Introduction: Home Theater Under $500 (tips and Tricks)

Picture of Home Theater Under $500 (tips and Tricks)

I managed to construct a relatively large projection theater, by cutting corners, doing a little deal hunting, and making some things on my own. For under $500. Everything I have done can be scaled down for you on home, for either a temporary or permanent installation.

Step 1: Acquiring the Projector

If you have a projector, you can skip this step.

Otherwise, there are a few ways to go about getting an LCD projector for about $300. Personally I got mine from a friend who was selling one, similar to the price of comparable models on ebay.
Another way is to check local computer junk stores, thrift stores, and flea markets.

Be weary of cheap projectors without bulbs, if you are handy (or can wait around for me to write up my instructable on it) you can improvise your own bulb for ~20.

I'm a little too lazy to cite sources but if you are adventurous you can build your own from scratch.

Also do some research to make sure your projector has enough power to fill your selected wall or screen with the ambient light of the room... check manufacturers specs for this.

so $100-$300 for the projector

Step 2: The Screen

Picture of The Screen

You can get away with a crappy projector, but the screen is actually pretty important.
There are 3 options for a screen.

1. Buy a screen, at a store, surplus, flea market, whatever.

2. Make a screen Tyvek Projector Screen. This is a really good instructable, I have one of these for portable reasons.

3. Paint your wall. Obviously not the best solution for everyone but this is a one time setup, and as long as you can paint well you can make a great wall. This site Screen Goo has an extremely good product, and a wealth of information, especially regarding screen color. However it costs an arm and a leg.
My personal alternative was to use the site to figure out the right color, then I took that info to Sherwin Williams and got a flat latex paint and primer in that color. Since I was painting drywall I put on quite a few coats.
Something you want to keep a critical eye on is how evenly you apply the paint. Lines, bubbles, and missed spots will show up later, so make sure to keep some extra paint afterwards for touchups.

Paint/Screen: $50 or less

Step 3: Audio

Picture of Audio

Without good audio a picture is nothing.
If you want to go the surround sound route, you can go to Wallmart and pickup a cheapo surround sound for about $100, that give you Dolby 5.1, a built in DVD player, a sub, and small speakers.

However for just about the same you can put some hardcore serious sound into your home theater. It will require a bit of legwork and perhaps a bit of soldering iron work.
Make yourself aware of your local 2nd hand shops and flea markets, also check newspaper classifieds for old stuff, and garage sales.

I managed to get a pioneer receiver from the salvation army store for $20. It can put out 2 channels at 120Watts, or 4 channels at 80 watts. This refers to real watts, at 8 Ohms none of this 2, or 4 ohm garbage... this is a legitimately loud system.

As far as speakers go, I was able to get 2 sets for $20 a set. Unfortunately they were sold as is from the thrift store, one had a blown out crossover, various speakers were blown out, so I managed to take and make one functional set.

Furthermore If you have an old hifi stereo system, if would be a great opportunity to integrate it into the system.

Expect to pay between $40 and $100 for sound, although if you want to get really high quality, the sky is the limit, and this instructable is not for you.

Step 4: Putting It All Together.

Picture of Putting It All Together.

Cables... not a subject to be taken lightly. A crummy cable (especially run a long distance) can ruin quality. Monster brand cables are great, but your mostly paying for a flashy looking product, you can get the same quality out of store brand cables. Personally I went to a local radio shack as they were going out of business and got a crapload of their cables for 80% off. However buying cables is expensive, and in my case, the cables I needed to run to my projector had to be longer than what was offered at local stores. So another alternative is to make your own cables.

Making your own cables requires and entirely separate instructable. I'm sure they exist, but I am currently in the process of making one myself. If you know what you are doing, its cheap and easy to go to radio shack and buy $10 worth of connectors, and $10 worth of cable and hook it all up.

due to my projectors distance from the controls, I opted to run 1 cable to it and use an external selector box, my projector had audio controls built in, which I opted not to use, partly to save on cables, and partly because I did not trust its quality.

