It’s getting more and more expensive to find a fun way to spend a night out. Everyone is feeling the pinch: people are making less and less, and everything is costing more – from gas, to food, to movie tickets, it can be hard to find extra funds for fun. Especially if you have a large family and really like to watch movies, going out just once a week and buying dinner, movie tickets, popcorn, drinks, and candy for everyone can add up FAST! which is why more and more people are cutting the theater out of the loop and making their own right at home. And, sure, anyone can get a nice TV and pop in a DVD, but most people hit their local theater for the ambiance, sound, and video quality, which ordinary living rooms don’t have, but a home theater can. So, what equipment do you need to make a theater in your own home?
Probably the single most important component of a home theater is a good projector. Now, of course, a really high-end big screen TV would serve about the same purpose, but a projector, like this HD20, and a good quality screen (or even a bare white wall) can produce a more authentic, movie-theater quality picture with a much greater size and at a much lower cost than even a mid-ranged, mid-sized TV.
While any TV over about 40 inches is going to set you back in a major way, a projector can fill almost any space with your picture. You want to make sure – especially if you buy it for movie watching primarily – to get a projector (like this budget model HD66) that has a 16:9 (not 4:3 – in math the ratio is the same, but with projectors the quality drops off sharply), and in order to get the ideal picture, you want to position the projector behind the seating, either mounted in or on the wall behind you, or suspended from the ceiling so your picture is as large as possible and straight.
Projectors come in three types: LCD, CRT, and DLP, like this Epson 8700. Each uses a different type of technology that’s used to convert and transfer the image. CRT screens are considered the sharpest, with very black blacks and clean whites; DLPs have very bright whites, which make them better for viewing with more light (while CRTs perform better in the dark), and LCDs fall somewhere in the middle. Of the three, CRTs are the most expensive, with higher end DLPs nearly matching them in picture quality for a much lower price.
Regardless of what type of projector you choose, you’re going to end up paying less for a bigger picture than you would for a TV of equal size, and probably get a better picture, too. And even higher quality brands have budget versions, like this Epson Home Cinema, which is similar in quality to the other Epson for about half the price. The decision really should come down to a compromise between how important it is to you to have the BEST picture quality and what you can reasonably afford within your desired quality bracket.
A good receiver is probably the most overlooked piece of equipment you need to build a home theater. Whether you opt for a budget model like this Onkyo TX-SR308 or an extremely high-end machine, the job of a receiver is basically to translate and distribute the information sent to it by your DVD or blu-ray. It receives sound signals (hence the name) and then directs them to each of the speakers, basically creating the surround sound effect.
Higher end, more expensive receivers like this Onkyo TX-SR608 direct sound to 7 speakers rather than 5, which again is something that will come down to personal preference. 5 speakers is plenty to get a solid surround sound experience, but having 7 channels can add depth and quality to the sound, and can help fill out the sound in a larger room. What you need should depend on how much space you have, how important booming, sharp surround sound is to you, and whether or not a really sophisticated system is in your budget.
Of course, a great projector and a top of the line receiver won’t do you much good if you don’t have any speakers. For 5.1 digital sound, you want to have five speakers plus a subwoofer, and for 7.1 or 7.2, you want seven. Speakers are something I would recommend doing a little extra research on, too – maybe more than any other component of a home theater system, speakers have a pretty high turnover rate, and range wildly in price and quality. These Yamaha speakers, for example, work amazingly well for their price, but aren’t anywhere near the best you can get, if you’re willing to pay more.
An important thing to remember, though, regardless of your budget, is that, while it can be incredibly tempting to try to hide your speakers, mounting them on a wall or, worse yet, trying to cover them up, is a great way to tank your sound quality. The best sound quality comes from free standing speakers (specifically, ones with their own stands), because mounting them or setting them on an entertainment center, especially behind something else, dampens the sound and alters the vibrations which lowers the quality of your sound. Even small speakers, like these Mirage MX 5.1‘s do better on their own, but are small enough to blend in, even if they’re sitting on top of posts.
Of course, trying to mix and match speakers and receivers by quality and brand can be a little stressful. Most products play well together, but every once in a while two separate pieces will have a weird interaction. So if you don’t want to take that chance, and you’re more concerned with ease of setup than milking the highest possible quality out of your machine, you might want to think of going with a pre-paired speaker and receiver set, like this Onkyo 5.1 System. Then again, if you’re anything like my dad and can’t stomach anything less than the highest-tech, it might be better to hand pick your set to ensure you get the highest quality out of both – though make sure they play nice either before you buy, or at least before you toss your receipt!
Do you have a home theater or a really great entertainment center, or are you thinking about investing in one? How many movie theater trips would it take YOU to be worth the renovation? Let me know in the comments!