$5,000 Home Theater Guide

5000-home-theater

We’ve been working on our $2,000 home theater guide for a while now, but some people have a larger budget. For those people that are looking to spend around $5,000 on their home theater, there are a number of other options available that offer improved performance. Just like with our previous piece, we are going to offer both TV and Projection systems since the two can be very different. We’ll also offer a few more expensive and cheaper options for both video and audio. Some people care far more about one than the other, and so this way you can customize it how you would like. We also offer a lifestyle option if you want a system that looks and sounds fantastic, but also doesn’t dominate a room.

The Projection System

vpl-hw45esMoving up from our $2,000 home theater lets us upgrade to the Sony VPL-HW45ES projector. Previously Sony would go head-to-head with Epson in the $2,000 range but now Epson is starting at the $3,000 price range with the 5040UB. This puts Sony in the position of clearly being the best $2,000 projector available today.

For almost everyone, the $2,000 Sony projectors are a better choice than the $4,000 ones. You give up a dynamic iris, and you don’t have as many custom modes, but most people don’t need 10 different color memories. You’ll program one to be accurate to the Rec.709/HDTV standard and leave it there. The $4,000 one can sometimes offer better panel alignment, but overall they are very close. The Sony VPL-HW45ES is closer in performance to a $4,000 projector than any of the competing $2,000 projectors are to it.

Colors are very accurate, tracking the Rec.709 standard well. With 1800 lumens it has more than enough brightness to light up a 100-120” screen, and black levels are far better than cheap DLPs and LCDs you’ll find in this price range. Unlike the TV category where there are multiple options that can work for different situations, the Sony is really our pick for everyone.

Silver Ticket 120For a screen, we still recommend the same 120” Silver Ticket that we like in our $2,000 home theater system. Without spending far more for a screen from someone like Stewart, you aren’t going to find a better option than the Silver Ticket. Moving down to a 100” will be fine if you’re space constrained, or moving up to 135” if you really want to push the Sony.

For a projector mount, I go with the OmniMount PJT40. It fits the Sony, is easy to install, and most importantly is easy to adjust after you install the projector. Other models can be much harder to get aligned perfection because of the mounting mechanism. The PJT40 costs more than some cheap mount, but after using it for over 3 years and setting up dozens of projectors on it, it really is worth it for the ease of use.

The TV System

vizio-p65-c1-angleIf you’re building around a TV instead of a projector, we have a pair of displays that we would choose to build around. For the largest size and bang-for-your-buck, we would pick the Vizio P65-C1. It’s the same TV we use in our theater room as there isn’t a 65” display for close to the same price that offers similar performance. It handily beat the other LCDs we tested it against when it came to dark scene performance and has plenty of light output for bright rooms as well. Dolby Vision and HDR10 compatibility make it ready for all HDR content you are going to run into, and the Chromecast streaming gives it access to more content than most TVs, Amazon excluded. The Vizio does not include a TV tuner, so if you want to get OTA content you’ll need to pick one of those up for $40-50 as well. Or use an HDHomeRun with an app like Channels.

lg-b6-oledIf you’re fine with a smaller TV or have a smaller space, recent price cuts make the LG B6 OLED a stellar pick. The 55” is now only $2,000, a 33% price cut from when it was released, and offers the best image available for that price regardless of size. Recent software updates have improved upon its image quality with HDR content, and it looks better with TV and existing Blu-ray movies than anything we’ve seen. It does better at off-angles than LCDs do, making it a better choice for large crowds despite the Vizio being larger. It can’t handle bright rooms as well as the Vizio, and content that makes the whole screen white (ice hockey, skiing, some video games) will be noticeably dimmer on the OLED. But if you lean towards watching films in a dim room, it offers an image you just can’t beat.

samsung-ks8000One final display to consider if you basically watch all your TV in a brighter room and watch more TV than movies is the Samsung KS8000. The main reason this fell behind the Vizio P65-C1 is that on dark, nighttime scenes we viewed the backlighting is visible and causes more haloing around artifacts. If you’re watching this in a brighter room, this won’t be nearly as noticeable. In exchange for this drawback, the Samsung has a wider color gamut and produces much brighter highlights than the Vizio can. HDR and WCG offer even more pop on it than on the Vizio, but the black levels suffer as a result. It also has an integrated TV tuner and apps, unlike the Vizio, which will draw some people to it instead. The fact that you can now often find it on sale for a great price makes it a good option.

