Making the upgrade from a normal media room to a home theater can be an expensive one, but once you get everything set up and watch your first film, then you’ll definitely appreciate the difference. Before starting it’s worth knowing something about home theater prices?
So, how much does it cost to build a home theater? A home theater can cost as little as $500 for a beginner’s setup, but the upper end of the budget is basically infinite. For a good home theater setup, with all the trimmings, you could expect to pay anywhere between $5,000 and $50,000.
As you can see, the cost of a home theater is entirely based on your budget.
I understand that most people reading this won’t be able to afford a fully equipped home theater room that costs upwards of $50,000, as that’s the kind of thing you expect to see on MTV Cribs. However, in this article I look at what it costs to set up a mid-range home theater from scratch, including options for speakers, projectors, and TVs.
Cost to Build a Home Theater
So what do we actually mean by “home theater”? Well, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to define it as a media-viewing setup that’s an upgrade on your current viewing setup. This means something more customized than just a TV, and will generally include surround speakers and possibly a projector.
To understand how much it’ll cost to build a home theater, it’s worth knowing what components make up a home theater, from a basic setup to a more customized viewing space. At its most basic, a home theater will include the following:
- Viewing device. This can either be a TV, ideally bigger than 50”, or a front-facing projector and screen. The latter is better for a home theater because it more truly emulates the cinema viewing experience.
- Media device. Your media viewing device can basically be anything, but the main options are DVD or Blu-Ray player, games console, streaming device (Fire Stick, Apple TV, etc.), or even an older device like a VCR player.
- Surround sound speakers. Normal media audio will output in stereo, which is 2 speakers. A home theater should ideally include surround sound, which usually starts with 5 speakers and a subwoofer, but can go all the way up to 9 speakers.
- AV receiver. This is the central hub of your home theater, and is where you plug in your media playing devices, speakers, and viewing device. This allows you to easily switch between devices and gives you a master control for volume, including some equalizing settings.
- All of your devices need to be connected together, and this means buying a range of cables. Expect to need things like HDMI, RCA, VGA, or digital audio. Many people end up forgetting about cables when budgeting, but they’re possibly the most important part.
- Your speakers need to be wired together, and this is usually something you’ll have to do yourself. There are plenty of types of wires available, each having an affect on audio quality. It’s worth doing some research into the best type of wiring, because the good stuff doesn’t come cheap.
But what about prices?
This is something I’ll go into a bit more detail on later in the article, as it’s a very broad question that can have many different answers depending on your needs, budget, and current setup. However, these are the basic components you’d expect to find in any basic home theater, so factor every one of these in when you’re making your budget.
Extra Home Theater Components
The above list is your basic setup for a home theater, but there are plenty of ways to make it a much more customized and enjoyable space. The following are all worthwhile upgrades you should think of making to your home theater, providing you’ve got the budget of course.
- Soundproofing. Adding soundproofing to your home theater room is an excellent idea if you can afford it, and helps makes it more enjoyable for both you and your neighbors. It means you can watch with much higher volume, and can turn the subwoofer up.
- Acoustic conditioning. This isn’t technically the same as soundproofing, and needs different equipment. Acoustic conditioning is about managing the characteristics of sound in your space, including echo, reverberation, and crossover. It results in much clearer sound, and a more enjoyable viewing experience.
- Light management. Unless you’re building a customized home theater space, it’s likely that you’ve got at least one window in your home theater room. Investing in blackout curtains or blinds and the right lighting can make all the difference to your viewing experience, and massively helps with glare.
- Good seating. Sure, your couch is probably fine for watching TV, but if you want the true cinema experience, it’s worth upgrading to some customized seating. You could buy second-hand cinema seating, recliners, beanbags, or something else.
- Popcorn machine. If you want that true cinema experience, it’s worth going all the way. Consider getting a popcorn machine for the room, particularly if you plan on having guests. At the very least buy some bags of microwave popcorn.
When it comes to these more advanced home theater components, prices become more dependent on the space you have. For example, soundproofing and light management will depend entirely on the size of your room, and the building itself.
