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Part 4: How to Build the Best Home Theater for $30,000—Or “That Budget Sucks”

Ten months ago, we started a blog series called “How to Build the Best Home Theater for $30,000—Or “That Budget Sucks”. The last five blogs of the series was supposed to cover manufacturers opinions of the best video, sources, control and networking, interconnects and power conditioning, and acoustic treatment for a home theater with a budget of $30,000.

Those blogs never came to be, because only two manufacturers agreed to participate in this story. This story isn’t about the destination so much as the journey.

Pinning down a manufacturer into naming names was not as successful as I would’ve aspired it to be. Why didn’t I get quotes from 5, 10 manufacturers?

For one, there are more politics involved in publicly supporting a non-competing brand than I could’ve ever imagined. I lost count of how many people called me who said that they really couldn’t help me because they didn’t want to upset rival companies of that company (think Savant vs. Control4), even if they repped the company currently and had for many years.

The quality of products changes so rapidly in the A/V world that people didn’t want to name names out of fear or burning bridges. There’s a paradox in there though. If no one is naming names, there are no real bridges to be burned.                                                     
Manufacturers might have marketing teams who would like to participate in stories like this, but the powers that be are against it. Or they have clueless marketing teams/managers who make WOMM, SEO, PR, social media and blog goals second to an unknown first priority (preparing for trade shows and writing press releases?).                                                                                                                                                                                    
Two men within this industry were brave enough to take a public stand though, and we should applaud them. These two men are Ken Forsythe, who at the time was VP of Meridian Audio and Robert Keeler, who at the time was Director of Sales at Screen Innovations. Forsythe is now apart of partner management at MQA. Keeler is now the VP of Sales at Stewart Filmscreen. 

Robert Keeler—Screen Innovations

I chose the following items to form my $30K theater based on the idea that I watch a lot of movies with TV and music close behind in terms of time in this space.

Planning a $30,000 system may seem easy, but once you start building it out, you quickly realize just how quickly you can eat up your budget with all sorts of bells and whistles.

Not everyone will agree with me on my choices here, but you ultimately have to prioritize your wants versus needs and decide where you are willing to compromise and make your choices accordingly.  

As much as I would like to have a Kaleidescape Strato in this system, going with a Samsung UHD player at $399 allows me to watch movies I have on disc (standard DVD or Blu-Ray) already and provides a bit more money towards better speakers.

I take the approach that you should “level up” your left and right speakers, especially if you tend to listen to music on a regular basis. Speaker vendors have a wide array of choices from high end to more affordable solutions and I find that you can step down in level from your left and right for your center and surrounds without sacrificing much in the way of performance. After hearing a Dolby Atmos demo early on, it was an easy choice for me to have this object based surround sound solution in my theater. Dolby Atmos is such an immersive experience especially with a 133” 2:35 screen!

While there a number of great projectors out there, Sony has led the charge with 4K and the VPLVW-365ES is a phenomenal solution to give you “The Big Screen Experience” on a Screen Innovations Slate screen. The Screen Innovations Slate material is ideal for those weekends when it’s family movie night on Saturday with the lights off and football games with friends on Sunday with all the lights on. A 133” 2:35 aspect ratio screen also offers 106” 16:9 screen viewing and the digital zoom feature of the Sony projector allows for easy transitioning from one format to another.

As far as my accessories; after hearing several demos from AudioQuest over the years, I selected the Cinnamon HDMI and Rocket 33 speaker cables for this system. While I listed a token solution for acoustic treatments, the panels from Acoustic Geometry will deal with 1st reflection points on my side walls, besides being a local manufacturer to me.                                                                        
Having experienced a lighting strike on my home before, protecting your system is key and the Panamax unit with battery backup allows a proper shutdown of the Sony Projector and TiVo as well as keeping the other components safe.

  • Screen Innovations, 5SZ133SL12L Screen, $3,880
  • Sony, VPLVW365ES Projector, $10,000
  • Marantz, SR7010 Receiver, $2,200
  • Samsung, UBDK8500 Source, $400
  • Tivo, Bolt Source 2, $199
  • B&W
  • CM9 S2 6 1/2" 3-Way Front L/R, $3,200
  • CM, Center2  Dual 5" Center, $700
  • CM1 S2 5" Surround, $1,100
  • CCM683 8" 2 Way in ceiling (2pr) Atmos, $1,700
  • FS-CMS2 Floor Stands, $500
  • SVS, SB13-Ultra Subwoofer, $1,600
  • AudioQuest
  • Cinnamon 32.8" HMICIN10 REC/PJ HDMI, $370
  • Cinnamon 2'  HDMI  65-073-14, Src/REC HDMI, $64
  • Cinnamon 2'  HDMI  65-073-14 Src2/Rec HDMI, $64
  • Rocket 33/150' Speaker Cable, $1,275
  • 10' Black Lab Sub Cable $40
  • Panamax, MX5102 Power Mgmnt, $650
  • Control 4, EA3 Controller/SR-260 Remote Control, $1,500
  • Acoustic Geometry, (2) WLP2242  42"x24"x2"PanelAcoustic, $200

Theater: $29,642

 

Ken Forsythe—Meridian Audio

The $30,000 Home Theater market offers a fantastic opportunity for our dealers. The desired performance at this price point would have cost considerably more in previous years, but the system outlined here benefits from “trickle down technology”, offering customers a true high performance entry point to Meridian Digital Theater. 

