As someone who loves home entertainment, I’ve never considered whether home theater systems are worth the time and money invested, but people who are new to the industry might be thinking twice about splashing out all that cash.
So, are home theater systems really worth it?
Home theater systems are definitely worth the time and money if you enjoy experiencing media in the best quality possible in your own home. You can spend as much time and money building a home theater as you want, but the more you put in the more you get out. Realistically, it’ll be worth the investment.
I’ve always found home theaters to be worth the money, but I love investing in the latest tech and big film releases. Home theaters let you listen to music, play games, and watch TV and film in much better quality than you would with normal systems.
Read on to find out more information about home theater systems, and some helpful tips on building your own.
Reasons to own a home theater
If, like me, you love consuming media, you shouldn’t need any other reasons to invest in a home theater setup. However, when it comes to building your own, many people can be put off by the inevitably hefty price tag. Here are the main reasons you should invest in a home theater:
1. It’s all yours
This might seem like an obvious point, but that’s why it’s first on the list. Your home theater is yours to do exactly what you want with it.
Do you prefer listening to music? No problem; a home theater system can be designed to offer the best audio quality available.
Have you been considering a projector and screen to really get the most out of your Blu-Ray discs? This is perfectly possible, and you can even use it to watch TV too.
Building a home theater setup will give you ultimate control over how you consume your media, and if you’ve got the right imagination, the sky is the limit.
There are so many different combinations you can have for all different media, so fully assess your options before investing in some tech.
2. It’ll be more cost effective in the long run
Having a home theater means you don’t always have to go to the cinema to enjoy the big screen. The cinema is a great experience, but is very expensive.
Investing in a home theater means you can cut down on the amount of visits you make to the cinema, and if you invest in the right tech, your experience will not be very different. Plus, it means you don’t have to spend your life savings on expensive cinema snacks.
3. You have complete control over the media
How many times have you been in the cinema and had to miss part of a movie just for a toilet break? Well you’ll never have that problem with a home theater setup.
You can pause, rewind, and fast forward whenever you want, and there won’t be anyone around to stop you. The same goes for music; you can play whatever you want, and skip whatever you want.
Owning a home theater is simply a much better way to consume media in your own home.
4. The audio and video quality makes all the difference
Sure, you might already have a good TV in your home, but have you thought how much better it would be when connected to a decent speaker system?
The difference having good equipment makes is incredible, and noticeable even to tech novices. Obviously this doesn’t mean you have to invest in the most expensive equipment, but even some basic tech massively improves your viewing and listening experience.
The general rule when it comes to buying the right equipment is to do research, and only spend as much as you want. There’s no need to buy top of the line video equipment if you’re mainly going to be listening to music, and often it gets to the point where you’re paying for a brand name more than quality tech.
However, if you have the money to splash out on a big and expensive system, then go ahead. It’s very rare that you’ll regret a purchase for your home theater.
What equipment do you need for a home theater?
As you’ve probably guessed, one of the best features of a home theater is the user’s ability to customize it exactly how they want it.
That said, you don’t need to go out and buy every single available piece of equipment to build a home theater. For example, you might not be able to fit a projector in your home, and so should build your home theater around a good quality TV.
As a general rule, there are some bits of equipment that you need for even the most basic home theater setup. Again, you do have some level of freedom when purchasing these, but at the very minimum you should invest in:
- A home theater receiver (also known as an AV receiver)
- TV or Projector (check out my favorite projectors)
- Sound system (either surround sound or stereo)
- Media player (games console, DVD/Blu-Ray player, streaming box, etc.)
You could also look to invest in a projector and screen if you have enough room, but these are generally reserved for all but the fanciest setups.
You’ll probably have most freedom of customization with the speakers, as these can range from a cheap set to ones that cost hundreds of dollars. Obviously the speakers you choose should be dependent on the sound quality you want.
Also, there’s nothing stopping you from connecting older forms of technology (vinyl player, CD player, VHS) to your home theater, but these will require slightly more specialized technology. For example, for a vinyl player, you’ll need a more advanced AV receiver, or for VHS, you’ll need equipment with SCART input, which many don’t have nowadays.
Setting everything up might seem like it’s going to be an incredibly daunting task, but it’s really not that hard. Many bits of equipment will come with installation instructions, and there’s no harm in a bit of trial and error to get the right connections or layout for your equipment.
After all, one of the best things about a home theater is the ability to do whatever you want with it.
Home theater equipment explained
I imagine most people know what a TV is, but there may be some pieces of equipment on that list that are foreign to many readers.
I certainly didn’t know what some of it did before I started building my home theater, and I think it helps to have a rough idea of the equipment’s function before you buy, simply so you can make a more informed decision. Here is an explanation for some of the more specific bits of home theater equipment.
AV stands for audio/visual, and this is the central hub of your home theater setup. It basically acts as your control panel.
It functions as the middleman essentially, and sends signals from your input devices (for example DVD player) to your output devices (TV or projector). It also decodes and amplifies audio signals, processing them for output from speaker systems.
As standard, most AV receivers function in HD, but there are plenty available that can process 4K signals. These are obviously more expensive, but it might be worth investing in the tech now, as it’ll be the future of video equipment.
AV receivers function as your switches between devices, and usually also function as master volume control for speaker systems. Any device you wish to use as either input or output will need to be connected to your AV receiver.
Also, check out my most recommended home theater receivers.
