August 25, 2011
by Lisa Montgomery
Matt Collins didn’t have visions of grandeur when he converted a 300-square-foot portion of his 2,000-square-foot basement into a home theater. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford the top-of-the-line equipment, but when I asked myself, ‘do I really need a preamp processor, a media server and an acoustically transparent curved screen?’ the answer was no.” That’s not to say the DIYer would sacrifice on performance or aesthetics, though.
His plan: choose mid-priced equipment that received favorable reviews and wait until they went on sale to purchase them. “I tried to do what fashion magazines do where they match the look of a designer outfit with clothes bought at thrift and discount stores,” he says. “I used Craigslist a lot. It worked well for me because I was able to barter and negotiate.” From here, he bought Polk speakers for the left, right and center surround sound channels for $250 and three matching couches, which he figures would have cost $5,000 had he bought them new. On Craigslist he spent $1,500 for the set.
Another online purchase was an Epson 8350 video projector. He waited for it to go on sale on Amazon, snatching it up for $999. For his two back surround speakers, he went with bargain Monoprice speakers. “I was a little hesitant to buy them ($45 for the pair); I thought they might sound cheap,” he says. “But they had great reviews, and ended up sounding just fine.” He stuck with a 5.2 setup, but wired the room for a 7.2 system just in case he ever decides to upgrade.
Last but not least there was the screen. This, he built himself painting a 155-inch diagonal section of drywall at the front of the room with a special Silverfire paint solution. He found the formula on AVS Forum and mixed it himself. He then constructed a wooden frame of 1x4s into the 2.39:1 CinemaScope movie format, and covered it with black velvet purchased at a craft store. He figures his homemade screen cost $500 less than what he would have paid for new specialty screen.
Components included a Harman Kardon receiver, Sony PS3, Comcast HD DVR, Roku HD player and a Logitech Harmony remote, as well as a Lutron Spacer lighting control system which he purchased on eBay at “a rock bottom price.”
The entire theater, including construction materials, furnishings and equipment came in at $6,000. “I figure I would have spent at least $25,000 for it had I hired a professional,” Collins says, whose profession is estimating bids for a construction company.
Other expenses included the materials and tools. He visited Home Depot on his way home from work several times a week, buying only the materials he needed—typically between $50 and $100 at a time—for each particular phase of the project. “I saved a lot of wasted material by buying in increments,” he says. Tools, including a new nail gun and air compressor, were purchased during a liquidation of a local framing business. Another trick: He negotiated deals on Craigslist with people to purchase their unused gift cards for Lowe’s and Home Depot for 70 cents on the dollar. “The gift cards, along with coupons I found and in-store promotions would often yield a 30 percent to 50 percent savings on my building materials,” Collins says, for a total savings of around $2,000.
The only thing Collins says he sacrificed was his free time. It took him 10 months—mostly after hours during the week and entire Saturdays on the weekend—to complete the project.
At Home Depot Collins noticed an entire pallet of 4x12 drywall that was damaged. He asked for a good deal and got it for half off.
The black carpet on the base of the stag was a freebie, given to him by a carpet installer who happened to have some remnants lying around. The pad of the carpet helped with bass absorption and soundproofing.
The solid core, heavy-duty doors at the back of the theater Collins found sitting at the back of a warehouse. He figures new they would have cost around $150 each. Instead he spent just $50 for both.
Click on the slideshow to see more images of this theater project.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.