Sub-$6K Theater Delivers Satisfaction

This budget-friendly home theater, and its 106-inch screen, provided the finishing touch to a finished basement.


One of the first things Phillip Thomas did after buying his 3,300-square-foot single-family home was finish the basement. He put in a bar, built a bedroom for his college-age son and threw in a nice-size bathroom. But he always felt that something was missing: a home theater.

“At the time, I thought that adding one would blow our budget out of the water,” Thomas says. So he and his family waited. After a few months of saving up, they contacted a local custom electronics professional for a quote. “They had a very firm budget of $10,000,” recalls Jason White of Commtech in Germantown, Md. “It was small, but it gave me some very clear parameters to work with.”

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Since the basement was already finished and furnished, all of the money could go toward audio/video equipment and installation. That didn’t mean, however, that White could go crazy with the cash. “I had to be very careful about the products I selected,” he says. Obviously, the price of each component would need to fit the budget. But it was also important that the products chosen could be installed easily and would require minimal programming, White says. Oh, and the equipment would need to perform to the family’s expectations.

One of those expectations was a huge display. “I would settle for nothing less than 100 inches,” says Thomas. Consequently, the largest portion of the budget, $1,000, was allocated to a 106-inch projection screen from Draper. To avoid going over budget, fancy accessories like a motor that allows the screen to roll down from the ceiling were excluded.

A 720p Optoma projector finished off the projection system. Although it lacks the Full HD resolution of a 1080p model, it saved the Thomases more than $2,000. White made sure to run HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) and extra Category 5 cabling to the projector location “just in case the Thomases ever decide to upgrade,” he says. The entire video setup came in at $2,000, which was about the same price as a much smaller 65-inch plasma or LCD TV.

White also stuck with the basics when it came to the audio/video receiver. The Denon AVR-590 is a quality piece, he says, but with one missing feature: HDMI upconverting. White explains, “A receiver with HDMI upconverting requires just one HDMI cable between the receiver and the projector. With it, any signal from any component will be upconverted to the 720p resolution of the projector.” The “HDMI switching feature” of the AVR-590, on the other hand, required White to route several additional cables from each component to the projector. The switching feature simply allows the signal from the connected source components to pass through to the projector without any enhancement in resolution. It was a minor sacrifice, White says, to save nearly $1,000.

Two fewer speakers would need to be purchased by going with a 5.1 surround-sound setup instead of a 7.1 system, and in-ceiling models would minimize the cost to have them installed.

“It’s usually easier to fish wiring through the ceiling to in-ceiling speakers than go through the ceiling and down the wall to install in-wall speakers because there are fewer obstacles,” says White. “It takes no more than five minutes to install an in-ceiling speaker compared to anywhere between 20 minutes to two hours for an in-wall model.” The 75-watts-per-channel rating of the five Proficient units may be less than the 100-watts per channel of the company’s higher-end units, but the Thomases saved $1,500 by sticking with the mid-grade models.

A final contributor to the savings was a stripped-down control device. The only two source components in the theater are a DirecTV satellite receiver and an upscaling DVD player, so the family didn’t need anything fancy, and so programming the URC MX-900 remote was basic.


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