The Ultimate Guide To Building a DIY Home Theatre System
How to use in ceiling and in wall speakers for the ultimate set up
This is the most comprehensive online guide to building your own DIY home cinema room.
In this guide you’ll learn everything you need to plan, buy, and build a home theatre that will amaze you and your family. (And save you cramming into the public cinema.)
Should you even build a complete home theatre room?
Just to be clear, you can purchase an AV receiver and a set of speakers and you’ll have yourself a surround sound system. If you do that… you are essentially upgrading your existing lounge room.
But there are a few things worth considering with this.
If you spend a portion of your time in a more relaxed state you might want a simple lounge.
Maybe during the week you just want some light TV viewing or a quiet reading space. Maybe you want a room to sit and talk. And maybe you don’t want to complicate that space with entertainment products.
Another thing is that you can’t have BOTH a relaxed chatting space AND an immersive home theatre at the same time. If you have youngsters in your family this might be even more of a problem.
The last thing to consider is simple… the feel of your existing lounge does not compare to the feel of a dedicated cinema room.
If you DO go through with the project you will enjoy a few key benefits:
- You will have an unreal space to watch movies or listen to a new album.
- You will have a simple, separate space to sit and chat or just relax.
- You will increase the value of your home (if you live in a luxury-driven area) by having a separate, dedicated theatre room.
Not to mention your home will become a heck of a place to host parties!!
So, without further ado, here is The Definitive Guide To Your DIY Home Theatre Project.
- How to plan your project
- Starting from scratch: Building the room
- The audio system
- The visual system
- Finishing touches
How to plan your project
As far as planning goes…
You probably have some ideas on WHICH room you want to turn into a home theatre room.
But you need to consider if you’re going to start from scratch and build the walls OR if you’re going to modify an existing room.
If you’re starting from scratch…
You’ll be able to choose the size of the room and perhaps where it’ll go.
Home theatre rooms can vibrate the walls of nearby bedrooms. So the best place to put them is on concrete foundation (unfinished basements are perfect).
If you have a choice in the matter, that is where you should do it.
Here are most of the steps you’ll take from there (including planning items):
- Draw up the shape and size of the room. Where will you sit. How many seats? Will you use risers?
- Get materials and frame the walls up. Remember to leave space for in-wall or in-ceiling speakers. Add bracing timber where brackets will go. Plan for either a TV or projector setup. Plan how many speakers you want in your surround sound (e.g. 5.1.2).
- Run all cables (power; ethernet; audio). Use conduit if possible, especially if you adding / removing cables easier in the future. Install outlets and dimmable lighting mounts if needed. Remember where a subwoofer will go needs an outlet. Stuff acoustic insulation in the walls.
- Install plasterboard on the walls. Add cornice, skirting and in built cabinet(s). Paint the room (dark colours are ideal for theatre rooms). Cut out spots that speakers and lights will go. Install outlet covers. Cut out access holes for cables wherever electronics and screens go.
- Choose flooring (carpet trumps all for acoustics). Before doing carpet, build risers so the back lounge seats are higher than front ones.
- All cables should be in place — install speakers and place electronics. You will need 4-11 speakers and 1-2 subs, an AV receiver, and sources. Maybe gaming console(s) and a turntable.
- Install your TV mount and TV — or projector and projector screen.
- Place your lounge seating. Install drapes and acoustic panels if desired. Install mood lighting (LED edge lighting, star panels, wall sconces). Add decor and side tables.
- Fire up the electronics. Go through your receiver’s microphone calibration to optimise sound. Connect your system to WiFi. Make sure all firmware is updated.
Decisions you need to make up front
Let’s go over a few things you should have figured out BEFORE you start your project.
(I’ll expand on these more in the rest of the guide.)
What kind of speakers will you use?
You can choose from box speakers that sit in the room, small speakers that mount to the walls, or in-wall and/or in-ceiling speakers.
We recommend by far going with in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. These blend minimalist home design with deep, clear sound better than any other solution. And since you’re taking on a complete DIY home theatre project, in-built speaker install fits right in.
