Build a kickass home theater for under $1000: a guide for students and gamers

Build a cheap home theatre for study and gaming

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.

You can cut costs with a solid TV from last year's collection of models -- the Vizio VT420M, for instance, now costs about US$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."

Home Theatre
Kogan HD TV

If you live in Australia, you might also want to give Kogan Technology a try. Kogan produces good-quality HD TVs and home entertainment products that cost a lot less than competing products from Sony, Panasonic, et al. We especially like the Kogan ELITE LED32 LED TV; a 32-inch LED television that retails for just $749.

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 and a set-top box like the Western Digital WD-TV Live Plus.

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.

All Work and No Play? Make a Home-Office Theater

Home Theatre

Maybe you're a broke college kid looking to repurpose your work tech for fun. That doesn't mean you have to go without a decent TV -- it just means you need to do some strategic planning. With a few key purchases and the right know-how you can bend your ultimate workstation into a dorm-friendly den for under a grand.

The plan here is to build your setup around your laptop; if it's capable of playing full-screen HD video, it'll work fine. Even a humble netbook will suffice, if it carries an nVidia Ion chip (such as the HP Mini 311 and the Asus 1201N). Bonus points for having an HDMI port, though VGA or DVI will work, too.

Your laptop's built-in display is fine for taking notes in class or during a meeting, but realistically you can't be expected to put together a presentation or do class readings from such a tiny screen, right?

Home Theatre
Turning your laptop into a media centre can save $$

So spring for an external monitor -- you can find a name-brand 22-inch display for about US$160, or a 24-incher for $200 or so. Considering that you'll be using it for work and play, you'll probably want a widescreen monitor (one with a 16:9 aspect ratio if possible, though 16:10 will work) so your movies and games don't get stretched or letterboxed.

Since you'll sit closer to your display at your desk than you normally would in your living room, a TV with a diagonal screen size of greater than 32 inches would actually be harder to use as a regular PC display.

As for audio, feel free to skimp on the speakers; a pair of $20 no-name speakers outperform your laptop or display's built-in speakers. Be patient and you might be able to scrounge some used speakers from your school or office for free.

No cable? No problem. Take advantage of your broadband connection to download and stream all the TV shows you can handle with Clicker.tv, and read "Cable Cutters" for more free TV tips.

Finally, throw a game console on top. Whether you opt for an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3; it's a cheaper way to get your gaming fix, and you'll be able to use the console as a DVD player if your PC doesn't have an optical drive (or a Blu-ray player, if you get the PS3).

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags consumer electronicsHome Theaterhardware systemstvLenovohome officegaming PCsentertainmentHDTVDell

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Patrick Miller

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?