Home Theater-conomics: 10 Ways to Beat the Great Recession

It's a rough time if you like money. Every day brings worse news from the markets, and looking at your investment portfolio is more depressing than watching your favorite sports team get blown out in the playoffs. Companies are tightening their spending (no travel!), some to a ludicrous degree (no paper clips!), and it only makes sense that regular Joes do the same. Does that mean - gulp - no new home theater gear?

No. The line must be drawn. Just because the economy is tanking doesn't mean you have to put off buying that flat panel another year. But you might have to make adjustments to ride out the economic downturn. Maybe you can't afford a 1080p HDTV right now, but that 720p set will look just as good with 99% of the stuff you're going to watch - and it's way cheaper. That's just one tip; take the jump for 9 more tips for staying entertained during the Great Recession (Depression?) of '08.

10. If you buy Blu-ray, go with an old player The latest Blu-ray players are great. With Blu-ray Profile 2.0 software, they can do cool tricks like displaying picture-in-picture commentaries and accessing cool interactive features on the Web. Hold on . . . that actually doesn't sound that cool. Those sound like gimmicks most people will never use more than once. If all you care about is the HD picture, you're better off going with a Profile 1.1, or even 1.0 player, like Sony's BDP-S1. Just brace yourself for those long startup times.

9. When picking a TV, opt for 720p instead of 1080p Here's the thing: 1080p is a great spec, but it's just that - a spec. The fact is, outside of a Blu-ray player, there really isn't any material in 1080p (well, okay, now there are a few movies on the DISH network). Most everything you're going to watch (HDTV, DVDs, high-def downloads) is lower-res, so what's the point of buying a 1080p TV? You can save a bundle by opting for a 720p set . . . a huge bundle if you opt for last year's model.

8. Go for a soundbar and a subwoofer instead of a surround system Yeah, home theater speakers can be expensive, and there's no way you're going to settle for a dime-a-dozen home theater in a box from the drug store, recession or no recession. That doesn't mean you should start getting used to your TV's puny built-in speakers, though. Single-speaker systems like the Zvox do a great job of simulating surround sound, and they take up less space, too. Throwing in a separate subwoofer will give you even deeper bass, and many soundbar systems, like Boston Acoustics' TVee, come with both.

7. Stay away from the Monster Cable It's really not much of a secret anymore that so-called "high-end" cable is more illusion than fact. With digital signals (like in HDMI), as long as the machine at the receiving end can discern 1 from 0, you're golden. And ever since one clever guy showed that audiophiles can't tell the difference between music played through Monster Cable and a coat hanger, those cheap RadioShack wires are looking mighty good.

6. Don't buy Blu-rays - Netflix 'em For just $1 more a month, you can upgrade your Netflix account to give you access to the company's nearly 500 Blu-ray titles. Yeah, that doesn't sound that impressive, but there really aren't that many yet (Amazon has only 1,000 or so). Besides, owning discs is so turn-of-the-century: DVRs, downloading, and On Demand are in; possessing physical media is out.

5. Older . . . er, Classic Blu-ray movies are better Then again, as physical media goes, Blu-ray - with its ungettable-anywhere-else 1080p picture - is pretty much the only one worth owning today. Too bad the discs sometimes cost about 1.5 times the cost of the same title on DVD. Building up a library doesn't have to be expensive, though, when older catalog flicks like Terminator 2, The Punisher (the one with John Travolta), and Rambo (the one from the '80s) all cost less than $12 on Amazon. The Poseidon Adventure is just $8.95 - not much more than a rental. Checking Amazon's "new & used" section for pricier flicks can be a big saver, too.

4. Use your iPod as a music server Your iPod makes your music collection portable, but even better, it puts all your tunes in one place. All you need is a dock that connects to your receiver and you'll save thousands in fancy server components. The Griffin HomeDock Music Remote ($130) even has a readout right on the remote control, so you can see what you're doing from across the room. And if you're worried about sound quality, Wadia's iTransport ($379) extracts music from your iPod in digital form, making sure your home theater gets every bit. But if you just want cheap and simple, you can't beat Belkin's Power Dock AV ($50).

3. Like games? Get a PlayStation 3, not a Wii Once legendarily expensive, Sony's PlayStation 3 is now just $400 (with an 80GB hard drive). Sure, the Wii is still cheaper, but you don't get a Blu-ray player with the Wii; one is built into the PS3. A pretty damn good one, too - the powerful console was built to be future proof and does Blu-ray 2.0 without breaking a sweat.

2. Buy a speaker system from a few years back on eBay While buying second-hand can be a big saver for any product, it goes double for speakers. The thing about speakers is they don't lose much quality over time - models from ten years ago still sound as good as the day they were sold. If you're dead set on a surround sound system instead of a soundbar, you should be able to find a great system almost as good as new online. Searching for well-known companies like Definitive Technology or Paradigm is a good place to start, but it's the now-defunct speaker brands such as Allison Acoustics and Acoustic Research where you can find some real savings.

1. Get a Google phone Why is buying an expensive toy, T-Mobile's G1 phone, on a list of ways to save money on home theater gear? One reason: ShopSavvy. This application for the phone's Google Android software turns the phone's camera into a barcode scanner. All you have to do is point it at an item's UPC code and the phone scans it, immediately calling up a list of online stores where that item is sold, along with the prices. Sure, consumer barcode-scanning gadgets have been around for a few years, but having it built into a phone that's always connected to the Internet finally makes the concept convenient enough to be useful. For what you'll save on your gear, the phone will pay for itself.

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