Audio Options

For the audio options on these theaters, we chose three different sets of speakers, all of which have their own benefits and drawbacks. Some are available in different color options to match personal taste, others are designed to be placed on the wall for surrounds while some should be away. There are also different approaches to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support from the different manufacturers.

denon-x2300wRegardless of which speaker setup you pick, we would choose the Denon AVR-X2300W receiver to pair with it. While almost identical to the Denon AVR-S920W, the X2300W adds on improved Audyssey MultEQ XT room correction for only $20 more. To us, this is $20 well spent as you’ll get improved performance while not losing anything in the process. The Denon features very easy setup, good streaming audio options with Bluetooth, AirPlay, and Spotify Connect, and plenty of HDMI connections. We’ve been running a step-down Denon AVR-S720W in one of our systems for most of the year and it has been working wonderfully.

If you want an improved receiver then the Denon AVR-X3300W is what we would look at. It offers the improved Audyssey XT32 room correction, more inputs, and a multichannel output for using an external amplifier. For most people the extra cost likely isn’t worth it, but if you need the features it offers you could do it.

Our primary speaker system choice is the KEF Q-System. Combining the KEF Q500 front towers, Q600C center channel, and Q100 bookshelves for our surrounds. These speakers are all available in multiple finishes so you can have them match the decor of your rooms if you desire. A key point for these speakers is that they are all front ported so they can be placed closer to walls than other speakers while not destroying bass response. This past year I (through my work at The Wirecutter) helped Plex design a home theater that uses the KEF Q-series for their custom home theater. They placed these speakers on the walls for fronts and surrounds and have been blown away by the quality the system offers.

With KEF you also have the option tkef-q-systemo choose bookshelves for fronts instead of towers. If you aren’t running stereo music from an analog source, that is a better option for most people. Instead you can take the money you’ve saved by going with smaller fronts and add a second subwoofer. This will give you improved bass response by smoothing it out through the room and will sound better overall than going with towers for most people.

While we do go with KEF for the speakers, we pick the SVS PB-1000 subwoofer. Having used the SVS as subwoofer for our system for years, it is a very solid performer for the price. If the PB-1000 is too large for your room, you can get the SVS SB-1000 sealed model instead. It’s a good bit smaller and while it doesn’t offer the impact of the SVS PB-1000, it will provide much better bass response than your speakers alone.

KEF doesn’t offer Atmos modules for the Q series, but KEF does offer in-ceiling options. The Ci160QR matches the UniQ driver of the Q-series bookshelves and towers so it will sound seamless as it moves between them. They are also 8 ohm nominal impedance, so the Denon receiver can drive them without issue. You can only do a single pair of in-ceiling speakers with the Denon, and finding a receiver that does more will cost you $1,500.

ComponentQuantityPrice Each
KEF Q500 Towers2$350-550
KEF Q600C1$500
KEF Q100 Bookshelves2$150-225
SVS SB-1000 Subwoofer1$500
Denon AVR-X2300W Receiver1$600
KEF Ci160QR Atmos Speaker2$230
Total$2,600-3,150 (+$460 for Atmos)

elac-unifiOur other primary option are the new ELAC Uni-fi speakers. You can build your 5.1 channel system from the $1,000 UF5 front towers, $500 UB5 bookshelf surrounds, $350 UC5 center channel, and the $500 S10EQ subwoofer. With the Denon receiver this combination is coming in right at $3,000 but offers lots of sound for the price.The Uni-fi speakers use a coaxial driver, where the tweeter is inside of the midrange driver, just like the KEF UniQ driver. This leads to a more focused, coherent sound when compared to other speakers we have found.

Compared to the KEF Q-Series the Uni-Fi plays deeper with the bass, but also is rear ported. This makes placement a bit more complex as you can’t mount them on the walls as you can the KEFs. The finish on the Uni-fi speakers is also worse than that of the KEFs. You can buy slimmer versions of the ELACs that have gloss white or black finishes with the same audio performance, but they cost between $125 and $150 more per speaker. Having seen both finishes in person, the gloss one is much nicer, but in a dark theater room you’d never notice. If it was going into my living room or family room then I’d consider paying more for the gloss.

Just like with the KEFs you can also downsize to bookshelves in the front and buy another subwoofer instead. The S10EQ uses a 10” driver and has a built-in EQ that works with your phone to calibrate it for your room. Since you can’t mount the ELAC speakers onto the wall, you’ll also want to budget for speaker stands. Finally there are no matching Atmos speakers to go with the Uni-Fi models at this point. You could get the Atmos modules that are meant for the ELAC Debut models, but they might not be a perfect sonic match to the Uni-Fi models.

