If you’re looking for a gift for a guy who really loves movies, then a TV with some stereo components just won’t do. He needs to experience the real deal, he needs his own home theater. This guide will show you the minimum components needed to put together an affordable home theater that is a moderately priced and will provide the best entertainment value for your dollar.
Any room can be a home theater, if it’s bigger than 10 x 10 feet you can use it. It could be a bedroom, unused living room, or your basement. Just make sure you have at least a seven foot ceiling so you can create the best viewing angle. You’ll also need control of ambient light and have an appropriate viewing distance from your screen. A good room would have either no windows or black out curtains to control the light. If you can’t control the light then you’ll need a projector that puts out higher lumens.
The size of your room determines the size of your screen. Standard recommendations suggest a viewing distance of 1.2-1.5 times your screens diagonal. So if you have a 100″ screen an ideal viewing distance would be about 10ft-12.5ft. These are suggestions so if you need to put your seating a little closer or a little further away you should be OK.
The Movie Screen: Visual Apex
So based on your room dimensions you’re going to need a screen. Visual Apex offers affordable and good quality screens at a great price. They offer screens in three options; fixed, electric, or electric tensioned screens. The electric screens can develop wrinkles if kept in the up position for extended periods, hence the development of the tensioned screen which helps alleviate a lot of those wrinkles. For a 100″ screen the standard electric is $279 and the tensioned moves up quite a bit to $749. If your room requires the screen be out of the way when not in use then these will be your best options.
For this guide we’re going with the fixed screen. The cost of these screens are; Visual Apex 100″ ($269), Visual Apex 120″ ($299) and the Visual Apex 135″ ($499). These screens have a gain of 1.1, so if you’re using an older projector you may want to consider a screen with more gain. What’s great about these screens is the sturdy 3.5″ wide aluminum frame that’s coated with black velvet to absorb light. The velvet frame gives you great edge definition and a picture that really pops.
I put my 100″ and 120″ screens together and hung them by myself, but an additional pair of hands would’ve helped out greatly. The aluminum frame comes in multiple pieces and is easy to put together. The hard part is installing the screen into the frame. It gets a little difficult when you get to the point of stretching the screen to place an adjacent side into the channel and clipping it in. But once you get the middle sections of each side done the rest is pretty easy.
The Projector: Epson Home Cinema Projectors
There are a ton of options for projectors. But I prefer Epson’s because they have great picture quality and one of the best warranty’s in the industry. If there’s an issue with a projector that’s still under warranty you can call, give them your credit card number and they’ll send out a replacement. Just pop the old one in the box and send it back. Piece of cake.
When buying a projector you need to consider lumens, resolution, contrast ratio and picture adjustment. The projectors in this guide are all 1080p and have 2000-2400 lumens. You’re not going to see that big of a difference in picture brightness, but if you’re in a situation where it’s difficult to control the ambient light look at the projectors on the higher end.
Lens shift is much better because you can mount the project off-center, above or below the screen. And use the horizontal and vertical dials to move the picture into position.
Contrast Ratio (CR) determines how black you’re blacks are and how much detail you see in darker scenes. The Epson 8350 and the 3020 all have contrast ratios between 40,000:1 – 50,000:1. In that range you get a very good picture with good detail. Also, between the two projectors you wouldn’t notice a big difference in picture quality if you had them side by side. The higher end 5030 has a contrast ratio of 600,000:1, which is exceptional. With an Epson 5030 you’ll notice certain details that you might not in the other two projectors.
Lastly is picture adjustment. This is important because it’ll determine where and how you should mount your projector. The projectors with Keystone have to be placed in the middle of the screen and the lens must be lined up with the top or the bottom of the screen. If it has to be mounted below or above those points you’ll have to use keystone correction which will result in reduced image quality
Lens shift is much better because you can mount the project off-center, above or below the screen and use the horizontal and vertical dials to move the picture into position.
Epson 8350 vs 3020
The Epson 8350 ($1,299) was originally released late in 2010 but it still has a place in this line-up. It has better CR than the Epson 3020 ($1,599) (50,000 vs 40,000), slightly less lumens (2000 vs 2300) and delivers the same picture resolution. The main differences are the 8350 has lens shift and no 3D ability and the 3020 uses keystone correction and has 3D. If 3D is a must then the 3020 is your guy, if not I would opt for the 8350.