The in-wall and in-ceiling category of speaker happens to be our specialty. High performance sound quality with nearly invisible form factor.
Click here to see some of our in-built speakers.
You can use any type — but for the purposes of this guide I’m going to assume you’re using installed speakers (in-wall and in-ceiling).
How many speakers will be in your surround sound system?
The traditional 5.1 setup gives you three speakers up front and two behind, plus a sub. The current standard includes two additional overhead speakers (ATMOS). I strongly recommend using those two.
If you’re investing in a full home theatre project you should use ATMOS.
You can also add a second subwoofer if you want insane levels of impact in the bass.
Most people go with 5 or 7 channels of speakers plus 1 or 2 subs and 2 or 4 ATMOS speakers in the ceiling.
(If you go with our flagship Elite-303 in-wall speakers you will get clear centre speaker sound from only two speakers up front. Click here to learn more.)
Will you use a TV or a projector?
Whichever you choose, it will influence what kind of mounts you need to accommodate in the front of the room (TV or projector screen). And whether you need to add a projector mount on the back ceiling.
Projector screens come motorised, manual, and static (meaning they’re always outstretched).
This will also influence where you have to run your HDMI cable. Your video device needs to get video information from the AV receiver.
How will you improve the room’s acoustics?
You need to know ahead of time if you will quiet the room down with sound insulation (in the walls).
You might also want to plan for acoustic panels that will look nice, bass traps in the corners, and sound deadening curtains that look nice too.
Where will your electronics go?
Will you just put an entertainment unit in the room? A free-standing cabinet?
Or will you install a recessed cabinet?
Whichever you choose, you need to know ahead of time what it will be and where it will go. Your speaker cables, sub cables and an HDMI cable need to be run from that location.
You also need to make sure the area is ventilated. Your electronics need to stay cool.
Will you have a gaming console? What about a turntable?
If you want extra forms of entertainment, I don’t blame you. A cozy, quiet, secluded room to enjoy is the perfect place for it.
A gaming console may need to be accessible and in-range of the controllers (assuming you get a modern wireless system).
And a turntable will need a rock-solid table to sit on. It must not vibrate. Never put it directly next to a subwoofer. Plus you need to run RCA cables from that turntable to your AV receiver — so it needs to be near the electronics space.
Starting from scratch: Building the room
In this section I’ll lay down what you need to know if you’re building the room from scratch.
By “from scratch” I mean you have to at least put plasterboard / gyprock on the walls. (So you’ll be able to run fresh utilities behind them.)
I’ll also give you some guidance on the best way to build the walls.
Framing the walls
Framing walls seems like a difficult task — but you’ll be able to complete this with a little guidance.
Timber wall frames should be 90 mm x 45 mm so you have room to work with. Standard spacing for structural studs should be 450 mm OR 600 mm.
Rather than going in depth I’ll link two resources to give you the picture:
The size of the room on the other hand, does carry some importance.
You don’t want the dimensions to be a perfect cube. It’s much better to use a proven ratio that works for acoustics.
If “H” is the ceiling height of your room, here is a ratio that you should try to stay close to:
H x 1.28W x 1.54D
This ratio is the result of crunching a ton of data by acoustic scientist L.W. Sepmeyer. You can see the technical stuff here. But to keep it simple just remember that you don’t want any two dimensions to be similar.
Tapered walls offer an acoustic advantage… and they look cool.
If you have the choice, you should build the walls so the side walls of the room are tapered.
This improves the bass resonance of the room and creates a sense that the screen is bigger — everything in the room draws in towards it.
What you need to confirm first, though, is that you can do 25 mm of taper per 300 mm distance along the wall. That’s the minimum angle to make it work.
Other tasks to do in the framing phaseTo help make running cables easy, you will need to drill holes in the studs of your wall so that cables can pass through.
You can also use PVC pipe as conduit. This is a smart choice if you want to future-proof a bit… you never know when you might want to put in a new standard HDMI or run more cables.
You’ll run the PVC conduit through the holes you made in the frame. Then later on it will be easy to slide cables through without busting up your plasterboard again, or using a fishing tool.
