How to Create a Home Entertainment Center on a Budget

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Whether you're creating a separate room, or remodeling your living room for a new TV set up, a home entertainment center can be quite costly without proper planning. If you want to make the most out of what you have or you plan on buying a completely new system, learn the basics of what it takes to create a well-rounded home entertainment center on a budget.

Buying a TV

Your TV is the centerpiece of your home entertainment center. It is the big ticket item, the main attraction, and probably the most expensive thing on your home entertainment list. Before bargain hunting for the best priced TV available, here are the most important TV options to consider:

  • Type: Are you looking for a 3-D, LCD or plasma TV? If you're trying to save money, you want to avoid the 3-D TV at the moment. Plasma and LCD TV's are similar in picture quality, but plasma TV's tend to be more affordable when compared to LCD TV's of similar screen sizes. However, plasma TV's only come in larger sizes, and if you are willing to sacrifice size for cost, smaller LCD TV's are the most affordable.
  • Size: The size of your TV will depend on how far away you plan to sit from the screen. For a home entertainment center in an average size living room, you will most likely be positioned about 10 feet from the TV. According to most retailers, a 42 or 43 inch screen would be optimal at that distance. If you think you need a little more space away from the TV, a 47 inch screen would be optimal at distances between 11 and 15 feet.
  • Display format: When considering the right display format for your TV, think of the 480i formats of the standard, analog TV's of the past. Now that you have your point of reference, the three most common display formats are 720p, 1080i and 1080p. While one can argue that the differences between 720p and 1080i are very subtle, it's all a matter of what is important to you. You can go for cost over quality and buy a TV with a 720p resolution, or you can shell out a bit more for a better quality in a 1080p.
  • HD (high-definition): High-definition TV's are the only way to go, don't try to save money by buying a non-HD TV. HD TV's are a must-have item for your home entertainment center. Fortunately, you can nab one for as low as $600 with some smart shopping.
  • Wide-screen: A 4:3 aspect-ratio might work for a smaller TV in the bedroom, but if you're building a home entertainment center, do yourself a favor and go with a wide-screen format.

If you're still a bit confused on the options or can't decide on what TV you want to purchase, here is a great TV set up for a budget home entertainment center that you should be able to find for under $800:

  • Type: LCD
  • Size: 47 inches
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • HD: Yes
  • Widescreen: Yes

Budget Audio

If you thought purchasing a TV was complicated, wait till you start looking into an audio system for your home entertainment center. Your audio setup is just as important as your video setup, and you want to get the best sound quality possible, at an affordable price, of course. The general rule most retailers will tell you is your audio equipment should make up half of your system's budget, and your video should make up the other half. Here are the key things to consider when shopping for an audio system on a budget:

  • Surround sound: True surround sound is a must for any home entertainment center, whether you're on a budget or not. A regular stereo setup or virtual surround won't cut it if you're trying to re-create that movie theater experience.
  • Speaker channel: A 5.1-channel system is the best setup to go with for a home entertainment center on a budget. With this setup, you will have a total of five speakers: front left, front right, front center, side left and side right.
  • A/V receiver: A good audio-video receiver is necessary to bring all the audio and video components of your home entertainment center together. Make sure the A/V receiver you choose can support common audio formats like Dolby Digital Surround, DTS or Dolby True HD.
  • Subwoofer: A subwoofer is necessary to reproduce low-pitched audio frequencies. In other words, you need it for the bass. Here's a quick tip: Place your subwoofer by a wall for added effect or in a corner for even better effect.

Now that you have an idea of what you should be looking for, here are some tips for getting an audio system for under $1000:

  • Home Theater in a Box (HTIB): An HTIB is probably the most affordable option you can go with if you're looking to buy everything to complete a 5.1-channel, surround sound system for your home entertainment center. HTIBs come in a packaged set, with all the audio components you need for your home entertainment center, and they range from $300 to $800 for a decent set.
  • Package speakers: A complete audio package like an HTIB makes it hard to upgrade or mix and match other components in your audio setup. If you want more flexibility, try to look for speaker packages. This will keep the main sound components uniform, while you look for other options for you're A/V receiver and subwoofer. This may be a bit more expensive than an HTIB, but shouldn't cost you more than $1000 for a complete audio setup.
  • Don't be afraid to mix and match: Many retailers will try to convince you to buy audio components of the same brand to avoid differences in sound characteristics. However, most people aren't sound experts and will be unable to hear these differences. If a little mixing and matching will get you the most affordable audio set up for your home entertainment center, then do it.
  • Save on the cables: Many sound experts will tell you that the differences in performance between a name-brand cable and a cheap, generic cable are slim to none. Save a few bucks and by yourself some cheap cables for your audio setup.

The Other Components

You've got the sound, you've got the display, now it's time to think about the other components that will complete your home entertainment center:

  • Cable vs. satellite: Your choice depends on your particular preferences. Consider HD availability, number of channels, number of TVs in your house, and package deals like the addition of high-speed internet. Whether you opt for satellite or cable, look to spend $40 per month on average.
  • Blu-ray or DVD: Blu-ray players are going for $100. Buy one. If you'd rather spend that money elsewhere since you're on a tight budget, DVDs still get the job done and there are plenty being dumped into the $5-bin at most major retailers.
  • Game consoles: Again, it's all a matter of personal preference and price. On a tight budget, a used or refurbished console by any manufacturer can be found for as low as $100.

Shopping Tips

  • Look for used or refurbished items for your home entertainment center.
  • TVs and other big-ticket items that are used as display models in retail stores can be purchased at a fraction of the original price. Items like A/V receivers, speakers, DVD and Blu-ray players are the best display room purchases since they see less abuse than TVs or game consoles.
  • Check garage sales, classified ads and online marketplaces for good deals.
  • Major retailers specializing in electronics offer the best deals on the day after Thanksgiving, also known as "Black Friday." If you don't feel like camping outside a store for a new TV, check for similar deals from online retailers around that time of the year.
  • Visit websites like www.couponmountain.com regularly to find discount coupon codes if you plan on purchasing anything for your home entertainment center from online retailers.
  • You don't need to purchase everything at once. Stretch your budget and upgrade your home entertainment center one piece at a time.

Be Thrifty, Not Cheap

While you may want to cut costs to tighten your budget, it's better to spend the extra money on major items that aren't regularly replaced like the TV. Aside from your system's cables, you don't want to save money by purchasing cheap items or components. Check customer reviews, and look for top-rated items that are affordable. Look at a home entertainment center as an investment, and make sound purchases that you won't regret. You don't want to shell out $500 for a low-quality flatscreen, only to replace it later with a $900 LCD TV that you wish you had purchased in the first place.

Last Updated: January 18, 2012
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About Matthew Cenzon Matthew Cenzon has been writing for numerous publications since 2003, covering topics ranging from health and nutrition to the real estate industry. He is one of the contributing writers for IdealHomeGarden.com, and is a college graduate of the University of California, Riverside, with degrees in English and Asian literature. Matthew’s interest in interior design and home improvement stem from his background working in the residential real estate appraisal business for over five years, where he witnessed many of the Do's and Don'ts of home decor.

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