My Favorite Home Theater Upgrades So Far

Why I’m Sharing This

Like many of you, I often find myself pondering how to improve my home theater and whether those upgrades are worth the investment in terms of time and money. Time is valuable, and most of us do not have an abundance of money, so it can be challenging to determine which upgrades will deliver a noticeable improvement, especially when sifting through the information available online.

So, I put together a list to provide some first hand experience on the best upgrades I have added that I genuinely believe have elevated my home theater experience and immersion, and I hope it helps spark inspiration for you. Plus, I am eager to hear about any upgrades that you have found to be game-changers for your experience.

Feel free to share your favorite additions in the comments below, and together, let’s create a valuable resource for anyone looking to improve their systems. Your insights can help others make informed decisions on how to level up their setups!

Adding Height Channels

My introduction to height channels, much like many of us, came with the wide spread adoption of Dolby Atmos, even though Atmos is more than just adding height channels; read more about that here. My initial foray into the world of height channels involved taking my $500 Onkyo 7.2 receiver and repurposing a pair of 30-year-old outdoor speakers I had lying around to create a makeshift 5.1.2 system. It was far from a professional setup; I simply aimed the speakers at a 45-degree angle toward the ceiling and set the receiver to its Atmos up-firing mode.

At that time, there was a limited selection of content available in the Atmos format, mainly confined to the demos on the Dolby PC app and the game Tomb Raider. However, what I recall most is how impressed I felt when I first heard sounds coming from above and enveloping me, beyond what my conventional 5.1 setup could achieve. From that moment on, my primary objective became the pursuit of enhancing that experience further.

After experimenting with various Dolby Atmos speaker configurations after the years, I have concluded that having a minimum of four overhead speakers provides the best audio experience, only going to six overhead if the space is large and has multiple rows. A configuration with only two ceiling speakers can create a sense of overhead sound, but lacks pinpoint accuracy in sound placement.

In the case of up-firing speaker configurations, I find them to be quite limiting and would recommend using them only as a last resort. This is primarily because they require an almost perfect room with a reflective ceiling to be used effectively, and even then the benefit they provide is small compared to proper ceiling mounted speakers. Up-firing speakers do a decent job at recreating sounds that are diffuse, like wind or rain, but they lack the ability to provide precise imaging, making it challenging to accurately track sounds like a helicopter overhead or a baseball flying right above your head.

Some will argue that the next section regarding calibration is more important than adding more speakers. To some extent, they are right – ensuring your current setup is good or even great before expanding is very important. However, from my perspective, tinkering with height channels and exploring the world of 3D sound is what truly ignited my passion for this hobby, motivating me to delve as deeply as possible, so it takes the top spot for me.

Audio/Display Calibration

The formal definition of home theater calibration is the adjustment of audio and video equipment to align with performance standard. However, to me, calibration is being able to improve the performance of your system with your current equipment, based on measurements, best practices, and personal taste. Most people start with calibrating their systems to some agreed upon standard, and after that, adjusting it to their taste.

For many people, the topic of calibrating their system, either audio or video, can be a daunting task as it can get confusing and you can easily become lost. Calibration has proven to be a budget-friendly tool to improve my setup without needing to change my equipment. A properly calibrated system can outperform a non-calibrated system that costs significantly more. That is why we have designed calibration guides for both audio and displays to help cut some of the difficulty out and allow your system to punch above its weight class, and you can access all of them on our Products & Services page.

Given the choice between the two, I would say that calibrating the audio of my system had a more substantial impact than calibrating my projector.

Audio Calibration

The goal of audio calibration is to make sure your speakers accurately reproduce audio. It is not as simple as it sounds as there are many variables that can affect the sound, which we discuss in further detail in our article “What is Room Equalisation (EQ) and Why Should You Care?” So, in this article, I will keep it simple and talk about the basic ideas and improvements I have made that had the most impact.

