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Building The Basic Home Theater Part Two: Setting a Budget for Gear Print E-mail
Friday, 01 July 2005
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Building The Basic Home Theater Part Two: Setting a Budget for Gear
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AV Education on RHT

Building The Basic Home Theater
Part Two: Setting a Budget for Gear

Written by Bryan Dailey and Jerry Del Colliano

Welcome. In part one of our series on how to build a badass home theater, we talked about preparing your room, controlling ambient light, choosing furniture and, finally, how to convince your wife (or husband) how to let you install your dream home theater. In this feature, we are going to focus specifically on one of the biggest concerns that any of us have before we take the plunge into a major home theater: cost. The prices below for the systems we have assembled consist primarily of retail prices available at the time of the publication of this article. It is not meant as a definitive guide, but rather as a road map to building the budget for your own gear. Specific prices, tax and shipping will vary, based on when and where you purchase your gear. Anyone who has clicked through the pages of Revolution Home Theater ( and has seen some of the world’s most elaborate custom home theater installations knows that the sky is the limit when it comes to budget. Automated drapes, custom lighting scenes and motorized lifts are just some of the ways you can really run up the tab on your theater, and for those who have the coin to do this, I say go for it. If you are going the high-end route, your dealer or custom installer will have plenty of options for not only your gear, but also how to automate it, distribute your music and movies throughout the house and ultimately control it, all with a few simple commands on a touch-screen remote panel.

For those on a tighter budget, once you have decided where your system is going, your primary concern is deciding on what video display, speakers and electronics are going to make up the core of your system. In this feature, I will diagram three systems for three different budgets ($5,000, $10,000 and $25,000) and discuss where you could and should spend more and where you can cut back to save, yet still maintain the level of performance that you hoped to achieve when you started down this journey.

$5,000 Direct-View HDTV Television System
Direct View 36-inch HDTV Tube Television
$1,300 to $1,700
5.1 on-wall, in-wall of floor standing speaker system $600 to $1,300
AV Receiver $600 to $900
DVD/CD/Universal Player $500 to $1,000
Video Game System $150 to $300
Universal Remote Control $100 to $300
Cables $300 to $500
System Range $4,050 to $6,700

By keeping the price of the TV display down, this affords you the ability to put a good 5.1 speaker system in your theater, as well as some nice extras like a customizable remote like a Phillips Pronto. This also leaves room in the budget for a videogame system like the Playstation 2 or Microsoft X Box.

$5,000 Video Projection System
DLP or LCD Projector
$1,000 to $2,500
Projection Screen (or screen paint)
$50 to $1,000
HD TiVo/PVR: $500 to $700
5.1 on-wall, in-wall of floor standing speaker system $600 to $1,300
AV Receiver $600 to $900
DVD Player with DVI or HDMI Output $300 to $600
HDMI or DVI Switcher $300
Long HDMI, DVI or Component Cable for Projector $100 to $300
Other Cables $150 to $300
System Range $3,600 to $7,900

You’ll notice that the projector-based system has the widest price range. This is due to the fact that there are some important variables here. Lower-end video projectors have a wide range of prices, as do projector screens. You can spend well over $1,000 for a projector screen, or you could spend as little as $50 for a can of paint on “Screen Goo” if you want to dedicate one of the walls in your house to being a full-time movie screen. With a projection system, chances are you are going to need a long run to get the HDTV signal up to your projector. Long runs of HDMI, DVI or even component cable can run you a pretty penny and if your display is more than 15 to 25 feet from the source, you may even need to look into more expensive but highly effective options, such as fiber optics. Since lower-end receivers do not do HDMI or DVI switching, you’ll also need some type of external switch if you want to put two HD sources into your projector. The option of running either your HD receiver or DVD player via component video into the receiver then out to the projector and the other via HDMI or DVI is viable, but if you want both of them to be accessible in one of these higher bandwidth formats, you’ll need to look into a switching solution.

$5,000 Rear-Projection Big Screen TV
51- to 60-Inch DLP, LCD or HD-ILA TV
$2,500 to $3,500
5.1 on-wall, in-wall of floor standing speaker system $600 to $1,300
AV Receiver $600 to $900
DVD/CD/Universal player $500 to $1,000
Video Game System $150 to $300
Universal Remote Control $100 to $300
Cables $300 to $500
System Range $4,750 to $5,750

In bang for the buck and all-around performance, I’d give the edge to a large rear-projection display such as a DLP, LCD or HD-ILA television. You will get a larger picture at a much smaller price than with a comparably-priced plasma and, unlike a standalone projector that requires your room to be extremely dark, modern projection screen TVs are getting brighter and thinner with each new model. There are some quirks to new rear-projection TVs like long start-up and shut-down times and DLPs still have the “rainbow effect” that some find unwatchable, but as each new generation hits the stores, the performance to price ratio gets better and better.

$5,000 Plasma Display Based System
42" HD-Ready Plasma Display
$2,000 to $3,500
5.1 on-wall, in-wall of floor standing speaker system $600 to $1,300
AV Receiver $600 to $900
Universal DVD-A/SACD player $500
HDMI or DVI Cable $150
Universal Remote Control $100 to $300
Other Cables $200 to $400
System Range $4,050 to $6,750

If the three choices, you are going to get the least bang for your buck if you decide to have a plasma as your primary video display in the $5,000 system. In that case, you ask, why would you go this route? The answer is simple: square footage and ambient light. If you have a very small space and can get the room dark, you can still look into the projection screen route, but if you have large windows and still have an ambient light issue, the plasma is going to be your best bet. Installing the AV components into a single rack with a small footprint and then wall-mounting your plasma can give you back valuable square footage in a small room, but you’ll have to compromise on speakers and/or gear if you want to keep it under $5,000.

The plasma display is probably the one piece of equipment that is going to lose value the fastest once you buy it. However, the prices are starting to stabilize and you can pick up a name brand 42-inch plasma display somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,500 and $3,500 as of July 2005. This one item will have eaten up half to two-thirds of your budget and you won’t be getting the gargantuan screen that you can get from a DLP, LDC or HD-ILA Projection screen TV.

This system does not include an HD-PVR, but some cable and satellite providers will allow you to lease equipment for a small monthly fee. You will want to consult your cable or satellite provider to see if you can lease a PVR.


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