How to build a brilliant home cinema on a budget

We want to go to the cinema. We want blockbuster action topped with cheesy goo and maybe a slushie. We are eager to be robbed of £5 for stale popcorn. And above all we want this experience with real people.
But that’s not allowed, and even if it were there’s nothing on worth watching as studios delay films multiple times hoping to ensure the best box-office takings. Moreover, the pandemic looks to have changed how films are released for good, with the advent of simultaneous streaming this year.


All this makes the only remaining option – recreating the cinema experience at home – a sensible investment. And, yes, you could easily get by with your existing telly, a subscription to Netflix or Disney+ and even being daring enough to switch off the living room lights.
But it could be so much better. And here’s the killer: you don’t need a £16,000 wall screen and high-end sound system – it can be done on the cheap.
Assuming you are happy with your current TV and are not looking to upgrade, then adding a projector into the mix instead will be transformational to house-bound movie nights. The obvious benefits are they don’t take up much room or can be put away after you are done with the six films, 1,171 minutes, nearly 20 hours watching all of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.
Yes, you’ll need to get your room as dark as possible and either invest in a dedicated projector screen that can be had at sizes of 120in for less than £20 or clear some white wall space for the free option (however, take note, you’ll get a better picture with a screen). But the real plus is getting out the projector adds a fitting sense of theatre to the evening. You are not, yet again, just flopping down in front of the box.


As for budget projectors, this is no longer new tech and the good news is that there are many options, even in the coveted “ultra short throw” category. Our current top portable projector is the exceedingly useful Anker Nebula Mars II. It’s only 720p HD, but it can throw a screen of up to 150in. That’s because the Nebula Mars II is made to be used occasionally. You don’t, after all, want to do this every night, right? So a weight of just 1.5kg means it can be moved around with ease. What’s more, being wireless it is a one-box wonder, requiring nothing else to get started. Wi-Fi allows access to Netflix, Amazon Prime etc.
The built-in battery goes for up to four hours of runtime if you don’t plug it in. It even has its own sound system, which although light on bass, isn’t bad at all. It’s even easy to use – you just point it at a wall and let the automatic focusing and keystone correction do the rest. You can pick one up for around £400 online, but we’d suggest going for the £535 Nebula Mars II Pro version with 500 lumens of brightness as opposed to the normal version’s 300. You won’t regret the extra outlay.
If you need a portable projector with better resolution, then you may want to consider the Xgimi Mogo Pro Plus Mini projector, which is £589 but can offer 1080p Full HD – but, be warned, we haven’t tried this model and it only has 300 lumens brightness.


Once you go wired then for the same cash you can go for another WIRED Recommends hit (well, the new version of it), the Optoma HD29He (£649). Not only does its outstanding 8.4ms latency mean this is excellent for gamers, the light 2.5kg projector has good black levels, a sharp picture and superb brightness, with a claimed 3,400 lumens. You won’t find 4K at this price, but it does offer 1080p and is HDR compatible, and can downscale 4K sources, too.
If you want the very latest tech then the LG CineBeam HF65LSR UST is for you. UST stands for “Ultra Short Throw” LED laser projector. This means you get a super sharp Full HD picture from a small box that need only be just 38cm away from a wall if you want the max 100in screen. It can even do wireless screen sharing. Now, this went as low as £729 on Prime Day last year, but has gone back up to £1,029.

If you do want to upgrade your TV, then go large and pick our WIRED Recommends favourite for the best 65in TV under £1,000, the Hisense 65U7QF. This is a TV of such impressive specification and size that the £849 price looks like a misprint. Hisense’s take on the quantum dot LED technology combines with each and every HDR standard – that’s HLG, HDR10, and both HDR10+ and Dolby Vision dynamic metadata. This means that no matter the source of your 4K images, this TV will do its utmost to make the best of things.
You know not to rely on in-built TV sound if you want soundtracks to rival the quality of the pictures, so we won’t labour the reasons why you should get a soundbar here. Just take our word for it they are a wise investment that will continue to deliver well beyond the curtains come up on your movie night whether you are using a TV or projector.

