How to Get the Best Deal on a Home Theater

home theater overviewAfter splurging for a big screen TV, most people quickly realize that their built in TV speakers just won’t cut it.  In order to get that movie theater atmosphere you need surround sound and the thundering bass of a subwoofer.

Getting a deal on a home theater is similar to finding the best price on a big screen TV.  But unlike TV’s, paying more for a larger size isn't necessary.  Unless you’re a true audiophile, you don’t have to go crazy with an expensive high-end home theater. 

Most people can’t tell the difference between a $300 system and a $3000 system.  However, everyone will notice a drastic difference between a home theater system and a TV’s built in speakers.

What is a Home Theater?

All TV’s come with built in speakers, but even top of the line models don’t have sound that compares to a home theater.   A home theater system is meant to replace your TV’s speakers.  In fact, once its setup, you’ll turn your TV’s speakers off.   Let’s break down a typical home theater: 

  • Receiver:  This component is the heart of your home theater.  It has most of the inputs and outputs for everything to connect and sends signals to your speakers.
  • Front Speakers:  Typically three speakers: the left and right provide the main sounds while the center provides voice and dialog.
  • Rear Speakers:  Left and right speakers that provide ambient sounds or effects to make it seem like you are in the middle of the action.
  • Subwoofer:  A speaker dedicated to producing the deep bass sounds that you can feel as well as hear.  This is the speaker that wakes the neighbors.

What is a HTIB? 

HTIB is an all-in-one system also known as a Home Theater In a Box. Designed to make your life easier, manufacturers bundle together all the components, cables, and speakers you need so you don’t have to buy items individually.  And they’re designed for the average consumer to be able to configure quickly and easily. 

Many HTIB’s come with a combo DVD or Blu-ray receiver.  These dual component systems mean one less component to put on the shelf.

What’s Dolby 5.1 or 7.1?

Dolby is the standard for surround sound and Dolby 5.1 means 5 speakers are used (not including the subwoofer).  Dolby 7.1 means there are an additional 2 speakers (for a total of 7). 

For most people, Dolby 7.1 is overkill, plus it can be difficult to find room for the extra 2 speakers.   Before considering Dolby 7.1, try to picture where you would place the extra speakers in your room.

Wired or Wireless rear speakers?

Some newer systems and HTIBs offer wireless rear speakers.  If your room is not already wired, you may want to consider this option.  But be warned, the rear speakers themselves are not entirely wireless, they just don’t need to be wired to the receiver (which is typically placed near your TV).  Instead, each rear speaker is wired to a shared wireless access point that you can place in the back of your room.  Keep in mind the access point will need to be plugged into an outlet and doesn't qualify for a 2011 energy tax credit

These are just some of the basics to help you choose a  home theater system.  If you want more help, check out Best Buy’s Surround Sound Buyer’s Guide.

How to get the best deal on a home theater system

Now that you understand the features, let’s look at how to get the best price.  Again, this process if very similar to my TV buying strategy.

I usually start by picking up a copy of Consumer Reports and reading reviews on home theater systems.  I’ll write down a few models and take the list with me to my local Best Buy.  When I get there I’ll ask a ton of questions and note the prices of my favorites. 

After deciding on a make and model, the key is searching a variety of places online.  I’ll rarely buy in the store unless the price happens to be better than what I find online.  Searching several sites for the best price shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes.

Here’s where I visit, making note of the best prices as I go:

  1. First I go to Amazon, Buy.com, and Overstock.
  2. Then I finish with Google Product Search to catch all the smaller online retailers at the same time.
    1. Once you find the model, be sure to sort by “Total Price”.  It’s easy to make a mistake about the best deal since Google puts the “Base Price” in bold. 
    2. Don’t bother searching for “no tax” or “free shipping”.  These are nice, but you’re only concerned with the “out the door price”.  If the cheapest model ends up having free shipping and no tax, then great.  But it doesn’t really matter, they are just line items…again, total price is your only concern.
    3. Consider buying a refurbished model to save a few hundred bucks.
  3. After you’ve checked the websites above, compare them to your original price from Best Buy.  Then just buy wherever you found the best deal! 

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