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Budgeting and Building a Dedicated Home Theater Room


Be Your Own Hollywood Mogul
When the Hollywood studio system of movie production was at its peak from the 1930s to the 1950s, part of every kid’s fantasy of success in America was to eventually have his own “screening room” in the house, just like the Hollywood moguls did. Fast forward to 2006, and it’s a yardstick of cultural advancement and the relative wealth of our society that what was once considered a fantasy for all but wealthy Hollywood tycoons is now an affordable reality for millions of consumers. The home theater “screening room” has come of age, and the increased popularity and affordability of high quality home theater surround sound coupled with moderately priced large-screen high-definition video displays has transformed the dank basement “recreation room” of past decades to a warm and welcoming dedicated home theater.

And you do not have to have the income of the stereotypical movie mogul to put one in your house. In fact, in the same way that a striking kitchen renovation will raise the potential market value of any house, so too will a dedicated home theater room. Consider it as more than entertainment – consider it as an investment.

The Allocation
The preceding smooth talk is all well and good, but what kind of figures are we talking about? For example, how much money does it require to put in a 7.1-channel surround sound speaker system worthy of the High Definition large-screen display you’re lusting after? In gathering facts for this article, I drew from a variety of sources, including an Axiom survey as well as from Axiom customers who provided me with a breakdown of their particular costs in converting and building dedicated home theaters in their homes.

The Axiom survey revealed that most people who might own or purchase a house priced between $150,000 and $350,000 judged that having a dedicated home theater room would add about $15,000 to $25,000 in value to the house. So using that figure, let’s look at what sorts of equipment expenditures it takes to get started. Assume a slightly larger-than-average sized room with dimensions of about 25 feet long by 15 feet wide by 8 feet high –around 3,000 cubic feet.

For a room that size, to get an impressive sounding 7.1-channel surround system coupled to a video screen or display of at least 50 to 60 inches (diagonal) or larger, figure on spending about $10,000 for the equipment. Here’s a percentage breakdown of that $10,000 figure:

The Budget:

  • 35 to 40% of the equipment budget to the 7.1-channel home theater speaker system –about $3,500 to $4,000.
  • 30% to 35% for the High Definition video display (rear projection, or front projector and screen, flat-panel plasma or LCD, plus associated controls) — $3,000 to $3,500.
  • 20% to 30% for the electronics (AV receiver or AV processor and amplifiers, DVD player)– $2,000 to $3,000
  • 5% to 10% for cables, wiring, and miscellaneous –$500 to $1,000

Let’s analyze that further and put in an Axiom Epic 80/500 7.1-channel surround system–that’s $3,762 and that system will deliver a thrilling sonic experience with movie soundtracks or music. I ought to know: I’m old, experienced, and I’ve got one. And over the passage of 25 years of both writing for and editing audio-video magazines in Canada and the US, I’ve heard, tested and owned a lot of systems and loudspeakers.

Large-Screen Video
Now we add the video display. The entire television system of North American is gradually converting from analog to digital video, which includes high-definition TV (HDTV) and multi-channel surround sound. So we’ll put in an HDTV, and in a room of those dimensions, we’re looking at a 50-inch or larger screen, either rear-projection or front projection LCD or DLP. So add about $3,000 to $4,000. Now we still need the electronics–the AV receiver/amplifier, DVD player. So figure on about $2500 for the AV receiver/amplifier, and DVD player.

There’s room for lots of variability in how much you spend. For example, if you are content with a 50-inch diagonal DLP or LCD rear-projection set that has 720p resolution (720 progressively scanned lines is one of the two standard High Definition formats; the other is 1080i), then you can pick that up for $2500 or less.
Let’s say you balk a bit at that $10,000 figure. Remember that’s just for the equipment. The room, the seating, the decor, all of that is extra, and we’ve added on an additional $10,000 in our theoretical house for the room decor, seating, construction and labor.

