Do you miss going to the movies? Even with some theaters reopening after shutting amid the pandemic, audiences have been sparse and big new film releases have been postponed. But more than ever before, you can capture the cinematic experience at home—without the overpriced Raisinets, people talking during the film or the need to wear a face mask and social distance.
Ranging from today’s best images and sound to fresh popcorn and comfortable seating, here’s what you need to make your home viewing experience more cinematic…
A Big 4K TV
A TV with a 65-, 75- or even 85-inch screen, or a projector TV, will help immerse you in the cinematic experience. Although you can get a good smaller or lower-quality set for well under $1,000, it’s worth paying extra for a big, high-quality 4K set with millions of pixels that deliver impressively clear, crisp images as long as you’re watching content transmitted in 4K and you’re sitting at the right distance. Although 8K sets are available and provide even sharper images, there is hardly any 8K content available yet and most people can’t easily tell the difference, so there’s little reason to pay $10,000 or more.
Keep in mind that 4K content currently is available mostly from streaming services, such as premium Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, rather than cable- or satellite-TV, where it’s mostly limited to on-demand movies or special events and requires a special set-top box. DirecTV does have a few 4K channels.
Among the best 4K options…
Best big TV: Sony Master Series Bravia OLED delivers images that provide among the very richest colors and deepest blacks of any TV on the market, although the LG OLED sets described below are worthy rivals. OLED stands for “Organic Light-Emitting Diode,” a TV technology that excels at producing truly black blacks. Unlike many flat-screen TVs, OLEDs don’t have a backlight behind the display—it’s the display itself that produces light, so no unwanted light bleeds through black areas. That makes a big difference when you watch a dark movie scene in a darkened room. Sony’s advanced “refresh rate” processing also helps it stand a notch above other 4K TVs—its image won’t become blurry or choppy even during fast-moving action scenes. Its sound quality is very good for a flat-screen TV, but if you’re looking for a real movie theater experience, it’s worth adding a surround-sound system (see page 12). $2,498 for the 65-inch…or $3,498 for the 77-inch.
Helpful: Sit close to your big TV to re-create the immersive cinema experience—one rule of thumb is to sit approximately 1.5 times the screen’s diagonal measurement, which is around eight feet from a 65-inch TV or 9.5 feet from a 75- or 77-inch TV.
Alternative: LG’s C9 Series OLED 4K TVs are the Sony Master Series’ main rivals for the title of best big 4K TV. Picture quality is essentially as good—some reviewers even give the LG the edge—and although the Sony offers somewhat superior sound, that doesn’t matter if you add a surround-sound system. If you find a better price on the LG, it’s a great option. $2,125 for the 65-inch…or $3,495 for the 77-inch.
Best big TV value: Samsung QLED Q60T offers resolution and rich colors that are not far short of the OLED TVs mentioned earlier and at a much lower price. There are some sacrifices, however—the Q60T falls short of the Sony and LG when it comes to keeping up with very fast-moving action…its picture quality degrades when viewing the screen from a sharp side angle…and its brightness levels can be uneven—this is a “QLED,” or Quantum Light-Emitting Diode TV, which unlike OLED, depends on backlighting for illumination. Also, the audio is unimpressive. $998 for the 65-inch…$1,498 for the 75-inch…$2,498 for the 85-inch.
Home Theater Projectors
Best home theater projector: Epson Home Cinema 5050UBe offers the richest, brightest colors and deepest blacks available from a home projector—and there’s nothing like projecting a film onto a big screen for re-creating the theater experience. Today’s projectors are worlds away from the old Bell & Howells you once used for 8mm vacation films—these deliver 4K images virtually as sharp, bright and rich as you can get from the 4K TVs above. And with a projector, you can have a much larger image, potentially 100 to 200 inches, with a big enough room.
Projectors fare best in dark rooms—bright light can make their images seem washed out. That isn’t a problem if you turn off the lights at night to re-create the theater experience, but it could be a problem during daytime viewing. This projector is far better than most in bright rooms, however, because it projects images at an enormously bright 2,600 lumens, enough to overcome most ambient light. It doesn’t have speakers—a soundbar or surround-sound system is required. $3,299.