  1. Speaker Placement: Speaker placement tops the list because if your speakers are not positioned correctly, they will not deliver accurate sound reproduction because of either the room or location, and no amount of EQ or other calibration measures can compensate for that. I make sure to prioritize this aspect when setting up my home theaters as everything else having to do with audio calibration is so much easier to navigate once the speakers are placed properly.
  2. Room Treatment: Room treatment in audio aims to improve the sound quality by addressing acoustic issues like echoes, reverberation, standing waves, and reflections, which can degrade the sound quality. By minimizing the room’s influence, audio EQ adjustments become much simpler as you are correcting less issues. Although I did not measure my room before installing room treatment, I can confidently say that it has significantly improved the absorption of reflections. I have noticed that my theater is notably quieter in terms of background noise and decay time compared to other rooms in my house.
  3. Speaker Delays: This had a more significant impact than I initially believed. I used to rely on the automatic setup process that most receivers offer nowadays. However, after spending the time, I realized that the auto-calibration process does not always set the speaker delays (distances) accurately. I suggest the trust but verify method for setting distances. I heard a large improvement in overall soundstage depth and imaging when I was finally able to set the delays correctly.
  4. Equalization: This is what most people think of when you say the words audio calibration, as it involves adjusting the frequency response of each speaker using filters to match a target curve. This is definitely the largest part of calibrating audio and allows you to adjust the sound coming from your speakers to ensure the best sound overall. Once properly equalized, the audio from my system became more clear, more detailed, and more precise. For help with speaker equalization, we have numerous guides to help you depending on your equipment, check them out on our Products & Services page.

For all of our posts on audio calibration check out the Audio Guide section of our website.

Properly Managed Bass

While this topic can fall under the umbrella of audio calibration, I believe it has the most significant impact on the system’s audio performance. For this reason, I have separated it as its own dedicated upgrade section, as it is where I started my process of learning audio calibration.

Properly managed bass is configuring your home theater system so that the bass frequencies are reproduced accurately and evenly across all seats. This involves setting the crossover frequencies between your speakers and subwoofer correctly, as well as EQ’ing your subwoofers so that they blend seamlessly with the other speakers in your system.

The aspects that had the largest bass improvement, in order of effect are:

  1. Properly Setting Crossovers and Delay: This significantly impacts bass performance, and it is unrelated to EQ filters. Instead, it involves fine-tuning the crossover point and delay settings within the AVR. Incorrect crossover or delay settings can make your subwoofer noticeable as a separate component rather than a seamless extension of your main speakers. Once set correctly, even without EQ, the subs disappear, and the bass seems to originate from the designated speaker or direction. This is better experienced, as it is challenging to explain in words. If you would rather avoid delving deep into full audio calibration, I recommend at least ensuring your crossover and delay settings are correctly configured. For help in setting up the crossovers on your system, check out our article “What Crossover to Choose for Your Speakers.”
  2. Equalized Response: As I mentioned earlier, equalization involves adjusting the frequency response to align with a specific target curve. Achieving the correct equalization ensures that you hear bass frequencies as desired. Personally, I prefer strong bass, and to achieve the best settings I EQ my subs to flat and use Dynamic EQ in Audyssey to account for our perception of bass frequencies. I found that this gives me the best results of bass at all volumes.
  3. Multiple Subwoofers: Next I want to talk about multiple subwoofers. Using multiple subwoofers in a home theater system provides benefits such as even bass distribution, reduced distortion, increased sound impact, and better control over room acoustics. It allows the flexibility in subwoofer placement, improved consistency in sound quality across various seating positions, and the ability to fine-tune bass response. Having added 3 subs, this resulted in bass that is more accurate, more responsive, more enjoyable without any muddling of the sound, and allowed extra headroom. One of the best tools I have used when equalizing multiple subwoofers is a program called MSO, which creates the EQ filters for all of your subs that best fit your target curve; you can learn more about this here.

Display Calibration

Display calibration is the process of adjusting the settings of a display to ensure it accurately reproduces colors, brightness, and contrast according to established standards. Similar to audio calibration, there are established calibration standards, but there is no widely accepted method to achieve them, aside from costly programs that assume you know the topic and often exceed most people’s budgets.

I had always wondered how much improvement I could get from calibrating my projector, but I was never able to have any success due to the lack of useful information online. However, this changed when I discovered Simple Home Cinema’s Display Calibration Guide, and Roland’s approach to teaching it. The guide walks you through the calibration process, offering clear explanations to ensure you not only learn how to calibrate, but also understand the reasons behind each step and process. The approach of the guide is what drew me into the philosophy of Simple Home Cinema and what led me into writing for them as well.

The results were immediate, despite my status as a novice in display calibration. My picture appeared stunning and more lifelike than any previous experience I have had with a home projector. So if you are on the fence about learning this for yourself, do it, you will be glad you did.

You can access all of our calibration guides for displays on our Products & Services page.

