September 22, 2010, 1:33 PM — There's no way around it: Home theater gear is expensive; and while "The Ultimate Home Theater" sounds great, most people don't have enough spare cash to splurge on it. That's why we've outlined everything you need to give your home theater a makeover for less than $1000--whether you're a student, a gamer, or just a thrifty fan of multimedia.
Sprucing Up Your All-Purpose Setup
Let's say that you already have a bare-bones home theater--an older HDTV with built-in speakers, a recent gaming console, and cable. Rather than investing in a high-end HDTV, consider putting the money into add-ons and accessories that will allow you to make movies with your existing set.
The cornerstone of your new-and-improved home theater will be the Dell Inspiron Zino HD, a slick, quiet mini-PC that you can hook up to your HDTV via HDMI or VGA (if your HDTV accepts only component video, you'll need to buy a converter box).
Depending on the Zino HD configuration you choose, you can spend as little as $270 or upwards of $600. Let's go with Dell's $520 configuration, which has 64-bit Windows 7, a 1.5GHz dual-core Athlon X2 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 640GB hard drive, and then let's upgrade the optical drive to a Blu-ray combo drive for an extra $100.
Presto: You have your very own home-theater PC, and you don't have to bother with three or four different boxes piling up on top of your TV to stream all the video you want from your network or Internet connection. For more tips, check out "Make Your PC a Man-Cave Media Center."
Next, it's time to stack up the extras. Start by throwing in a set of wireless speakers, like the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 set ($270), to buff your home theater audio without adding clutter.
Also, putting a keyboard and a mouse in your living room will ruin its look, so you'll want to add an appropriate input device. If you like the traditional TV remote, try the Logitech Harmony One ($175); if you prefer a keyboard layout, give the Lenovo N5901 Mini Wireless Keyboard/Trackball ($50) a shot.