How to Build the Best Home Theater for $30,000—Or “That Budget Sucks”


Part 1 of 10: Introduction

I love the movies. Growing up, my dad would take me to browse the aisles of VHS covers at Blockbuster looking for new rentals. I was particularly attracted to film covers with older girls who looked pretty and cool: Now and Then, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, Gold Diggers. He once came home with Pretty Woman and said, “You’re going to love this movie!”.

In the same way that couples have songs, my father and I have movies. As a teenager I found escape in Fiesta Square AMC 16, home of indie films and $4 matinees. I could spend as much as $16 a week there.

My passion for theaters really catapulted when I was introduced to the world of private home theaters. Being in a private home theater makes you feel like you’re in Barbie’s Dream House. It’s something so outlandish and whimsical that only a big dreamer or a kid could’ve created it. It smells like leather and butter. It invokes any emotion or experience you want to partake in with a flick of your Kaleidescape wand.

In an age where media devices are getting smaller and more personalized, there’s still a lot of value in a shared experience on the big screen.

In a recent story, 9 of the Most Beautiful Celebrity Home Theaters—And One Terrible One, I mentioned that Kanye and Kim reportedly installed a $30,000 theater in one of their homes, which implied to me that it was more extravagant than the one pictured below:


My colleague explained that the theater pictured could easily be $30,000. Double take: what theater?! In fact, I received a lot of criticism for thinking $30,000 was a lot of money. I also found a personal challenge: if $30,000 was the budget for a home theater, what is the best it could be?

I came up with a plan and an article series. First, I would crowdsource opinions, and then I would solicit on-the-record advice from dealers, consultants, and manufacturers.

In preliminary questioning I said that the budget should include audio, video, sources, control, interconnects, networking, acoustic treatment and power conditioning but to be exclusive of installation, design, decor, and tax. I asked for specific feedback with what brands and products to use and how much they cost, both MSRP and on the street.

Ground Rules


  • All equipment must come from a certified dealer with full warranty (no Audiogon, no eBay).
  • Theater video means a really big screen, which in this budget means front projection.
  • Furniture and decor are outside the budget.
  • By soliciting opinions for publication, I’m getting design for free. Installation and project management are outside of the scope of this article, but I assume that there is a sufficient additional budget for a professional AV company.


Most Americans will laugh if you ask them how they would afford a $30,000 home theater, and most AV dealers will laugh if you ask them to build it—for different reasons.

Before starting my research, if someone had asked me, “could you make a $30,000 budget work on a home theater?” I would’ve said, “Definitely!” and spent the remaining money on Buncha Crunch, Cherry Coke, and a vacation to Hawaii. My belief was that owners of AV companies would be able to make a $30,000 budget work, too, especially because most don’t actually own the caliber of theaters that they sell. The cobbler’s children have no shoes.

After initial research, I still believe I could make a beautiful home theater for $30,000, but I would struggle to find a dealer who believes the same thing. Thankfully, I received over a dozen on-the-record opinions. Is $30,000 truly unrealistic for a small home theater? Should the question be "How much money at minimum do you need to make a great home theater?”

Up next, Part II: Social Media

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