The Epson 5030 ($2599) is the top of the line and has the best of all worlds. It has a 1080p picture, the best lumens at 2400, the highest contrast ratio (600,000:1), 3D and lens shift. If you can handle the extra cost this would make an awesome projector for any home theater.
In case you have issues with wiring the 3020 and the 5030 also have “e” versions which use wireless HDMI so there’s no need to run cable from the projector to the receiver. This option comes at a $300 premium
If you absolutely can’t swing the $1k and have about $500 you could get the BenQ W770ST ($549) or the Epson 730HD ($600). They’re both 720p projectors, but the BenQ is a DLP while the Epson is an LCD.
The Receiver: Denon AVR-2313CI
I picked the receiver based on sound quality, functionality, personal experience and manufacturer service under warranty. Based on each item I keep coming back to Denon. Denon makes a great mid range amplifier that has all the functionality you need along with excellent customer service. Their warranty repair is very similar to Epson’s where they will swap a unit with a credit card number.
The Denon AVR-2313CI ($600) is probably one of the best mid-range home theater receivers out there. It doesn’t have a ton of bells and whistles but it gives you great sound and everything you need for a great home theater experience.
The Denon AVR-2313CI is a 7.2-channel receiver that offers 105-watts per channel and has dual subwoofer inputs for the best bass possible. It has 5 HDMI ports in and 2 out. This comes in real handy if you want to use a smaller TV as an everyday screen and save your projector for movie time. In my case I have a screen adjacent to the theater in my workout room and the extra HDMI port makes it real easy to switch screens without the need for additional hardware.
It also has additional features like 4k upscaling, music streaming, internet radio, Pandora, Apple AirPlay, and a dual zone so you can play music in multiple rooms. Overall a great receiver from a great company.
Speakers: Energy Classic Take 5.1’s
There are so many options here. Picking the right speakers is a matter of taste. Some may prefer brighter sounding speakers, others more laid back or neutral speakers. If you’re in a smaller room you can go with satellites like the Energy Classic Take 5.1 ($350) system, that comes with 4 satellites, a center speaker and subwoofer. You won’t get ear popping volume but you get a nice sound for very little out of pocket.
Speakers: Klipsch RF-82 II
My personal favorites, which I have in my theater, are made for a larger room and can produce music and movie soundtracks at a extreme levels. These are the Klipsch RF82 II’s ($1200/pr). They have a high sensitivity and can deliver high decibels with little effort from the receiver. Klipsch also offers a Klipsch RF82 II 5.1 system ($2599) but you can also choose to build from scratch and spread the cost over time.
If that’s the case I would suggest the RF82’s for the fronts, either Klipsch SW-310 ($625) or Klipsch RW12D ($500) subwoofers, and Klipsch R-1800-C (in ceiling) or the Klipsch RS-52 II’s for satellites. Doing it piece by piece you will get an incredible set of speakers in no time.
For seating you can use either Barco loungers, theater seats, or a sofa or sectional. I have a friend who has tiered theater seating while I went for a pit sofa. A pit sofa is a sectional with four ottomans that fill in the center so it’s like one big bed. Each have their plus and minuses.
Accessories: Gaming and Streaming
And of course you’ll need the ability to play games and stream your own videos. The great thing about this setup is you can plug in up to 5 HDMI devices without the need for a splitter. So you could plugin in a new XBox One ($600), Sony Playstation 4 ($800), and an Apple TV and have a couple ports to spare.
Just a note: if you’re looking to stream your own videos from an external hard drive you’ll want to use a Jail Broken Apple TV ($89) or a Raspberry PI ($50) with 512 megabytes. The Raspberry is a great option which gives you access to your external video library through XBMC as well as plugins for Netflix and other streaming services.
Remote Control: Logitech Harmony Ultimate Remote
Lastly is the remote. I suggest the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Remote with RF Control ($299). It’s on the expensive side but you won’t have to worry about shooting through cabinets or being out of reach of an IR signal. It can control up to 15 devices and works with most brands.
And don’t worry about cables. Seriously, anything will work just make sure they’re safe and a descent quality. If for some reason you get the itch to go audiophile you can get the latest gold plated platinum whatever at that time. But for now go online to a store like Monoprice and pickup something for a good price. My suggestion is not to buy your cables at local stores like Best Buy because you’ll end up paying 10x’s more than you should.