For best quality, S-video is must. I would spend the extra few dollars on it.
As a general rule of thumb the longer your run a cable, the more signal loss you experience, so try to put all your components as close together as possible.

cables $35 to $150

Step 5: Other Considerations

Picture of Other Considerations

Once you have your project well on its way to completion, there are a couple other things you might want to consider, although they don't necessarily fall into budget, they help to add to the experience.

Throwing this in line with your audio can seriously improve you sound. I managed to buy one off of ebay for $50. I would recommend setting the EQ to fit your room, and for the most part leaving it alone... if you want to tinker around you're best off using whatever EQ your receiver provides you with. This is also a good way to compensate for lousy speakers.... In my case I have a driver in my right channel that rattles at about 80hz and below... So i simply turned down the bass on the right channel. Cheaper than fixing it, and much quicker too.

-projector location
If you want to get the projector out of the way, you can build a simple shelf like I did, its all 2x4s and wood screws, its pretty self explanatory below. A little crude for in your home tho. You might also want to consider building a box around it, hiding it out of the way, or painting it to look like a cat. (its a little out there but if you can pull it off, good for you)

If your spanning a large area like me, make sure your front and rear speakers are about the same distance from the viewer, otherwise there will be a significant delay in the audio from either set of speakers. Some receivers have time correction, read you manual for more information on this. Also keep in mind your surroundings, you don't want your sound too muffled because there is too much in the room absorbing it, and more importantly you don't want your sound too blatty if you are in a wide open space with only sound reflective surfaces. This is something you'll have to judge for yourself.

-Frequency response
The wider the response the better your sound, and therefore your experience will be a better one. when throwing components together haphazardly like I did, be sure to check all of your audio components for their frequency response and be aware of any frequency dropoffs. Remember, the weakest link in this situation will bring your entire system down.

Step 6: Enjoy

Now you have an exceptionally high quality theater for the price, you can sit down naked in your favorite chair, eat KFC from the bucket, and talk on your cell phone as loud as you want while watching whatever: DVD, cable, sattelite, VHS, Nintendo Wii, betamax, DivX.... If it has a standard video out, you can watch it.

However I recommend sharing with your friends, in which case try to keep your pants on.

This was my first instructable, so pardon any mistakes or omissions I might have made.
I hope this is helpful for making or improving your home entertainment system, and I'm more than willing to answer any questions.


Redleather (author)2013-05-04

Don't skimp too much on the projector. Go here for the 2 Best HD Projectors for under $500

Ole bally (author)2012-11-12

I have a home theater system which runs through the DVD player. Thing is the dvd player drive doesn't work properly any more and I've upgraded the movie storage to a n hard drive and HDMI player.
Problem is that the dvd player doesn't have an 'aux audio IN' !
How can I have this thing wired so that I can plug the Audion out jacks on the TV into the amp within the dvd player to be able to utilise the surround sound?
I'd sure appreciate the help!
I don't have access to a Radio Shack or anything!

vov35 (author)2012-03-25

Real friends don''t make friends wear pants.

BiHGamer (author)2012-03-25

Hey, i found BENQ projector for like 35$ without bulb, can you please make a tutorial on the bulb ?

ac1D (author)BiHGamer2012-03-25

Most BenQ projector bulb go around for 30-70 $

Tolek (author)2012-03-25

I think, you should use

Coat paint and after that reflective paint:
Screen Goo Reference White (primer) (Reflective Coat)
Screen Goo Reference White (finish) (Finish Coat),Product.asp

Dimitrios (author)2011-11-04

Hello, you mentioned that you can improvise your own bulb.

I have a Vidikron Crystal III LCD projector, but the bulb needs replacing and I don't want to pay $250 for a bulb. The unit is only one lamp life old. But I have saved it for many years.

