Today $2,000 gets you a tremendous home theater system. Not just a component, or a pair of cables, but the whole deal. There are some great values out there that let you put together a system that you, your family, and your friends can enjoy for a long time. You’ll probably stop going to the movie theater as much since you will enjoy the home viewing experience far more. This is the $2,000 Home Theater System we recommend and we will keep it updated as new reviews are completed.
The Projection System
Nothing recreates the movie theater experience like a projection system. A flat panel is big, but even that large 60” panel is a quarter of the size of the screen we are putting together. Even five years ago putting together a projection system meant either sacrificing screen brightness or image quality, and still having to spend a lot on a screen. Now for $1,050 you can put together a 120” combination that looks fantastic.
The heart of this system is the $800 BenQ HT2050 projector. It’s a compact little DLP projector that puts out an incredibly bright image. The BenQ HT1075 projector was the best value in projectors but the HT2050 is brighter, with more accurate colors and grayscale. The 6x color wheel is fast enough that even those who are sensitive to DLP rainbows are unlikely to see them on the HT2050 and the updated design is quieter with less noise than the HT1075.
It has 2,200 lumens of output, which is an incredible amount for a home theater projector. When set up in its most accurate mode on low lamp it produces 1,130 lumens which is more than enough for a bright image on a 120” screen. It will keep the fan quieter, let your bulb last longer, and still produce an image that looks fantastic. If you want to watch the game with some lights on, you can pop it into normal lamp mode and get even more brightness out of the BenQ HT2050.
The BenQ HT2050 has very little input lag, only 33ms, so it works great for video games. Most TVs have longer lag than it does, so your screen will update faster than everyone you are playing against to give you an advantage. The DLP design means images will be razor sharp as well. Our full review of the BenQ HT2050 will tell you even more, but it’s a clear winner for $800 and a projector that anyone will be happy with.
No projector will look its best without a projection screen, and the $250 120” Silver Ticket is an ideal pairing with the BenQ HT2050. At 120” the Silver Ticket is going to throw up an image that really brings the movie theater experience home. Because of how bright the BenQ HT2050 is, 120” is no problem for it to fill and actually provides some benefits. Compared to a 100” screen, the blacks on the BenQ will be even darker on a 120” screen, making the image look even better. A 150” screen will be a bit too large for the BenQ to be bright enough, but 120” is a real sweet spot.
Picking an affordable projection screen has been a crap shoot. You could always spend $2,400 to get a Stewart Studiotek and be set, but that costs more than this whole setup. There are a lot of DIY options, but once you invest in raw materials, tools, and hours of your time, what are you really saving on it? After I reviewed over a dozen options for The Wirecutter, I found the Silver Ticket to be an awesome pick for everyone. It is easy to assemble, looks great, and matches up great with the BenQ HT2050. I wish I’d known that options like it were good before I bought my own far more expensive screen.
So for $1,050 we have a projector and screen combination that gives you a 120” image at home.
The TV Option
If you can’t do a projector in your room because of ambient light, or you just want a TV instead, there are lots of good options. Trying to stick to the same $1,000 price range of the projector and screen combination is going to leave us with a few different options. We will recommend two different displays, depending on if you want the largest screen possible, or are fine with a smaller screen to get a better image.
For right around $1,000 you can get the 50” Vizio P-Series display. While this doesn’t have the 120Hz refresh rate of the Vizio P65-C1 that we reviewed, the color gamut coverage and backlighting system are very similar. For people that don’t notice judder, this will offer as good of an image as you can get for $1,000 right now. It includes the tablet and GoogleCast features that the P65-C1 does, just in a smaller size. If you want the best image quality you can get, especially with darker content, for $1,000 this is where to start.
If you want integrated streaming apps or a TV tuner, or you want better HDR and WCG performance at the expense of dark scenes, then you should get the Samsung KS8000 in a 49” size or larger. The main flaw we found with the Samsung KS8000 is that in very dark scenes (think the Harry Potter hilltop scene in the final film, or the campfire scene in The Revenant) the Vizio P-Series just looks much better. The KS8000 can get much brighter for HDR content, and has a wider color gamut than the Vizio but those only will be noticed on new UHD and HDR programming and not with TV or Blu-ray. If you plan to watch more of those, or need the integrated apps and TV tuner, the KS8000 is the best pick.