You can also factor in things like professional installation, but none of these are too difficult if you’ve got a bit of DIY knowledge.
Pricing Up a Basic Home Theater
When it comes to designing your own budget, it can be helpful to have some numbers for comparison. Below are some rough examples of prices for the necessary components of a home theater. Obviously these will vary depending on where you live and availability, so only use them as a rough guide to help you set your budget.
This is a fundamental part of your home theater, so it makes a sensible place to start. An AV receiver can cost as little as $149, or possibly even lower, but these won’t be very good. When it comes to your AV receiver, you need to remember that it’s the control hub of your system, and so should be responsive and able to handle all the devices you want to connect together.
If I was to buy an AV receiver on a budget, I wouldn’t look any lower than $200. The budget AV receiver I recommend is the Yamaha RX-V485BL (check prices on Amazon). Check out my top picks (with reviews) for AV receivers.
Even then I’d shop around until I found one that I was happy with, as the quality of the technology will be very temperamental in this price bracket. If you are looking at this kind of price, please compare a few and spend some time reading customer reviews.
- If you’ve got a bit more cash to splash and you want a fully functioning control center for your home theater, look for an AV receiver between $500 and $2,000.
- It gets to a point where price overtakes increase in quality, so just spend some time comparing the market to see which would best suit your needs rather than focusing on price.
The best advice I can give for choosing your AV receiver is to decide what devices you’ll be connecting, particularly if you’re going for something more unusual.
For example, if you want to add a record player into your home theater then you should look for an AV receiver that has an input port for this device. Not all of them do and you’ll most likely end up paying a bit more for one that does.
It’s almost inevitable that you’ll already own a TV, but would you consider it worthy of holding pride of place in your new home theater? Possibly, but this is a pretty good excuse for an upgrade. However, this is clearly the most difficult device to give a concise answer for.
You have to factor in so many things when choosing a TV. When it comes to size, I wouldn’t go any smaller than 50” or any bigger that 80-85”. If you want bigger than this, make the step up to a projector. You’ll have more flexibility in your budget and in your viewing device.
Then of course you’ve got resolution. Your basic choice will be 1080p (HD), but I’d recommend just going for 4K. This has already become the viewing resolution of choice for many home theater users, and is the future of TV and film.
If you’re building your home theater, it’s worth making it as resistant as possible to future changes in technology. Considering manufacturers are already producing 8K in some forms, it makes sense to jump on 4K now.
- For a basic 4K 50” TV, expect to pay between $250 and $400. However, as with the AV receiver, I’d make a step up to the mid-range price bracket if you can.
- For a mid-range 4K TV between 50” and 60”, you should expect to pay $800 to $1,500.
Obviously as you go up in size and design the price will increase, so this is where you need to be careful with your budget. If you start looking at TVs that cost upwards of $2,000-$2,500, I’d recommend just looking at a projector. You might decide that you still want a TV, but it’s worth having a look.
Projector and Screen
As with a TV, choosing the right projector will be dependent on your needs. If you’re upgrading to a projector, you still need to look at things like resolution, and I’d still recommend going for 4K, as this will mean you can carry on using the projector for as long as necessary.
Price will be dependent on things like whether the projector is portable, brightness, resolution, lamp type, and several other factors.
As with your TV, it’s worth remembering that this is your frontline device, and the one that’s going to be giving you the picture you’re watching. For this reason it’s important to do some research and see which one will best suit your needs.
- For a basic home theater projector, I wouldn’t look any lower than $300. Even then you should be careful, as it’s likely that these won’t be the best quality, and you’ll really notice the difference if you choose a mid-range model.
- For a mid-range projector, expect to pay between $500 and $1,500. Again, these should ideally be your minimum standard if you can afford it, and the improvement in picture quality will be quite high.
- For a high-end, almost cinema quality experience, you could easily pay $5,000 or more for a good projector. If you can afford to stretch to this kind of budget, then you’re in for a great experience.
