$5k Project Turns into $20k Theater
A homeowner opts to increase his budget to get the entertainment experience he and his family desire.
Click to enlarge. This Pioneer Elite plasma handles a variety of viewing angles. “The Da Vinci Code” (C) Columbia Pictures. Photo credit: Tony Scarpetta.
April 18, 2007 by Steven Castle

John Harris of Massachusetts’ North Shore had a certain budget in mind when he stepped into a Magnolia Home Theater boutique in his local Best Buy. Like $5,000. “We wanted to modernize,” he said. “We had an old CRT [cathode ray tube] TV and an older stereo system in the same room, and we wanted a flat [panel]. We originally thought it wasn’t that big a deal. Then you begin to see this stuff, and it is fantastic.”

John wanted the best he could get, so he set up a home consultation with Magnolia’s installer, Derek Everson, who assessed the family’s living room. Then John sat through some demos of different video displays and sound systems at the store. “I didn’t know the difference between LCD and plasma,” John says. “Going to their showroom and sitting there and watching the same programs on the various types of screens made it pretty clear that the plasma gave us the better picture. And from an angle, you get a much better picture, which in our room is important.”

The decision was made to go with a Pioneer Elite Pro-1120HD plasma monitor, and John also loved the sound of MartinLogan’s on-wall Fresco speakers, which use “thin film” planar, or ribbon, technology to produce silky-smooth high and midrange sounds. A Pioneer Elite receiver, Denon DVD and 5-disc CD players, and wall-mounted Boston Acoustics MR120 surround-sound speakers round out the system. But that $5,000 budget? Fuhgettaboutit.

Once John was in the store, “he knew he wouldn’t be able to get everything he wanted for $5,000,” says Jason Gordon, the Magnolia store’s supervisor. In fact, with all the equipment and labor, the Harrises’ investment came to almost $20,000.

“It wasn’t cheap, but it has provided a lot of enjoyment,” John says. “The high definition on that plasma screen is amazing. And the [MartinLogan Frescoes] that hang on the wall with the TV are extraordinarily good sounding speakers. We also get some surprising sounds in the surround sound. And with [cable] music channels, we can turn the screen off and enjoy just the audio.”

The system also came with a big benefit for the Harrises’ sports-minded teenage son. The Magnolia’s store programmer, Donald Armstrong, programmed the Universal Remote MX-3000 touchscreen with a Boston Red Sox theme complete with pictures of players and customized the remote for the Harrises’ needs. It just requires occasional reprogramming to keep current with the roster.

The Boston Acoustics surround-sound speakers aren’t the best match for the MartinLogan speakers, Magnolia’s Gordon admits. The white surround speakers that mount on brackets were chosen largely to match the room’s walls and blend in.

Overall, John Harris doesn’t regret going way over his budget: “My thinking was that if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right.”

Equipment List


  • Equipment: $16,000
  • Labor: $3,000
  • Total: $19,000

Electronics Design & Installation

Magnolia Home Theater
Danvers, MA

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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