Build a Decent Home Theater for Less Than $800

They're not just for horrifyingly rich people anymore.

Unsplash / Jeremy Yap

The traditional home theater is as much a status symbol as it is the best possible means of watching Rudy over and over again. They help bring you closest to a proper theatrical experience without dropping $25 on a ticket and a coke. They are, naturally, much cooler than popping a Blu-Ray into your PS4. They help you focus on boring movies where you might usually be tempted to open a new tab in front of Netflix and browse apartments you could afford if you were a millionaire. In other words, they’re great for movie-watching.

After some light googling, it appears the going rate for a proper home theater system can run anywhere from between $35,000 to $70,000. If you can afford that, bully for you, and please invite me over sometime. If you can’t, then we’ve got your back, and reckon we can build a half-decent imitator for less than a grand. Let’s give it a shot.


The Projector

First thing’s first: the projector is perhaps the most salient part of a cheap home theater system, and where you’re going to want to focus most of your capital. There are three main things you’ll want to consider, which are its size (when projected against a wall or screen), its resolution at the desired size, and how well it the image performs in rooms that aren’t pitch-black, even though that’s (hopefully) how you’ll be experiencing your movie most of the time.

A great bet at a great price is the ViewSonic PJD5155 HDMI Projector, $300 which offers full-HD projection at a brightness of 3300 lumens, better than the vast majority of home projectors that cost much more. It can be placed as far back as 30 feet, and looks pretty damn good color-wise. Obviously, darkness is the friend to any projector, but you should be able to use this one and still make your way around the room effectively.

Other decent options:

InFocus SP1080 HD Home Projector, $500

BenQ DLP MW526AE HDMI Projector, $390

Elite Screens

The Screen

Plain walls be damned, a nice, well-calibrated projector screen makes all the difference, and helps separate the “movie night” vibes from the “4pm work presentation.”

Here, you want something like the Elite Screens Manual B, $71.20, a purpose-built screen that won’t break the bank, won’t so anything fancy, but’ll help your colors pop and your blacks actually look, well, black. At 100 inches and options for most standard aspect ratios, it’ll give you a size and experience worthy of a great film.

Other decent options:

Excelvan Indoor Outdoor Portable Movie Screen, $37

One Gallon of White Paint For Your Wall, $35.95


The Sound

Because it just ain’t a movie without it being obnoxiously loud. Again, we’re not looking for some fancy-pants hi-def 7-speaker surround sound sitch here. We just want a couple of good-sized stereo speakers that can handle some explosion noises and a Jonny Greenwood score. Here we’re going for the Edifier R1700BT Bluetooth Bookshelf Speakers, $150, which wouldn’t look out of place in any home, are cheap enough, and offer good-quality Bluetooth stereo sound.

Other decent options

Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers (not Bluetooth-enabled), ($100)

Anker 20W Premium Stereo Portable Bluetooth Speaker, $55.99


The Cord

Don’t sweat your HDMI cables. No one needs a fancy HDMI cable. This 10-foot, $13 option from SecurOMax will do just fine.


The Player

Obviously, we need something to actually play movies on. There are a couple things we need to make sure of here: That is has a dedicated HDMI output, that it has Bluetooth, and, well, that it doesn’t fall apart the minute you accidentally bonk it on the side of a desk. Here, we’re rooting for the 2017 Samsung 11” Chromebook, $230, which boasts all these features, as well as insane portability and a 32GB SSD, enough to hold at least a couple 1080p movies at any given time. It’s also cheap enough that you can use this as a dedicated movie machine, should you wish.

Other decent options

Acer Flagship CB3-532, $174

HP Chromebook 14-ak050nr, $250

Unsplash / Charles Deluvio

Netflix Subscription

Because you actually need some movies to watch. An Ultra-HD subscription to Netflix will run you just $13.99. Not bad at all.

The Cost

OK, time for the moment of truth: will all this kit run you less than $1,000? Well, let’s see.

Final Cost: $778.19

Hell yeah. Now go forth and enjoy your new, hella loud, hella big, hella cheap home theater system.

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