Give the Gift of Blu-ray and Surround Sound for the Holidays
You don't have to buy separate components to help a loved one turn a living-room HDTV into a home theater. Within one package--or at most two--you can buy a DVD or Blu-ray player, a receiver/amplifier, a subwoofer, and five surround speakers. The cost? Anywhere from $100 to $3050 (estimated street prices as of November 16, 2010). Most of these products have not gone through PCWorld testing, but they have received high user ratings at retail sites.
A Surround-Sound DVD Player -- $100
The Coby DVD938 puts a progressive-scan DVD player inside a complete (but modest) 600-watt, 5.1 surround receiver, and attaches five full-range speakers and a subwoofer. It even comes with an FM radio, microphone inputs (for karaoke), and a USB port and SD Card slot through which you can play your own media files. It's a good choice for a college student away from home for the first time.
Upscaled Picture and Sound -- $200
If a loved one has a low-end HDTV and nothing powerful to feed it with, consider buying them an LG LHT854. The receiver, with an upscaling DVD player built in, can send 155 watts to each of its five satellite speakers, plus 225 watts to the subwoofer. Other features include USB-based multimedia, an iPod dock, and a mini stereo jack in case the recipient's mobile music player isn't from Apple.
Blu-ray, Surround Sound, and Internet Media -- $300
The Panasonic SC-BT230 is so amazing that the center speaker floats on air! No, not really--that’s just how Panasonic photographed it. But it's still pretty amazing. For about $300, you get a Blu-ray player built into a receiver that outputs 1000 watts total to its five bamboo-cone speakers and one subwoofer. It decodes all the Blu-ray audio formats, and it plays Netflix, YouTube, and other Internet services.
3D, Networked Entertainment, and No Wires -- $600
What's the worst part about setting up a home theater? Stringing up wire for the rear speakers. You don't have to do that with the Sony BDV-E770W, which has wireless rear speakers (well, not entirely; they need AC power). It also has a 3D Blu-ray player, Internet video (including Netflix and YouTube), USB multimedia, DLNA network multimedia, and that other kind of wireless: Wi-Fi network access.
Serious Picture and Sound -- $880
You don't buy Denon audio equipment unless you're serious about sound quality. The $600 Denon DHT-591BA receiver comes with 3D-compatible HDMI 1.4a, Audyssey’s MultEQ dynamic room-acoustic correction system, and a set of five surround speakers and a subwoofer from Boston Acoustics. Supplement it with the $280 Samsung BD-C7900 3D Blu-ray player, which sports two HDMI outputs, lots of Internet video options, networked and USB multimedia, and--according to PCWorld tests--excellent image quality.
For Those You Want to Impress -- $3050
Want to really impress someone on your list? Start with the $2500 Bose Lifestyle V25 home entertainment system. The on-screen wizard helps the user set up this powerful, self-calibrating audio system, complete with direct/reflecting speakers, an iPod dock, and something called an "Acoustimass module," which I suspect is a subwoofer. Pair it with the $550, THX-certified Onkyo BD-SP808 Blu-ray player; powered by the Marvell Qdeo video chip, it streams media off the Internet and a home network.
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