I built an awesome home theater from scratch for under $1,000 — here's how

Home theater set up from Best Buy
(Image credit: Future)

People care about the quality of their "home theater" (a.k.a. their primary TV- and movie-watching space) more than ever. But many of the best TVs and best soundbars aren't cheap, so it might seem tricky to build an entertainment setup within a fixed budget.

With concerns like this in mind, I was challenged to shop for a full-featured home theater for under $1,000. This challenge is part of our YouTube series called The Haul, where I'm restricted on how much I can spend to meet an assigned goal. In this case, the goal was a great at-home cinema experience that doesn't break the bank. You can check out the full episode here: 

I decided to go to Best Buy with my budget, knowing that the electronics store has one of the biggest selections for TVs and audio gear you'll find. While you can shop online or in-stores, I decided to visit an actual retail location to see my options to take home on the same day. Plus in general, I know people like to see TVs in-person before they purchase.

Assuming that a TV would take up most of my $1,000, that's where I started. Of course my eyes were drawn to the likes of the LG C3 and LG G3 TVs, but there's no way an OLED TV would work for my budget. Instead, I honed my search on LED TVs. It's true that there's a wide gamut of technologies and terminologies in the LED TV category, but gravitate towards two brands for price conscious shoppers: Hisense and TCL.

The TCL and Hisense sections weren't as prominent in-store as LG's or Samsung's, but each had the most popular models displayed. I weighed my choices and ultimately decided that the 65-inch TCL Q6 TV for $499 is a deal I wouldn't be able to beat — it's rare to find good 65-inch TV for under $500, but you'll want to be sure to choose the best TV size for your setup.

TCL 65" Q6 QLED 4K TV: was $599 now $499 at Best Buy

TCL 65" Q6 QLED 4K TV: was $599 now $499 at Best Buy
The price is right on the TCL Q6 QLED 4K TV. While it's far from the most premium set on the market, it's a solid choice for those on a budget. The built-in Google TV platform works well, too. 

Next I checked out the soundbar options. Best Buy has a wide variety from third-party audio brands as well as sound systems from TV manufacturers. I'll admit, the Sonos Ray for $279 caught my eye, and Sonos speakers are great for whole-home audio solutions. But I ended up putting the TCL Q Class 5.1 Channel soundbar in my cart. Not only does it come with a soundbar, subwoofer and pair of surround speakers, but the whole package only cost $249. I also threw in a set of speaker stands for $119, though you could wall mount them if your space allows. 

TCL Q Class 5.1 Channel Soundbar: was $299 now $249 at Best Buy

TCL Q Class 5.1 Channel Soundbar: was $299 now $249 at Best Buy
This sound system comes with a soundbar, subwoofer and surround speakers. Since it's a TCL-brand system, it pairs instantly with your TCL TV — no lengthy setup process required.

Sanus Universal Speaker Stands: was $149 now $119 @ Best Buy

Sanus Universal Speaker Stands: was $149 now $119 @ Best Buy
Unless you already have a pair of speaker stands or plan to mount the surround speakers somewhere on the wall, you'll need purchase a pair of speaker stands like these for your home theater.

With some more budget to spend, I had a few possible paths to talk. I could get a wall mount to hang my TV up, but I'm a renter. I could shop for a new Blu-Ray player, but I don't have a big collection of discs. I could invest in some gaming gear, but I'm satisfied with my Nintendo Switch OLED right now. 

Instead, I priced out immersive TV strip lights. Several smart lighting brands sell light kits that sync up with the TV's on-screen picture, whether it's through an HDMI input like the Philips Hue Sync Box or a camera positioned at the screen. Best Buy had both versions on shelves, but I went with the Govee Dreamview TV Backlights and Light Bar for just $90. 

Govee Dreamview TV Backlights and Light Bar: was $139 now $99 @ Best Buy

Govee Dreamview TV Backlights and Light Bar: was $139 now $99 @ Best Buy
If you want to spruce up your TV setup with something fun, the Govee Dreamview TV Backlights and Light Bar kit is a great choice. 

That brought my total to $957 for those counting, giving me some wiggle room before factoring in tax. Now, I know that are other choices I could've made along the way. But between the TV's bright picture, the all encompassing speaker sound, and the next-level immersion from the lights, I’m thrilled by the quality of setup we were able to get for the price. You'll have to watch the full video on YouTube to see how it all looks together. 

Obviously there are more advanced options of these products with premium features and price tags to match, but if we’re talking about what’s possible within a budget, this goes to show you can still get a great setup without overspending. 

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Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef. 

  • soundcrazy
    How do you justify spending 15% of your budget on stands?
    You were better of buying one of those Home Theater inbox from Yamaha that costs about $500 instead of a sound bar and gotten vastly superior sound. Should have also looked into a cheap projector. You could have found something for sub $500.