If you wind up with the average household tax refund this year, you can set up a nice little home theater for around $2,500. Here's how I would configure it with that budget.
As I mentioned the other day in a post about Pioneer possibly exiting the TV business altogether, now is a great time to pick up one of the company's awesome plasma sets. The outstanding Kuro PDP-5020FD is available for under $2,000, but that would leave us with little left for the rest of our setup. So I'm going to go with the Samsung PN50A550, which I could purchase for under $1,400 and still get a fine 1080p 50-inch plasma. It may not offer top-of-class black-level performance, but it makes up for it with excellent color accuracy.
The plasma has the size and resolution to make the Blu-ray investment a worthwhile one, so I'm going to grab a Blu-ray player rather than a less-expensive upconverting standard DVD player. Panasonic's DMP-BD35 may not be the cheapest unit on the market, but I'll splurge for the excellent image quality and feature set, which includes BD-Live (Profile 2.0) support for interactive features on compatible discs, instead of a taking a chance on a bargain player.
I have to admit I'm a sucker for the sleekness of a sound bar system instead of a separate receiver and multi-speaker setup, as I'm not really a surround-sound obsessive. I might feel differently if I had a more "creative" tax preparer in mind, but for this budget, I'm going with something like the Sony HT-CT100, which combines a sound bar with built-in virtual surround processing and three HDMI ports and a powerful subwoofer. I'm not going to feel just like I'm in a movie theater, but I'll be getting plenty of sound for only $300.
I'm one of those Netflix subscribers that takes forever to watch a DVD because it's been misplaced or I'm just not in the right frame of mind for that disc. Instead, we spend a few bucks per pop for on-demand movies from the cable company. Netflix's Watch Now online streaming content service can indulge impulsive movie picks while not adding any extra cost to my monthly subscription fee. Yes, the library of titles for downloads is more limited, especially when it comes to HD titles, but its number are growing, so I'd be willing to add the Roku Digital Video Player to my setup to access Netflix's service on my TV. Roku will soon be adding Amazon's a la carte Video On Demand service for more choices, making the mere $100 investment a fairly easy one to swallow.
Of course, I left some money in my budget for a universal remote control so I can access all my new components from a single device. I'll go with an oldie-but-goodie in the form of the Logitech Harmony 670. Harmony remotes are noted for their ease of setup through Web-based programming, and the 670 combines a comfortable grip and handy DVR controls, even if it doesn't offer the design flair of newer Harmony models.
This is just one setup you can create with a nice $2,500 tax refund in hand. How would you spend that money on a home theater? Let us know in the Talkback section.