While this is one of the most common questions we get, it can be difficult to estimate a budget without knowing the details of the project. Just as it would be difficult to tell someone how much a house costs. They come in all different shapes and sizes and nearly every aspect of a home can be customized. In order to calculate how much it will cost to build a home theater, you first need to nail down some of the specifics.
What is a True Custom Home Theater Room?
A home theater is a dedicated room in your house built for the purpose of enjoying movies, television, sports, and gaming. These rooms are designed to provide a true cinema experience -- they’re typically a closed room (to give you complete control of light and sound) and feature a front-projector instead of a TV -- a consumer version of what you would expect to find at your local movie theater.
If you’re looking for a more multi-purpose family room with a TV -- perhaps something open to your kitchen or used in a variety of ways other than entertainment, this is typically referred to as a Media Room. We have plenty of thoughts and experience when it comes to media room design, but that is a discussion for another day.
As we’ve heard from thousands of customers over the years, a well-designed home theater room will quickly become your favorite room in the house. As with anything, the devil is in the details. Let’s take a look at what it will take to help you start putting a budget together for your dedicated home theater.
Room Design, Layout, and Acoustics
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume that you already have a finished room picked out. Perhaps it’s a bonus room above the garage, a spare bedroom, or a finished basement. If you do not have a finished room, you can probably expect between $50 to $250 per square foot to build out a room from scratch. Of course, this also depends on your location, the level of construction needed, and the quality of materials you choose.
Once you’ve picked the room, you may be excited to jump straight into picking out all of the gear and the popcorn machine -- but you’re forgetting the most important and most often overlooked aspect of any custom home theater project -- the room design.
It never ceases to amaze us when we find a room full of great equipment that was put in the wrong places, or in a room that sounded awful acoustically! Getting this right requires knowledge of how the speakers will react with the room and usually requires taking measurements, doing some tests, and creating some drawings to make sure everything is perfect. Keep in mind that if you want multiple rows of seating, expect riser construction to cost in the $1,800-$3,000 range
This includes determining:
While it’s nice to have a beautiful picture and loud booming sound effects, when it all comes down to it, the most important part of a movie is the dialogue. If you can not understand the dialogue, you can not follow along with the plot. If you can not only understand it, but hear all the subtle emotions of the characters you will be magically transported to feeling like you are part of the movie.
Acoustic treatments can make average equipment sound great, and great equipment sound amazing! You can spend as little as $500 for some basic panels up to $10,000-$30,000 depending on the size of your room and how far you want to take it. At Audio Advice, we have been designing home theaters for over 25 years. In that time, we have never had a client tell us they could not hear a huge improvement after we installed their acoustic treatments.
Work With a Professional to Design Your Room
Find a local provider who specializes in home theater design. Of course, if you’re near Expect to pay somewhere in the $500-$3,000 range for a professional design. It’s money well-spent to ensure that you’re getting the right layout and equipment for the room.
Once you have a great design, you can jump back into picking out the equipment, furniture, and decor.
Choosing Your Home Theater Equipment
Let’s start in our favorite place -- the equipment! If you’ve ever been to a big box store and seen low-end “home theater in a box” (HTIB) systems for a few hundred dollars, you probably realize that prices for this stuff is all over the map. We wouldn’t recommend putting the time and money into a custom home theater if you’re going to put a cheap system in, but you can probably expect to spend anywhere from $7,500 up on all of the equipment.
While you may be expecting us to start with the projector itself, this technology tends to become outdated more often than some of the other components in your system. Instead, we are going to start with the areas we think are the best investments and move down from there.
The Projector Screen
We can not stress enough how important the screen is. You will probably have it for decades if you get a good one. It’s as important as the projector to producing a great picture.
As an example, a decent 120” 16:9 screen is typically going to start around $1,800. The really good ones of the same size will be a little above $3,000- and worth every penny. Typically, anything less and you are not going to get all of the performance your projector is capable of.
Surround Sound Speaker System
Right along with the projector screen, another area we highly recommend you invest is the speakers. We are constantly remodeling 20+ year old theaters and reusing the great speaker package they’ve always had, just adding more speakers and newer components to give them the latest surround sound effects. Money spent here is well worth it. No one has ever told us they spent too much on speakers!
When you designed your theater, you determined the speaker configuration. Depending on which you selected, you may have anywhere from five speakers and a sub in a traditional 5.1 surround sound system all the way up to nine speakers and two subs for the newest object-based surround sound systems like Dolby Atmos or DTS-X.
Front and Center Channel Speakers
We recommend spending at least $400 per speaker for the main front three. These are more important than your surrounds (or rears). The center channel is particularly important because it’s where 80% of the dialogue comes from in movies and TV shows.
Get in the $1,500 each price range and you will start to be able to recreate the impact of those big special effects.
Decent subs will start at around $500 each and can go as high as you can imagine. If you are a big action movie buff, the sub is not the place to pinch your pennies. Two is also always better than one for the most even bass around your room.
Effects Channels (Side and Surround Speakers)
For the effects channels, which now include Atmos in ceiling, your sides and rears, pick something in the $400 per pair range and up. Again there is a wide range of choices out there and quality goes up usually with the price. We do not think you need to spend as much on the surrounds as the front three.
