Cheap Dave's Home Theater


The Cheap Dave HT Philosophy

Ok what is the Cheap Dave philosophy when it comes to home theater?

I have known people for years who say "I can't wait until plasma TVs get cheap enough then I will buy one". Why invest so much value in some future technology and put off something just because you can't afford the "ideal" set up?

Ok what is the Cheap Dave philosophy when it comes to home theater?

I have known people for years who say "I can't wait until plasma TVs get cheap enough then I will buy one". Why invest so much value in some future technology and put off something just because you can't afford the "ideal" set up?

I am on my third dedicated HT system and my 4th surround sound system. Every one of them has been an improvement over the one before. But I have enjoyed them all without thinking "gee I wish this was better". The point of home theater is to enjoy a theater-like experience in your home.

Also don't think that you have to spend all the money up front to create this "ideal" system. A home theater can grow and improve over time. Have you ever had a fish tank? A lot of the fun is putting the whole system together, what size tank, what kind of fish, where do I put the bubbling treasure chest? It is almost a little disappointing when it is all done. Then you just wait for a fish to die so you can get a new one. So while planning a home theater system is important there are many things that you can use to get you started and improve them later when you have the money. You might find that some are just fine and you don't need to waste the money on an expensive upgrade.

So what could you do right now to move closer to having a working HT system? What components do you have and what do you lack. If you have a stereo system you may only need 3 more speakers. One should be decent quality for the center channel but the two surrounds can be almost any speaker that you have on hand or can get cheaply.

You might already have a better system than you think. I assume you have a TV. If it is old and 27" or less you might try to get a larger one. The prices have really come down and a 32" TV can be had for less than $300.

Have you bought a receiver in the last 10 years? It might at least have Dolby Pro Logic Surround. If you don't have the book on it (they only last about 10 minutes in my house) look at the logos on the front. If you don't have a receiver current models with several surround modes can be purchased for less than $200.

If your VCR isn't stereo pick up you rotary dial telephone and buy a new one. Heck forget that, if you have $39 go buy a DVD player if you don't already have one. We are going to leap all the way into the '90s.

If you just want to get started quick and don't plan on upgrading in the near future think about one of the HTIB (Home Theater in a Box) systems. These start at about $300 and I assume if you can swing $1000 you probably can get a decent system. But even the cheapest one should be an improvement over just a TV.

So now you have a basic surround system. This is basically the type of system I had for my first surround system. When I finally got it all hooked up and we watched out first movie. (Jurassic Park on VHS) it blew me away. I enjoyed it much better than the theater with the teenagers talking behind me.

Every step towards a dedicated HT room with a projector makes a noticeable improvement. But some are less dramatic than others. So without further adieu, here is my list of improvements (in dollar order) that make the most noticeable difference:

TV (OK this isn't home radio so you have to at least have something that shows a picture)

Surround sound (Pro Logic)

5 Speakers

Sub-woofer (this makes even a small system sound big)

Projector (decent units go for less than $800) This will give you the most wow for the buck!!

HDTV!! Now that you have a projector call the cable company and spring for HDTV. Big improvement on TV.

Dolby Digital 5.1 (this is an improvement over Pro Logic but it is not as dramatic a jump as Pro Logic is over Stereo.

Better Speakers

Better Sub-woofer

Better seating

Dolby 6.1 or 7.1 again this is a nice upgrade but not that noticeable and there still isn't that much material that will make the most of it.

One last thing. I state this elsewhere on the web page but it bears repeating. Home theater is not Audiophile. Now if you want it to be your main music system, fine, you may want to spend more on some of the audio components. But you do not have to have the most expensive audio system on the block to make a convincing theater experience. You need to be able to hear the dialog and when something blows up it needs to go BOOM!! That isn't as hard to do as it sounds. Also about 70% of the sound comes through the center speaker. So adding mega-buck floor standing speakers for your left and right channel (assuming you already have a subwoofer) may not improve your system as much as you think it should.

So that is the Cheap Dave Home Theater philosophy: start enjoying movies (and TV) at home more right now, use what you have, spend money where it makes sense, upgrade later but only where you think there will be a noticeable improvement, sit back and enjoy the show, BOOM!!