Home theater systems can easily cost many thousands of dollars, and that’s just for buying the hardware and putting it all together yourself. When you bring in a professional custom installer to build your dream home theater, you can quickly run into prices with five or six digits. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
You can build a home theater system with a big-screen 4K TV, surround sound, an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, and even a game console, for less than $1,000. Here’s how to do it.
Start With the TV: Hisense H8 or TCL 6 Series
You’ll want a big TV as the centerpiece of your home theater. Big is relative, though, considering you can now find screens as large as 75, 88, or even 120 inches. For the best balance of size and price, you’ll want to go with a 65-inch TV. It’s one of the most common screen sizes, and offers the widest selection of models. You can also get a 55-inch TV if you’re looking to save money and/or space.
Hisense and TCL are currently two of the best brands for budget-friendly TVs. They offer 65-inch screens for less than $500, but those aren’t necessarily the best choices. You don’t want to skimp on picture quality if you want your home theater to shine, so here is where you’ll want to “splurge” within your budget.
At a minimum, get a TV in the Hisense H8 or TCL 6 series. They offer fantastic contrast and color that rivals much more expensive TVs, while lower-end models like the TCL 4 and 5 series, and the Hisense H6 series, don’t look nearly as good. They also feature either Android TV or Roku TV, smart TV platforms that come packed with just about every major video streaming service. Current Hisense H8 and TCL 6 series TVs can be found in 65 inches for $600 to $800, or 55 inches for $400 to $600.
That said, if cash is tight and you really want a big TV, the TCL 4 series is solid, and readily available at 65 inches for less than $600. We’ve even seen the 75-inch model on sale for well under $1,000.
Add Audio: Roku or Vizio Surround Sound Systems
Most TVs have mediocre speakers, so at the very least you want a soundbar to dramatically improve volume and audio quality. The problem with a single soundbar is that it only offers stereo, or at best simulated surround on its own. It might be able to do some acoustic tricks to sound bigger, but you won’t get the same surround sound effect as if you had rear satellite speakers. So the natural answer is to get a soundbar with rear satellites, and throw a subwoofer in for good measure.
Vizio offers a wide selection of soundbar surround systems that combine all of those components. The SmartCast 40 and SmartCast 44 5.1 surround sound systems are available for $400 to $500, or you can get less powerful but more economical audio with the $250 SmartCast 36 system.
You can also go with Roku, which doesn’t offer a single surround system but has three inexpensive speakers that work very well together. The Roku Smart Soundbar, Roku TV Wireless Speakers, and Roku Wireless Subwoofer can all combine into a single surround sound system, with the wireless speakers serving as rear channels. It’s easy to set up, and surprisingly powerful for its size and price.
Roku offers the Smart Soundbar bundled with the Wireless Subwoofer for $300, and the TV Wireless Speakers are an extra $200, for a total price of $500. You can chop that price down considerably by going to Walmart and picking up the slightly less powerful but otherwise identical Roku Onn versions of the speakers. The Onn soundbar and subwoofer are $130 each, and the Onn speakers are $150, for a total surround system price of $410.
Finish With a Blu-Ray Player: Microsoft Xbox One S
If you plan to watch everything streamed over Wi-Fi or broadcast via cable and don’t want to deal with discs, you can stop reading now. If you’re like me, though, you like the idea of actually owning your favorite movies and being able to play them without an internet connection. Discs are still relevant, and are the most reliable way to watch what you want, when you want.
DVDs brought videos to optical disc form. Blu-rays boosted them to 1080p, which was great for high-definition TVs. We’re in the age of ultra high-definition, or 4K, now. That requires something better than Blu-ray: Ultra HD Blu-ray. It sounds similar to Blu-ray, but UHD-BD is a different type of disc, and it needs a player that can handle it.
That player is the Xbox One S. Yes, the video game system is a powerful Ultra HD Blu-ray player that can play your favorite disc-based movies at up to 4K resolution. It also has a good number of streaming apps on its own, so you can even use it as a media hub for your home theater.
The less expensive 500GB version of the system has been discontinued, and the 1TB version has a list price of $300, but don’t let that discourage you. We’ve seen them go for $190 to $250 on Amazon and Walmart, and you can get preowned ones from GameStop for $210 to $230. It’s pricey, but so are most other Ultra HD Blu-ray players. A regular Blu-ray player can be found for less than $100, but it won’t play those gorgeous 4K HDR movies on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.
Just make sure you don’t get the Xbox One S All-Digital edition. It’s cheaper, but it doesn’t have a disc drive at all, making it useless for your home theater.
While you’re at it, spend another $20 to $25 on an Xbox One remote. The Xbox One S comes with a controller, which you can use to control movie playback, but it’s clunky. The official remote has been discontinued, but PDP offers a third-party one that should work just as well.
What’s the Trade-Off?
So, with all of that in mind, you can mix and match home theater components to your heart’s content, but we’ve put together an idea of what you can get if you’re willing to spend $1,000 or $1,500.
The Cheapest Option
- 55-inch TCL 55S425: $380
- Vizio 32-inch 5.1 Soundbar SB3251n-E0: $230
- Xbox One S (preowned): $210
- PDP Talon Xbox One Remote: $22
- Total: $842
The Best Option
- 65-inch Hisense 65H8F: $700
- Roku Smart Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer: $300
- Roku TV Wireless Speakers: $200
- Xbox One S: $250
- PDP Talon Xbox One Remote: $22
- Total: $1,472
Of course, you can spend even more money on your home theater if you want to. Bigger, brighter screens, more speakers, and support for advanced features like Dolby Atmos can all be incorporated into your home entertainment system if you have the cash for it.
If you want to keep your home theater under $1,500, though, you’ll need to accept some compromises. You might not get Dolby Atmos or an OLED panel, but you’ll have everything you really need for a good home theater experience: a quality picture, solid surround sound, and lots of ways to play audio and video.