Building The Basic Home Theater Part Two: Setting a Budget for Gear 
Home Theater Feature Articles Other
Written by Bryan Dailey and Jerry Del Colliano   
Friday, 01 July 2005


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 (RevolutionHomeTheater.com) 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.

The $10,000 System
When stepping up to a $10,000 system, the performance and quality of the components that you’ll be able to add to your system will increase significantly. You may be able to find a receiver or AV preamp with HDMI switching and you’ll be able to put better speakers in your theater with a better-performing subwoofer. Oftentimes, the subs that come with pre-packaged 5.1 speaker systems are decent, but they aren’t the highest of performers and the difference a good sub can make to your system is immediately noticeable.

$10,000 Plasma Display-Based System
50-Inch Plasma Display
$4,500 to $6,000
Five Channel Speaker System $1,500 to $2,500
AV Receiver $1,000 to $2,000
10 to 13-Inch powered Subwoofer $500 to $1,000
Two Video Game Systems $300 to $500
DVD or Universal Player $1,000
HDMI, Speaker and Other AV Cables $600
Universal Remote $100 to $400
System Range $9,500 to $14,000

Moving up to a bigger plasma like a 50-inch with a $10,000 budget will still require you to make some compromises to keep the budget in check. If you do your homework, you can find a 50-inch plasma for under $5,000, but even at $4,500, that is nearly half of the budget for the remainder of the system. A higher-end receiver will still probably be in order rather than separates to keep the budget in line. More money can be dedicated to speakers and cables, as well to get a big lift in performance from the $5,000 system.

$10,000 Rear-Projection-Based System
50- to 60-Inch rear Projection Display
$2,500 to $3,500
Five Channel Speaker System $1,500 to $2,500
AV Preamp $2,000 to $3,000
10 to 13-Inch powered Subwoofer $500 to $1,000
5 Channel Amplifier $2,000 to $3,000
DVD or Universal Player $1,000
HDMI, Speaker and Other AV Cables $600
Universal Remote $100 to $400
Next Generation Video Game System $400
Satellite Radio Tuner $200
System Range $10,800 to $15,600

Even with $5,000 tacked on to the budget, you are still looking at the same model TVs as in the previous budget. You might spend a little more to get a 70-inch rear-projection TV, but unless you wear glasses so thick you can see the future or have a living room that resembles an auditorium, a 51- or 60-inch projection TV is likely going to do you just fine. With the financial room to play, you can start looking at having an outboard video scaler in the loop, a next generation video game system when they finally hit the streets, better speakers and maybe a satellite radio tuner or an Internet music server.

$10,000 Projector-Based System
Three-Chip LCD or DLP Projector
$3,500 to $5,000
Projection Screen $1,000
Video Scaler $1,000 to $2,000
5.1 Channel Speaker System $1,000 to $1,500
High-end AV Receiver $2,500 to $3,500
DVD or Universal Player $1,000
HDMI, Speaker and Other AV Cables $600
System Range $10,600 to $14,600

To get a pop in performance over the entry-level video projectors and still keep things in the $10,000 range, compromises in speakers need to be made and extra toys such as a video game system or satellite radio tuner need to be skipped. An outboard video scaler will help the level of performance and will get you closer to the high-end video experience without having to back a truck up to the local savings and loan.
The $25,000 system
All of us would love to have a $25,000 shopping spree down at the local electronics store and at first it may seem like this is plenty of money to buy an absolutely amazing system with cash to spare. However, when you get into the upper echelon of audio and video performance, you’d be surprised how quickly you can burn through the money. For any size theater, regardless of budget, I recommend looking at your own tastes and figuring out what the primary use of your theater will be. Some people want to have the ability to watch movies in surround sound and occasionally listen to surround sound music, but ultimately their hearts are set on two-channel stereo music, so they will want to put an emphasis on their main speakers. Others may be so new school they don’t have much desire to listen to stereo music and want to have the latest video display technology.

$25,000 Video Projector-Based System
HD-ILA or DLP Video Projector
$6,000 to $10,000
Screen (pull down or motorized) $800 to $2,500
Outboard Video Scaler $1,000 to $2,000
Five Channel Speaker System $4,000
Subwoofer $1,000
AV Preamp $4,500
Five-Channel Amplifier $3,500
DVD or Universal Player $1,000
Cables $1,000 to $2,000
AC Power Conditioner $2,000
System Range $24,800 to $32,500

At this price point, you get to the point where you don’t really have to make any excuses about anything in your system. A top DLP or D-ILA projector on one of the best new screen materials will make a picture that will have you transfixed when watching sports, movies or even Skin-a-max. This system has a heavy investment in electronics and speakers, which is good for the audiophile who wants to keep that level of sound reproduction in his system. One element I might make a sacrifice for is to add $500 for a basic acoustical plan from one of a handful of acoustic gurus around the country. I might also pop for a $1,000 set-up by William Phelps on a D-ILA projector, which results in even better contrast.

