How to Buy Home Theater Equipment on a Budget

8 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Home Theater Planning

If you're on a tight budget, a home theater is still within reach. Budget considerations may require you to plan carefully for your home theater system. One of the great things about home theater is that it’s modular — you don’t have to buy the whole thing all at once.

Trading up is another budget-friendly idea. For example, if you really want a great TV display, get it, and go cheaper on the other components. And when you’re ready to trade up, figure out what you want next.

The better stereo stores have a trade-up policy that gives you credit toward getting something better. And then there’s always eBay or similar auction sites, where you can get all sorts of gear in great condition — everyone is always trading in stuff to move to higher levels, so don’t feel pressured to do it all at once.

Here are some ideas about what you can expect to buy and install for different budget ranges:

  • $0 to $500: Definitely the entry-level package for home theater, a system in the under-$500 range basically uses your existing TV (or includes an inexpensive flat-panel TV in the 27-inch range) and an entry-level all-in-one home theater system package (which comes with all the speakers you need for surround sound and a receiver/DVD player combo).

  • $500 to $2,000: By spending a little more, you can go up a range in a number of the components and get HDTV into your home theater. You can buy a midsized flat-panel TV (37- to 42-inch range), although with the way flat-panel prices are dropping, you may be able to get a 50-inch or larger size with money left for audio equipment. This price range has a range of options for better surround-sound systems, with packaged options available for your five surround-sound speakers plus a subwoofer. And you can buy a fairly good A/V receiver to drive the system.

  • $2,000 to $5,000: At this level, you should be able to get a high-quality 50-inch or bigger 1080p (this term refers to the resolution of the screen — 1080p displays are the highest available) flat-panel TV or an even larger LCD or DLP (digital light processor — a special micro mirror-based chip system) rear-projection unit with a great high-def picture (starting at around $1,500). You might make the move from DVD to Blu-ray at this budget level.

    On the audio side, you can spend $1,000 or so on a fancy all-in-one system, but at this price level you can also start to get serious with separate components, getting a very good A/V receiver, DVD/CD player/recorder, personal video recorder, gaming system, surround-sound speakers, and potentially more.

  • $5,000 to $10,000: When you top $5,000 as your budget, you can start expanding in some wonderful ways by adding more throughout the house through multizone capabilities, whole-home audio, and universal remote-control capability, or you can continue to go up the ladder in terms of higher-quality separates.

    Front-projection TVs become a viable option in this price range; good projectors start around $2,000. No matter what you choose — flat-panel, rear-projection, or front-projection — you should expect a big (50-inch or more) high-definition display. Or you can get fancy with furniture. Good home theater seats start around $350 each. A high-quality universal remote control costs about $500.

  • *$10,000+: Above $10,000, the sky is truly the limit. For $10,000 to $20,000, you get to enjoy a lot of the next generation of home theater. At this point you’ll be buying the top-of-the-line 56-inch or larger plasma or LCD flat-panel TVs, or a very high-end projection system. Your DVD player should be the best available and should play not only DVD but also Blu-ray discs.

    You probably want some extra amplifier equipment in the system, and you may also want to boost your controls, perhaps with a nice Control4 wireless touch-screen control. If you get above $20,000, you are into high-end audiophile-type stuff all the way: whole-home audio and video, integration with home automation systems, consultants — the works.

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The Essentials of Home Theater Planning

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