diy home theater design for under $2,500Ask anyone who’s ever been lured by a big-box store display (and suffered the subsequent buyer’s remorse), and you’ll soon learn that a big-screen TV and speakers do not a top-notch home theater design make.

And we’re not even talking fancy tiered seating, or mood lighting, or acoustic tiles, or any of that jazz – that’s all extra (sorry), if you want it; what we do care about, however, are quality components for your DIY home theater.

Of course, that raises the question – what is the cost of quality? How can you build a home theater without going broke? Where can you cut a few costs, and where should you splash out? And, are there any must-consider, can’t-miss, you’ll-really-regret-it home theater ideas you’ve overlooked?

The good news? It’s not as complicated as it seems. Not at all, in fact. Because, it really all boils down to seven basic components:

  1. Television or Projector
  2. Speakers
  3. Sound Bar
  4. Subwoofer
  5. Receiver
  6. Blu-ray Player
  7. Accessories

Let’s break it down:

1. Television or Projector ($1,000)

Anyone who has ever thought about home theater design, has wondered whether to go the big-screen HDTV route, or to splash out on a fancy projector/screen bundle. You’ll want to assess the various decision-making points, including screen size, brightness, contrast, resolution, and color accuracy (cheat sheet: TVs win, unless screen size is the most important factor to you), and then consider your room: viewing angle, distance from your seating to your screen, 3D capabilities, ultra HD (aka 4K), etc. Either way, you can go close to top-notch for under $1,000, with a projector + screen combo or a big-screen 3D HDTV. Beware: Top-of-the-line can easily run $3,000+.

2. Speakers ($300)

When you think “home theater,” chances are you’re thinking screen and speakers. And for good reason – sight and sound are a huge part of the experience. Choosing the right home theater speakers is a huge (and potentially pricey) decision, so before you click “Buy” on the most cutting-edge, massive speaker system out there, know that you’ll need plenty of space for a full surround-sound system; speakers are inter-connected and should never be placed inside your furniture, so a bit of roominess is definitely required. If you do have the space, consider a Klipsch high-definition home theater ($289) or the Fluance Surround Sound Home Theater ($250).

3. Sound Bar ($150-$250)

Waffling between surround-sound or a sound bar? It usually boils down to room size – a sound bar is recommended for home theaters under 13×12 feet – and not price, as many often assume. (Quality sound bars top out at $1,500+.) The great news: if you have a small room, you can still enjoy top-notch sound with systems like the VIZIO 5.1 Channel Sound Bar ($248) or the Samsung 3.1 Channel Wireless Audio Soundbar ($328).

4. Subwoofer ($200-$250)

What are good speakers without a powerful subwoofer behind them? Weak and pathetic – that’s what. The features you look for will depend on your room, your system, and your goals, but the bottom line is – don’t under-budget on this component. The right subwoofer will breathe life into your home theater. Reliable workhorses include the Polk Audio 12-Inch Powered Subwoofer ($248) and the BIC America 12-Inch 475-Watt Powered Subwoofer ($213).

5. Receiver ($150-$600)

Your audio/visual receiver may not be sexy, but it’s the hub of your home theater. And in the world of home theater receivers, they all offer the basics, like supporting 5.1 surround sound, 3D compatibility, and other now-standard features. That said, price boils down to the features you need, ranging from entry-level (ex. the $150 Yamaha R-S202BL Stereo Receiver) to mid-level (ex. the $600 Denon AVR-X3200W 7.2-Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Receiver with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi). Super high-end receivers are not required for anything but the most cutting-edge (and ultra-expensive) home theater.

6. Blu-ray Player ($350)

You have the screen, you have the sound, you have the accessories – now you need the DVD player. The great news in Blu-ray is that even the highest-end player is still somewhat affordable: under $350 will get you 3D and ultra HD capabilities. Keep in mind that, as with all new technology, a savvy consumer reads reviews and chooses a reliable machine, like the Samsung UBD-K8500 3D Wi-Fi 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player ($318). And you may be surprised to know, your PS4 and Xbox One will both play 3D Blu-ray movies; UHD capabilities are not yet available.

7. Cables, Surge Protector, etc. ($100)

Finally, a category made for savings! Subwoofer cable ($16), speaker wire ($11), surge protectors ($37), HDMI cable ($14) – these products have been around awhile, so there’s plenty of market competition and prices are good. The general rule: don’t go rock-bottom, but don’t feel the need to buy the fanciest products, either.

Happy viewing!

About Erin Raub

Erin is a contributing author at Watchdog Reviews. She's been writing about tech trends and products and other topics since 2013.

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