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Should You Install a Home Theater?


May 17, 2020 by Barbara Zito

If you love planning movie nights or enjoy binge-watching TV shows, then you might have thought about installing a home theater. Of course, now that social distancing has made us rethink all things entertainment, home theaters might become as necessary as an extra bathroom.

To be clear, setting up a home theater is not just about buying a big TV screen (though that's certainly part of it) and calling it a day. Rather, a home theater creates the space in which you can replicate the movie theater experience.

What is a home theater?

For the sake of argument, we'll define a home theater as having the following:

  • A room, or space within a room, dedicated to television/movie watching.
  • Seating arranged for optimal viewing of the screen.
  • Surround sound or another upgraded audio experience.

Sound pricey? It can be. In fact, a good home theater can cost around $5000 -- and can even skyrocket to $50,000 or higher. This is one of those home improvement projects that can go as far as your budget takes it -- and we're not just talking about buying a bigger screen. Want to watch your favorite movie in a reclining leather chair with cup holders? You got it. Want a top-of-the-line sectional couch that fits the entire family? Go for it.

But if you don't have a Hollywood budget for your home theater setup, that's fine, too. It's all about designing an entertainment space in your space.

The pros and cons of a home theater

Home theaters sound great in theory, but before you go out and buy a screen the size of your wall, here are some things to consider:

Pro: Your movies, your space

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, doing things from the comfort of your own home is more of a requirement these days than a luxury. But even those premium theaters where you get served snacks and drinks in plush reclining seats can't match the experience of watching movies from home. You decide what movies to watch. You decide when the movie starts. Best of all? You've got control of the pause button whenever it's time for a bathroom break.

Con: You can't use your home theater for much else

If you've got a huge house with a home theater you can close the door on, then this doesn't apply to you. But if you've got an average-size house, this could be an issue. If you've gone all-out to optimize the space for your viewing pleasure with reclining chairs or a large sectional sofa all pointed toward a jumbo screen, then it's going to be hard to use that space for anything else. Consider how much time you'll actually be spending in a home theater before making the decision as to whether designing a dedicated space is the right move.

Pro: The sound and picture quality is amazing

When you shop wisely for the optimal size screen/audio components, you'll have a true home theater experience. The images on the screen are crisp and the sound is crystal clear. In short, there's nothing like it -- and you've got the remote control in your hand.

Con: The sound and picture quality might be too much

Not everything needs to be seen in 4K resolution, nor do you need to have the sound amplified to fill an arena at all times. Sometimes, you might want to watch a show or catch the weather report without being blown away by the visual and audio. Think about your viewing habits and how your current screens serve you. You might be better off simply buying a better TV for the living room or family room rather than going all out on a home theater setup.

Pro: You'll save money on trips to the movies

It might've been a while since you've been to the theater, so here's a reminder: Movie tickets are pricey. Tickets, popcorn, snacks, and drinks for a family of four can add up to nearly a hundred bucks. Spread that out over time and compare it to the budget you have in mind for a home theater. You might find that your home theater could pay itself off in the (not too) long run.

Con: You'll waste money on technology that will be outdated soon

4K is here now, but 5K is coming. Will you feel the need to update your home theater every time some new technology is introduced or more pixels are added? Remember what happened to DVDs in the wake of streaming services. Then there was that time when LCD trumped plasma. The great thing about technology is that there is always something better coming, and the bad thing for your technology budget is that there is always something better coming. If you're like a kid in a candy store when it comes to the next big thing in home entertainment, then make sure your home theater setup -- and your budget -- has room to adapt to anything larger/smaller that's coming.

The bottom line

If you love nothing more than curling up on the couch in front of a good movie or your favorite TV show, then you might be hard-pressed to say no to a home theater. But if your entertainment tastes wane or you get caught up in always having the newest tech toys, a home theater could turn out to be a box-office dud.

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