Build a Better Home Theater for Less Than $1000
Starting From Scratch for Under $1000
Home-theater equipment is big and bulky, and if you've just moved to a new city you probably didn't bring your TV with you. With the right parts, you can put together an awesome home theater setup for fairly cheap--and you might not even miss cable TV.
You can cut costs with a solid TV from last year's collection of models--the Vizio VT420M, for instance, now costs about $650 (down from $1000 last December). Since the VT420M has excellent built-in speakers and a headphone jack, you can save a few bucks on your audio setup by hooking up a pair of cheap PC speakers or sticking with the built-in ones.
If your budget is extremely tight, visit deals sites like Dealnews and watch for older brand-name 720p models; the difference between 720p video and 1080p video generally isn't as noticeable for HDTVs with screen sizes between 37 and 42 inches. Before committing to a purchase, though, be sure to read "10 Things You Need to Know Before Buying an HDTV."
Since nothing says "nerd" like a bulky desktop PC parked in the middle of your living room, consider streamlining your décor by picking up the Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-ray Player ($105) and a set-top box like the Western Digital WD-TV Live Plus ($130) or the Roku HD-XR ($100).
Between the Blu-ray player and the set-top box, you'll have ready access to so much high-def content from the Internet, your PC's media library, and new Blu-ray releases that you can painlessly forgo cable TV.
Vizio VT420M 42-inch LCD TV: $650
Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-ray player: $105
Western Digital WD-TV Live Plus set-top box: $130
Hardcore Gaming Home Theater
You don't watch TV, and the last time you sat through a movie, you thought it was a 2-hour-long cutscene. You're a gamer, and all you need from your home-theater setup is the gear to destroy your enemies and a screen that makes you look good while you do it. We'll assume that you already have your gaming platforms of choice.
Gamers don't have the same priorities as mainstream HDTV customers. In fact, the flashy post-processing frippery that TV manufacturers add to their sets to make movies and sports look better can ruin your gaming experience--and your online ladder ranking. That's because the post-processing introduces a tiny lag to the TV image; it's not enough to be noticeable while you're viewing a movie, but it is enough to interrupt your 30-hit combo.
We've heard good things about the Sharp LC-40D68UT ($650) for gaming, but honestly, you have to try the set yourself before you buy it--and read "Find and Fix Input Lag in Your HDTV or Monitor" for tips on how to pick the right set, test it for input lag, and eliminate any delay.
On the other hand, if you're gaming at your desk, grab the 23-inch Asus VH236H LCD monitor (about $190). This model is popular in professional gaming competitions because it's lag-free, it's easy to transport, and it comes with decent built-in speakers.
No matter how good your speaker setup is, it won't give you the competitive edge that a good headset/mic combo will. We liked the Creative SoundBlaster World of Warcraft Wireless Headset ($160, though it's also available as a wired headset for slightly cheaper), but your budget won't allow it, consider the older Creative Fatal1ty Gaming Headset instead.
Now that your gaming station is all set up, you'll need something to play with. Fortunately, you may not have to rebuy any gaming peripherals to start playing on your PC--if you own another gaming console, read "How To Use Your Console Gamepad With Your PC."
Keyboard warrior? Be wary of using wireless mice and keyboards for your gaming. Wired peripherals can be clumsy, but laggy wireless input devices will kill your score, so try before you buy if you're determined to go wireless.
Sharp LC-40D68UT 40-inch TV: $650
Asus VH236H 23-inch monitor: $190
Creative SoundBlaster WoW Wireless Headset: $160
Have your own home theater questions, comments, tips, or recommendations? Post them in the comments!