Can you or anyone if I can do a nifty trick or retrofit with a cheap light or by bypassing the light ballast/transformer and just my own type of light in there?
It has a projector light with a reflector. I'm thinking maybe use a car headlight bulb or something. Any help would be appreciated

albylovesscience (author)2009-08-07

do you live in a loft or somthing i know of no house that has any livingroom type basement room

what youve never seen a house with a finished basment are you kiding me. lol i live in an underground house the whole thing is a basment

the basement in my parents house is a nice big room perfect for a home theater

Rossiroller (author)2009-09-24

"How do you change the volume on the tv while the stereo is on at the same time? Why do you want to listen to the stereo and the tv at the same time? Because I like to party." Great Instructable

slothman (author)Rossiroller2011-02-11

great movie

kbhasi (author)2010-12-23


Jon123 (author)2010-05-15  You'll find everything you need to know about DIY projectors there.

sheepsimulator (author)2010-01-01

Good instructable.  I did something similar to this in college.

bwpatton1 (author)2009-01-21

I'm a very cheap person, so this is the right instructable for me.!~!~!~! I bought my surround sound from walmart for $40, it works great for me (but I dont have to have GREAT quality just somewhere between Little and medium) I plan to build a home theater system on about a budget of $200. Ja, Im cheap!

Hycro (author)2009-01-12

Yea, a lot of audio systems today can be garbage, the system on my computer isn't even designed for a computer, is only rated for a total of 250W (one 100W amp driving two 5 1/2" two way speakers, and a 150W amp driving two 10" subs) with one of the amps being made in '89, and the thing out-performs my mom's 1000W surround system, which was more than 3 times the cost of my set up, and my 250W 2.2 system out-performs in both sheer volume (even high-volume bass) and in quality. The amp I have for my subs is designed to be a stereo amp that can drive two 16 ohm speakers at 30W max continuous, two 8 ohm speakers at 40W max continuous, or two 4 ohm speakers at 50W max continuous.

Yerboogieman (author)2009-01-04

Yeah, craigslist doesnt have free projectors, and new projectors, arent cheap. :-)

ThatInstructablesGuy (author)2008-08-23

Great Instructable!

So you say you got a projector for 300$ Can you tell me the name of it? Or even better, can you tell me the resolution of it, and the display technology?

How did you get the image so big with a 300$ projector? Am I thinking on spending too much, or is that just a sweet deal?

I'll be doing something like this soon, so the sooner you can answer me the better :)

Thanks in advance!

Karnivore (author)2008-07-23

Whoa, this is thorough... It's a little bit out of my league money and experience-wise, but I'm bookmarking this one for the future. Great going! -Karnivore

kidNeutrino (author)2007-12-07

What color did you end up buying? Do you have the Sherman Williams number to share with us? thanks kN

Derin (author)kidNeutrino2008-07-10

its white

NickDeWolfe (author)2008-01-26

I have a real Goo screen. And while you may be able to simulate the basecoat portion of the won't get the same performance as the Topcoat. I watched my projector on the wall first...then on the basecoat for a day and then I did the topcoat. It was actually a pretty impressive gain in image quality. I am moving my set-up into my basement and I will use Goo again. Just my 2 cents worth.

slim_jim (author)2007-12-01

Might I suggest putting something on the screen worth seeing? The image doesn't really inspire.

VIPER2475 (author)2007-10-18

You can use my Automotive Head Light Projector Mod to revive a old projector.

bobparker (author)2007-07-11

Nice ideas. A few suggestions that may be helpful depending on budget/timeframe. often has projector screens a lot cheaper then most places (not $50, but might be worth it for some budgets). These sales tend to be very short term (over a weekend or just a day) - sign up for the goofy email list or see if someone can keep an eye out for you at the outlets stores (2 in Chicago area). The day after Thanksgiving (in the US) usually has some screaming deals, often on fair speakers for cheap prices. I usually pick up a pair every year and keep putting them around the house, or office or garage, or patio or friends or computer or.... Spring / early summer is the best time for Church Rummage sales, community Garage Sales, Flea Markets to keep an eye out for all sorts of speakers and old electronics equipment. If you find an extra receiver/amp - you can use it with a subwoofer to more easily control the bass depending on whether you are sharing your space with others (amazing how loud everything gets when she 'has to' go to bed). Keep up the good ideas.

