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How to build a home theater system for under $500

I should know: I did it.

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector 1080p, $99.99

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector 1080p, $99.99

FluxFactory

Movie theaters are opening back up, but even after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine a lot of folks are opting to watch “Black Widow” in the comfort of their own home rather than immerse themselves in the sticky madness that is their local movie theater. The trade-off for this safety and convenience is, of course, that watching a movie at home is nowhere near as awe-inspiring as it is in the theater.

But what if it could be? Home theater set-ups seem like the domain of the ultra-rich, but with modern technology, you can put together a pretty nifty one for under $500. And I should know.

Because I did it.

Here’s what I used:

Projector

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector 1080p, $99.99

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector Outdoor Movie Projector with 100Inch Projector Screen
DR. J Professional
amazon.com
$99.99

The most important part of your home theater system, the projector gives you a movie theater quality image from the comfort of your own home. Big TVs get super expensive, but a projector gives you the option of an even bigger picture without breaking the bank. Extra bonus: they take up far less space than a TV when off, since you can simply roll up your project screen and reclaim your wall space. 

Projector Screen

100-Inch 16:9 Motorized Projector Screen with Remote Control, $129.99

YODOLLA 100inch Motorized Projection Screen
YODOLLA
amazon.com
$119.99

You don’t want to just be pointing your projector at the wall on the other side of the room though, so you’ll want to invest in a motorized projector screen to make it that much better. Motorized screens can go up and down with the touch of a button to make it even more fun.

Soundbar

Majority Bowfell Small Soundbar, $39.95

Majority Bowfell Small Sound Bar for TV
Majority
amazon.com
$39.95

Soundbars are the best alternative to an expensive surround sound system. And at under $40, this soundbar gives you great sound quality at just a fraction of the cost. 

Bonus Items You Can Get for the Full Theater Experience:

Are these things necessary? Of course not. But what is “necessary” anyway? Are movies “necessary”? Are human beings “necessary”? The cosmic inertia, the ineffable expansion and contraction of all matter in the universe, will persist long past our lives or the existence of our species, so you may as well buy a giant bean bag chair.

Giant Bean Bag Chair

7ft Giant Fur Bean Bag Chair Cover, $132.99

7ft Giant Bean Bag Chair Cover No Filler
cozypark
amazon.com
$128.00

COYMOS 5lbs Shredded Memory Foam Filling, $25.99

COYMOS 5lbs Shredded Memory Foam Filling for Bean Bag Filler
COYMOS
amazon.com
$26.99

While this might not be essential for your home theater, having a giant bean bag chair makes the movie theater experience even more fun — especially with that special someone. We suggest getting at least two bags of the foam filling to make it more comfortable!

Concession Cart

SONGMICS 3-Tier Metal Rolling Cart, $35.99

SONGMICS 3-Tier Metal Rolling Cart
SONGMICS
amazon.com
$42.99

Another non-essential, but what kind of movie theater doesn’t have concessions? A terrible one, surely, from some kind of dystopian future hellscape. Stock this three-tiered cart with candy, chips, or drinks for you and your friends to enjoy!

How to Set Up Your Home Theater System

Now that you have everything you need, try not to be intimidated by the idea of having to actually get everything set up. None of it is too difficult to do, but a couple parts are easier with a second set of hands.

Setting up Your Projector

The centerpiece of any home theater system is the projector. The projector is what produces the picture on the screen and gives you that movie theater experience that you’re looking for. It’s essential that you put it in the right location and get it set up correctly so that you’re not disappointed with the final result.

Projectors are typically either mounted on the wall or ceiling, or placed on a flat surface somewhere behind where you’re going to be sitting. However you decide to mount it, the most important things you do are put it in the right location and ensure that it’s level. The distance from the projector to the screen is the most important thing, as you want the image to appear on the screen to be crisp, clear, and straight. 

The Best Way to Mount the Projector Screen

This will really depend on whether or not you get a projector screen with a stand or a motorized one like we suggested above. If you opt for a cheaper one that uses a stand, you can really put it just about anywhere that it fits. These are good for outdoor use or anywhere inside if you don’t want to worry about having to deal with mounting your screen to the wall or ceiling — just stand it up and you’re good to go.

 

If you go with the wall/ceiling mounted one we suggest above, then you’ll have a bit more work to do. This will require you to drill into the mounting location and attach the screen to the included brackets. The great thing about these screens is that you just simply press a button on the included remote and the screen will roll out (or back up) all on its own! Not only is this more convenient but also adds a bit of flair to your home theater system.

Where You Should Put the Soundbar

Soundbars are great for two main reasons. Firstly, soundbars typically have multiple speakers built in that make it seem as if you have a surround sound system without actually having all those speakers throughout the room. Compared to standard TV speaker quality, a soundbar beats them out every time.

 

Second, they’re super easy to set up! Most soundbars operate entirely on their own and just need to be plugged into the wall outlet and also the source — in this case, the projector. The soundbar is typically best mounted either where the screen is located, or behind where you’re sitting. Either location will provide that surround sound feeling that you’re looking for. And there you have it! I happen to think this is a pretty great set-up for any price, let alone less than $500. 

 

That said, there are a few key “movie theater” features left out, and if you want the sticky floor, screaming child in the background, and a date-that-might-not-think-its-a-date sitting next to you quietly eating Rollos, then you’re going to have to shell out the money for a movieplex ticket.

 

But if all you want is a great movie-watching experience, then we’ve got you covered.