Help me build a home theater!

Inspired by the numerous PC building and suggestion threads, I thought I’d ask for similar advice regarding home theaters. I’m looking to spend about 5-6k on home theater equipment and I don’t have the foggiest idea where to start. I’ve got a good progressive-scan DVD player and a hand-me-down Mitsubishi TV coming which is allegedly HD, though I need to check the model.

Can anyone recommend a receiver/speaker/TV (possibly) combo that would fit within that budget? I’m not necessarily looking for specific model numbers, but I’m trying to figure out good manufacturers within that range. I don’t even know where that ceiling places me- cheapass, midgrade, what?

I understand the cabling technologies that are used, but I have no idea what’s going to do me any good and what’s just fluff. Is something like 7.1 useful, or should I just stick with 5.1? These are the kinds of questions I have.

There are a ton of “build your own PC” webpages out there and dozens of packages explaining the tradeoffs and pricing, but I haven’t been able to find anything similar for A/V equipment.

Any suggestions?

I don’t have any specific tips – my home theater system is about two years old now, and we only spent $1-1.5K total – but a few resources you may find helpful are:
http://www.hometheaterforum.com/htforum/index.php - probably the best for your needs; lots of guides in some of the subforums
http://www.liquidtheater.com/ - sadly, it looks like this isn’t updated any more, but I found many of his general recommendations (e.g., which components should get the bulk of the budget) to be quite helpful

Receivers: Denon, Onkyo or Yamaha. It’s not that others are bad, but these seem to hit the features needed pretty well. Make sure you get a unit with at least two HDMI inputs and one output.

Speakers: Paradigm makes some really great, but not terribly expensive, home theater packages, including the Cinema 90’s and Cinema 110’s. The Energy Take 5.2’s have a good rep, too, though I haven’t heard them.

TV: Do you want flat or will a digital RPTV work? Or do you want a front projector?

For the same price point, you can get a bigger RPTV. Check out Samsung, Sony, Mitsubishi for good units.

So you’re recommending I purchase a set of speakers rather than trying to get an individual sub(s), individual center, etc? I thought the prepackaged sets were generally of lesser quality, though maybe my price point pushes me in that direction.

I’m looking at the front projectors and really like them, specifically BenQ’s line. I’ll check out the TV brands you’ve listed, thanks.

The cheap (sub $500) packaged speakers are pretty poor. But the Energy’s and Paradigms are pretty solid.

Now, if you really want a good speaker set, try an all Paradigm set based on the Studio 20 reference edition, including the CC470 center channel. That’s what I have, and they are sweet. But it will set you back about $2500 just for speakers.

You might check out the Onkyo HT-S780. I bought the 770 last year after reading very positive things about it on AVSForum, which is full of AV geeks who are so anal that they’d make good IL-2 Sturmovik fans. The consensus at the time was that this was one of the only $500 or less systems worth considering.

It’s a system with a very nice receiver and a full set of 7.1 speakers. The 770 I bought had a 6.1 setup.

I’m not an audiophile, but for watching movies and listening to CDs, SACDs, and DVD-As, I’m very satisfied with clarity. The big subwoofer makes for impressive bass during action movies.

Doesn’t come with a DVD player, so it’s not really a “home theater in a box” setup.

Do you have a room to dedicate to this, or is it just going in a living room or whatever? That’s going to make a big difference IMO… If you’re setting this thing up in a living room where one end is totally open and you’re typically going to have some background noise (be it the dishwasher, laundry, kids, whatever) it’s probably not worth going quite as high end. Just my opinion tho.

It’s a dedicated room that I finished in my basement. It’s rectangular with an 18" bumpout along one of the long walls, where I plan on putting the monitor, screen, whatever. One short side has a window and I put a bar in the other, so I have to go with a relatively wide but shallow (something like a 1.3:1 ratio) area rather than a deep and narrow one.

Three walls are underground; the fourth is insulated and borders a bathroom. The ceiling’s insulated as well. This is my cave and it’s pretty close to soundproof :)

Your point’s taken on the applicability of the high end; I’m a bit hard of hearing and hence am focusing more on the video than the audio.

Thus far I’m trying to figure out why I shouldn’t get a projector; I can’t see any mounting issues and other than bulb replacement I’m not sure that there are any performance or cost hits relative to monitors in the price range I’m playing in.

I listened to a set of the Paradigns at a home theater store yesterday and really like them, I think they’re the speaker solution I need. I’m still trying to track down a receiver and some kind of video solution.

Only real downside to a projector is that the room needs to be dark.

With a DLP, I can watch a show while my wife reads, or vice versa. Harder to pull off with a projector, since the room needs to be dim.

I have a low-class DLP front-projector (BenQ PB6100) that we use as our only large display. Bang-for-the-buck, it’s great. We’ve got something like a 80-inch 4:3 screen that looks just fine at 480p and slightly beyond.

We live in an open loft, however, and I’m in the process of shopping for a replacement HD monitor. Too often I want to watch something during the day and basically can’t. We don’t have curtains on our one window, which is obviously a factor, but if you’re going to go front-projection make sure you can control the light levels completely. Even a bit of light will negate your enjoyment.

That said, you can eke an awful lot of picture out of a projector for not a lot of money. And making your own screen right on the drywall, either from careful wet-sanding or something like Goo Systems’ Screen Goo, can make a big difference in picture quality.

Best Buy has the Westinghouse LVM-37W1 on sale now for $1600 with free shipping (1080p 37-inch LCD with DVI input). If I can get a little bit of a break from the sales guy in Queens (unlikely at BB, I know, but stranger things have happened), I’ll probably be putting a 37-inch monitor on my desk to replace one of my Dell 2001FPs, then moving our couch and futon directly behind. Then I can sell not only my projector, but the secondary Yamaha 5.1 system that isn’t being used to its full potential. And surprisingly, we’ll be saving some space in our small apartment, as we won’t have to have a second wall open just to serve as a screen surface.

Front projectors are cool, but you need to make sure you get a good screen, like a Stewart Greyhawk. Those are not cheap.

I just got this projector in for testing, but haven’t fired it up. But the specs look really nice:

http://configure.us.dell.com/dellstore/config.aspx?c=us&cs=19&l=en&oc=5100MP&s=dhs

Better than 720P resolution, HDMI in, component video in… haven’t fired it up yet, so can’t comment on image quality.

Check out the Denon AVR-3806. Very nice feature set, and one of the lowest cost THX Ultra2 receivers I’ve seen.