment and am not trying to project life-size spaceships onto the side of a building in broad daylight. My bedroom is tiny. There must be, I thought, a well-rated projector that can do the job for about $ 500.

OCM818W-RU universal ceiling mount

To my surprise, the Optoma HD28HDR is more than an adequate solution. The 2020 unit, which supports 4K input (but doesn’t project resolution greater than 1080p), costs $ 649. Sure, this is easily twice as expensive as some 4K flat panel TVs. But you won’t get an 80-inch (or damn, 300-inch!) TV for less than $ 1,000. The lamp can be a bit noisy, the speakers are dinky, and it’s not as easy to use as an Android TV that starts instantly with all the apps you need but is connected to an Amazon Fire TV Stick or Roku (more on that than next), the HD28HDR is an absolutely powerful home projector. The picture is bright and clear and with its refresh rate of 120 Hz it is even fast enough for games. Bowser never looked so beautiful.

It is of course fun to bring it to the ceiling. You have to mount it up there and try not to furiously push your forehead through the drywall when the angle of the lens doesn’t perfectly match your screen. Write a note in the comments if you’d like me to recommend some breathing techniques. If you choose the HD28HDR, try this Optoma universal mount for $ 59. It seems that there are many projector mount options. Just don’t get your hopes for a smooth installation process. Does anyone know the best way to mend half a dozen holes in a drywall ceiling?

The media player and the sound system
$ 129

Roku Streambar 4K / HD / HDR Media Player & Soundbar

As I said earlier, the Optoma projector doesn’t have cinema-quality speakers. So I thought about my options. I could have switched to Bluetooth and bought a wireless speaker that connects to an Amazon Fire Stick, for example. But who wants to go through all of these troubles every time you turn on the TV? Another option was to get something like a Roku and then hardwired speakers and a subwoofer in my room the old fashioned way and run cables along the wall and all over the room. That also sounded like total pain.

Fortunately, I discovered the deliciously simple Roku Streambar System. I’m a bit surprised that this type of product isn’t more popular. Here’s how it works: The device looks and is like a soundbar, but your projector (or TV) interprets it as a Roku stick as well. That said, when you plug it into your HDMI port and switch to the input channel, you’ll see a Roku media interface on your screen. However, the streambar outputs all of the audio. Not perfect, cinema audio. But audio that sounds a hell of a lot better than what you likely have on your TV (and definitely what’s coming out of those chunky projector speakers).

Roku wireless subwoofer

Roku wireless subwoofer

$ 179.99

$ 149.99 (17% off)

Roku wireless speakers

Better still, if you’ve got a little extra cash (and want to get revenge on your neighbors for all of their nightly blockage rehearsals), you can also add a wireless subwoofer and pair of wireless speakers to the mix for a total of $ 430 (streambar included! ). Even without the submarine and speakers, the streambar comes out loud and clear, saving you the hassle of tunneling through your walls and getting caught in a tangle of speaker cables like that computer monster at the end of Superman III.

Other equipment you will need
$ 46

HDMI to HDMI cable

HDMI to HDMI cable

Amazon basics

$ 17.99

Cable concealer

HDMI switch

Depending on the size of your room, you will likely need at least a 25-foot HDMI cable to go from the projector to the soundbar. (I unobtrusively placed mine on a storage box right in front of our bed.) I’m sure there is a ball of extension cords lying around somewhere, so I’m not going to list these, but I definitely plan to use them. For any wires you are going to hammer into the walls, I would recommend a cable concealer cover set as well. And if you want to make it really easy, grab an HDMI switcher so you can connect more than one input source without climbing the ceiling and affecting the orientation of your projector. Note that this Optoma HD28HDR does not have ARC support on its HDMI port, which does not affect the situation in the Roku Streambar. For experts, there are additional audio output solutions in this forum.

The total sum
$ 963

I’m happy to say I can see my Coca-Cola robots anytime, even though I can’t set foot in a movie theater for weeks, months or years to come, God help us. The floors may not be lit with LEDs (I’m working on that), the screen may be a fraction of the size of my long-lost IMAX theater, but with the lights off and a little homemade popcorn in my lap it almost feels like the real thing.

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I’ve spent shamefully indulgent portions of my days flat on my back, looking at the huge screen that literally spans the length of my bedroom wall. When it is safe to go to the cinema again, I come first. But until then, I’ll rest in the blissful knowledge that I own the only movie theater in town that allows my cat to sit at the foot of the bed and even keep my feet warm. For less than a thousand dollars, that’s well worth the price of admission.

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Dom Nero is a video editor at Esquire, where he also writes on film, comedy and video games.

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