8 Tips for Putting Together a Great Home Theater on a Budget

Home theater provides an exciting entertainment experience, but at what price?

Many consumers are confused on how to get started in home theater and how much to spend. Contrary to popular belief, those on a budget can still afford a modest system that will do the job.

What you ultimately spend depends reconciling your desires with your available cash. There are inexpensive and mid-range options that provide great value and performance, while some very expensive options only deliver a marginal increase in performance and may not always be the best value.

The following tips will enable you to merge your desires with some practical, cost-effective, strategies for assembling your home theater.

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Think About What's Most Important for Your Home Theater

Samsung JS9500 Series SUHD TV. Image provided by Samsung

A home theater system is an exciting entertainment option that provides the consumer with an immersive viewing and listening experience. Your home theater system can be just a TV and modest sound system or a sophisticated custom-built system with video projector, in-wall speakers, expensive home theater seating.

Here are the basic questions you need to seek answers to: Do you want the biggest viewing image possible? Will you be spending more time watching TV, watching movies, listening to music, or playing video games? Do you want to incorporate the internet into your home theater system?

As you get excited about your home theater plans, also be aware of common mistakes that can impact both your budget and enjoyment of your new system.

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Decide Whether to Upgrade or Start From Scratch

EMP Tek Cinema 7 - 7.1 Channel Speaker System - Photo of Front View with Speaker Grills Off
EMP Tek Cinema 7 - 7.1 Channel Speaker System - Photo of Front View with Speaker Grills Off. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Take stock of what you already have and think you might want to keep - at least for now. As you survey what you have, take into consideration what you want your completed home theater system to include. Here are some examples:

A Display Device: Television or video projector/screen.

One or More Sources: Blu-ray Disc player, DVD player, game console, network media player/streamer, antenna, cable, or satellite TV.

A Sound System: Stereo or home theater receiver and speakers.

Equipment Racks or Cabinet: For placing components and storing discs.

Seating: For comfortable for viewing and listening.

Also, if you are planning to upgrade and throw out your old equipment, check out some great tips on How To Recycle Old Home Theater Electronics.

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Consider a Home-Theater-in-a-Box or Sound Bar

Sony HT-ST7 Sound Bar and Wireless Subwoofer System Package
Photo of Sony HT-ST7 Sound Bar and Wireless Subwoofer System Package. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

If you have a small room to work with, or just don't want the hassle of putting together an elaborate setup, consider an appropriate size screen and either a home theater-in-a-box or sound bar system.

Home theater-in-a-box systems are affordable packages that contain most of the components needed, including speakers, a surround receiver, and, in some cases, even a DVD or Blu-ray Disc player.

A sound bar is a design that creates a wider surround-like field from a single speaker cabinet, which can be placed above or below a TV. Some sound bars have their own internal amplifiers and sometimes incorporate a CD/DVD or Blu-ray Disc player. Sound bars save a lot of space and eliminate the need for extra surround speakers in a modest setup.

More Info
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Evaluate the Hidden Benefits of Blu-ray Disc Players

Samsung BD-H6500 Blu-ray Disc Player - Front View with Included Accessories
Samsung BD-H6500 Blu-ray Disc Player - Front View Photo with Included Accessories. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Although Blu-ray disc players are still more expensive than DVD players, there are some real money-saving advantages to owning a Blu-ray disc player. Blu-ray disc players not only play Blu-ray discs, but also play DVDs and CDs as well.

Also, most Blu-ray disc players can also play audio, video, and still image content from USB flash drives via an onboard USB port.

Lastly, an increasing number of Blu-ray disc players are also network-enabled. These players can be connected to the internet via a router, allowing you to stream online audio and video content directly to the player for viewing on your TV or video projector. Check for these, and other features, when shopping for a Blu-ray disc player.

More Info: Guide to Blu-ray and Blu-ray Disc Players
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Don't Over-Pay For Accessories

HDMI Cable and Connection
HDMI Cable and Connection. Robert Silva

When you buy a TV, Blu-ray disc player, home theater receiver, speakers, and subwoofer, the cost for those items isn't your final total. You still need cables, wires, and possibly other accessories, such as a universal remote control and surge protector, to get it all set up and working. Accessories can be expensive, but they don't have to be. Avoid both the $100 six-foot HDMI cables and the too-good-to-be-true bargain basement stuff.

More Info:  Home Theater Add-ons and Accessories - Budget Priced Accessories
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Buy Refurbished Products If You Don't Need the Latest and Greatest

Man looking at music equipment through windows of electronic shop
Shopping for home theater gear. Justin Pumfrey/The Image Bank/Getty Images

We are always looking for bargains. One way save money in putting together a home theater is to buy refurbished products, especially if you don't need the latest and greatest. When most of us think of a refurbished item, we think of something that has been opened up, torn apart, and rebuilt, like an auto transmission rebuild, for instance.

However, in the electronics world, it is not so obvious what the term "refurbished" actually means for the consumer. Before you embark on your quest to find those great deals, arm yourself with some useful shopping tips for buying refurbished products.

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Consider the Long-range Costs of Using Your Home Theater System

Dollar Signs. Image created by Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

It doesn't do any good to spend money on a home theater if you don't have the money to enjoy it on an ongoing basis. Here are some things to take into consideration:

A. Discs. The average price of a DVD movie is about $15, while the average price of a Blu-ray Disc movie is about $25. Always watch for sales. Consider renting DVD/Blu-ray discs if you are not interested in keeping them.

B. Cable and satellite fees (depends on the package that you contract for).

C. Pay-per-view (prices vary, can be a little as $3.99 per view or $20 or more for certain special events).

D. Internet Streaming Fees  (some providers require monthly subscription - while others require pay-per-view).

E. Video projector lamp replacement (several hundred dollars a pop after a certain amount of viewing hours - usually 3,000 to 5,000 - depends on projector brand/model).

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Saving Money is Good; Acquiring Great Value is Better

Couple watching TV.

Home theater can be a real money saver, if you buy smart. The key things: Don't buy the cheapest, but don't overpay for just a minor increase in performance. Be comfortable with your purchase. If you can't afford everything right away, a practical way to start is to buy a good TV and build out from there.

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