The standard for PVC conduit is to fill it to a maximum of 40% so use a larger diameter if possible.
Here’s a little video showing a complete conduit project. (It’s also a good example of how to build a home theatre in an room with existing walls. Notice the use of a bulk head in the top corners and running cable through the riser.)
You also want to install electrical boxes wherever you need a power outlet (mindful of subwoofers), lighting hardware for recessed lights (if needed), and note areas you’ll have ethernet points.
If you’re not using an in-built cabinet, you might also want to have a tidy connection plate for speaker wire and interconnects behind your free standing cabinet.
- Power cables for mains electricity (outlets and lighting).
- Speaker wire pairs (14 AWG) for each speaker (if you use our Elite-303 speakers you need to run an additional pair to each).
- Ethernet cables wherever you may need network devices (smart TV; range extender; etc.)
- A built-in cabinet for electronics (optional).
- Bracing timber (part of frame) for mounting hardware.
- Acoustic insulation.
Here’s a good video showing cable running, stud drilling, and light fixture install.
We went over running the cables in the last section, so here I’ll cover the rest of the bullets.
Built-in cabinet for electronics
The most professional and tidy way to store your electronics is in a recessed shelf. But you need to have the space to build one.
AV receivers can be as much as 500 mm deep. And you have to be mindful of where the cables will be when they connect. Usually the connectors don’t allow you to bend 90 degrees.
Ideally you’ll have more than 500 mm depth and that might be hard to get.
If you CAN use an in-built cabinet, here’s a helpful article with a step-by-step process for building your own (no door on this one).
The alternative is to purchase a free standing or wall mounted cabinet. Check out “home theatre entertainment units” to see some examples.
Bracing and empty spaces
Be sure to leave empty spaces where you’ll need to put speakers or recessed lighting.
This is why it’s important to know exactly where your screen and speakers will go BEFORE you frame.
See the “Where to place your speakers” section of this article (below) for help.
In addition to leaving empty spaces where needed — you also need to have timber bracing behind the plasterboard in critical places. Including anywhere you’ll hang a projector, TV, or wall sconce (surface mount light).
With the luxury of planning and cabling behind your walls, you also have the ability to REALLY improve room acoustics.
In-wall acoustic materials are good at keeping home theatre sound from bleeding into other rooms of the house. It installs just like thermo-insulation does. You fill the interior of the walls with it and cover it with plasterboard.
For an Australian supplier of this kind of insulation, see this example. And for an example of installation, see this video.
Plasterboard and beyond
I won’t get into doing the plasterboard here — check out this tutorial to learn how to do that.
Here’s another one about adding cornice and skirting to the room.
Once you DO have the walls finished you’ll need to:
- Paint them. Here’s an example of a funky theatre paint job.
- Cut out the areas speakers and recessed lighting will go.
- Install mounting hardware for TV or projector equipment.
- Build and install seat risers (optional).
- Install flooring (carpet is a no brainer for acoustics).
- Install a “solid core” door for acoustics.
Seat risers for theatre seating
Note: Don’t put raw wood on top of concrete! You need to use treated timber that resists rot wherever it will touch concrete.
Seat risers are an optional extra that takes thing up a notch. If you have the space and a big family (or friends who want to come over) you can use risers for a second row of seating.
350 mm to 400 mm is a good range to ensure the back row can see.
I’ll briefly touch on the steps to completion, then link a video.
Just know that you need to plan if you want steps, or if you want the riser to span the width of the room, etc.
- Build a robust frame that suits your plan. Screw it to the walls.
- Stuff the frame with acoustic insulation to prevent vibration.
- Glue and screw plywood / OSB down. (Two layers is ideal.)
…and here’s a helpful video to help guide you along.
The best flooring hands down is going to be carpet. For acoustic purposes, nothing else will do.
To maintain the cozy feel of the room and to draw people into the screen more, it’s a good idea to stick with a darker colour. You’ll install the carpet on
Mounting hardware for screens
At this point you should know where you want to mount your TV or projector. Use the bracing you installed earlier and anchor the hardware in.