This system represents a total high-resolution system, both in terms of audio and video playback. Both the Meridian Digital Theater and LG Flat Panel incorporate unique technologies that separate them from the competition.

The audio system by Meridian is unique in that it keeps all signals in the digital domain from the source directly to the loudspeakers, preserving resolution that other analog systems simply lose along the way. In addition, the Meridian system is fully complementary as it is designed to be a completely optimized system. For dealers this is especially critical as it eliminates the difficulties that can arise from trying to align components from different manufacturers that simply cannot match the performance, ease of set up and use that a Meridian system provides.

The LG Flat Panel features a new technology called OLED. This allows individual pixels to be “turned off” for total black in the image. The result is an image not only with incredible black levels, but also amazing depth. This technology also incorporates wide color gamut for extended shades within colors. These two technologies provide for state of the art video playback and the best image currently available from a flat panel display.

The best performing systems can be rendered useless if too complex to use, especially by the entire family. This is where the Logitech Harmony Elite remote shines. Featuring a Hub that the remote communicates with, this remote system eliminates IR “line of sight” control making it possible to hide components, preform extended macro commands that are essential for multi component control, in a simple to set up and use remote. The remote also controls light and shades, giving you the ability to totally control not just your system, but also your entire environment.   

All of this adds up to a system that will outperform systems costing many times its price, featuring unique leading-edge technology that is simple to set up and use. 

G65 Surround Controller, $5,000.00

  • Features 7.1 surround processor for immersive surround
  • Meridian Room Correction provides the best audio performance form any loudspeaker regardless of its room location
  • Resolution Enhancement makes any source, regardless of quality, sound more like high resolution
  • SpeakerLink allow for high performance direct digital connection to DSP Loudspeakers with simple “click and play” connectivity


DSP3200 DSP Loudspeaker, $4,000.00 pr. X 2 pr

  • DSP Loudspeakers play as loud as a conventional loudspeaker 4 times its physical size
  • DSP equalization offers extended bass with protection over conventional loudspeaker
  • Active design offers perfect “amplifier to loudspeaker” matching while eliminating the need for additional components such as amplifiers in the room taking up space and generating heat
  • DSP boundary compensation corrects for less than ideal loudspeaker placement in room
  • Precision-manufactured cabinet is finished in a high-gloss white and high-gloss black
  • Includes complimentary floor glass and polished aluminum floor stands


DSP3300 DSP Center Chanel, $4,000.00 ea.

  • DSP “Center Elevation” feature that shifts sound up so that the sound comes from the within the video display. This crates the same effect as if the center loudspeaker was behind an acoustically transparent screen (just like in commercial theater).


DSW DSP Active Subwoofer, $4,000.00  

  • Powerful 12” downward firing woofer in a small enclosure for deep bass with discrete room placement
  • DSP equalization offers extended bass with protection
  • EBA, or Enhanced Bass Alignment allows for all bass frequencies to play at the same time, like real instruments, for natural sounding bass
  • All connection discretely located on bottom of cabinet for discrete installation
  • SpeakerLink allow for high performance direct digital connection to DSP Loudspeakers with simple “click and play” connectivity with seamless control from G65 simplifying use
  • Designed to complement all Meridian DSP Loudspeakers - finished in a high-gloss white and high-gloss black                            

SpeakerLink Cables, $2,000.00

  • Ethernet style cable with RJ45 connections for “click and play” simplicity
  • Cables combine high resolution digital audio and control signals

 
LG Flat Panel 65EF9500 65” OLED Flat Panel, $4,999.00

  • OLED Panel technology featuring “infinite black” technology and wide color gamut for the best image quality available
  • Ultra HD Resolution (3840 x 2160)
  • 4K upscaler to display any source at 4K resolution
  • Smart TV with built in apps and web browser including Amazon Prime, Facebook, huluplus, Netflix, and YouTube for total interactive experience
  • 3D compatible for use with 3D films and games for more immersive experience
  • USB inputs for photos and audio for easy connection to portable devices at high quality


LSW400BG, $138.00

  • Wall mount for flat panel                                                                                                                                                    

Logitech Harmony, Elite Advanced Universal Remote $399.00

  • Touchscreen and hard keys for simple and intuitive control featuring macro for full system “activity” control such as “Watch Movie” or “Listen to Music”
  • Simple Set Up with PC and MACs
  • Remote can control home automation devices such as Philips Hue and Lutron Caseta lighting and shades
  • Harmony Hub allows for control of components located within cabinets and allows use with Bluetooth devices with free Apps for additional control from portable devices
  • 2 IR mini-blasters for reliable IR control of components
  • Recharging dock eliminates the need for battery changes

Theater: $28,536.00

So, who built the best home theater for $30,000? We invite you to choose your favorite below. Results will be reviewed 7 days after the initial post. Check back here to see who wins!