ComponentQuantityPrice Each
ELAC UF5 Tower2$500-750
ELAC UC5 Center1$350-500
ELAC UB5 Surround2$250-375
ELAC S10EQ Subwoofer1$500
Denon AVR-X2300W Receiver1$600
ELAC A4 Atmos Module2$115
Total$2,950-$2,850 (+$230 for Atmos)

svs-prime-systemFinally our last option would be the SVS Prime models. We’ve reviewed these in the past as well and really liked them as a $1,000 tower. There has been more competition since then, with the ELAC UF5 and others coming out, but the Prime models are still very good. They also just added the new Prime Elevation speaker to the lineup. This is a flexible speaker that can be used as a front, surround, or Atmos option. Paired with their PB-1000 subwoofer the SVS Prime system offers a lot of value, and with dual 6.5” woofers in the towers will play lower than either the KEF or ELAC systems. You can pay a bit extra to upgrade to a piano black gloss finish from the black ash if you’d like, but be warned you may not love the glare in a dark theater.

I would most likely pick the smaller Prime Bookshelf for surrounds instead of the larger model. They are half the price, available in a white finish to better disappear on walls, and play down below 80Hz where a subwoofer will take over bass duties. Unless you’re listening to a lot of surround music, which is becoming more and more rare, these will work just fine and let you put money towards other speakers. If you want to play Atmos, then the Prime Elevation is what you can use. Also available in white or black, these can mount on the wall against the ceiling as they point down towards the listening area. This gives you the Atmos immersion without requiring holes in the ceiling, and works with rooms where Atmos modules cannot due to ceiling height or design.

ComponentQuantityPrice Each
SVS Prime Tower2$500-600
SVS Prime Center1$350-450
SVS Prime Satellite2$135-175
SVS PB-1000 Subwoofer1$500
Denon AVR-X2300W Receiver1$600
SVS Prime Elevation2$200-250
Total$2,720-3,100 (+ $400-500 for Atmos)

Any of these three options will sound fantastic for both movies and music. You can choose the one you want based on your room, the speaker design, and aesthetics.

The Lifestyle System

Sometimes you want to have a system that sounds and looks great but doesn’t take over a room. Most of us don’t get to have a room dedicated only to a home theater, and might not want our living room to look just like a TV room. For this we have our lifestyle system option. Everything in here both looks and sounds great, but we’ve made some concessions to livability.

lg-b6-oledOur TV pick here is again the LG B6 OLED. At $2,000 for a 55” and $3,000 for the 65”, it offers an image that you just couldn’t get for this price before. Additionally OLED technology allows for a TV to be incredibly thin, far beyond what a standard LCD can do, while still offering a better picture. It features UltraHD resolution, HDR and WCG support, good streaming services, and you can view it at any angle and still get a great image. For a TV that looks as good turned off as it does on, only the OLED will do.

kef-ls50-whiteMost people that want a lifestyle system also want to have it out of the way. For this reason, we’d recommend the $200 OmniMount OE120IW TV mount. While most TV mounts are placed against the wall on top of the studs, the OE120IW actually goes inside of the wall between the studs. This lets you place your OLED TV flat against the wall, looking more like a picture frame than a TV. Paired with the $70 OPK2 in-wall power and cable kit, the OLED can just float on the wall, with nothing connected to it at all.

In a concession to aesthetics, we’ve not done a surround system here and instead chosen the $2,200 KEF LS50 wireless speaker system. The KEF LS50 is one of the finest bookshelf speakers made and our time with it is what led us to buy KEF speakers for our own home theater. We’ve seen and heard the new LS50 wireless in action and it is a perfect fit for this kind of system. With integrated amplifiers, you don’t need any additional boxes to power them, only a single Ethernet cable to connect them. They have an optical input you can use for the OLED for when watching TV or movies. Integrated streaming lets you play back audio over Bluetooth, WiFi, or with USB from a computer. An analog input is there if you wish to connect a turntable as well. You’ll just need to select a turntable with an integrated phono preamp, like the Pro-ject Debut RecordMaster.

The app for your phone lets you optimize the sound for your room, and you can even add on a subwoofer if you desire more bass. The three finishes can match any decor, though we really love the white with copper drivers ourselves. These speaker will provide you with truly high-end sound in a compact, attractive package.

This lifestyle system will fit into any room or environment while looking and sounding fantastic. It keeps the setup simple and uncluttered, but makes no sacrifices in image or audio quality.

