Going to an actual commercial cinema isn't something that I do very often, despite having a really swanky new movie theater in my neighborhood. It is one of those new school, full-service places that has food and beverage service via iPad ordering, as well as amazingly comfortable reclining seats. The actual projected image and object-based-surround sound aren't anything to get too excited about, but the overall movie-going experience is over-the-top luxurious. It had better be, though, for $27 per ticket. Yikes.
With the stunningly high price of a movie ticket in these new theaters, I got to thinking about what a real-world home theater should cost. One of the best trends in consumer electronics is how rapidly new technologies have entered the space and how high-performance gear has dropped to price points that people can afford. Here's a perfect example: when I built my last house about five or so years ago, I bought a Samsung 85-inch TV (edge-lit with no HDR) for a little below the $10,000 retail price. Today's full-panel-array 85-inch sets, complete with HDR, sell for around $3,000. That's a lot of TV for $3,000 and perhaps too big for many rooms. An 85-inch set is so big that it challenges those who might have might have invested in a projector to stick with an ultra-bright, 4K UHD TV instead as it is less money and much easier to use. If you are willing to go down to 75 inches in screen size, which is perfectly awesome in most rooms, you can slash your budget even more without giving up on quality.
Surround sound has become more and more complex in that same five-year period of time; however, today's $500 to $750 AV receiver from (you pick the brand) pretty much has the processing and the digital power for 5.1, 7.1, or even forays into 13- and 16-channel object-based surround sound. Bigger receivers have more power and more channels, but even the smaller ones today are pretty impressive. HDMI switching is more reliable and ample in even the most low-cost AV receivers today. Room correction has also improved night-and-day in the past few years so that your affordable AV receiver can make a legitimate improvement in the face of the acoustical challenges that your physical room creates. That's a game changer for performance, ease of use, and fine tuning that you just couldn't get without breaking the bank not that many years ago, and now anybody with an Amazon.com account or a Best Buy nearby is in the game and at a price that most can afford.
Speakers and subwoofers have improved massively in the past few years, to the point that a pair of $2,000 floor-standing transducers is capable of truly impressing even the most jaded of audiophiles. Do you need 16 channels of surround sound? No, not really, but it is impressive at times. 5.2 channels of audio can make movies, music, video gaming, and sports into pretty amazing sonic experiences without having to buck up for something truly exotic, unless that is what you seek in your AV journey.
Online speaker companies offer incredible value today. Other more traditional speaker companies offer really cool add-ons to their speaker products that allow you to add side, height, and other effect speakers right onto your traditional form factor speakers. Subwoofer companies are offering smaller and smaller woofers in nicer and nicer finishes at increasingly affordable prices. It is hard to make a mistake buying good, high performance speakers these days, as there are so many good products in the market to choose from.
Source components are likely the biggest source of change in recent years in home theater. While I still believe that you need a cable or satellite receiver, at least if you're an avid sports fan, thousands of HomeTheaterReview.com readers have "cut the cord" and dumped the huge cable/satellite bill and use sources like a Roku Ultra and/or an antenna for local channels, and most never look back. My DirecTV bill is brutal every month, so I understand their motivation, but I need my Flyers and Eagles games on the West Coast and that's hard to do as a cord-cutter right now.
Silver disc players, even today's best UHD Blu-ray players, are more affordable than ever. Despite the fact that there are few rental options for discs, for $199 to $299 for the player, many home theater enthusiasts want to still play their movies from a disc, be it a new one or from their archived collection.
I can't report that remote controls have improved dramatically in this same five-year period, especially the ones that come with your TV or AV receiver. They still kinda suck. But Dennis Burger wrote about how you can use a home automation system like Control4 for about $1,000 (including basic programming) to deliver some pretty outrageous performance from your AV system in one room (and expandable long term into other room). Lights, HVAC, shades, etc., all can be rocking on either a hard button remote or on something like an iPad, and you can be the king of your own domain and for a price that might have cost five times as much just ten years ago. And yes, all of these things have relevance as pertains to your home theater experience.
In the end, let's say you are into your system for $5,000 to $7,500 in today's money. You've got a full range, 4K, large-video-display home theater that can do pretty much everything right in your living room. That's pretty incredible considering the access to content that a good Internet connection will allow you. Even from a Hollywood standpoint, you are seeing the window from theaters to streaming in 4K shrink to 90 to 120 days in some cases. What movie can't you wait 90 days for? Whatever movie that is, that's the one you spend $27 on.
Granted, $27 isn't the price in every theater or the price at off-peak times, but you can expect to spend a pretty penny on going out to the movies if you live in a big city in America. And there is nothing wrong with movie night or taking the kids out to see the latest Pixar or Star Wars or Marvel movie. That is a different experience and a cool one at that. McConnell's Ice Cream tastes better at the parlor around from the movie theater than it does from the $9 pint at home. That is fact. Another fact is, despite the high price of movie tickets in my home town, they still sell the place out all weekend as they are providing a unique experience that a lot of people enjoy.
All I am saying is... for an increasingly fair price (lower and lower each year) you can have a home theater that rocks harder than the high-end theater experience for whatever growing list of content that you want to consume at home. That is very good news for the home theater business.
• AV Bliss Is About More Than Merely Audio and Video at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• One Thing We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Cord-Cutting at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Getting Started With Basic Home Automation: Control4 Edition at HomeTheaterReview.com.