When it comes to watching movies, nothing beats the experience of seeing a movie at the theater. But with the right home theater system, you can certainly come pretty darn close.
In this post, we’ll explore how much it costs to build your own home theater system and consider if it’s worth the investment or not.
What is a Home Theater System?
A home theater system is a series of electronic components designed to give you the visual and audio experience of watching a movie as if you were at the theater.
Most modern movies are shown in high-definition and broadcast through surround-sound speakers, making the audience feel immersed within the movie and at the center of the action. By contrast, because television screens are limited in size and only have two speakers mounted in front, you can’t recreate this same feeling no matter how high-end your TV is.
As movie sound and visual quality continue to improve, you’ll, unfortunately, miss out on all of these viewing benefits until you upgrade your viewing and audio equipment
What are the Components of a Home Theater System?
If you’re thinking about putting together a home theater system, then here are some of the devices you’ll need to consider.
TV or Projector and Screen
For the visual part of the experience, you’ll want to have a device that can show the movies in high resolution. Generally, a fairly large high-definition television is a good starting point. The latest models are 4K Ultra HD, meaning they have 3,840 horizontal pixels by 2,160 vertical pixel resolution.
You can expect to pay anywhere from $500 on up, depending on the size and brand. Don’t forget: You’ll also need either a wall mount or a piece of furniture to sit the TV on. This can cost another $200 to $400 easily.
If you’re looking for more of a theater-type feel, you could also decide to go with a video projector and screen combination. Video projection systems will be more expensive and may require additional installation and planning. However, they will also give you a much larger viewing experience without sacrificing any video quality.
Expect to pay approximately $1,500 for 4K introductory video projection systems. These can then become progressively more expensive as you increase in device quality.
Sound System and Receiver
The main difference between watching a movie on an ordinary television versus a home theater system is the sound. Home theaters are designed to transmit sounds to speakers placed strategically around the viewer while producing higher and lower sounds that you would never normally hear through your TV.
The cheapest option for enhancing your movie-watching experience is to purchase a soundbar. A soundbar is simply a high-end speaker that sits in front of your TV. It can be easily set up in a matter of minutes and will cost as little as $200 or more for a semi-decent brand.
If you truly want the experience of surround sound, then the next thing to do would be to purchase a complete “theater-in-a-box” system. This will be a complete system consisting of several speakers and a receiver. Prices generally start around $500 for a budget system.
If you’d prefer, you can choose to buy each piece individually (the speakers, subwoofer, receiver). Prices will vary depending on the model but expect the sky to be the limit.
To play your movies, you’ll also need a digital media player. Currently, Ultra HD Blu-ray disc players are the top choice on the market.
Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have also made several advancements in the image and sound quality they deliver. You’ll want to make sure that your streaming device (such as a Roku or Amazon Fire Stick) has the proper capacity to deliver the increased data.
Don’t forget that for your home entertainment system, you’ll also need certain accessories such as:
Depending on the type of room you plan to use, you may also have to consider sound-dampening materials or reinforcements to keep things like closet doors from vibrating.
If you’d really like to go high-end, then you could also consider other immersive extras like specialized lighting, leather recliners, or stadium seating platforms.
Putting all of this together, you could estimate that a home theater system will cost anywhere from $2,000 to as much as $33,000. Approximately $400 to $1,500 of price would be for installation labor alone.
At the low end of the spectrum, you could expect a bare-bones system to consist of a:
On the high-end of the spectrum, a system of this caliber would be much more extensive and consist of a:
- 2.40:1 projector
- 130-inch Innovations Black Diamond screen
- Dolby Atmos surround sound
- Stadium seating inside a sound conditioned room
Home Theater Value vs Going to the Movies
If you’d like the in-theatre experience, then you could always (of course) just go to the movies directly.
The average price of a movie ticket in the U.S. is $9.16. When you consider a family of 4 and refreshments, the price can easily jump to $50 or more per trip.
Before COVID, it was estimated that the majority of people saw movies infrequently; somewhere between once per year and less than once per month. If we make a conservative estimate that this is 6 times per year, then we can say that a family might spend 6 x $50 = $300 per year at the movies.
Therefore, given the home theater price range above, we can calculate that it would take the following to recoup the value of your investment:
- Low-end home theater: $2,000 / $300 = 6.7 years
- High-end home theater: $33,000 / $300 = 110 years!
Though the budgetary options may provide you with some at-home movie viewing enhancement, anything beyond this may not be financially viable.
The Biggest Caveat of All
Perhaps the biggest advantage of seeing movies in the theater is that theaters will always have new releases. Unless the movie is available for an early release via a streaming service, then you may have to wait several months before it’s available for release on Blu-ray.
The Bottom Line
If you’re hoping to save some money by recreating the movie-going experience with a home theater, don’t. It will likely be cheaper for you to continue going to the real theaters. However, if you’re an absolute movie lover and don’t care about the financials, then there are plenty of options for you to enjoy movies on many levels of budgets.