As previously mentioned, be mindful of how big you want your projection to be and how distance affects it. Each projector will have a ratio of image size to distance, so make sure the ceiling mount is in the right range.
The audio system
If you’ve completed everything up to this point, it’s time to design the audio system for your room.
The questions above asked the most basic questions:
- What type of speakers will you use? And,
- How many speakers will be in your system?
Assuming you’ve decided those things, next you need to look at all the other components you need and WHY.
You also need to know where to put them and, a few other things to watch out for.
I’ll quickly go over each main component to your audio system and roughly how to choose them.
See my notes above about which speakers to get and how many, under “Decisions you need to make up front.”
This is by far the most impactful part of the system as far as sound quality goes. It’s a good idea to pick these first. I usually recommend clients budget for their receiver and other audio components after they pick speakers.
Many people think of this as another speaker… but two key differences separate them:
- Subwoofers only play LOW frequency sounds, and
- Subwoofers have amplifiers inside them.
The built-in amp is necessary because subs have to move a lot of air in order to cover subsonic bass. They usually have much larger speaker drivers and need a lot of energy to do the job.
Click here to see an example of a quality subwoofer.
People often confuse receivers and amplifiers. The reality is, receivers have amplifiers inside them… but they also do a lot more.
AV receivers act as device hubs that allow you to connect all your electronics to one device. This is handy because all your electronics can be stored in a cabinet, then only ONE cable is needed to run to the TV.
As far as a home theatre amplifier goes, the AV receiver is the best option.
You’ll connect every to it. You’ll use it to set your system up when you first switch it on. You can use it to control your system using Bluetooth or WiFi.
You just need to make sure you cover ALL the features you need.
- How many inputs / outputs do you need?
- Do you want to run cables to more rooms of your home for extra zones?
- Do you need a phono input for your turntable?
To learn more about AV receivers, check out this article.
Sources means wherever your media is coming from. There are a lot of possible sources so let me list the main ones quickly:
- CD player
- Blu-ray player
- Smart TV
- Network streamer
- Media server
- Smart phone
Technically, your smart phone isn’t a source. It’s a remote control.
You pull up an app and choose what you want to play… and it streams that media from the internet (or a media server in your home).
All modern AV receivers have app control facility on board. As long as you get one of those you’ll be good to go.
You just need to decide if you want to use your CD and Blu-ray collections. And if you want to get a turntable to play records.
I recommend only using CD and Blu-ray if you already have tons of them and you like them. Because the quality and access to streaming music, movies and TV is only getting better.
As far as turntables go — they’re not normally included in a home theatre. They’re better suited for the lounge room where you sit with a friend and chat while Miles Davis plays gently in the background.
Streaming, Bluetooth and WiFi
You want to control your system wirelessly… right?
This is the number one best thing about modern entertainment systems. It’s worth making sure your system has it.
As far as your home theatre project is concerned, this is a piece of cake. You should get an AV receiver to power your speakers and act as a device hub. And every branded AV receiver now has Bluetooth AND WiFi control.
Plus, smart TV’s and projectors have WiFi based app controls too.
This is pretty much guaranteed to be built into your products unless you’re piecing together pro-audio components. OR if you’re using really old kit.
If you want to learn more about Bluetooth and WiFi (and which is better)...
Check back here for our article on wireless audio control, coming soon.
Where to place your speakers
Placing your speakers should be easy if you’re building the theatre room from scratch.
If you have windows, doors, or obstructions it might be harder.
While this step is important and it will impact your sound… it’s not complicated. In fact, it’s fairly intuitive.
Here’s a diagram to give you an idea on where speakers go in a 7.2.4 system.
The green rectangle represents a TV screen. The blue squares are in-wall speakers and the red circles are in-ceiling ATMOS speakers.
When you’re dead centre in the middle of the seating area, you want each LEFT side speakers to be the same distance and angle from you as the corresponding RIGHT side speaker.
The front LEFT and RIGHT speakers are the most important — and they should make an isosceles triangle with that middle seat. Each speaker should be the same distance to you, and in between them as well.
If you only have two ATMOS speakers (in red), imagine the back two are removed and the front two are brought closer to over head (just in front of you).