Many people will probably know what a sound system is, but they can get surprisingly complicated when it comes to home theaters.
Your most basic option is stereo sound, which uses two speakers, and is the standard format for most TV and film media, and is the standard format for all music. It’s unlikely you’ll find audio equipment in mono format any more, which is when it uses only one speaker.
Surround sound (5.1 or 7.1) is the next level of speaker systems, and is probably the step worth investing in if you’re building a home theater. Surround sound basically uses more than 2 speakers, but most systems will have either 5 or 7.
However, you can basically add as many speakers as you want, providing your equipment has enough juice to power them. Surround sound gives you much greater sound quality than stereo, and makes for a much more immersive listening experience.
Luckily, many systems are very adaptable, and can be used for both stereo and surround output. For example, if you want to play music using your surround sound system, it’ll simply play from the 2 main speakers, and discount the rest. This is very helpful because it means you don’t have to bother switching speakers around when you switch between media inputs.
You can also invest in soundbars, which are multiple speakers in one, but these aren’t really worth it for a home theater system because they don’t give you as much customization as speakers.
Check out my top recommendations for soundbars which I have compiled after testing the top 11 soundbars in the market.
Subwoofers are probably the best investment in a home theater, and will be the thing that makes the most difference to your standard equipment.
The subwoofer provides bass and is connected to your AV receiver and speaker system. Subwoofers are the .1 in a 5.1 or 7.1 speaker system.
Having good bass makes a massive difference to your listening and viewing experience, and should be one of the first things you invest in. Many speaker systems will come with a subwoofer, but if not, it’s not difficult to buy one separately and hook it up.
Check out my top recommendations for subwoofers for every budget based on actual testing in realistic home environments.
Tips for building a home theater
The prospect of setting up a home theater might seem daunting, particularly if you’ve done a quick search for some of the equipment.
However, building your home theater should be a fun experience that is totally under your control. Here are some of the biggest mistakes to avoid when building your home theater system.
1. Do plenty of research
The worst thing you can do when building a home theater is to buy without enough information. After all, you might buy an AV receiver that isn’t compatible with your input devices, or buy a 4K projector without any media to support it.
It’s up to you whether you visit physical stores to test equipment. One benefit is that you should theoretically have experts on hand to answer any questions you might have, but Google is also pretty good at this.
2. Don’t forget to set a budget
One of the biggest mistakes people make is not setting themselves a budget, and then realizing they’ve spent thousands more than they wanted.
Decide on a budget before you do any research, and then adjust if necessary once you’ve got a better idea of your price range.
Aim for the best value for money, and this doesn’t usually mean the most expensive equipment. Again, research will help you work out where to set your budget, and which areas require the most money.
3. Don’t scrimp on equipment
This point goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. Just as you shouldn’t over budget, don’t buy cheap items just because you want to save money.
The best example of this is with cables. You might think that a cable is just a cable, but there’s little point in investing in 4K technology if it’s connected to some budget cables. Avoid package deals too, as these usually bundle together cheaper items with popular ones.
4. Don’t forget the rest of the room
If you’re investing all this time and energy into your home theater, it can be easy to overlook the rest of the room. Spend time considering the placement of seats, lighting, and even the placement of the door in relation to everything else.
Once you’ve got all your equipment sorted, think carefully about how you want to arrange the room, and how much freedom you realistically have with this.
It’s also worth thinking about things like blinds or curtains. Ideally, you should opt for blackout blinds so you can get the most from your new video equipment.
Also, don’t mount your TV too high because you don’t want to be constantly craning your neck to enjoy your new home theater.
5. Don’t overlook equipment protection
This doesn’t necessarily mean warrantees or insurance (although these are obviously quite useful if you’re buying expensive tech).
Consider investing in extension cables with built-in surge protection. This might not be needed in every household, but you can never be too careful.
Most extension cables should come with surge protection, and this basically protects your devices from power surges or storms.
6. Don’t always invest in the most expensive tech
This has been mentioned already, but it bears repeating: most expensive doesn’t always mean best. Always aim to keep within your budget, and if that means you can’t get the speaker system you want, then so be it.
One of the benefits of having your own system is that you can upgrade whenever you like. Much of the equipment I use in my home theater is mid-range and does an amazing job.
I’ve spent plenty of time researching, so it wasn’t too hard for me to find the best value for money.
Some More Tips
All of the information covered so far should give you some idea of the thought that needs to go into a home theater, but more than anything it should also prove that they really are worth the time and money you’re going to invest.
Here are my final tips for building your home theater:
- If possible, build around existing equipment. For example, if you’ve got a good TV that’s only a few years old, use this as your basis. TVs should last a long time before you upgrade, so plan using equipment you already own. This will help you save money whenever possible.
- Prioritize your main uses for the home theater. If you’re going to be using it for music more than video, make good speakers your main priority. If you’re going to be playing games, invest in an all-round system. This is your home theater, and so should work exactly how you want it to.
- Don’t overlook the benefits of trial and error. It can take ages to get the right configuration for speakers and TV placement, so spend some time playing around with everything.
So, Are Home Theater Systems Worth It?
I’ve found that investing in a home theater really is worth the time and money, and should be a fun project. You should do plenty of research before buying, and write a plan of all the things you’ll need.
It’s most important to set an accurate budget, and stick to it as much as possible. Don’t overlook how useful the internet will be in doing research, and don’t forget to have fun!
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.