Darkening the Room

One of the most budget-friendly upgrades I have undertaken is darkening my theater room. Why opt for a darker environment? Well, the less light present in the room and reflected from the screen, the more immersive your viewing experience becomes. It has the effect of both increasing the contrast of the display and also drawing you in more to the screen as your eyes cannot see much more around you.

When I say ‘dark,’ I do not only mean painting the walls black, but also minimizing the room’s reflective surfaces. While painting is one effective option (see more about good paint colors here), there are several other ways to achieve this. You can opt for a darker floor, lay down a dark-colored rug, use curtains in a darker hue, or incorporate darker furniture.

Painting or putting in a new floor was not an option for me, so I had to get creative when darkening the room. My initial purchase was a black rug, covering the entire area in front of my seating arrangement and the screen. In places where I could not paint, I turned to black felt, which I found on Amazon, and hung it on the walls using thumbtacks. This simple solution allowed me to achieve an even darker effect than standard black walls, all without the need for actual paint and its removal (I rent).

At first, I focused on the wall where the screen was mounted, but soon I realized that extending this to the ceiling also had a significant impact. If you are contemplating a similar project, I would recommend covering at least the first 3 feet (about 1 meter) of all the surrounding walls near the screen for the best results. The image below shows where I initially installed about 3 feet of felt on the ceiling. However, I have come to realize that more is better, so I have extended it to 6 feet. I am also considering adding felt to the first 6 feet of the walls. The darker the better.

Dimming my room had a significant impact; it further immersed me in the content, allowing my surroundings to fade into the background and enabling me to fully concentrate on the screen. Moreover, by absorbing ambient light instead of reflecting it back onto the screen, it notably improved the image’s contrast and deepened the black levels. This dual effect not only made darker scenes more enjoyable, but also contributed to a more lifelike and realistic overall viewing experience.

Tactile Response: Bass Shakers

I recently added bass shakers to my home theater, and I could not have been more pleased with the results. Bass shakers, also known as tactile transducers, enhance low-frequency audio effects by converting them into vibrations you can feel. They are typically mounted under furniture and connected to the audio system, adding an extra layer of immersion to movies, games, and music.

I chose the Dayton Audio BST-300EX, which I fine-tuned to deliver tactile bass down to 10Hz. Despite their affordable cost of less than $400 for shakers and amp, these shakers took my home theater experience to a whole new level.

The most vivid example of this can be illustrated by the opening scene of John Wick 4. If you have seen this movie in theaters, you will recall the opening scene with powerful, building-shaking bass when John Wick is pummeling a punching bag. When that scene is brought into the home, the difference between experiencing with and without the shakers is massive. Without them, you can sense the strength of the bass, but it lacks the jolting and visceral impact it is meant to have. However, with the shakers engaged, that jolting sensation returns, completely altering the perception that the room itself is being struck, almost as if John Wick is punching my house. I recommend these to anyone who wants to be able to feel bass and not just hear it, you will be mad at yourself for not doing it sooner; I know I was.

Explore our comprehensive bass shaker reviews and how bass shakers work in our articles “Elevating My Home Theater with the Dayton Audio BST-300EX Bass Shaker” and “Integrating Bass Shakers into Your Home Theatre.”


This section outlines the methods I have used to automate my home theater over the years, encompassing the use of smart lights, smart plugs, and 12-volt triggers. The goal has always been to simplify tasks and enhance user-friendliness, resulting in a more enjoyable experience when sitting down to watch or listen to content. All of these upgrades are worth it and add that little bit of extra comfort to the room to make it enjoyable.

Smart Lights: My home theater features Philips Hue smart lights, which allows both manual and automatic control. For example, when I power on the projector, the lights dim, signaling the theater’s activation. They adjust as the projector stabilizes, and I have also created settings for different activities, like dining, sports, and music.

For more information on how smart lights can be used in home theaters, check out our article “Smart Lighting for Home Theater.”

Smart Plugs: Another valuable addition I have incorporated into my theater setup is the use of smart plugs. These smart plugs have proven to be versatile and cost-effective in automating devices that might otherwise be challenging to control. I rely on them to manage cooling fans for both my AV rack and projector, as well as to power down various devices in the room while the theater is in use. Smart plugs are great for powering AV devices and providing remote control. However, for me, the next item on my list is the easiest way to automate AV equipment power.

For more information on how smart plugs can be used in home theaters, check out our article “Automating Your Home Theater with Smart Plugs.”