And if you only have 5 channels (7 are shown in the diagram), just omit the two in-wall speakers on the sides.
Where do I place my front speakers
How room acoustics work
Good or bad room acoustics all comes down to audio reflections.
If there are any reflections of sound, you hear those reflections. Therefore they add to what you’re hearing.
So your music or film audio is more clear, detailed, and distinct when your room does NOT create reflections.
How do you improve the acoustics of the room then?The short answer is this:
You must make sure there are no large, consistent, hard surfaces in the room.
Rugs, book-filled bookshelves, decorations, items hanging on walls…
All those things actually help to improve the acoustics of a room.
Since you’re building a dedicated theatre room, you can take this WAY further and really kill reflections.
- Stuff the walls with acoustic material (e.g. rockwool).
- Install acoustic panels on open parts of the walls.
- Install bass traps or more panels in the corners of the room.
- Add curtains for a “theatre” look and sound deadening.
The visual system
The visual system in your DIY home theatre have fewer “moving parts.”
As mentioned in the “Up front questions” section, you need to decide if you’re going with a TV or a projector.
This needs to be done BEFORE you plasterboard the walls because you need to run an HDMI cable from your electronics cabinet to wherever your TV / projector will be.
Should I get a TV or a projector?
- Only one device needed.
- Easier to move to another room than projector setups.
- Smart features built-in.
- Screen size is inferior to projectors by a lot.
- The large screen TV’s are heavy and cumbersome.
- Small and easy to move / store.
- Image size is WAY more exciting. It’s more like a cinema experience.
- You have to install equipment in two spots (front and back of room).
- They take longer to fire up. Sometimes you just want to watch a quick video clip.
- You have to replace projector bulbs (1000 hours or more).
- May need a streaming device to stream shows and movies to your projector.
Once you decide WHICH you’re going with, you can start to shop for what you need. I’ll go over the common considerations here.
How do I choose a TV screen size?
When choosing a TV size, consider the distance from the front wall you’ll be sitting. With multiple rows of seats, use the front row.
Then you want to choose a TV size based on this formula:
Distance to TV = 2 x TV size (diagonal)
So if you’re sitting 3.3 metres back from the wall, a 65-inch (1.65 m) TV is perfect.
You can get close to the 2 x without ruining the viewing either — they say 1.5 to 2.5 times the TV size is fine.
What’s the difference between LED, QLED, OLED and the rest
TV manufacturers choose what to call their sets. So these the terms LED, LCD, and others get thrown around a bit.
But here’s the scoop:
“LED” TV’s are actually LED-backlit LCD screens. There are a few types within this group — but they’re all LCD screens at heart.
Cheaper sets only have LED backlighting at the edges. They are usually referred to as simply “LED” screens.
Take a step up and you’ll find “full array” LED TV’s. These screens have LED backlighting across the entire panel which helps create stronger contrast in the image.
Another version of this screen is the “QLED.” They use a “quantum dot display” to improve brightness and colour array even further. They’re a step up from full array sets, but still considered inferior to OLED.
“OLED” TV’s on the other hand do not use LCD screens. They use a different type of LED array that creates more vivid colour and stronger blacks. They can be lighter and thinner than LCD based screens as well.
Is it good to get a smart TV?
Absolutely. Smart TV’s will give you WiFi streaming of shows, video clips, and movies. Making sure you go with a model that has good user interface reviews is a good idea.
As far as streaming music goes, you’ll be able to run a streaming service off your phone through your AV receiver. That’s not a problem.
It’s worth having streaming shows though. The convenience is excellent.
What to look for in a projector
Projectors give you more of a cinema feel. The screen can be a lot larger than any manageable TV.
One downside though… most projectors don’t have WiFi connectivity.
That means no smart functions built in — like Netflix or YouTube. You will need another device that can send quality video streams to your system if you go with a “dumb” projector.
Spending more on a projector means higher video resolution, video processing speeds, and better lenses (clearer images).
Resolution: This refers to the size of the pixels that make up the projected image. Higher resolution means more pixels, and smaller.
Many models are “Full HD 1080p” resolution. You can take that to the next level with a 4K Ultra HD projector.
