If you want to create a great home theater experience, you'll need three main components: a screen, an audio system, and a media player. With endless hardware combinations to choose from, this guide will help you learn about the basics.

A home theater has three main components: a screen, an audio system, and a media player.

To make the process of building a top-notch home theater system easier, we spent many hours researching and testing the essential components of a high-quality home theater. We'll elaborate on all of our criteria for these components below. Prepare to enjoy your favorite movies and TV shows in a next-level setting!

The Screen

When it comes down to choosing a screen for your home theater, you have two main options: a projector or a large-screen TV. Each has its own distinct set of advantages over the other.

You'll need to consider the size and layout of the room you'll place it in, as well as the amount of time that you plan to use it. Home theater projectors, unlike TVs, have built-in lamps, which have a set usage cycle before they need a pricey replacement. (To give you context, lamp life is measured in thousands of hours!)

Option 1: A Projector

The biggest benefit of using a home theater projector is that it'll deliver the closest experience to being in a movie theater. A projector lets you easily enjoy content on a screen that measures well over 100 inches diagonally — larger than any TV available today.

However, home theater projectors have several shortcomings, starting with their significantly lower maximum brightness when compared to a TV. This means that you'll need a dark room to enjoy it. A home theater projector also requires ceiling mounting and a dedicated screen to deliver an optimal experience.

Luckily, there's an alternative. Short-throw laser home theater projectors feature cutting-edge tech that addresses most of a traditional projector's shortcomings. These offer more dynamic onscreen content with superior brightness and contrast.

Best of all, short-throw laser projectors don't need an elaborate installation or a ton of space — you can place them close to a wall. Overall, these products are considerably pricier, but well worth it if your budget permits.

Option 2: A Big-Screen TV

A big-screen TV offers the most practical path to building your home theater system. We highly recommend opting for at least a 65-inch display panel (or higher).

Compared to a home theater projector, a big-screen TV is much easier to install, and it has better durability. You also won’t need to worry about the ambient lighting in the room like you would with a projector — TVs have a much brighter picture.

Whether you choose a home theater projector or a large-screen TV, make sure you opt for one that supports 4K resolution. With four times as many pixels as Full HD, 4K video looks vastly better and more detailed. Most new movies and shows are already available in 4K, making sure the device you invest in is futureproof.

Buyers looking for even more pixels can consider an 8K TV instead. They have four times more pixels than their already captivating 4K counterparts. As a result, the experience of watching compatible content is nothing short of astounding. Top-tier manufacturers like LG, Samsung, and Sony offer 8K-compatible products, and you can snag a great TV with a 65-inch panel for less than $3,000. However, there's limited availability when it comes to 8K content, so you might want to hold off until it becomes more mainstream.

HDR is another term you need to be familiar with when shopping for a screen. The abbreviation stands for High Dynamic Range, and it makes compatible content look a lot more vibrant than non-HDR footage. There are three HDR content standards — Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG — and today's high-end TVs support all of them. For the time being, home theater projectors are considerably limited in their HDR capabilities, though they still support HDR10 content.

The Audio System

A surround sound setup is as essential to your home theater experience as the screen. The easiest path to upgrading your audio is to get a ready-to-use home theater package. These days, such a setup typically includes a soundbar, satellite speakers, and a subwoofer.

All home theater audio systems support 5.1-channel surround sound — the bare minimum for a great sonic experience. Fancier offerings support even more audio channels, including Dolby Atmos, which can simulate audio effects from any direction (including above you!) for complete immersion into the content you're viewing.

More experienced audiophiles can opt to build their own surround sound system with an audio receiver and set of speakers. Most modern audio receivers support 4K video passthrough via HDMI. This is an essential feature to keep an eye out for, especially if you have a 4K TV or home theater projector.

Depending on your budget, you can create a high-quality setup for less than $1,000. But if money is no object, you can easily spend a five-digit sum (and beyond!) on audio hardware.

The Media Player

Unless you own a smart 4K TV, we highly recommend that you add a UHD-capable streaming device to your home theater setup.

The Apple TV 4K is by far the best option available today. It supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10 High Dynamic Range standards, and offers a fantastic selection of 4K content and streaming services. This can range from Netflix and Amazon Prime all the way through to the tech giant's own Apple TV+.

The latest NVIDIA Shield TV is also a solid alternative to the Apple TV 4K. It supports 4K HDR streaming from today’s popular services (including YouTube), as well as rentals from the Google Play store.

Today's top gaming consoles like the Microsoft Xbox Series X and the Sony PlayStation 5 double as powerful media players: They can not only stream high-resolution content, but also play 4K Blu-ray discs. They are definitely worth considering ... as long as you can find one in stock.

If you're the type who likes physical copies of movies, consider a 4K Blu-ray player instead. Today’s best offerings support HDR content, as well as the ability to stream from the most popular services.

Optional: The Universal Remote Control

Each home theater component will have its own remote control, which can get overwhelming. We highly recommend getting a universal remote control to fight back against a cluttered coffee table.

One For All Smart Control Universal Remote
amazon.com
$49.99
$42.94 (14% off)

The appropriately named One For All Smart Control universal remote is one of the best of its kind. The reasonably priced gadget can control up to eight devices, including a TV, an audio system, a streaming player, and a gaming console, to name a few. It's super sleek and — thanks to a companion app — infinitely customizable.

Believe it or not, your smartphone can also double as a convenient universal remote control. Many of today’s top-rated home theater products have Wi-Fi connectivity and app-enabled controls.

Depending on the products you choose, you might even be able to skip using an app altogether. Apple iOS, for example, has a built-in Apple TV remote, allowing users to control their media player — as well as the TV and audio system it's connected to — with their iPhone.