Everyone wants that big screen theater experience at home, no matter how small the apartment. The bragging rights alone are worth it. Enjoying movies as they were meant to be shown, big picture, big sound, is worth every penny. I’ve never owned a TV – and after owning a projector for the last 5 years, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a flatscreen.
It was easy to get started – at the time, flatscreen TVs were very expensive. But it wasn’t easy to seal the deal because of the infamous wife factor. In every web forum and electronics store, men wrestle with the fact that their wives don’t want unsightly speakers, wires, complicated remotes, or an expensive eyesore screen on the wall. And she's probably right. With some smart tips and cost-cutting ideas, she’ll come to love the wow factor of a 120″ Blu-ray experience and sit beside you.
Here’s my recommendation for a willing beginner: the $1,000 setup. I'm not interested in a 'cheap' home theater, with weak off-brand products that I'll be itching to replace in a year. Instead, buying the proper entry-level electronics will give you an excellent experience as well as peace of mind.
Home Theater Pros
+ HUGE movies and TV. Never gets old, especially with friends over
+ Great sound quality 24/7
+ No ugly TV dominating your room
– Requires creative furniture placement (more on this later)
– Slightly more complicated than a basic TV setup – more parts
– Brightest daylight can wash out the picture (but we can avoid it)
Keep in mind
• Plan around your room. It's not a TV that sits in the corner, it's a system on every wall.
• Start small: you can always upgrade later. Just remember, you get what you pay for.
• Don’t be a chump: hide those cords, make it tidy, keep wife happy.
So here’s your shopping list, with my recommendations from the top-rated entry-level gear:
This is the king of the room – the main machine. These days, $500 can get you plenty of 720p projector. Black Friday deals can dip below $400, and some models might go above $600. But you'll spend less than a 1080p model, which will run you $700 and up. I’ve been perfectly pleased with 720p, and I highly recommend this projector for starters:
Epson Projector on Amazon.com
It's easy to get overwhelmed with projector jargon, since there's lots of tech specs that aren't clearly explained. Here's the basics:
- Resolution: The detail-level of the projected image, measured in numbers of pixels. I suggest 1280x720, as opposed to the more expensive 1920x1080 (which has twice the pixels). Avoid WGA, WXGA and other such formats.
- Lumens: The brightness of the light bulb. Go for an LED light, which lasts thousands of hours longer than standard bulb. 3000 Lumens is your minimum. Any less and you'll struggle with visibility when sunlight or lamps are nearby.
- Cinema: Look for a model that's categorized as 'Cinema', 'Home Theater', 'Entertainment' or similar; as opposed to an office or computer-based projector. These cinema models have the right frame rate, color reproduction, keystoning, mounting and settings for a movie-like experience. And please avoid any 'pocket/mini/pico/Groupon/portable!/toy' projectors, which will never compare with a name brand version like mine.
Any model will do. Don’t overthink this one. If you don't have a spot to mount from the ceiling, try a simple Ikea shelf, or the top of a tall bookcase.
VideoSecu Ceiling Mount Bracket
Some people just use a wall – others get creative with paint or fabric. Since screens are cheap, I say get a proper one – your wife will love that it scrolls up and out of sight, and the picture is much more vivid than your bumpy cheap paint. This is my ten-foot screen. It’s worked in 4 different apartments, and always looks great.
Elite Screens M120UWH2 120″ Diagonal. 16:9
Blu-Ray Player/ 5.1 Surround Sound System
Don't skimp on sound. Your TV has built-in speakers, or a separate soundbar, but your projector is visuals-only (some have a tiny speaker, just ignore that). It’s so cheap and easy to get a home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) sound system, you’ll punch yourself for living without it all these years. Some would say sound is more important than picture, so spend as much as you can. Mine was $300. Aim for 750-1000 Watts, so it's strong enough to fill the room. These systems tend to include a Blu-ray player that acts as the central tuner/receiver for your other components (like Apple TV, Roku, video games, laptop, etc).
Panasonic SC-BTT190 5.1 1000-Watt Blu-Ray System
Wireless HD Kit (optional)
The trickiest part of the whole process is connecting your source (Blu-ray player, or tuner) to your projector, which may be across the room or mounted to the ceiling. HDMI cables are super cheap, and in some apartments I've simply used a 25-foot HDMI cable to connect the two, hiding it along the baseboards. But you may decide to splurge and go wireless instead. It eliminates the messy logistics and cable clutter of running cables up the wall, and finishes the setup on a classy note. It’s magic.
IOGEAR GW3DHDKIT Wireless HD Kit
Don’t stop now:
- A simple media console for your Blu-ray player – we use this $20 IKEA model – and a comfy couch. You’re at the movies now!
- Apple TV is a great way to add Netflix and other apps – as well as streaming from your iPhone or Mac to your big screen. $100. If you're in the Apple Ecosystem like me, don't settle for Roku, Fire TV or other cheaper models.
- All these new devices need an awesome new remote. Get a Logitech Harmony to start – it controls everything.