For under $500, I recommend the Viewsonic PRO7827HD (check prices on Amazon). Also, check out my top recommendations for projectors, all of which perform excellently even with inexpensive projector screens.
Notwithstanding, the projector screen is as important, if not more so, than the projector itself. A good one will last for years and will be built to greatly improve whatever image is thrown onto it.
I’d suggest not looking smaller than a 120” projector screen, but it’s worth measuring your space and working out what will be the maximum you can fit. If you’re going for a projector, go all out.
When choosing your screen you need to factor in things like whether it’s fixed screen, pull-down, or mechanical opening; its brightness gain (particularly if you’ve got a bright room); the aspect ratio (16:9 is the standard); and the materials its made from. All of these factors mean the price can vary massively.
- For a really low budget screen, you could pay as little as $30. However, this would be a ridiculous choice, so I’d start your budget around $100 for an entry-level model. However, these won’t be brilliant, and it’s worth jumping up at least one price bracket.
- For a mid-range projector screen, I’d look anywhere between $150 and $500. You could get a pretty good one for around $250, and this will probably suit most people’s needs just fine.
- However, if you want to go all out, you could pay up to $4,000 for a projector screen. I’d say a good stopping point for a high-end projector screen would be between $1,000 and $1,500, which will get you a good-sized projector screen of excellent quality.
Check out my recommended projector screens for fixed framed, motorized, manual pull down and DIY types.
Surround Sound Speakers
Home theater speakers are definitely where I invest the largest portion of my budget, as I feel they make the biggest difference to your viewing experience. Aside from a projector, they’re the part that makes it a home theater rather than just a media room. As with all the components, prices will vary massively based on quite a few different factors.
If you’re just starting your home theater system, I’d recommend going for a 5.1 channel system. I’ve covered what channels are in more detail elsewhere, but this setup will give you 5 speakers and a subwoofer. This is about the minimum you should put in your home theater, and will also give you access to the greatest range of speakers.
- You could pick up an entry-level 5.1 channel speaker system for around $100. However, I wouldn’t recommend this at all, as the sound will most likely be tinny and unbalanced, and the bass will be very weak.
- I wouldn’t look any lower than $200 for a surround sound speaker system, and would happily pay up to $500 for what I consider to be a mid-range speaker system. You’ll notice a big improvement in sound quality within this price bracket, but it might not be enough for true audiophiles.
- Speakers reach some lofty prices, and if you want a high-end speaker system by a industry leader such as Klipsch, you could pay between $5,000 and $8,000. I personally think that you’re just paying for branding at this point, but some people might notice an improvement in audio quality.
The best piece of advice I could give for choosing the right speakers is to remember that this purchase will be worth your money, so consider going a bit higher than your original budget. However, a good way to get around this is to build your own system by buying individual speakers.
Doing this means you can mix bookshelf and tower speakers, choose a good subwoofer, and can add more channels at a later date. This should also give you a bit more control over your budget, but just make sure you buy all the speakers from the same brand to ensure you match the timbre.
Check out my top picks for
It’s not worth me discussing connection cables in any great detail, as most people will have these already and they’re easy to buy and generally low in price. However, these are all explained in my article here.
Choose gold-plated cables wherever possible, as these will give you the best picture quality with the least resistance from the cable. Even going for something as fancy as a gold-plated 4K Ultra HDMI lead will only set you back around $15.
Wiring for your speakers is a slightly different matter. It’s still really easy to buy both online and in hardware or electronics stores, but it’s worth knowing the different kinds, and how much you should expect to buy.
- Copper cable is the basic and cheapest speaker wiring you can buy. It’s the most commonly used, and provides decent audio with moderate levels of cable resistance.
- If you’re on a budget or have lots of wiring to do, it’ll probably be your choice. You can pay under $25 for 100ft of copper wire, or upwards of $50 for high quality stuff.
- The next level is silver wiring, which is more expensive but has less resistance, thereby producing clearer audio. It’s obviously much more expensive and is more likely to be sold by specialist electronics companies.
- Silver wire can set you back around $200 per meter! This is just an example price, and you could easily pay much more.