Best value home theater projector: Optoma UHD30 doesn’t quite match the stellar colors and deep blacks of the Epson discussed above, but it doesn’t fall far short and it’s less than half the price. Its images are bright enough even in a well-lit room, though, as with any projector, it does best in the dark. Its sound quality is poor, so add a soundbar or surround-sound system. $1,130.
These are available in a wide range of sizes, price points and even colors. White screens tend to do the best job of displaying light from the projector, but some gray screens are better in a lit room because they don’t reflect much ambient light. Fixed screens, such as Silver Ticket Productions 150-Inch Projector Screen, $450, remain on the wall all the time and can be stretched completely flat to avoid any distortion. Retractable screens, such as Elite Screen 84-Inch Spectrum Electric Motorized Projector Screen, $169, are nearly as flat and can roll out of the way at the push of a button.
Unlike 4K TVs, most home theater projectors do not include built-in 4K streaming devices, so you will need to buy an external device to watch 4K movies and programs from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. These external devices also could be useful if you find the streaming capabilities built into your 4K TV clunky to use or it doesn’t offer access to a streaming service that you want to use. Streaming devices include Apple TV 4K, $179…Roku Ultra, $99…and Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, $30.
Movies in theaters don’t just look great, they also sound great. These surround-sound systems deliver an enveloping audio experience…
Best surround-sound experience: Sonos Arc 5.1 Surround Sound Set offers crystal-clear audio clarity and deep bass. This wireless system includes a soundbar, two auxiliary speakers and a subwoofer. With the Sonos Trueplay app (iOS only), you can customize it to a room in just a few minutes. In addition, you can add speakers in other rooms and listen to music throughout your home…or keep following movie dialog when you step into the kitchen. $1,856. Additional speakers start at $179.
Best surround-sound system for value: Vizio 36-Inch 5.1.4 Home Theater Sound System provides immersive movie theater–quality sound for a lower price than any other system of its quality. Like the Sonos system above, it includes a soundbar, subwoofer and two auxiliary speakers—but while this system doesn’t have to be attached with wires to your TV, its remote speakers must be connected to the subwoofer with wires. Calibrating this system to a room is less intuitive than with the Sonos, and it’s not easily expandable to other rooms like the Sonos. $699.
Home Theater Seating
Although a recliner or sofa is more comfortable than typical movie theater seats, it doesn’t re-create the movie theater experience. These home theater seats offer the best of both worlds…
Best home theater seating: Seatcraft Republic Loveseat 7000 is what movie theater seats should be—a pair of soft, comfortable top-grain leather recliners joined into a single piece of furniture reminiscent of a row of movie theater seats. The recliners work at the touch of a button, and the console between the two seats and the armrests open up to reveal storage and cup holders—the cup holders have soft blue LED lights so you can locate them when watching a movie in the dark. Each seat also features a USB charging port. $1,499.
Best value: Flash Furniture Eclipse Series 2-Seat Push-Button Motorized Reclining Theater Seating also offers a pair of comfy, connected, motorized leather recliners. It has cup holders and hidden storage, like the Seatcraft above, but fewer flashy features like LED lighting and USB ports. $879 for the two-seater. A three-seat model also is available.
Don’t Forget the Popcorn!
The smell and taste of popcorn is a crucial part of the movie experience for many people. These machines re-create that far better than a bag of microwave popcorn…
Best overall: Great Northern Popcorn Company Full Antique Style Popcorn Popper looks like an old-fashioned theater lobby popcorn popper should look—it’s a five-foot-tall wheeled unit with big glass windows displaying the popcorn inside. Its popcorn tastes like it is straight from the theater, and it pops quietly so it won’t distract from the film. Unlike some faux-antique popcorn poppers, it’s fairly sturdy and should provide years of service. $292.
Best value: Superior Popcorn Company’s Old Time Countertop Popcorn Machine is attractive and makes great popcorn, too. Unlike the device above, it’s a tabletop unit, not a freestanding wheeled cart. $200.