July 19, 2007
| by Lisa Montgomery
High-speed content reigns when it comes to home entertainment, and one of the best ways to bring digital music, movies, games and information into your home is through a high-speed Internet connection. Even if your home already has a high-speed jack, you may want to add a few more, like in the basement you eventually hope to convert into a home theater.
Of course, entertainment and information travels best on high-speed wire, and that means Ethernet. A professional home systems installer can route new digital wiring to several spots in your home for about $2,000. Once you’ve got that wiring system in place, you can add features to your network, like a hard disc–drive media server, a phone-based intercom system and a router for multiple PCs—as your budget allows.
Everything’s going high def—cable TV, satellite and now DVDs. The only way to see those programs in their full high-def glory is to swap your conventional analog TV for an HDTV. Prices continue to drop in all categories of HDTV, including plasmas and LCDs. But the best HDTV deals around are DLP (digital light processing) sets. You can find a respectable-size (50- to 56-inch) 1080p unit (the highest resolution available) for less than $1,500. If that’s still too salty, check out a smaller-size, lower-res 720p HDTV for well under $1,000. Either way, the picture will be better than what you’re watching now.
Remember, audio is just as important as video in a high-def setup, so upgrade to at least a 5.1 surround-sound system. You’ll be able to hear all the amazing details that make movies so engaging. And with preconfigured home theater-in-a-box systems (which typically consist of an A/V receiver, DVD player, radio tuner, five or more speakers and a subwoofer) retailing for around $400, it’s an impressive upgrade that’s kind to your bank account.
Universal Remote Control
You can pick one up just about anywhere for around $10, but you may want to dole out more than that to truly experience everything a universal remote has to offer. For a couple hundred dollars, you can enjoy features like an interactive LCD screen, buttons that can be programmed to enact multiple commands, and a preinstalled library of codes that allows the remote to speak to just about any make or model of A/V component. Some universal remotes can even be set up to control lights and other electronic devices. Any way you slice it, a universal remote is a small investment that will make a huge difference in your entertainment system.
Dimmable Lighting System
You can make an ordinary room look elegant simply by dimming the lights. For around $200, a basic lighting control system can let you dim and brighten groups of lights on command from a handheld remote. Many of these systems are wireless, which makes them simple for most homeowners to install. All you’ll need to do is swap your conventional light switches for smart ones, set the lights the way you like them and press a button on the main smart switch to commit the setting to the system’s memory. Now every time you press that “I’m Home” button, for instance, the smart switches will activate select lights in the foyer, hallway and stairwell to illuminate a pathway to your master suite.
Less Than a Vacation
So take your pick: well-lit pathways and elegant looking rooms for $200, a high-def TV and surround-sound system for $1,000 or a completely networked home for $2,000. Or you can spring for all our recommendations—and still spend less than you would for a Disney vacation.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.