IOT Relay: This is a recent addition to my home theater that I introduced when installing my bass shakers. I needed a solution because the amplifier I was using for the bass shakers could not be turned on/off along with the rest of the AV equipment. It would have been really annoying to have to turn this amp on and off every time I used my system. This device solved that problem by enabling you to control up to three devices automatically using the 12-volt trigger from your AVR or projector, and to make it even better, it was just plug and play.

For more information on how this device works, check out our article “Add Auto On/Off to Your AV Gear with This IoT Control Relay.”

Never Reaching Perfection

I would like to emphasize an important point about upgrades: never restrict yourself from enjoying your system before you have added a specific component. This mindset can quickly diminish your current system’s enjoyment, leading to potential resentment and dissatisfaction. Because if you do, you forget the joy that this hobby brings to you. Always take the time to enjoy the system you built and appreciate the time and effort that you have put into it.

With that said, please do not hesitate to share in the comments below what upgrades/improvements you have made to your system that you feel take it over the edge!

7 thoughts on “My Favorite Home Theater Upgrades So Far

Add yours

  1. Well explained, Tyler.

    For me (using a Denon 8500 in a dedicated room, acoustically treated, completely covered in Fidelio Black velvet, 13 channels of Tannoys and 4 subs, seats with Earthquake brand shakers, trigger relays that control external exhaust fans and the Earthquake, remote controlled matting over a 120″ Seymour AT screen, 3-inch fiberglass in-room hush box over a JVC 3100, and smart lights all around) the “upgrade” that created the most stunning impression was implementing Auro-3D as a sound codec of choice.

    I’ve documented that journey elsewhere but to cut to the chase, after having A/B tested a complete Auro-3D setup against a complete Atmos setup with 28 Martin Logans all around, the best analogy I can provide is that the Atmos experience is like being at an American football game and sitting center stage in the 30th row at the 50 yard line — nice! for sure. But the Auro-3D experience is like being the quarterback in the center of the action on the field. When I learned that the Auro-3D codec can take Atmos encoded content (and DTX, etc.) and still work its magic, then it became the “upgrade” that has provided hours and hours of enduring and, content-dependent, thrills that just pleases me to no end.

    I always enjoy reading what other people have done or have found works subjectively for them. As you correctly conclude, there is no such thing as “perfection” in this hobby which is why it’s crucially important to embrace and cultivate a healthy dose of perspective to contributions like ours so that others can avoid unnecessary time, effort, and money seeking a holy grail that doesn’t exist. And readers should define their meaning of “improvements” because that too is entirely subjective and it’s always going to operate on a moving scale and in degrees of increment. While it’s often stated that it’s never the destination, always the journey, for me at least, the decision to go Auro took me to a place that I suspected existed but never thought I’d get to.

    1. Thank you, for your response and insight. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience Auro-3D as my current AVR does not support it but I have always heard good things about it. Hopefully I get to try it out soon.

      Regarding your remote-controlled masking, how much impact did you see and where did you get from?

      I couldn’t agree more on the subjectivity of “improvement” in this hobby. What matters most is the individual experience and enjoyment, and your insight into embracing a healthy dose of perspective is spot on. It’s true that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach in the world of home theater, and it’s all about personal preference and satisfaction. I think that sometimes that gets lost on the internet.

      For me, the joy in this hobby comes from being curious, experimenting with new technology, and investing time in discovering creative solutions that can benefit others as well. Also finding solutions that don’t always involve throwing money at the problem.

      1. The remote controlled masking is DIY using, in my case, a Rollease MTACRF35-6LC Roller Shade that I found on eBay for under $100US. I had to contact a Rollease distributor to buy the 13 foot long masts that the black velvet wraps around.

        I made some personal modifications based on instructions posted by others at AVSF. The fun-tricky part is coordinating the open/close so that it fits perfectly when you switch from 16:9 to widescreen and back. It’s top/bottom movement, and of course that’s all anyone really needs because the sides are the same regardless of those two aspect ratios which is what I mostly watch.

        Prior to having it motorized, I had to walk up to the screen and manually raise/drop what had then been velvet stapled to long reinforced baseboards that got latched on the sides. That was a hassle but I considered it necessary at the time and it was effective.

        For me, top/bottom masking is a requirement because it not only prevents light bleed but effectively “seals-in” the screen image to create a seemingly more immersive experience. When I go into my theater, I want no distractions.

