Building a Home Theater on a Budget: Part 3, Phase 1 Complete!

This scene from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shows my new home theater in action!

So, phase 1 of Building a Home Theater on a Budget is complete. I have almost zero decorations, no wall or window treatments, no acoustic tiles or soundproofing, no fancy wall sconces with dimmable lighting, and no popcorn machine in the non existent lobby.

What I do have is a 125″ screen filled with awesomeness and backed by as much sound as I can handle, and all for just over $2000.

Now before I get to the pictures and the tips, I do want to address one more thing.


The best theater in the world is an empty hole in your house if you don’t have something to show on it. And while Blu-rays are an excellent way to showcase your theater, you also want to see the big game on the big screen, and for that, you need a TV signal. A roof antenna, Cable, and satellite all have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, cable and satellite signals are compressed to use the limited bandwidth more efficiently. That means you lose some picture detail. You also have limits in processing speed of your components, which can also limit your picture quality. If you’ve ever watched football on a big screen, you may have noticed that at times when there’s a lot going on, the field looks a little blurry. That’s what I’m talking about. You are up against the limits of either your processor or your TV source. Here is where over the air signals have an advantage. While the transmitter may compress the signal some, it is nowhere near as much as cable or satellite, which means you have the opportunity to receive much more detail. Also, over the air broadcasts may be in 1080p instead of 1080i, which again, gives you more detail. (In essence, the difference is that ‘i’ means only half the picture refreshes each cycle, while ‘p’ means the whole picture refreshes each time.)

I live out in the sticks, so I have an amplified antenna($30) for over the air. It does a decent job, but one future upgrade will be a roof mounted flat antenna.

I also have satellite, and I upgraded my DISH network equipment to the Hopper to make sure I had an HD signal in every room.

The bottom line is that you want the best quality sources you can get to start with to take advantage of every beautiful inch of that screen.

Okay, enough talking.  Let’s get on with the pictures!

  • 1-mount 1 of 10

    Take a look at the lag bolts I used to install the mount. I predrilled pilot holes for the bolts and made sure they went directly into the joists. I wanted to make sure the mount could support me, not just the projector! Also, notice that the mount has a horizontal slot cut to allow for side to side adjustment. This makes centering your projector lens much easier.

    A good mount will allow you to adjust side ti side, up and down, and tilt, which will allow you to make sure your projector is parallel to the screen. SOme projectors have adjustment images built in which will help you achieve the best possible alignment.

  • 2-outlet 2 of 10

    I modified the electrical box used to mount a ceiling light to hold an outlet instead. This is something that you may want to get an electrician to do for you if you aren't experienced with dealing with electricity. If you do decide to do the work yourself, make absolutely sure the breaker supplying power to the lights is open. Depending on how the lights are wired, just turning off the switch may not remove the power from the box.

    In the near future, I plan on adding a flat plug adapter to the outlet to keep the cord from sticking straight out like that. I will also paint the cord to blend with the ceiling.

  • 3-connections 3 of 10

    Getting the signal to the projector is crucial, but here's a tip. HDMI cables come in two flavors, very expensive and very cheap. They both work the same way and there is not a nickel's worth of difference between a 25' cable you order online for $11 and the one you pick up at the big box store for $125.

    You can pay more if you really want to, but $110 will buy a lot of Blu-rays.

    The smaller wire is the trigger wire for the screen. When the projector turns on, the screen comes down and vice versa.

  • 4 wire management 4 of 10

    In the last couple of pictures and in this one, you can see that I've routed the wire through some simple plastic tubing. I bought it at my local hardware store and it came with double sided tape to stick it to the walls. For the ceiling, I ignored the tape and installed the tube with dry wall screws.

    Run the screws before the cables!

    I still have a little more work to do on my cables, but my system isn't fully finished yet so I am keeping some options open.

  • 5-screen 5 of 10

    In this shot, you see the chain I used to hand my screen. The hooks are inexpensive ones I found at the hardware store. I made sure that they were screwed into joists just like the projector mount.

    As an upgrade, I plan on building a mounting box to hide the screen body and to rigidly mount the screen to the ceiling, but for now, the weight of the screen and the bottom bar are enough to keep it from moving.

  • 6-seating 6 of 10

    When you settle in for the 11 hour Lord of the Rings marathon, you'd better have a comfy chair and these do the trick. Storage in the center console, cup holders, rocking motion and recliners; what more could you ask for?

    Well, it turns out that when you recline the chairs, the center section gets in the way, interfering with conversation. In some marriages, this may actually be a feature, not a bug.

  • 7-movie theater 7 of 10

    This scene from Iron Man 3 shows off the system. While an image can't capture just how impressive the picture is, it can give you an idea of the scale of the image.

    Sometimes, size does matter.

  • 8-lights on 8 of 10

    One of the things you want to check when you select a projector is how well it works in a room that is not completely dark. This projector is rated for 2000 lumens, and you can see that the image still pops off the screen even with some ambient lighting.

    I've watched football in the afternoon with the curtains open and haven't had any problems.

  • 9-in the dark 9 of 10

    But in the dark, the projector really shines. (Pun not intended.) I almost feel like Coulsen is in the room with me while watching Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.

    You can almost feel him breathing.

    If he still breathes, that is.

  • 10-control 10 of 10

    Finally, you need a way to control all the equipment. I've never spent more than $15 on a remote in my life, but I plopped down $129.99 for this one. It comes with an Android/iPhone app that gives you complete control of your system from your tablet or smartphone. But more importantly, once you get it configured, you can start up your system with one press of a button.

    I can press one button and it will turn on my projector, lower the screen, turn on the stereo and place it on the right setting. It's so simple even I can do it.

    Configuring it, on the other hand, is not so simple. Instructions are vague and hard to find, but putting in the effort is worthwhile as it makes your system much easier to operate.

Like I said earlier, it’s still pretty ugly to look at, but the picture is gorgeous!

I’ll be doing small projects over the next several months to dress it up including:

  1. Building and installing new shelving to hold the movies and the components. I’ll put additional shelving on the wall where the keyboard sits now. It will help with the acoustics of the room.
  2. Paint the walls a neutral brown color, with some trim and variations to add style and interest. Paint is cheap and can go a long way towards dressing up a room.
  3. Adding wall and baseboard trim both for a finished look and to give me a place to permanently route and hide wires and cables.
  4. Adding a riser and a back row of seating to expand the theater capacity to 7.
  5. Getting all the junk out of the room.

These are all projects that are short on cash requirements and long on sweat equity, which is exactly what my budget needs right now. IN the future, I’ll address bigger projects like:

  1. Painting the ceiling to reduce reflections.
  2. Installing carpet for better acoustics.
  3. Installing wall lighting and zone lighting for more atmosphere.
  4. Upgrading the sound system.

And I have to keep in mind that my goal is not a dedicated home theater, but a versatile room that is comfortable and useful, even when the monster screen is put away.

So let me know what you think. If you have any tips and tricks for me to consider as I move forward let me know!  I’m going to keep readng and researching, looking for inexpensive ways to add even more bang for the buck to this project!

And I’ll let you know what I find!