Home Theater design guide for equipment and How much does a Home Theater cost? Part 1

If you are thinking about adding a home theater room, what are the important factors to consider to make sure you have a system that meets your desires and budget?

When we buy a new car we are used to selecting a vehicle and picking the options that are most important to us. We don’t have much trouble adding in options on a new vehicle because we know that we will very likely drive the car every day for a few years. We even add small options that can affect our daily driving experience. We know this is an investment that we will live with for years.

This sense of good investment and value for the amount of time used may be amplified when we select technology for our home, especially in a theater. We expect the investment in technology and design to serve us for even more years than a new automobile. Things like the comfort and aesthetic of the space, screen size, viewing distance, ventilation and comfort control, sound, and ambient light all contribute to a viewing experience that will make us love using our theater/media room and make it enjoyable for our family and friends as well. 

Let’s take a deeper look at two primary pieces of theater equipment (screen and projector) and why they might be more or less important in our decision making matrix.

Screen size: This is a relatively easy one on the cost matrix because the price change based on screen size doesn’t vary very much (unless we get into a huge 200” plus range). We commonly install screens ranging from 110” (all measurements for screens are the diagonal - this is true even when the format varies) to 160”. Once you get bigger than 160” it would be for a very special room height. A traditional high quality screen that will reproduce black levels reasonably well, with a light absorbing frame, and the mounting mechanism will start in the $1,500 range. Common sizing would go up to 133”. The price would only vary by about $500.

Screen type: Something that drives screen prices, more than the size, is the type of material that is used. Screen Innovations pioneered the field of what is known as: ambient light rejecting screen material. We will consider a detailed explanation of screen material  in another article. This article will explain the advantages, benefits, and problems of different screen materials in different types of rooms and applications as well as how this technology works.

In short, ambient light rejecting material has a special composition and multiple layers which control the way light is reflected back to you. The light from the projector is meant to be reflected back to your eye but lights in the room or from a window are not meant to reflected back. On some screens this light may create a washed out look or areas that are difficult to see the projected material. Higher quality screen material does not reflect this unwanted light. High tech screen material generally doubles the cost of the screen. For example a 120” screen using different variations of this material would be $3200 - $5200. There are some significant advantages to using this type of material even in rooms where you don’t have light coming from windows. The black levels produced from this material are amazing. The extra money spent on a higher quality screen will make the projector’s technology really shine.

It’s hard to emphasize enough how this relatively small investment on the front end can really make your theater/media room exceptional and much more versatile in the long run. A higher quality screen can handle a wider array of lighting conditions. If you prefer having the lights on when watching a sporting activity so that it is easier for guests to mingle and interact - a higher quality screen material is the right choice.

Home Theater design guide for equipment and How much does a Home Theater cost? Part 1


Projector: This is the other integral part of the screen equation. These will also vary widely in quality and price. Generally the projectors we use in our projects range from $5k to $25k. (Laser technology was recently released and started in the $50k range, however there are some excellent choices in the $10-$25k range now).

Sony models that are available in laser technology range from $20-$25k. Standard light source models range from $5-$15k. There are some other quality projectors, from manufacturers like JVC, that are also available in this price range. Laser projectors are becoming more popular and production costs are coming down. When choosing between a laser or standard projector a look at overall maintenance costs for the long term may be a deciding factor. One advantage of the laser projector is that the lamp module for laser is often rated at over 20,000 hours, similar to a TV. You probably would never need a replacement lamp module like a traditional projector.

When we are deciding to buy a new car, first we have to narrow our choices down the make and model. Next we choose the options like upholstery, trim, and sound system. The same is true with our home theater, first we decide on what type of screen and projector are going to give us the experience we are dreaming of. The next step is choosing the other options (sound, seating, lighting, etc.) that will make the room complete.

The next articles will provide more details on additional Home Theater options.