- The highest (and most expensive) level of speaker wire is gold. This is meant to give you the clearest audio, but is usually only gold-plated copper wire. It reaches astronomical prices, so I wouldn’t bother even looking at it.
Pricing Up Extra Components
So the above is a price list for the basic components, and as you can see, the cost for a home theater can vary wildly depending on what technology you’re looking at, and your needs for the space.
However, if you want the full home theater experience, it’s worth looking into the extra components I mentioned earlier in the article. Below is some example price lists for these, but remember they’ll be more dependent on your space, so it’s worth looking into it further.
Soundproofing and Acoustic Treatment
The cost of soundproofing your room will be dependent on the materials you use, how much space you need to cover, and whether you plan on installing it yourself or get a professional to do it. Check out my soundproofing guide which will help you get it done the right way.
Your options include things like adding more drywall, carpeting, underlay, and more. The easiest and cheapest way is to add more drywall, particularly if you add in things like decoupling and dampening.
- It’s difficult to put a price on how much extra drywall will cost, as it’s dependent on more factors than other things mentioned in this article. However, I’d expect to put away at least $500 for materials, particularly if you’re including decoupling.
- If you’re getting a professional team in to do the work, which is understandable, you could easily pay upwards of $1,500 depending on the size and complexity of the project.
- If you’ve got the technical skills, I’d definitely recommend soundproofing the room yourself because this will save you plenty of money. Set aside between $1,000 and $1,500 and you should be able to do a pretty good job.
There are plenty of other soundproofing materials you can add, such as heavy curtains, A/C vent baffles, door linings, and much more. Spend a bit of time looking up these products to get an idea of prices, but I’d recommend throwing a few of them in there if you’re serious about soundproofing your space.
Similarly, acoustic conditioning can be a pretty big job. I’d only really consider this if you’ve got a large home theater space, as it’s only then that the audio will really need conditioning. In a small or medium room there’s usually not enough space for sound to echo or reverberate with any great problem.
- You can expect to pay anywhere between $50 and $500 depending on the technology you use, how much you buy, and what you need to do. If you’re looking at using acoustic conditioning, it can help to get an expert involved.
- At the very minimum you should have an understanding of whether you really need it, and if you’ve worked this out, you should have some idea of what equipment you need and how much it’ll cost. As ever, thorough research makes all the difference.
Seating is obviously crucial when it comes to a home theater. After all, who wants to sit on an uncomfortable chair when it comes to a movie marathon? Probably no one, so don’t forget to invest some of your budget into the décor of your home theater.
Check out my 10 home theater seating ideas which cater for every possible room and requirement.
Obviously seating is going to be very dependent on your needs and the size of your home theater, but it’s worth remembering that the best viewing position is directly in front of the screen. This might mean a sofa is better for your space, or you might be able to get away with 4-6 chairs in a cinema arrangement.
If you can, I’d recommend getting individual recliners, as these will give you and your guests a comfortable, individual space to enjoy. Most importantly, you get your own armrests! A good recliner chair with armrests will cost between $150 and $300 each.
- Don’t forget about things like lighting, and it’s best to have wall sconces or something similar, as this means the room is never too bright, and adds to the cinema ambience. I’d recommend several lights with dimmer bulbs than 1 or 2 bright ones.
- Blackout curtains (and blinds) are a must if there’s a window in your home theater. A standard set of blackout curtains will set you back between $25 and $50 depending on size.
- Don’t forget about that popcorn machine! You can find a good popcorn machine, including trolley and the works, for between $100 and $200 online. Obviously not everyone will go for this, but it makes everything a bit more fun, and your guests will love it.
Budgeting for a home theater can be a pricey experience, but it’s definitely worth the money. When it comes to setting your budget, use the prices given above as a guide, and then add a bit more. This will help avoid any nasty surprises and cut corners.
The other thing to remember is that you can always add to it as you go. For example, you might save soundproofing until you’re definitely invested in the home cinema experience. Whatever you decide is the cost for your home theater, just make sure you get equipment that will best serve your needs.