Essential Gear for the Ultimate Home Theater Setup
You've dreamed of having a movie theater setup, but you're just not sure where to start? Don't worry! Though it may seem like a daunting task to transform your living space into an ultimate entertainment venue, we've prepared a handy guide to walk you through everything you need.
1. )The Projector - the cornerstore of your home cinema
The projector is the foundation upon which you'll build the home theater of your dreams. Picking a projector based only on price will likely result in a less than optimal setup. It's important to make sure you choose one that works well for the environment you'll be using it in.
Consider the brightness, contrast, connectivity options and placement flexibility of the projector. We'll cover each of these in brief, with links to further information if you would like more details.
Resolution - if you're considering a home theater projector, either 1920 x 1080 HD or a 4K / UHD projector is the way to go. 4K content is growing every day, and the 4K UHD projectors available now will ensure your purchase is future proof.
Brightness is measured in lumens, with most home theater projectors falling between 1,300 to 2,500 lumens. Generally speaking, the lower the lumen value, the lower the lights need to be in the room for a good image. Higher lumen projectors can still create great looking images under some ambient light, though you may sacrifice some contrast.
Speaking of contrast, this is one specification you might want to take with a grain of salt. Since there is no standardized way of measuring dynamic contrast, the numbers can vary by a lot. If possible, look for comparison images or consider asking one of our projector experts for advice - we've seen most of these projectors in action and will give you honest feedback.
Inputs & Connectivity - think about everything you'd like to hook up to your projector. This could include your cable box, video game system, blu-ray player, and maybe even your laptop. At a minimum, look for a projector with 2 or more HDMI inputs and a VGA input. MHL ready HDMI inputs are great if you're looking to take your projector on the road or outdoors, as they support video streaming sticks, like the Roku or Chromecast.
Last but not least, is placement flexibility. While you could just put your projector on a table and then move it around to fit the screen, most people choose to mount the projector to the ceiling. Depending on your room's architecture, your projector may sit high or be positioned slightly off to the side of the screen. If this is the case, you'll want a projector that has a vertical / horizontal lens shift option. This will allow you to slide the image to match the screen dimensions, without physically moving the projector.
Check out some of our top selling home theater projectors.
2. )The Screen - it's not just size that matters
"You date your projector, but you marry your screen." Not sure who actually said this, but we would agree.
With that in mind, consider these 3 things:
- Size of the room where you'll be using your projector
- Lighting control for the room
- Seating distance from the screen
- Whether you want the screen in view at all times
How big the screen should be is really up to you - and of course the wall it will be hanging on or in front of. Generally speaking, you're getting a projector because you want a big picture, so we recommend you go as big as you can without giving yourself a headache. Our projector experts can assist you in figuring out the perfect size, but as a basic rule, you want the screen to be around 2/3 the distance to the front row seating. For example, if you get a 120 inch (10 foot) screen, you should be sitting around 16 feet away. But everyone's preferences are different, so just take this as a general recommendation. Pro tip: If you're watching 4K content, you can sit a few feet closer.
Aspect Ratios : For home theater, your 2 main choices are 16:9 (which is what 99% of all flat screen TVs use) and 2.35:1 for the cinema lovers. The 2.35:1 is great for watching most movies, but for TV and sports, you'll wind up with black bars on the side. This may or may not bother you, but there are options available to lessen this effect (e.g. drapes, like at the movie theater)
Lighting conditions : This is important to think about, not just when selecting your projector, but also for the screen. When shopping screens, you'll see something called a 'gain', usually running between .8 and 1.4. A standard screen is a 1.0 and is suitable for most conditions, while a lower gain screen (under 1.0) is sometimes used in cinema type conditions with almost no ambient light. This enhances the contrast of the image and deepens the blacks. Higher gain models (1.1+) tend to create brighter images, which can help in rooms with some ambient light, but with higher gains there is also a risk of 'hot spots' or glare from the screen. If you're unsure, our projector experts can help you find the right screen for your projector environment.
Looking for the ultimate screen? Check out Screen Innovations 7 Series Black Diamond
3. )The Sound System - great sound is critical for immersion
While there are some projectors that do include built-in speakers, this is not a recommended choice for your home theater setup. You're watching movies, sports or playing games on the big screen, so you're going to want big sound to go along with it.
Your traditional 2 channel stereo setup is better than nothing, but there are much better options available to the home theater enthusiast nowadays. For ultimate immersion, we recommend going with a 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos system, like this one from Onkyo. Not only are you enveloped with sound from front to back and both sides, but the Atmos adds a 3rd dimension that places sound above the listener! This creates unbelievably realistic ambience and makes you feel like you're actually in the scene.
If you've already got some banging speakers but need something to connect all of your video devices, then consider a Harman Kardon or Onkyo AVR home theater receiver. This makes management of all your AV systems (cable, satellite, video games, projectors, tvs) easy as they allow for a multitude of HDMI inputs. Switching from one thing to the other can all be done from one remote.
4. )The Mount - your home theater support system
Not a lot to say here, other than if you'd like to keep your projector off a shelf or living room table, you're going to need a mount to hang it from the ceiling.
Before you mount anything though, you have to make sure the projector is in the right position. You can use the projector calculator for your projector (found on the product detail page) to figure out its zoom, throw distance and vertical/ horizontal lens shift. After you know all those things, you can go ahead and install the mount.
When selecting a mount, make sure to choose one that can support the weight of your projector, and offers adjustments for roll, pitch and yaw. This lets you swivel the projector in 3 dimensions while on the mount, in order to dial in the perfect image.
Our top recommended mounts are:
5. )Cables or Wireless? - the choice is yours
While you'll still need a physical power cable to get power to the projector, you are no longer restricted to running wire across the room or through the walls to get an actual image. Advancements in wireless connectivity over the last few years have been dramatic, and we have no problem recommending some proven wireless solutions.
4K projector shoppers - quality HDMI cables are critically important for ensuring signal strength, especially when dealing with HDR content. Check out our selection of high speed 4K HDMI cables here. If you're looking to stream a 4K signal, we encourage you to check out the new 4K Roku Ultra Streaming Device.
Some of the newer projectors have MHL-enabled HDMI ports, which allows you to plug in a streaming video stick (like the Chromecast or Roku stick ) to the projector, without the need for additional power. As long as you're in range of your wireless router, you can access a multitude of video services, including Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, and more.
If you want to stream content from your cable box or Blu-ray player though, you'll need a separate wireless adapter or dedicated wireless kit. We've tested many of them, and our favorite is the Optoma WHD200 Wireless HDMI Transmitter/ Receiver. We like this one because it allows for two inputs to be connected at one time, and streams HD video like a champ!