$25,000 Plasma Display-Based System
60-Inch Plasma Set
$8,000
HDMI switching video scaler $2,000
Five Channel Speaker System $4,000 to $6,000
Subwoofer $1,000 to $1,500
AV Preamp $3,000 to $5,000
Five-Channel Amplifier $2,500
DVD or Universal Player $1,000
Cables $2,000
AC Power Conditioner $2,000
Xbox or Playstation $300
45-inch HDMI cable from HD PVR to Plasma $1,000
ISF Trained Calibration $500
System Range $26,800 to $29,300

This permutation of the $25,000 theater has a specific focus on video and should come with a professional calibration. These new, longer HDMI connections also are a really cool add-on that allows you to make your video playback system really sing, even if your gear is across the room.

$35,000 Technology-Lover System
HD-ILA or DLP Rear Projection Set
$3,500
Home Theater PC/DVR $2,000
Multiroom Music Server $1,300
Touch Screen Remote $5,000
HD-TiVo $700
5 Channel Speaker System $3,000
Subwoofer $700
Active Seating System (like D-Box) $5,500
DVD or Universal Player $1,000
Cables $2,000
AC Power Conditioner $2,000
High End Home Theater Receiver $3,000
Xbox or Playstation $300
Programmable Lighting Control $1,200
ISF Trained Calibration $500
Acoustical Design and treatments $3,000
Middle Atlantic Rack with custom cabinet $4,000
System Range $36,700

This system is for the client who wants to do the most trick, computer-based feats, paired with full RS232 control like the systems you see featured in RHT – many of which cost more than 10 times what this one does. I have seen HD recorder cards installed into home theater PCs that can really perform some feats. In this system, there is room for a music server that can be expanded to up to 32 zones around your home. We left $5,000 for an entry level touch screen and basic programming. There is nothing nicer than having a killer remote that does everything you want with your system every time without EVER complaining. We added lighting control, which is really nice to have in a great theater room. There is even a Dbox chair that allows you to download pre-programmed, tactile information, so that when you are in the “hot seat,” you really are in for an E-ticket ride. Lastly, with all of this high-end gear and seating, as we are blowing the $25,000 budget (would you respect any salesman that didn’t try to sell you up?), we have a custom cabinet with a metal rack and some custom shelves. This makes organizing your gear so much easier and cleaner-looking.

Justifying Your Home Theater Purchase
If you are reading this and are finding it hard to justify spending $5,000, $10,000 or $25,000 on a home theater system, consider the alternatives. A week-long vacation for two to Hawaii can quickly burn through $5,000 and when all is said and done, the tan will fade and you’ll only have the pictures to remember the trip by. A necklace from Tiffany’s could easily run $10,000 and all it does it hang around your neck (okay, diamonds have other perks, but this is a family publication isn’t it?). If you are trying to swallow the $25,000 pill, imagine the look on a sports fan’s face when he walks into your home when you are selling your place and sees the big game in high definition on the 51-inch plasma. Deciding on a new home is often an impulse buy, so although you may not recoup all of your money if you install a plasma on your wall, it makes for a nice selling feature should you decide to include it with the sale of your home.

Although we never recommend overextending yourself to go into debt to install a home theater system, the fact that Gen Xers who grew up on videogames, MTV and blockbuster special effects-laden movies are all installing home theaters tells you something about the importance of having a system. Just like a refrigerator or a stove, the home theater is quickly becoming an integral part of a home. Builders are now commonly pre-wiring homes for distributed audio systems, satellite and surround sound. Note, even if you start with a $5,000 or $10,000 system – there is always room and time to upgrade. If you read AVRev.com then likely you are always looking for your next upgrade, making you our most beloved type of reader.

A properly designed home theater can go many years without becoming obsolete and can provide thousands of hours of entertainment. The Internet has opened many doors to resources for researching products and purchasing online and, if you are careful, you can selectively assemble a very good system at a great price. You’ll want to be careful to purchase only from authorized dealers and, if you have any doubts about a retailer, we encourage you to contact the manufacturer to check up on them. We also fully endorse the DYI concept for seasoned veterans, but if you are the least bit doubtful in your ability to set up or program a system, let the pros at your favorite AV installation company handle things for you. They will prove to be a valuable resource and will get you on the road to enjoying your theater sooner.
Resources:

CEDIA
www.CEDIA.org
800-669-5329

Bob Hodas Acoustical Tuning and Design
Bob@BobHodas.com
(510) 649-9254

Rives Audio Home Theater and Acoustical Design
www.RivesAudio.com
(800) 959-6553

William Phelps Video Calibration
(650) 302-2468

Imaging Science Foundation – Video Calibrators
www.imagingscience.com
561-997-9073

Remote Central
www.remotecentral.com

Revolution Home Theater – System Archives
http://www.revolutionhometheater.com/virtualtours/index.html





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