        I’ve done two theater builds: the first had all of the trimmings of a “real” theater with 13 bona fide rocking seats with cup holders (purchased from a cinema that had overbought), wrap-around soffit lights that illuminated the ceiling perimeter with a dimmable red glow, custom wood sconces, embedded lighting in the floor, blah, blah, blah. Looked very cool, but guess what? I discovered that it adversely affected on-screen contrast. So, I demolished it and started over to get to the result I have now.

        I’m totally like you — super curious and super cheap (if I can get away with it). But I needed to satisfy myself about certain things. That’s why I invested close to $70k on all the name brand speakers, av gear, silver wires (lol), etc. — all on plastic and all returnable — just to see for myself if throwing $$ at a project makes that much of a difference. I bought sample screen material from 12 different vendors. I’ve had very expensive speakers in my theater, and even more expensive speakers in my dedicated 2-channel audio room, all at the same time, all for A/B testing. I’ve come to some pretty firm conclusions as a result, which is, that we can achieve close to nirvana at bare bottom prices especially when buying used, demo, or open-box. My Tannoys are from the 1990s. I have eBay alerts set up so that I can continue to find and stockpile them.

        On the subject of subjectivity, yes, our impressions are subjective, and yet it’s posts like yours that help provide meaningful insight and stoke moments that raise our curiosity. So keep it up. One man’s baseline is another man’s been there/done that but we all seem to eventually get to a place where we can confidently say, “Satisfied!” It’s at that moment when we truly get to relax and enjoy. Although, having just said that, I am anxiously awaiting for JVC’s upcoming firmware update to see how close it brings the 3100 to the performane of the Lumagen I have, so my hope is that once that’s resolved I can let my hair down and chill.

      2. Awesome. Thank you for the details, I’ll have to take a deeper look into it. I have been wanting to add auto screen masking (top and Bottom) as well, but haven’t found a cost effective solution yet. I want to start with auto because I know that manual will just not work for me as I will probably do it a couple of times and then stop, out of the hassle. It goes back to making it more of a chore to watch rather than just enjoying.

        I agree, being curious and cheap can definitely come into conflict sometimes. It does cost to experiment, but that’s what I think we (you included) bring to the table: making purchases that others may not make because of the risk, monetarily speaking, and then sharing our perspectives on whether or not it was worth the money. I bought mostly second hand and demo to keep costs down, I added it up once, my system is about 54% of the total cost if I bought everything new.

        Thank you for the support. I am also waiting for that firmware update, as Roland and I were working together to find the right balance between highlight crushing and loss of black level of current DTM settings on his NZ8 and my NP5. The very thing that the new firmware aims to improve. So we will see in the next coming weeks. I hope the update delivers and lets you chill.

      3. I believe that Roland has my email address so if you want pics of my installation, feel free to hit him up. The total cost was under US$200. I only made one mistake, which was to assume that the bottom roller required an internal spring to keep it taught vis-a-vis the top roller, but no, gravity alone works there.

        Finally, if anyone follows this thread of ours, I want to emphasize that 90% of my A/B testing purchases were made on plastic and for items that were returnable without cost to me. The other items were quickly resold on US AudioMart, in some cases for more than what I spent to acquire them.

        I also want to point out that for A/B testing, I had a very specific plan of attack because time was of the essence. Some returns had to be made within 14 days. One needs to establish a baseline and then operate from there, being certain to keep meticulous notes for reference.

        Peace out here. Catch you on the down low, brother!

  2. My home theatre improvements are similar to yours and all improved my viewing pleasure.
    1- created a 6 foot velvet curtain surround system covering walls and ceiling – quite similar to your picture – huge improvement in contrast and focusing my attention on screen versus surroundings
    2- tactile transducers – again a large improvement – secondary benefit is you can reduce neighbour annoying bass and still feel the bass
    3- Dolby Atmos – good improvement but I find under-utilized by sound mixers
    4- new higher power multi- channel amplifier – well worth it, effortless unconstrained sound and amp tech not changing too fast so a good place to invest your money for long- term impact
    5- purchasing bare projector lamp bulbs instead of the integrated catridge/bulb – massive $$ savings and allows more frequent bulb changes
    6- adding homemade sound absorbers and particularly sound diffusers – amazing improvement especially the diffusers resulting in more coherent sound
    7- Audessy – imperative for any system

    My next project is a DIY 2.35:1 curved screen with AT screen

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