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Easily and Inexpensively Create a Killer Home Media Center

Easily and Inexpensively Create a Killer Home Media Center

Home theater systems used to cost an arm and a leg―while they can still be quite pricey, they are now less expensive than ever, without sacrificing quality.
Buzzle Staff
Years ago, the concept of a home theater was a television with 32-inch screen and decent built-in speakers. In truth, the 'home theater' concept didn't really exist that far back, but if you fast-forward some years from the days when the VCR was introduced to the time when the first full-fledged home theaters came into being, you clearly see a major step in the evolution of enjoying music, movies, television, and gaming at home. Unfortunately, in those early days of home theater, a high price tag was all but guaranteed to get that killer system. Today, the best home theaters still cost quite a bit, but a quality setup can be put together at a fraction of the cost of those systems from years ago.
Television
High-definition televisions have changed the game in home theater setup, and the options available to the consumer are seemingly endless. While 1080i was once ground-breaking, almost all HD television now offer 1080p, creating a clearer image by offering progressive scan―the 'p' in 1080p―versus interlaced―the 'i' in 1080i. In addition, if you are lacking space, you can get a plasma screen that can hang on the wall without missing out of quality. While it was once difficult to find a plasma screen that was as large as 50 inches, they are now commonplace. Of course, LCD and LED televisions, as well as 3-D sets, are also readily available, and just about all of them offer the types of inputs necessary for hooking up a home theater. Go for the one in your price range after doing the research, but rest assured that a good television can be had much less expensively today than just a few years ago.
Audio
Audio is a key component in the home theater setup, but now this is made easy for the shopper on a budget, because full packages will include the receiver, full array of speakers, and, in some instances, a disc player. In this instance, the disc player typically can play either DVDs or Blu-ray discs as well as CDs in typical formats and MP3 and other similar digital formats. This approach eliminates the need to purchase the various speakers separately, but if you don't want to spend too much, and don't want the hassle of figuring out what speakers and wires to buy, this may be the way to go. For those who want to buy the speakers individually, don't skimp on the center channel and rear speakers, or the subwoofer. Many setups include dual subwoofers, with some have a second 'center' speaker that is placed behind the viewer. Study 5.1, 6.1 and 7.1 audio formats before making a decision on what is right for you.
Gaming, Blu-ray, and Video Streaming
Gaming systems generally offer not only gaming, but the ability to stream video from a Windows-based media center and play Blu-ray discs. If you want a system that plays Blu-ray, make sure to check the specs, but keep in mind that you can also purchase a separate Blu-ray player that will offer streaming as well as online movies from services such as Netflix, among others. It is convenient to have a USB connection on these players as well, in the event that an Internet connection is out and you want to watch a television show or movie, or listen to music. The USB connection makes this easy to do, even if Internet connectivity is unavailable at the time.
Computer & Software
There are dozens of free and inexpensive programs for Windows operating systems that you can use to power your home theater. In general, these will help you stream audio and video from services like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, and a host of others, as well as streaming files from your computer. You'll need a gaming system that supports streaming, or a Blu-ray player that does the same, but choose a software application that is right for you. For those just getting started, Windows Media Center 10 introduced media serving in the Microsoft family, and each subsequent release of the popular software offers new features.
Add it all up, and many of the components of the home theater are things that you may already own, including a computer with a Windows operating system and a gaming system. Add an all-in-one speaker/receiver/disc player combination to an affordable, but still stellar television, and your system will be up and running, and looking and sounding good, with a lot less cost than just a few years ago.