Ultimate Home Theater in a Box for 2014
There are so many cheap Home Theater in a Box (HTIB) systems out there, most of which cost less than the price of a single good speaker! And none of them include a TV. You have to wonder how good a system that cheap can actually be? We thought, why not design a complete system, that anyone would be proud to show off but wouldn’t break the bank. Our Home Theater in a Box(es) would actually look and sound really good! Minimum components for our system are a HDTV, Blu-ray Player, Receiver, and 7.1 speakers.
For this feature we choose components that we either have direct experience with or have experience with a similar model made by the same manufacturer. In years past we would set a maximum price but this year we are not doing that. We are defining a system that can had by anyone who is serious about home theater. These systems will look and sound great by anyone’s definition!
My list is all about bang for the buck, and a 70 inch screen for under $1600 fits the bill for me. Of course, you should have bought it when we had it in our HDTV buying guide and it was $100 less, but $1598 is still a good deal. This model Sharp is a great TV, and really, really big. You aren’t getting a projection size home theater, but for most family rooms, 70 inches is more than enough. And if you can’t control ambient light well, the brighter LCD will give you a better overall experience than a really big screen you can’t see during the day. This one includes Sharp’s proprietary Quattron technology incorporates a fourth yellow subpixel to the standard red, green and blue, giving AQUOS Quattron televisions 33% more subpixels than a standard HDTV, for a total of 8 million subpixels. It is a smart TV and has 240 Hz refresh.
Sticking with bang for the buck, Onkyo is my go-to brand for entry-level, bang for the buck receivers. If you want to get a bunch of features packed into a small price point, and a receiver that works well and sounds good, this unit from Onkyo is it. Five of the receiver’s seven HDMI inputs support 4K video at 60 frames per second with support for HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2. The Onkyo TX-NR636 doubles the power with two 32-bit processing engines to decode and scale Dolby Atmos to to your home theater layout and to decode a huge variety of HD audio files. With 7 channels of high-current amplification, you can unlock the full experience with in-ceiling height channels or Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers to augment a standard surround sound home theater setup for stunningly detailed sound that comes alive from all directions, including overhead. It has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and the remote app streams any music stored on your phone or tablet. And it can even locate and stream HD audio from network-attached devices. Qdeo upscaling technology also converts low-res DVDs and games into full 1080p HD or all the way up to 4K if you have an Ultra HD display.
If you can get a Blu-ray player with all the apps you need to watch movies, TV shows and listen to music, there’s really no reason to get an external streaming box. This model from Sony has Vudu, the most important app for streaming movies because they consistently have the best quality, and includes the other go-to apps like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and YouTube. You can also wirelessly stream the display on your compatible Android device directly to your compatible TV with Miracast screen mirroring. Oh yeah, and it plays Blu-ray movies too.
So I’m typically a Denon and a Klipsch fan-boy. Admittedly. Not ashamed. Denon didn’t make my list this year because that Onkyo is really tough to compete with. But Klipsch did. A full 7.1 speaker system with two front towers, two bookshelves for the sides and two surround speakers for the rear (or vice versa depending on your room and acoustics), a center and a sub. The surrounds feature exclusive Wide Dispersion Surround Technology (WDST) that enables surrounds to reproduce localized and ambient sounds with unlimited placement flexibility. It is the most affordable set in the reference line, so you can always go bigger, but this set will get you movie theater sound in your home theater.
Hard buttons FTW. $60 for the mega-win. Great remote, ties all your devices together, has hard buttons for everything you need to do, and barely even changes the total budget at all. It’s a no brainer.
Add about $100 for cables and a power strip and you should be all set. Sit back and watch some HDTV.
Total cost, end to end, for a killer, big screen, 7.1 home theater: $3583. That’s less than a 70” TV cost just a couple years ago.
This year I am going with at 1080p TV because I think dollar for dollar you will enjoy it more than a 4K TV. This Samsung is an edge lit LED with some local dimming. It does not have as many zones as a direct lit LED but it still produces higher contrast and better black levels than most LCD TVs. Colors are realistic and vivid. Being a Samsung TV means it has a ton of gimmicky smart features that you may or may not like, but you can’t fault them for packing it all in. Some notable features include: Voice Control, dual screen to watch TV and browse the web, and programming recommendations based on your preferences just to name a few. Its one of the best TVs that Samsung makes that’s not 4K or curved!
I normally select the Oppo Blu-ray player but this year I went basic. All blu-ray players do a good job with Blu-rays. What sets apart the Oppo, and other high end units, is how they handle DVD. I figured that if you are buying this system you are probably not one who demands that last 5% out of the picture and this unit will work just fine for you. It has smart features but so does the TV and many receivers. We will just ignore those since the system has a dedicated smart box. Besides, only spending $70 on the Blu-ray leaves us more money for the speakers!
I didn’t go with a receiver from my buying guide because for this list I was looking for something that is approachable for most people (although some of you will think that this system is too much anyway). Easy setup and calibration, network features so you can stream music from your favorite service, great Yamaha sound, and Airplay for $550 make this an easy choice for my system.
I am a huge fan of Hsu Research. My subwoofer always blows people away when I show them what it is capable of. Many have not heard their speakers and I can tell you you will be hard pressed to find better sounding speakers for the money. You’ll be on your fourth TV before you want to swap these babies out!
Why get an AppleTV when your Blu-ray player and TV already support the same content. For me its about flexibility. Airplay makes it easy to stream content from my iOS devices to my TV plus I have a lot of purchases in iTunes so my music, TV, and Movies are in Apple’s cloud and this device makes it easy to get to. If you are not into Apple you can swap out a Chromcast, Roku 3 or Amazon Fire for roughly the same price.
This is where we throw in everything else. But in this case there really isn’t much else left. Well maybe a cool remote control. A Harmony Remote would tie it all together nicely but if you have a tablet or smartphone you may want to consider a Roomie or iRule remote. Which ever route you choose we are allocating $200.
The last thing to consider are cables, power strips, and connectors. We will allocate an additional $250 for these items as well.
Last year I went a little higher end which cost ($7,810 plus taxes) more than most people felt comfortable spending, even for a nice system. This year I picked value without compromising on quality and that brought the whole thing in for $4,480 plus taxes!!! That’s $3,330 less than last year! I never get tired of saying this but, this system comes in for less than my first HDTV!
Posted by The HT Guys, December 19, 2014 3:24 AM
About The HT GuysThe HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.
Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.
ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.
Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.