Sources

For the best image quality with these displays, we would pair them with the Samsung UBD-K8500 UltraHD Blu-ray player. The TVs can take advantage of everything that UltraHD Blu-ray can do and present a stunning image. You’ll see details and colors that were not possible on Blu-ray, as well as dynamic highlights that are more realistic than was possible before. If you’re using the Sony projector, since it can’t do WCG or HDR you can save yourself some money and get a basic Blu-ray player like the Sony BDP-S3700. It’s under $70 and offers better image quality than streaming services can provide while rentals are easily available from Netflix or Redbox.

Roku Streaming Stick Featured - 1There are a lot of ways to stream content to your new TV or projector. My favorite way is with the $50 Roku Streaming Stick because it is fast, supports almost everything, and is easy to use. It’s so tiny you can hide it behind anything, can run off the USB power from your TV or projector, has an RF remote instead of an IR one, can you can take it on trips. If you’re getting one of the UltraHD TVs with HDR support, then the Roku Premiere+ can stream content, including Amazon which Vizio cannot do, in UltraHD resolution with WCG and HDR. While most services and programs don’t support this yet, more are being added and it’s worth the extra cost to get it.

Accessories

To round out the home theater, you’ll need a few accessories. Controlling it with a universal remote will make everyone happier and keep your coffee table free of clutter. The $130 Logitech Harmony Companion (previously Home Control) can bring the whole system together. By using RF instead of IR, you can control the system without having to point the remote at each individual device. Even better, it contains home automation controls so you can set it up to control certain smart lights and other features. You can have the lights automatically dim when you start a movie if you want to along with other features.

Logitech Harmony Elite FeaturedYou can also step-up to the $300 Harmony Elite remote that adds support for more components and has an LCD screen that makes using a Roku, tuner, or cable box better. You get icons for your favorite channels and stations, as well as ones for each channel on your Roku to make switching easier. It is also backlit so you can use it at night or in a home theater without having to turn on a light. I’ve been using it for a year now and can’t imagine going back.

If you need to wire up your speakers, get a spool of speaker wire from Monoprice. It’s cheap, it is well built, and it’s what I use to wire up my system. You get 100’ for $40 and that should be enough to hook everything up. You don’t need to add banana plugs to it, but if you want to then I found these $9.50 BFA style ones to work really well and make a very solid connection. If you want something that looks nicer and is well constructed, the SVS SoundPath cables fit the bill and have been working great in our own systems.

Hooking up video means using HDMI, and here you should go with Amazon or Monoprice cables. Other might say that fancy HDMI cables make a difference but don’t listen to them. I’ve tested them with $20,000 video analyzers and $40,000 audio analyzers and the cheap ones pass the signal just as well as the expensive ones. If the cable works, it just works. If you buy a $3 cable and it doesn’t work, just buy another $3 one and it’s almost certain to work. I usually buy from Amazon because of cheap shipping, getting the $8 multi-pack. The one thing to note is that for UltraHD with HDR and WCG, you need HDMI cables that support the full 18.0 Gb/sec rate. All high speed rated cables should do this, and the Amazon ones have worked for me. You can get cables certified to do this, and the Monoprice certified ones are very cheap.

With a projector you might be running a really long cable to the ceiling, and in that case you might want a Redmere cable from Monoprice. It costs a bit more, it can run longer than a standard HDMI cable with UltraHD content that has HDR and WCG. Do note that it is directional so make sure to install it in the correct direction. If you’re using this for an UltraHD TV, try to stick with a 20’ cable like this one from Monoprice. It’s not as thin, but we’ve run into lots of issues with UltraHD over Redmere so far. The Redmere cable we recommend usually works fine, but a passive one that is certified is the best, and cheapest, option if you can do it.

For the TV or projector to look its best, it needs to be setup correctly. You don’t need to pay someone to come and calibrate it for you, but you can spend $30 on a Blu-ray setup disc, or a free download. Choosing the most accurate picture mode, which our review talks about, and then getting the Contrast, Brightness, and other controls correct makes a world of difference in the picture quality. Spending the small amount of time it takes to get it right pays big dividends down the road.

Reference Quality Home Theater

For $5,000 we have managed to assemble a home theater that isn’t just impressive, it makes no sacrifices. Our projector or TVs will produce wonderful images that can compete with displays costing far more. The audio system is going to be able to handle movie soundtracks and streaming audio with aplomb and sound fantastic doing so. The lifestyle system will offer incredible performance while also fitting into the room and not taking over the space.

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