During the holidays, I gave you insight into some essential home theater gifts for the film buff on your list. Then more recently, I took the high road and presented a guide to creating the ultimate home screening room experience. Unfortunately for many of you, the costs associated with both of those projects -- especially in the case of the ultimate screening room -- were far too prohibitive and not something you could, or would, want to afford.
Given that, I went back to the proverbial drawing board and decided to put together a guide to low budget home theater gear you could use to achieve as much of the "big screen" experience as possible, given the constraints of a very limited budget. Putting something like this together for almost no money isn't as easy as it might seem. Getting good quality gear can be expensive and even something decent still isn't always what some would consider "cheap."
With that in mind, I decided to challenge myself to put together a home screening room I could enjoy, but with a very limited budget of only $1500.00 -- the approximate amount of my last tax refund. Sticking to this budget meant, of course, a lot of research, bargain hunting and in some cases, haggling. But in the end, I found the following items that will do your movies at home justice. And even if you don't get the "ultimate" home theater experience in your custom screening room, you can still have a good time watching some great movies in your living room while not spending a ton of money.
So, with our budget in mind, let's get to it ...
Picture - As we're working with an extremely low budget here, we're going to have to forgo the exceptional visual punch of High-Def TV and content ourselves with viewing some still great, but lower resolution visuals. To do this, we need some kind of device to view our movies on. That, of course, is a television. Fortunately, as the prices of most HD TVs have steadily declined, the prices of very good CRT Televisions (the ones with tubes) has dropped even more.
For our purposes here, we're going to go for the biggest and best TV we can find while still keeping an eye on the bottom line. For this, the visual centerpiece of our home screening room, I narrowed it down to a couple choices: the Toshiba 32D47 and the RCA DirectView. I checked out both and their performance was pretty similar in most respects. However, I thought the Toshiba was a bit better so that's the one I went with. I ended up purchasing the TV locally instead of ordering it from Amazon, as I'm reluctant to ship things quite this big. So, for the TV I ended up spending $342.76, which is our grand total so far.
Sound - Like picture, sound is another component that plays a very important part in achieving the desired level of the in-home "big screen" experience. Fortunately, as with televisions, the price of good a/v components and speakers has dropped dramatically as well. For our audio needs, we can go a couple different ways.
We can either invest in an all-in-one solution such as the Sony Bravia DAV-HDX267W or the Samsung HT-TX75 system -- which also boasts a 5 disc cd/dvd changer for your media-loading pleasure. Or, we can go for a stand-alone audio-only system such as the Polk Audio RM6750, which is a great system with a small footprint, yet plenty of sound for a very good price.
And as I'm a fan of separate speaker and DVD player systems, I went with the Polk Audio speakers this time. But don't worry, we're going to cover all your DVD needs in a minute. So adding in the price for the Polk speaker system, which is $240.88, our total is now up to: $582.76.
For sound, we also need some sort of audio/video receiver to connect our speakers and provide power to run them. We also need a component to provide the "surround sound" in our surround sound system. Given our budget, there are still some very good choices. I'm a big fan of Denon and its products, I'm going to skip the looking around and just choose a product from that company. We're going to go for the Denon AVR-687. It has a great combination of features, power and even a dedicated iPod port, and will do the job well. This unit costs $335.53, so that brings our total up to $918.29.
Sources - Since I didn't ultimately select a speaker system that has a DVD player included, we need to get a DVD player now. As we're doing this on a budget, we won't be getting any fancy (or expensive) HD DVD players. Instead, we will content ourselves with a standard-def player, which can still look very, very good. Plus, our TV is standard def so having an HD DVD source wouldn't do any good anyway.
Also, we don't want to get just any player, even though you can get them very cheap these days. Instead, we want to make sure we're getting the best possible standard def output. So, we won't be getting the $35.00 player you can find at your local Wal Mart. Instead, we will go a little higher and choose from a couple good players that are still very economical.
For our money, its either going to be the Sony DVP-NS57P/B or the Toshiba SD-4000. Both are solid DVD players that won't break the bank and each pefrom almost exactly the same way so take your pick. Both players are priced around $60.00 so that brings our total to $978.29.
Cables, Connectors, etc. - Now that we have the bare-minimum in gear to comprise our system, we need to connect it all together so it will work. At a minimum, we need speaker wire to attach our speakers to our receiver unit as well as component video cables to go from the DVD player to the TV. I don't believe in getting the most expensive cables possible but we do want to make sure to get good quality a/v cables and speaker wire.
With that in mind, I did end up turning to Monster for all my video and audio connection needs. I don't, however, get their most expensive items. Instead, for speaker wire I get some Monster Clear Jacket Speaker Cable to connect the speakers and sub-wolfer. Then, I went for Monster Component Cables to connect our DVD player to the TV. For our purposes here, especially given the nature of the rest of our system, these cables will definitely fit the bill.
We need at least one set of component cables (although I always get two just in case) and depending on the size of our room, we may need two spools of speaker wire plus connectors for the ends. Given those needs, the total for all of our audio/video cables is around $250.00, which brings our running total to $1203.29.
Accessories - Call me crazy but the one accessory I always put on the list, no matter my budget, is some sort of Universal Remote Control. I don't know about you, but I really don't like having a bunch of remotes for various devices sitting around, cluttering up the living room. So, to prevent that, I go with a device that can control all of my audio/video components. I've searched for the best one for a long time and so far, the ones from Logitec have worked the best. I personally use one of the top-of-the-line units, the 890, but we can't afford that here. So, the Logitech Harmony 670 will suffice. Adding that in, we're up to $1283.29.
Content - Now that we've assembled our screening room we need some stuff to watch. So, how about some movies? If you don't know what to get, take a look at Amazon's list of the top selling DVDs to get some ideas. Or, if you prefer renting to buying, how about a subscription to a video rental service like Netflix? At Netflix, you can sign up for a plan that's $14.99 a month and get two movies at a time to watch with unlimited rentals per month as long as you keep returning the ones you finish watching. So, figuring in the cost of a one-year subscription to Netflix with that plan, our new total is $1463.17.
Finishing Touches - We don't have much money left -- only about $37.00 -- so what can we do with this last bit of cash? Well, how about one of the traditional things that goes with movie watching at your local multiplex: popcorn? Sadly, we don't have enough left to get a real popcorn maker and do it the way it's done at the theater. We do, however, have enough for a few bags (at least) of the microwave kind -- which actually is pretty good too. Plus, we can also pick up a few cans, bottles or cartons of our favorite beverage and even some Bon Bons or Goobers to help enhance the feeling of being in a real movie theater. Your choice.
Well, we did pretty well here. We put together a good entry-level home screening room that sounds good and delivers enough visual punch to enjoy almost any movie you care to watch. The parts chosen for this are, in many ways, just a guideline. Feel free to mix and match or spend more in an area if you feel its more important to you.
For example, perhaps you just have to have an HD TV so are willing to spend less for speaker cables to make up the difference? However you finally choose to allocate your funds, you can still have fun putting your home screening room together and then enjoy some great movies without breaking the bank. Ok, now that that's done, let's get to the good part: watching some movies!