Picking Out — and Pricing — Home Theater Equipment

Home theater is truly for everyone — regardless of the size of your house or apartment, your economic wealth, or your taste in movies. And home theater probably means something different to everyone. It's not just about boxes, cables, and remotes, or about discs, records, and cassettes: A home theater can be a real adventure.

Exploring equipment and prices

What kind of equipment do you want for your home theater? Audio sources are devices that provide music-only playback in your system, whereas video sources provide movies or TV content. The A/V system provides the control for your home theater (meaning it lets you select what you want to watch or listen to) and does all the heavy lifting in terms of sending surround sound signals to your speaker system. You actually watch the video display, of course (think TV). You can also choose from a variety of optional components — including gaming systems and home theater PCs (which let you use a PC as a high-quality audio and/or video source device).

Certainly, you can buy a nice all-in-one Home Theater system and a relatively big-screen, direct-view (picture tube) TV without breaking the bank. Of course, you can spend a lot more money, too. One thing is for sure: Pricing is competitive and changing all the time.

Buying on a budget

Because you probably have to work within a budget, the following list gives you some ideas about what you can expect to buy and install for a variety of general budget ranges:

  • Poor man's home theater: The entry-level package for home theater basically uses your existing TV (or includes an inexpensive TV in the 27-inch range) and an entry level all-in-one home theater system package (which comes with speakers and a receiver/DVD player combo). You can probably throw in a VCR (which don't cost much) if you don't already have one, but even the lowest level all-in-one home theater sets have DVD players included. (Gotta have DVD!)
  • Adding a bit of glitz: By spending a little more, you can go up a range in a number of the components. You can get up to 36-inch model TVs by spending a bit more. You can even get into a rear-projection TV, if you want. You have a range of options for better surround sound systems in this price range, with packaged options available for your five surround sound speakers plus your subwoofer. And you can buy a fairly good A/V receiver to drive the system.
  • Getting fancy: At this level, you start to create serious options for a very decent home theater system. You can buy a lowest-cost plasma screen, and accompanying midrange all-in-one systems can fall in the "middle" price range. You can even get a high-definition-ready, rear-projection TV. 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 even more. The average person can get a mighty fine system.
  • Breaking the bank: You now 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. Audio servers can store all your CDs in one box. Front projection becomes a viable option here. High-definition TV (HDTV) units fall in this budget range, too. Or, you can start to get fancy with furniture and chairs, or a high-quality, universal remote control.
  • The sky's the limit: If money is no object, you can enjoy a lot of the next generation of home theater. You can buy an HDTV-capable TV and VCR. Your DVD player should be top of the line. You probably want some extra amplifier equipment in the system, and you may also want to boost your controls, perhaps with a nice Crestron wireless touch screen control. You can also delve into high-end, audiophile type stuff, all the way. Whole-home audio and video, integration with home automation systems, consultants — the works. Believe it or not, some people have spent $1 million or more on a home theater. At that point, you probably pay a lot of money for custom interior design, top-of-the-line projectors, and so on. You hold nothing back.
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