Got a new TV, now I need speakers. (Home theater?)

I just picked up a 46" Regza from Best Buy for about $1100, and now I’m looking to get some kind of home theater setup to hook up to it. I’m pretty new to this sort of thing, and I could use as much help as possible.

I will be looking to connect a 360, PS3, PS2, and my media PC to the system, and I don’t really care about iPod conenctivity. I can’t ever get too loud, at least in my present apartment, due to living above and below people. I don’t want to have wires running all over my living room for rear speakers, either. My main priority is bang-for-buck performance, and I’ve got a price range of right around $500 or so. I don’t need a DVD player in the system, obviously.

I saw this Pioneer system at Newegg for $500 and got pretty excited about the savings over old retail cost, the fact that I don’t have to have rear satellites for surround (though I’m sure it would work better with them) and that kickass external display. I actually bought it and then cancelled the order right away, afraid that my impulsiveness was getting the better of me. If I can spend less than that and get something that will work, I’d like to, but the Pioneer setup is just so … shiny.

Help me, hivemind! You’re my only hope!

Tech level: noob audiophile

I’m looking at the pictures. It has 3 HDMI inputs in the subwoofer itself. It looks like a highly integrated sub/receiver system.

I would personally not recommend a home theater in a box system if you ever get the urge to expand and upgrade.

An alternative with a budget of $500 would be a receiver, a center and stereo speakers. Surround is overrated IMHO. If you do go this route make sure you know what HDMI passthrough means. Last I checked the more affordable receivers use HDMI passthrough. It means only video goes on the HDMI so you’ll need to run even more sets of audio cables into your receiver.

In the case of the PC, unless you have a real-time DTS encoding card (like one of those Turtle Montego), you’ll have to run 6 different RCA cables to your receiver if you want 5.1 in games (movie soundtracks if encoded with AC3 will pass them on an optical cable, but games will need Dolby II emulation or something which sucks for shooting games.)

P.S. while you get all this, get a separate power switch for the receiver to avoid vampire power drains. On my receiver the “off” button is just a standby button and all the junk stays warm. Euro model has an actual power switch. So sad, they can’t spend the extra $0.50 for a real off switch?

I’m mostly going to be using the PC connection for watching movies on the TV, it’s unlikely that I’ll do much gaming that way, though who knows?

So, HDMI pass-through means I hook up my PS3/360 to the receiver with HDMI for the audio, then run a HDMI cable up to the TV for the video? I’m not really clear on that part yet.

That Pioneer system does have a dedicated receiver, too, if it’s not clear in those pictures.

EDIT: Receiver visible here:

Talk with stusser. He recommended to me the most awesomest stereo system evar. But mine cost almost twice what you want to spend ($900).

Thanks! Sending him a PM!

Forget that integrated junk. You want two things:

  1. A decent HDMI-capable receiver.

  2. Decent stereo speakers.

Receiver tech changes fast, and on your budget, I wouldn’t get anything fancy. Amazon has this Onkyo SR507 for $340, which is a pretty solid deal.

For speakers, I’d recommend PSB Alpha B1 speakers for $279, which are some of the best budget speakers you’ll find anywhere.

That’s a little over your price range, but it gets you something that’s modular, allows for a 5.1 upgrade down the road if you want, and will give you vastly better sound than that integrated thing.

I do like the idea of just having stereo speakers. 5.1 has never really done anything special for me, and when I did my last PC upgrade I moved from 5.1 to a nicer set of stereo speakers. It was a good choice.

Those look like great recommendations, mkozlows. Thanks!

Just to be clear, so I don’t feel bad later if it turns out to suck, I haven’t actually researched that Onkyo at all – it was just the cheapest name-brand receiver I saw that handled audio and video on HDMI inputs. So you may want to read reviews to see if there are any issues with it.

The Alphas, though, I can vouch for.

The reviews seem pretty positive, and I’ve read a few at places other than Amazon that concurred. I think this is a better option overall than that Pioneer kit, and I might just save for a bit more and pick it up. I can suck it up with TV speakers in the meantime.

Onkyo is one of those brands that does little wrong. Their products are always high on features and quality at a decent price point. Probably one of the top 3 if not the most consistently great HTIB manufacturers.