Punkguyta (author)2007-06-29

[[Video(I think the most appropriate name for this instructable might have been "Poor man's DIY Home theater". Bignerd was right, this is a budget system, the fact that you tried to bring some kind of knowledge of hi end system setups into this and try to apply it to 1970's speakers kind of makes me worry. You were worried about putting the front speakers out of phaze? Well then why did you only turn the top one (smacks head)., {width:425, height:350})]]I think the most appropriate name for this instructable might have been "Poor man's DIY Home theater". Bignerd was right, this is a budget system, the fact that you tried to bring some kind of knowledge of hi end system setups into this and try to apply it to 1970's speakers kind of makes me worry. You were worried about putting the front speakers out of phaze? Well then why did you only turn the top one (smacks head). If you want to see a quick setup of what I have for a surround system, then take a look here:

Gamer6460 (author)2007-06-05

I guess it depends on how textured your walls are. I honestly couldn't help you, except to that that if you project on the wall now, and you can see the texture in the picture, it will most likely still be there after you paint it. The painting mostly serves to brighten the image, make sure there is nothing distracting your eye on the screen, and make the colors show up correctly. I would suggest hanging some sort of cloth over the wall... refer to the Tyvek screen

Bignerd100 (author)2007-06-04

Very resourceful scrounging of materials. I'm afraid that your advice on things involving sound quality were pretty far off the mark though. Granted you were doing this on a total budget less than that of ONE good speaker, but inaccurate information is worse than the omission. There is a loose hierarchy to the order in which technical aspects of sound quality should be given notice.

royalestel (author)Bignerd1002007-06-04

Hey share the wealth. Post the list so we can all have it right here. Perhaps then Gamer6460 can add it to the instructable so as not to lead anyone astray.

Bignerd100 (author)royalestel2007-06-05

Relative efficiencies of the replacement drivers, phase shifting with analog EQ, faux surround sound by playing stereo in the rear, define "loud" and what watts has to do with it, wide frequency response equating to quality, wire myths, etc. It's hard to nit-pick a supper budget set-up but the electronics industry is built on misinformation. Most of what you read on the outside of a box or in a stereo mag is just bunk. Your best bet if you were to try this for the stated budget would be to scrounge just as he has done. Buy matching pairs of functional speakers from the thrift store (a crappy pair that matches will sound better than a great pair that do not). Buy an old pro-logic receiver that was of high quality in it's day (Sony ES, Denon, Amfi, Nakamichi, NAD, or the like). These sell for next to nothing because the surround format they provide is antiquated. It does do a better job than a stereo receiver with A&B; outputs run as faux surround though. Use lamp cord or whatever you can find at least 18AWG. No EQ. Sit back and enjoy budget bliss.

Gamer6460 (author)Bignerd1002007-06-05

I had a friend who is a complete audio geek help me with the sound on this project. My receiver is infact prologic. While my driver substitution was pretty damn ghetto it works alot better than the drivers it had in it to begin with, they were nearly completely shot. As far as the EQ goes, It was pretty much a must-have for the room I was in. For the price, its hands down a much better system that one would have bought at wallmart (or equivalent). As far as the faux surround... I happen to like my A&B; rear and front "sound that surrounds me" Yeah but I do have to agree with you, and unless you should disprove for some reason, I will incorporate what you said into the instructable

royalestel (author)Bignerd1002007-06-05

Thanks, friend. Bignerd100 rides off into the sunset . . .

AlexTheGreat (author)2007-06-04

I got a broken from my school for free, and fixed it. it only had a broken cooling fan.

BurningApple (author)2007-06-03

This would be kickass to make. Love it. "+".

jeffreyf (author)2007-06-03

I used screen goo to make a screen at home about a year ago. Rather than paint it directly on the wall, I built a very large wooden frame, stretched some cotton canvass over it, gesso-ed, and then used screen goo. Truth be told, it wasn't noticably different from the white wall I had been projecting onto before, which was covered in Benjamin Moore Super White.

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