Home Theater Projectors
Each year brings a slate of new models offering better performance than their predecessors.
It has been really fun to see how front projection technology has improved over the years. The $1,500 front projectors available now surpass the $20,000 models of just 15 years ago! This is a good starting place, but we wouldn’t recommend going any lower than this. Less expensive models are typically more for business applications like conference rooms and do not offer the same features as front projectors design for home theaters.
If you’re interested in the latest and greatest and your budget allows for it, you can expect to pay from $10,000 all the way up to $60,000 or more on a front projector that includes features like widescreen or 2:35 aspect ratio, 4K, and great video processing.
One more thing to consider when looking at front projectors is the cost of the lamp. While the life of these lamps have improved over the years, a typical projector today has an average life expectancy of around 6,000 hours before it will need to be replaced. Looking into the cost of the replacement lamp for your particular model is something you may want to consider before making a purchase.
Home Theater Receivers
Your home theater receiver is the brain of your system. All of the surround sound processing, video switching, and amplification for your speakers happens inside your home theater receiver.
The amps inside a home theater receiver are very important. To get the full impact of the dynamics of special effects, they need to be able to control your speakers very well. Yes, you can buy an all in one home theater receiver for as low as $149, but this type of unit will have a very low-quality amplifier section and will not do justice to the speakers if you took our recommendations in the previous section. To get something that sounds great, you should expect to pay around $800 and up.
If you’re into a more high-end system and it fits into your budget, you can purchase a separate home theater processor and multi-channel amplifier. This will not only give you better sound but is also scalable in the sense that you can probably keep the amps for 20+ years and only switch out your processor every 5-10 years as technology improves. These components will typically start out in the $3,000 range and go up depending on how many channels of amplification you get and the power levels.
Now that we’ve picked out your equipment, your next consideration should be the seating.
Home Theater Seating
Before we discuss your seating options, we want to make sure we circle back to the design stage for a second. If you are planning on having multiple rows of seating and didn’t work with a professional to design your theater, you may wind up having sight line issuesonce you get your furniture in the room. There is nothing worse than someone’s head blocking your view. The flip side of this is having a screen that is too high off the floor which gives you neck pain when you strain to look up at it.
We’ve seen all kinds of furniture in the home theaters we’ve designed, from your typical home theater chairs to large comfy couches. Of course, the two factors that determine how much you will spend on seating are the prices of each piece of furniture and the number of pieces you will buy.
Home theater seating spans a wide price range from just a few hundred dollars a seat of the made in China variety to the European or US made seating that can run as much as $7,000/per seat. You do want to be comfortable while sitting there for two hours plus enjoying a movie.
We highly recommend you consider getting decent quality seating. Some of the inexpensive types may seem like a great deal at first but not so much after a couple of years when the padding starts to give out. Generally, if you choose something above around $800/seat you will get decent quality. The really good stuff seems to start at around $2000/seat.
Brands like Salamander, CinemaTech, United Leather, and Row One by Jasper Cabinet provide tons of options and customizations from materials and colors to endless configurations.
Professional Installation and Calibration
Just as the design of the room is often overlooked when building a custom home theater budget, so is the installation and calibration of the components.
We suspect more than half of the nice home theaters in America today have the home theater receiver set to the factory defaults. We see this all the time when we go in to upgrade our customer's theaters. Calibrating all of the options available on today’s home theater receivers is critical to getting what you paid for. Properly calibrating the settings on your projector, how the speakers are placed, and all of the settings involved are where the difference is made between a room full of equipment and a true movie theater experience.
Of course, home theater installation costs will vary based on your room specifications, the equipment involved, the acoustics of the room, and many other factors. Keep in mind that most professionals opt to only install equipment that they sell. By helping you select the equipment, we can guarantee that everything will work together as expected. Having to piece together a system that may or may not be ideal (and taking responsibility for the end result) is risky. We want our customers to be happy, and working with you to choose the right elements is a critical piece of the process.
Bringing Your Home Theater to Life
Now that you have the room design and all of the critical components chosen and installed, all that’s left are the details that really bring your room to life. Details like the carpet you choose, curtains on either side of the screen, walls sconces on the side walls, and a popcorn machine can make all the difference.
For a truly unique look, ask your provider if they work with any interior designers that they would recommend. The right interior designer can help bring the room to life, whether you want to keep it simple or create a fully-themed room.
As you can see, there is a wide range of options that make the answer to “What does a home theater cost?” really difficult to pin down. As a starting point, you can expect to spend $10,000 on a private home theater room.
At Audio Advice, we have designed award-winning, high-end theaters in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but most of the custom theaters we build range from $10,000 to $50,000. When you consider the average kitchen renovation today costs you $30,000, this is pretty reasonable. A well-designed home theater is an investment that will bring fun and entertainment to you and your family for years to come.
If you are located within a few hundred miles of Raleigh or Charlotte, North Carolina and have any questions or would like to discuss your home theater project, please feel free to contact one of our home theater designers or chat us online.
If you already have a setup and you are looking to upgrade your Home Theater Speakers or Home Theater Receiver, be sure to check out our Best Home Theater Speakers and Best Home Theater Receivers articles.
Our Home Theater Buyers Guide is also available. This guide is a deep dive into how to purchase a new Home Theater System.