It’s hard to tell from the description, but this sure looks like the same receiver, with speakers, for cheaper:

Am I wrong?

EDIT: I am wrong, that’s the 307, the model down.

EDIT 2: Also wrong about that Pioneer system having a receiver, it is in fact integrated into the sub, and what’s shown in that picture is just some silly blu-ray player they tossed in for fun. Weird.

Via Slickdeals, a Yamaha receiver for $299. Again, I have no idea if this is good, except that Yamaha receivers are generally good, and it seems to have the right specs.

Just a quick comment about apartment living: a sub-woofer in an apartment is generally a bad idea. Your neighbors above and below you will hate you with a passion if they can hear it even just a little bit, and low frequencies travel quite nicely through walls and floors. You can play around with sound level, placement, getting it off the floor, etc, but in the end the best option is to leave it off. I had nice set of stereo bookshelf speakers (Atlantic Technology), and an old Kenwood receiver, and when I wanted to turn it up loud, I put on headphones. Never got any complaints. (I live in a house now, with 5.1 Klipsch ref speakers that shake the floor.)

I hate, hate, hate both sets of neighbors that I have. They’re both unreasonably loud at the worst times of day/night, and I don’t really care about pissing them off. The people upstairs have a fucking drum set and amps right above my living room, for fuck’s sake. The people below us have only lived there for two months and I’ve already had to go down and tell them to quiet down on three separate occasions. Anyway-

I have an elevated sub for my PC that I leave pretty low, and I’ve never gotten any complaints about it. I think, though, that I will stick with bookshelf speakers for the TV, as I know our living room is right above a bedroom.

Honestly, I would just get a name brand (well reviewed) HTiB (Home Theater in a Box). I’ve been eyeing Onkyo’s line for a while, but haven’t gotten around to picking one up yet. They’re one of the few manufacturers that makes a HTiB that doesn’t include a DVD player, and I’m sure you have enough of those.

The HDMI Passthrough is a bit of a pain. The higher end Onkyo HTiB line has full HDMI repeaters built in now, but the lower end is all pass through. My own research has indicated that if a product description is vague on the matter, it probably means its pass-through.

Also, don’t go to AVS forums and start reading, except to get a general idea of how well a particular model works. They’ll convince you that you need to spend hundreds more than you planned on features you don’t want or need.

Why? HTiBs are low quality, often with proprietary connectors and excessive integration that prevents a sensible upgrade path, and force you to pay for things you probably don’t need (like “subwoofers”).

You know what would be an interesting stat they don’t report? Dolby D latency.

My Onkyo system had a Rockband 2 latency of 40 ms or so. It died so I plugged in an old Denon which had like 5 ms latency, much nicer!

With a $500 price limit, just get a HTIB. The onkyos are best reviewed. You won’t get HDMI switching or anything, just use the TV for that. My main suggestion would be to spend a little bit of money on a nice macro-capable programmable learning universal remote; either a harmony (if you’re living with a woman) or my favorite, the URC MX500.

Because a lot of people aren’t ever going to upgrade, and the ease of getting everything and knowing everything will work with minimum fuss is worth it for a lot of people. Basically, if you have to ask QT3 about speakers, I’m assuming those apply to you. They apply to me.

Your point is taken though. There are some hazards with HTiB’s, which is why I specifically mentioned Onkyo, their HTiB’s are “component grade” (they’re basically re-badged units from their main line), and they’re generally very well regarded, even audiophiles at AVS seem to grudgingly admit that they’re “okay” even if the foozle response in the blurf range isn’t as good as some $500 speaker. The mid to high end ones even have real powered sub-woofers, no scare quotes needed.

Like anything else there are good an bad HTiB’s. I was sharing my experience from the research I’ve done, and as I said, I’m planning on buying one myself. If you don’t want 5.1, you might be better off with just nice bookshelf speakers + receiver, but then you’re getting into picking individual components, and that’s a lot of work.

If you are looking at buying an Onkyo, there’s a “onkyo members club” or something at (I think) that will get you 3% off or something. It’s not much, but it’s totally free to sign up for.

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