Home Theater
Beginner Builds Theater for $8K
A spare bedroom, some extra cash and a lot of research helped this budding DIYer through a home theater installation.
$8,000 Home Theater
Over the course of 18 months, Kevin Johnson turned a spare bedroom into a comfortable home theater.
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July 25, 2007 by Rachel Cericola

When some people want a home theater, they pick up a phone. Kevin Johnson picked up his tools. About 18 months later, he had a home theater.

Sure it may seem like a long time, especially in this “I-want-it-now” world, but Johnson has a day job, so he could only do work on nights and weekends.

It all started with a trip to a friend’s house—isn’t that always the way? Johnson was instantly bit by the theater bug. “I pushed the wife on this subject for a week or so before I went ahead and ordered our first projector [a Sanyo PLV-Z2],” Johnson says. 

After discussing a few locations with his wife, Johnson decided to use one of the six bedrooms in their home. It wasn’t too tough a decision. The walk-in closet was a perfect spot for equipment, and it was the only bedroom not attached to a bathroom (although how cool would that be?). It was actually “the only room she was comfortable losing,” he says.

The first incarnation worked. “Initially, we put an old blue sofa and two blue recliners in there and I constructed a homemade screen from ‘blackout’ cloth,” Johnson says. “This served as a temporary theater until I was able to order my fixed-frame screen, theater chairs, re-carpet, repaint, and fully convert the bedroom into a theater.”

While Johnson insisted on being hands on with everything, he did need help with the carpet and installing the seats. Otherwise, he took on construction of the screen, painting and wiring, speaker installation, A/V calibration and reversal of the door to allow for an easier entrance.

Before this project, Johnson’s handy experience was limited to ceiling fans, so this was quite a step up. “I learned mostly by doing,” he says. Aside from trial and error, he owes a lot of his installation experience to the people at AVS Forum. “There was tons of useful information to help me along my way.”

Johnson also researched each of his equipment selections to find the “best budget” item in each category. “I wanted great values, not the most expensive,” he says. The grand total for equipment, including seats, was $7,150. Carpet and other extras brought the grand total to just under $8,000. “I don’t feel we sacrificed quality in going so cheap,” Johnson says. In fact, Johnson sees it as an investment since they are saving money by making their own entertainment at home.

One of the things Johnson decided to change during the process was his projector. “I cannot handle single-chip DLPs,” he says. “The color wheel and I are not friends.” While the Sanyo had served him well, once the Epson with 1080p hit the market at an affordable price, he needed to make the move.

For daily viewing, there is a 61-inch JVC HD-ILA RPTV in Johnson’s family room, but he does make a point to spend daily time in his theater, whether it’s for movies, football or to watch “Lost” on a big screen.

While he may continue to tweak the room, Johnson has no regrets about doing the job himself. “My father-in-law recently constructed a theater with a custom installer,” he says. “The project ran him near six figures. While that is a drop in the bucket for him, I was on a serious mission to keep this project as cheap as possible.”

Cheap, however, doesn’t always translate to neat. In some areas, you might see a few exposed wires, but it’s nothing to worry about. “I’m sure the wiring could have been done neater and perhaps in the future I will spend some time cleaning up the wire management,” Johnson says. “I think that the primary use of theater room is to watch content not wires.”

So yeah—no regrets. In fact, he’s glad he did it his way. “My father-in-law has a 16 x 20-foot room with two subwoofers, B&W speakers, a $10,000-plus Runco projector,” Johnson says. “While his room is simply amazing, I was able to achieve a similar-if-not-better picture and comparable sound with components that cost way less.”

Equipment List

  • Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 1080p LCD Projector
  • Infinity SAT-750 Surround Speakers (3)
  • Insignia NSB-2111 Speakers (3)
  • Microsoft Xbox 360
  • Microsoft Xbox 360 HD-DVD Add-On Player
  • Onkyo SKW-K20 Subwoofer
  • Sony Playstation 3 (60GB) w/Bluetooth Remote
  • Sony STR-DG600 7.1 Receiver
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Rachel Cericola - Contributing Writer
Over the past 15 years, Rachel Cericola has covered entertainment, web and technology trends. Check her out at www.rachelcericola.com.

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