The Sonos Beam remains our top pick of all soundbars, and at £379 it’s priced keenly enough to enter this budget contest when you factor in value for money. It’s tiny at just 65cm wide, so won’t dominate the room, especially in the white colourway. There’s no Dolby Atmos support but the build is rock solid, voice assistants are on board, the sound superb and it can even combine with two Sonos One wireless speakers to create a surround system should you wish to build out the kit at a later date.

Want something cheaper? How about a stonking soundbar for under £100? You won’t find any better for £99 than the deft and capable JBL Bar Studio 2.0. The five preset EQ modes (Standard, Movie, Music, Voice and Sport) and the option of a virtual surround mode have been dropped in this updated model. But what you get now is however pleasingly uncluttered: just power, volume, mute and TV/Bluetooth source buttons. The performance, though, remains accomplished, and benefits from more power (now 80W rather than 30W) as well as well-balanced sound (important now the EQ options have been binned).

If you’re looking for something priced in-between these and are an Alexa fan, then try the new Polk Audio React soundbar (£249). With Alexa built in, the React supports Alexa multi-room so you can pair multiple Alexa-enabled speakers with the soundbar for whole-home system. You get Dolby Digital and STS 5.1 virtual surround sound, and it can be paired with Polk’s SR2 wireless rear surround speakers as well as the React Sub wireless sub to create a full 5.1 surround system if you’re suitably impressed with the bar.

Yes, we can help with the cine-snacks, too. Cineworld charges an extortionate £5.65 for a large popcorn, and if you like sweet and salt mixed (which you all should) don’t bother asking for a spare bucket to do the mixing yourself instead of enduring the top half being sickly sweet while the bottom is a salty sea of popped corn. “That’s not allowed,” we were told at our local theatre last time we went. Shun them and make your own. It’s cheap as anything, with 500g of popcorn kernels from ASDA costing just £1.25. And there’s no need to mess with cardboard tubs, either. For just £15 you can grab this stylish, yes stylish, Joseph Jospeh M-Cuisine two-piece Popcorn Maker Set. Bang in the microwave and each cup makes a single portion (approx 30g).

Things will get pricier if you want an authentic slushie to go with that popcorn. The official Slush Puppie Slushie Machine will set you back £60, but it comes with 10 cups, people – well, better than nothing – and think of the additional cocktail possibilities here, too (strictly for 18 certificate showings, of course).
As for the seemingly now obligatory ‘nachos’ member of any cinema party (why anyone would want to eat something covered in molten cheese in the dark is beyond us), you can just get some tortilla chips. But what about that cheese goo? You’re in luck. The good people at Odeon, showing sympathy for our plight, have published their own cinema cheese sauce recipe. Enjoy. Need a YouTube explainer? Watch the lovely Shamsa.

What else? What else? Oh yes, ice cream. You could buy it, or you could make it! The Magimix 1.1 Le Glacier ice-cream maker costs just £50 and makes 1.5 pints of ice-cream in a sitting. However, you have to pre-freeze the double-walled mixing bowl for 8-12 hours beforehand, which could spoil things, but once this is done it makes your bespoke flavour in 20 minutes.

And, lastly, for those going old-school we have pick’n’mix. Begone grubby jelly snakes that 17 children have already thumbed, chosen, then returned in favour of laying their sticky mitts over different sweets! With Sweetzy you can get your nostalgic chews of choice delivered to you very door, untouched by grubby cine urchins. From £4 they have more than 75 different sweets from rhubarb and custard bonbons to fizzy fangs, and you get five different pouch sizes. But take care, the ‘ultimate pouches’ are huge, apparently.
Sorted? Good. Now all you need to do is choose a film.
Jeremy White is WIRED’s executive editor. He tweets from @jeremywired
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