If you just want the largest TV you can get for your space, regardless of anything else, go find the biggest E-Series Vizio you can afford. They’re often on sale so either the 65” or 70” will fit into this budget. Compared to our other picks, these are only 4K but don’t have wide color gamut or high dynamic range support. They have fewer dimming zones than the more expensive TVs, but just like them they don’t have a TV tuner or integrated apps. It also doesn’t include the Android Tablet that the P-Series and M-Series models have. However for pure screen size for the value, it’s a great option.
The Easy Audio Solution
For a simple solution, the Vizio SB4551-D5 is great. It gives you a 5.1 channel system with surrounds that connect to a wireless subwoofer for under $500. Google Cast for Audio lets you playback streaming audio from a huge number of services without needing your phone to be connected over Bluetooth. The sound quality of the Vizio sound bars has been great for years, and it’s only been improving with the updated ones. What can’t do is the lossless audio soundtracks on Blu-ray or UltraHD Blu-ray, or Atmos and DTS:X.
Another option is to use the $700 Sonos Playbar which lets you expand to a 5.1 channel system down the line. The Playbar has very good sound quality, and supports almost every streaming service, but lacks support for Bluetooth or AirPlay. It also has no HDMI input so you can’t use ARC, and it much more expensive that the Vizio. It is incredibly easy to setup and sounds very good, but other options are more flexible.
The Better Audio System
What you gain in simplicity from the Vizio you lose in overall performance. Going with a separate receiver and speakers means running more cables, and taking up more space, but also promises better performance. You are free to upgrade down the road without starting all over as you have to with a sound bar. It might be a little harder to operate, but a universal remote can take care of lots of those issues as well.
The receiver is the heart of the audio system and the $280 Denon AVR-S510BT is the budget pick. It is only five channels but most people don’t run more than that. It lacks any audio streaming features aside from Bluetooth, but you can add those easily with a Chromecast Audio, Roku, or other option. It has an integrated on-screen GUI that makes setup very easy, supports HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, and does lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
If you want to expand to Atmos or DTS:X, or want streaming audio, you can step-up to the Denon AVR-S720W or AVR-S920W. Both offer seven channels of amplification, AirPlay and Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, 6 or 8 HDMI inputs, and better speaker wire connections than the AVR-S510BT. The AVR-S920W also has analog to HDMI video conversion if you have older devices that need this. Otherwise I’d recommend the AVR-S720W unless you need the extra HDMI inputs offered by the AVR-S920W.
Of course you’ll need speakers to complete the movie theater experience, and the best budget system is from Pioneer. Ask an audiophile who Andrew Jones is, and they can tell you about his speaker designs for TAD. They have been winning awards for years, but most cost $20,000 a pair or more. So when Pioneer wanted to create new, entry level speakers, he doesn’t seem like the first person to ask. All that experience in creating truly start-of-the-art designs came in handy and he created a line of affordable speakers for Pioneer that has put all other affordable speakers to shame.
For $512, you get the full SP-PK22FS 5.1 speaker system including front bookshelves, a center channel, bookshelf surrounds, and a subwoofer. If you want front towers for better bass on stereo music, you can upgrade for only $125 more. Combined with either the projector or TV options and the Denon receiver, we manage to come in below $2,000 with enough left to buy some needed accessories below. The matching center channel will make the front soundstage cohesive as all the speakers will have the same tonal qualities. Hooked up to the Denon AVR-S510BT, this Pioneer system is going to sound far superior to any home theater in a box or sound bar at a similar price point. It also will be able to do the lossless audio soundtracks found on Blu-ray discs that most sound bars, including the Vizio, cannot.