Light output: These ratings range from 700 - 2,500 lumens. This tells you how bright the projection can be.
Brightness helps if you’re going with a huge screen (>110 inch) OR if you’re dealing with ambient light (e.g. windows). But a dark, dedicated theatre room will help with this too.
Contrast ratio: This specification tells you how extreme the blacks and whites are. It adds vivid life to colours and gives a feel of sharpness.
What type of projector screen should I get?
Projected images often look decent on a painted wall. But it’s worth getting a projector screen because they improve brightness, contrast, and viewing angle.
Go with the largest screen size that will fit your space (and budget). Keep in mind that cheaper projectors may struggle to produce huge images at full quality. So don’t skimp on the unit if you want a big, clear image.
Also make sure your screen is high enough that the viewing angle is natural (while seated). If you have a back row you want those positions to see everything easily as well.
Screens often come in inch sizes (diagonal): 92; 100; 110; 120; 135; on up to 180.
There are two common screen types: fixed frame and retractable.
Fixed frame screens come either pre-assembled or in a few easy-to-assemble pieces. This includes the frame and screen material.
This type of screen will have a frame around the edges. These frames come in different thicknesses, so you may check the specs if you want a thinner frame.
Retractable screens can be motorised or manual (pull-down).
With a dedicated theatre room, this style of screen may not be worth it. That’s because the major upside is that the screen can be hidden when not in use.
These retractable screens will require mounting up above your viewing space. You may want to make sure you’re anchoring this into the frame behind your plasterboard wall.
Another thing you need to know if you’re going with a motorized screen is that it will need power. You can often run a low voltage jack cable from the screen to the projector if you want it to lower when you turn on your projector.
As far as projector screen colour is concerned, you’ll find white, black, and grey.
White is pretty standard because it’s easier for the projector to create a bright and vivid image.
But grey and black are progressively higher contrast. So if you have a powerful projector these screens can create a slightly more impressive image.
What needs to be installed?
Before putting plasterboard on the walls of the room (if starting from scratch), think about your video system.
You will want to have timber bracing in the wall to screw your TV mount to after you put plasterboard. You’ll also want to run the HDMI cable from wherever your AV receiver will be.
Once the room is painted you can install your TV mount and hang the TV, or your projector ceiling mount.
If you’re going with a projector, you’ll have to install the screen at the front of the room as well. Each screen maker will provide installation instructions for how to do this.
As previously mentioned, be mindful of how big you want your projection to be and how distance affects it. Each projector will have a ratio of image size to distance, so make sure the ceiling mount is in the right range.
You also want to make sure the lens of your projector is parallel to the screen at the front of the room. Of course, if this is off by a small amount you can adjust using projector settings (keystone correction and lens shift).
At this point you’re coming down the home stretch…
Your room is build, trimmed and painted. Your speakers and electronics are in place. The TV or projector is ready to go.
But you got nowhere to sit.
Time to get some theatre lounge chairs.
What kinds of theatre lounges are there?
Home theatre lounges come as single seaters, love seats, and a row of 3-5 single seats.
When deciding, think about your room size including whether you used risers for a second row.
Materials used to make these chairs are genuine leather, faux leather, and cotton fabric.
While leather is the most durable and perhaps the best looking, fabric lounges can be very comfortable. Know that these are three common materials for theatre lounges and shop around for the best fit for your room.
Here are a handful of other features that are available on some theatre lounges:
- Cup holders
- Manual recline
- Powered recline / headrest
- Adjustable lumbar (where your lower back rests)
- Seat vibration (connects with movies for more rumble)
- Ambient lighting (causing the chair edges to glow)
- USB charging ports
How to decorate my home theatre room
The last thing you should do to “tie the knot” on your home theatre project is add some aesthetic flair.
Movie-theatre themed decor and cozy add-ons suit perfectly.
Here is a list of ideas:
- Vintage or tasteful movie posters
- Dark coloured drapes
- A popcorn machine
- Vintage film equipment turned into hanging art (like film reels)
- Photographs of famous theatres, actors/actresses, etc.