Your home viewing setup might be as simple as watching Netflix on a 13-inch laptop while laying on the couch, curled up in a blanket burrito. That certainly works for some people, but creating a bigger home theater can take your binge watching experience up quite a few levels.
Many people shy away from creating a home theater because gear hunting can get expensive, and looking over specs can be exhausting.
Luckily, it’s possible to make a home theater setup without spending a heinous amount of money. Here are a couple of reasonably priced AV and streaming products that will help you on your way.
Surround-sound speaker set
If you’re in the market for a dedicated speaker set, Monoprice sells a full surround-sound set for a penny under $100. The set comes with four satellite speakers for better sound distribution, a center speaker for mid and high-frequency sounds, and an eight-inch subwoofer for the cinematic bass sounds.
The kit comes with mounting brackets for satellite speakers as well, so you can mount them onto walls.
You can grab a Monoprice speaker set on Amazon for $99.99.
If your speakers are sitting on a table, media console, or other flat surface, lower-frequency sounds are likely to create a bit of shuddering. So when watching a bass-heavy movie, you’ll might see your speakers bouncing around, creating noise that interferes with the actual sound of the movie.
To avoid that, secure your speakers on stands. Atlantic’s speaker stands are unobtrusive, and reviewers on Amazon (where it’s the best-selling pair of stands) say the speaker wires can be completely hidden.
You can grab a pair of stands on Amazon for $35.08.
If you’re working with a limited amount of space and want the ease and simplicity of having just one audio device, get yourself a soundbar.
The VIZIO SB3820 is a 38-inch soundbar that’s easy to set up and sounds great outside the box – or at least much better than the internal speakers in your TV.
You can grab one for $93.97 on Amazon.
A soundbar or pair of regular speakers won’t give you those cinematic bass sounds that you usually get with a more decked-out home theater setup.
A subwoofer, a specialized speaker that produces low-pitch sounds, is a must-have for any home entertainment setup if you want to reproduce the rumbling lows of a cinema experience. It puts the “theater” in home theater.
Polk makes a well-rated 10-inch subwoofer, which reviewers say holds up well under high volumes and has very little distortion. Reviewers also praised the subwoofer’s durable, high-quality materials.
You can grab one on Amazon for $99.99.
Today, most new TVs have the Hulu, Netflix, and HBO GO apps built in. But more often than not, those services will either be slow or it will be hard to type in search terms.
With a Chromecast, your laptop and phone can serve as the remote.
Chromecast allows you to stream almost anything – your computer screen, a PowerPoint presentation, a slideshow, Spotify, Netflix, you name it – to your TV or monitor, so long as it has an HDMI slot and you have a working Wi-Fi connection. In most apps, you can mirror the screen to a TV by selecting the “casting” icon (it looks like a Wi-Fi signal attached to a TV).
Google’s newest Chromecast model costs just $69. For that price, you can stream 4K videos to the device. But beware – if you’re planning to stream 4K, make sure you have a fast enough connection speed. If you don’t, the $35 Chromecast, which you can get at Best Buy, will do just fine.
Other streaming device options include Apple TV ($150 for the latest model) which is more expensive but smooth and easy to use if you’re already tethered to Apple’s ecosystem. The Amazon Fire Stick, which is getting a renewed design at the end of October, is also a great buy at $39.99, and gives easy access to Amazon Prime Video plus a bundled remote.
But for sheer simplicity and one less remote in your life, the Chromecast is a good bet.
A universal remote
You can eliminate the need to juggle several remotes by getting a universal one.
The Logitech Harmony Universal Remote can replace up to eight remotes, and can control newer gaming consoles as well. You’ll have to set the remote up using prepackaged software on your Mac or Windows device, but after completing that process, you should be good to go.
You can order a Logitech Universal remote on Amazon for $50.39.
A projector screen (if you have a projector)
If you have a projector, a good way to make a low-contrast or low-brightness images pop is to hang a solid screen.
Carl’s Place puts out a decent screen for a projection size of up to 128 inches. You can get one on Amazon for $49.95.
Of course, you should have a projector before you buy the screen. Unfortunately, good ones will run much more than $100. If you do want to buy a projector, a recommended one is the BenQ TH670 ($599). It comes with 1920 x 1080 resolution, great contrast, and high enough a lumen count to show up on most screens.
Once you have the projector and screen, you should also get some non-reflective felt tape to secure the screen to a wall.
A Blu-Ray player
Many people still prefer physical media, whether because they’re in a place with slow internet or because they just like the idea of owning hard copies of your favorite films. Plus, some rarer movies are hard to find on streaming services. In that case, it’s good to have a physical media player like a Blu-Ray player on the ready.
Blu-Ray players come fairly cheap. This curved Samsung one shown here is refurbished but should work as well as the $63, un-refurbished model. The player also comes with prepackaged apps for Hulu, Netflix, and other popular streaming networks.
You can grab one on Amazon for $36.
A wall mount
Instead of sitting your TV a console or desk, consider mounting it to your wall to reduce living room clutter and give a fixed viewing angle.
Monoprice sells a decently priced wall mount that’s perfect if you’ll be viewing the TV from one spot (the bracket doesn’t allow for easy adjustment after installation). For the sturdiness, the price is hard to beat.
You can grab one on Amazon for $23.80.