Elements of The Perfect Home Theater
Here’s a checklist of the nine essential ingredients you’ll need for the ultimate home theater. You might already have many of these items, or different brands or models you’d recommend. Did we leave something out? We’d like to hear from you — let us know about it in the comments.
1. Big Screen
Let’s start with the centerpiece of your home theater: a big screen, and the bigger the better. That
55-inch Vizio XVT3SV HDTV
we recommended will do nicely, but if your viewing room is large, you might want to go to 65 inches. My favorite? The Panasonic TC-P65S2 plasma display, 65 inches of crisp goodness that delivers the blackest of blacks, super contrast ratio and ultra-sharp 1080p video. The best part is its price. I found it for
less than $1800
including shipping, about the best value in HDTV you can get right now.
2. Network Connection
It might be a pain to run Ethernet cables to your TV-watching area, but the speed and reliability of hardwired connectivity is hard to beat. Short of that, at least get yourself one of the latest wireless N routers. I’d recommend our pick for the holiday season, the $150 Netgear WNDR3700, the best I’ve ever tested.
3. Universal Remote
It’s been around for ages (read: one year), but your best bet is still the $200 Logitech Harmony One, or its more expensive brandmate, the $400 Logitech Harmony 900 that controls components through walls or cabinets using radio frequency (RF). The easiest remotes in the world to use (albeit not so easy to program), you touch the icon for your desired activity, such as Watch TV, Watch Blu-ray, or Watch TiVo. It couldn’t be easier with their colorful touchscreens. My only complaint? They’re both a bit slow to react.
4. Netflix Subscription
Netflix provides an all-streaming that lets you use the company’s Watch Instantly library until the cows come home. It’s unlimited, but you’ll run out of movies you want to watch fairly quickly, especially if you’re a film buff. If that happens, go for the “one DVD out at-a-time” subscription where you can have one Blu-ray disc plus unlimited instant watching.Even though the prices have gone up over the last year, it’s still worth it.
5. Blu-ray Player
Speaking of Blu-ray, these have almost become a commodity, so pick one that’s on sale, and then you’ll have access to the prettiest, cleanest video available today. I’d recommend the Samsung BDC6500, available for $157 if you look hard enough. Enjoy Blu-ray while it’s still hot/lukewarm, because I think its days are numbered as downloading and streaming video becomes more practical.
6. Roku XD|S
The Roku XD|S gives you a lot of streaming video for your $100. Its centerpiece is Netflix Watch Instantly, but you can also grab Amazon videos and lots of other channels, as well as my music favorite, Pandora. If $100 is too rich for you, go a notch down to the midrange Roku box, the $80 HD XR, which recently got a firmware update that lets it play 1080p video, but sacrifices the dual-band Wireless N Wi-Fi.
7. New Graphics Card for Your Old Computer
Here’s a novel idea: Forgo all those set-top boxes from Roku and Boxee, and drag that old three-year-old desktop PC out of the basement. I recommend at least a dual-core processor, but the key here is to swap out the graphics card, and for $50, I’d recommend this Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4550 with its HDMI port that connects to your HDTV. With a proper computer, you can watch Netflix, Hulu, downloaded 1080p videos — anything you want from the Internet. And I mean thewhole Internet, regardless of the vagaries of television networks and their restrictive practices.
8. Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
If you heed my computer/graphics card suggestion, you’ll need a way to control it, and there’s no better home theater keyboard than the Logitech K800 Wireless Illuminated Keyboard. It looks a lot like that Logitech Solar Keyboard we reviewed last month, but the $80 Logitech K800 has backlit keys for that darkened home-theater environment, exquisite design, and its batteries last a long, long time. For a mouse, I’d also recommend any of the Logitech wireless mice, with the new Performance Mouse MX with its Darkfield laser tracking leading the way.
9. Surround Sound
Don’t forget about the sound. You might not be able to hear the difference between 5.1 and 7.1 surround, but you will be able to hear the difference between surround sound and stereo. Books have been written about which components will give you the best sound, so ask a local audiophile. Here’s a great place to start looking for speakers, and check this out for some astute home theater receiver tips.