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Building a Home Theater for Around The Price of a Good TV

A little more than a month ago a neighbor of mine said “Here, have this projector.” I was astounded at the generosity because having worked virtually for more than 10 years now, the last time I had to get a projector for the office it was around $2,000 to get something that looked decent.

What I missed is that while I’ve been all about LEDs for home and my toolbox, I didn’t realize that they’ve completely changed the projector market too. My brain melted a little bit when I looked this projector up on Amazon and saw it was $90. When it started acting a little weird the company told my neighbor “We’ll send you another one, don’t even bother shipping the wonky one back.” Regardless of the price I was thrilled to get to mess around with a new toy.

The projector was good enough to be impressive in a dark room but our TV was sharper and didn’t require a darkened room, so the trade off of size vs. picture was about even. After a couple of weeks I started to have the same problem with it, not powering up or shutting off randomly so I recycled it but the damage had been done. I had a taste of a huge screen in the house having my own little movie theater was just too cool.

So, here’s where I went from there and links for you if you want to check it out. For the projector I went with this Yaber Y30 ProjectorYaber Y30. It’s 1080p so it’s not going to compare to a 4k image (4k projectors currently starting at $1,200) but it currently retails around $200 and it went on sale with a coupon for $150 and then I had some Amazon credit so I got it for $100.

What really got me and Carin was that we had an open wall large enough to hit a sweet spot. It was like having a 110 inch TV and it was a magic point. At that size, in many movie scenes the characters were “Actual Size.” It wasn’t like TV where you focus on the actors and that’s really where your brain is, or that it was a movie screen where everything was huge. It was like looking into the next room. It hit us in a restaurant scene where were we listening to the actors but it felt like we were in the same restaurant.

I have a few speaker sets around and I was trying to see what I could make work but realized that with a Soundbar that supports Bluetooth, Apple TV could connect and then I’d only have to plug it in, I wouldn’t have to run any wires across the room (or drill into the floor which is the only safe thing to do.) Bose TV SpeakerBose had their TV Speaker as a refurb for only $150 (sorry, looks like it’s gone up a bit) and it’s good enough for the small room. The wall mount was separate but this Amazon one is a better deal than the official Bose.

For the wall we are projecting on silver is the color you want (I naively thought it would be white, but that ends up being too bright.) Home Depot sells it and I got it online but it took about 10 days, I don’t know if they can mix it on site. A gallon was $60 and that was a huge mistake. We will do the whole room with it but if you are only doing one wall I did two coats and some touch up and I barely made a dent in the bucket.

The only thing I went full retail on was the Apple TV. Years ago I gave up on the whole media server thing and just went all in on Apple. Movies, music, TV shows, phone apps, it’s all in their cloud. I’m trapped there and it’s not cheap, but I don’t have to do any work to maintain anything. I throw the hockey puck in the bag with an HDMI cable and we can go anywhere with our media library.Apple TV

And you can see the three remotes, which is a pain, but the good news is that the Logitech Harmony programmable remote runs the TV and stereo in the same room, and I had enough open devices (limit 8) that I was able to add it all. So I hit the movie screen button and the projector, speaker, and Apple TV all fire up. The Harmony is fantastic but it can be a pain to program, I suggest using the PC/Mac App to program it, the phone apps seem to crash when under heavy load. Here’s a link and it should be $149 but it seems that perhaps too many people have gotten into smart remotes during Covid so they are out of stock and folks are tacking on an extra $100 if they have them.Harmony Remote

Since the projector is blocking the top of a window I went with cable runs, which are plastic tracks you can wall mount and snap on the cover so the cables are out of sight. With a white run on the window molding it’s difficult to even spot. Cable Run on Window

Here’s the image, and this is in the middle of the afternoon with the room half darkened:Screen

One thing I learned more about than I wanted to was ceiling mounting and image keystoning. Many projectors have keystone correction, the ability to correct the image if the projector is too high or low, or even not straight on. My first thought was to mount the projector up on the ceiling so it was totally out of the way of the window. After I set it up and went through the keystone correction (you just hit a couple buttons until the image is straight on all sides again) it was obvious that you pay a price in image sharpness by doing it. It was still watchable but out of focus in the areas where the light was traveling the farthest to hit the wall. I’ve learned that this is one of the things that make the $10,000 commercial projectors what they are, for big bucks you can keystone correct and still look great. For my budget… not so much.

So, much to Carin’s chagrin (drilling another 4 holes in the ceiling) I ordered another mount, this one with an extension arm, so that the projector was shooting straight at the wall at the right height. This was kind of a pain, but she did admit it was worth it when we fired up the next movie.

The good news with this is you can tell people are screwing up the mounting job all the time and so Amazon has no shortage of open box specials. I got the first ceiling mount for $5 down from $20, and the second with the arm for $10, down from $35.

So end of day I’m going off to the movies to see the new Star Wars stuff on Disney+ and with my random coupons and credits I got there for around $470, which is almost exactly what we paid for our TV about 3 years ago. I recommend it to any TV, movie, concert or sports fan!

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