If you want to move up to another level in performance, the ELAC Debut System is where you should look. After leaving Pioneer, Andrew Jones went to ELAC and designed these speakers to compete with models costing far more. The Debut B6 bookshelf speaker really outperforms the Pioneer bookshelf speaker but is twice the price. We actually might recommend going with the B5 bookshelf for a home theater system, as the center channel uses a 5” driver and this gives them an exact tonal match. You can get a complete 5.1.2 channel speaker system using the B5 bookshelves for fronts, the B5 bookshelves for surrounds, a C5 center, S10 subwoofer, and A4 Atmos modules for $990 total. You can adjust this by adding towers instead of the B5 bookshelves for $360 more, or upgrading to the $500 S10EQ or $700 S12EQ subwoofers with built-in room correction. This system will run about twice the price of the Pioneer system but offers another level of performance for your dollar. You’ll also need to move up to the Denon AVR-S720W to use the Atmos channels, but you can use this as a 5.1 channel system, and skip the Atmos modules, and it’s only a $250 upgrade from the Pioneer option.
|Complete Projection System|
|BenQ HT2050||$800||BenQ HT2050||$800|
|Silver Ticket 120" Screen||$250||Silver Ticket 120" Screen||$250|
|Vizio S4551-D5||$400||Denon AVR-S710W||$280|
|Complete TV System|
|Samsung KS8000||$1,100||Samsung KS8000||$1,100|
|Vizio S4551-D5||$400||Denon AVR-S710W||$280|
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.
There are a lot of ways to stream content to your new 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.
As good as streaming quality is, Blu-ray still offers the best picture and sound quality for home. With a 120” screen you are going to see every compression artifact in your streaming video that you might have missed before while Blu-ray will minimize those. With the receiver and speakers option, you’ll also get a benefit from the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD lossless audio tracks that Blu-ray offers. A good Blu-ray player, like the Sony BDP-S3700, can be had for $70 and you can rent movies at Redbox or Netflix for cheap. It will also play your old DVDs and stream content as well. If you bought an UltraHD TV that can do HDR and WCG, then the Samsung UBD-K8500 can play back UltraHD Blu-ray discs that use all of these features. They’ll look better than any Blu-ray or streaming content, though they cost more and the player is more expensive.
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, and if you buy an $8 multi-pack you get colored indicators on the cables to keep them straight. These are also all High Speed cables, so they should work with 4K content as well.
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, but it’s very thin and easier to run than a regular HDMI cable. Do note that it is directional so make sure to install it in the correct direction.
For your 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.
With a projector you might want to mount it up and out of the way. Once you have a projector lined up correctly, you really do not want to move it around and to have to do that again. You can get a ceiling mount for very little, though you often get what you pay for in a mount. They all do the job, but the more expensive ones are much easier to install and offer more adjustments to get it accurate. The high-end $110 OmniMount PJT40 might be overkill, but all their products, including entry level mounts, perform very well.
For a TV mount, we have used the smaller version of the $75 OmniMount OC80FM for 32″-48″ TVs for years now. The OC80FM is just a slightly larger version of what we have, that holds more weight and can manage our TV picks. It is easy to install, folds up close to the wall, and makes it easy to move the TV around the room. It also only needs a single stud for mounting, making it work in many situations that other mounts do not.
|$2,000 Home Theater Accessories|
|Roku Streaming Stick||$50|
|Sony BDP-S3700 Blu-ray Player||$65|
|Monoprice Speaker Wire||$40|
|Monoprice Certified High Speed HDMI Cables||$6+|
|Spears & Munsil Setup Blu-ray Disc||$30|
|OmniMount PJT40 Projector Mount||$110|
|OmniMount OC80FM TV Mount||$70|
An Awesome $2,000 Home Theater System
For $2,000 we have put together a home theater that is going to impress everyone that sees it. We don’t have anything that is top-of-the-line, but we have components that offer tremendous value for their price and will leave you incredibly happy with how they perform. Most things in life follow the 80-20 rule and here we get 80% of the performance of a high-end home theater for 20% of the cost. Put it together, invite your friends over, and have them guess what it cost. Then tell them and they might just be amazed at the answer. Everyone can sit back, watch the movie or a game, and enjoy.