Downsizing the Room
So how do you scale down your home theater somewhat? The easiest way is to simply make the room smaller, about 2,000 cu. ft. or less. You could convert an unused bedroom once the kids are out of the house (do they ever leave?), or a room above the garage. That way, you don’t require big floorstanding front speakers and a less powerful AV receiver will suffice, and a smaller screen HD display. And you don’t need 7.1 channels, which are more appropriate in bigger rooms, for better distribution of surround effects. A 5.1-channel system using multipolar QS8 or QS4 surround speakers will deliver excellent performance in the smaller room.

Consider a typical bedroom: 12 x 15 x 8 ft (about 1500 cu. ft). You could install an Epic Grand Master/500 system in a 5.1 configuration for $2460. You won’t need as large a screen, either, so perhaps a 46-inch DLP will be ideal, and that’s $1800. A good quality Dolby Digital/dts A/V receiver for that size of room is readily available for $500 or less. Throw in a high-performance but budget-priced DVD player for $200, and our total equipment bill is now $4960, plus a few hundred for wires and cables.

The movie and music experience will still be terrific, with the smaller room compensating for the smaller loudspeakers, lower power, and smaller screen.

Customer Experience
Now let’s see what one Axiom customer actually spent to convert what was originally a screened room or “Lanai” ( Florida location) into a shared/dedicated home theater and music room.

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Here is the breakdown:

Speakers (Axiom):
M80 Floorstanding Front Speakers
VP150 Center Channel
VP100 Center Channel
QS8s (4) Surround Speakers
EP600 DSP Subwoofer
Total: $4,550

Video Display:
Mitsubishi WD 73727 73-inch rear-projection DLP HD set: $5,000;
TV Stand, $500
Total for Surround speaker system and large-screen video display: $10,000.

Rotel RB 1080 power amplifier, $999
Harman/Kardon AVR635 A/V receiver, $699
Denon 2910 DVD player, $700
Sony CDP-CX355 CD 301-disc MegaChangers (2) $400
Elan IR Remote system, $278
Total: $3076

Room Construction Materials and Labor:
Approximately $7,000
Room wall plates/installation, RG6 cabling, Cat5, speaker wire: $1100
Total: $8100

Grand Total: $21, 226


This owner spent around $14,000 for more elaborate audio and video equipment including a large Axiom EP600 subwoofer, two center channel speakers and a dedicated Rotel 300-watt-per-channel power amplifier for the M80 floorstanding speakers. Alternatively, he noted that he saved on labor costs by doing much of the work himself and considers the final cost of the room “well worth it.”

How do these amounts compare with our guidelines? As it turns out, quite closely. The original budget guidelines suggested allocating 35% to 40% of the $14,000 equipment budget to the home theater surround speaker system. Our real-life Axiom customer spent a bit less than 35% ($4550) on the Axiom 7.1-channel surround speaker system and exactly 35% ($5000) on the very large Mitsubishi 73-inch DLP rear-screen TV. That figure could be reduced by going to a smaller screen rear-projection DLP or LCD–for instance, a 52-inch DLP or LCD HD set would likely run about $3500 or less.

Similarly, the Axiom home theater system could be reduced by a few hundred here and there by using an EP500 subwoofer and M60 floorstanders vs. the M80 towers and EP600–but overall, allocating about 65% of the equipment budget to the video display and 5.1 or 7.1-channel speaker system is entirely sensible.

The 50% suggested budget figure ($10,000) for the room construction, decor, and miscellaneous wiring and cabling also correlates well with the Axiom owner’s real-life expenditure– of his $21,000 budget, he spent $7,000 with an additional $1,100 designated to wall plates, installation, RG-6 and Cat5 cabling plus speaker wire, for a total of $8100. But he did much of the labor himself, so that figure was less than the suggested “room” budget.

Sky’s the Limit
For homes worth more than $700,000, budget guidelines go out the window. The owner should simply spend whatever he or she wants, to get the room “look” desired. Plenty of homeowners love the mini movie theater look, with real theater seating, star motifs on the ceiling, curtains, popcorn machines and movie posters on the walls–and lighting that automatically dims.

So there you have a number of alternatives to building your own screening room and playing Hollywood mogul. Once completed, the only decision you’ll have to make is which movie to start with!

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