Finally, grab the CalMAN HTPC Pattern Generator--it's a free download that, when combined with our excellent calibration how-tos (see "How to Calibrate Your HDTV," "How to Improve the Picture and Sound on Your HDTV," and "How to Optimize Your HDTV," for starters), will ensure that you get the most out of your revitalized home theater without spending another dime.
Dell Inspiron Zino HD home-theater PC: $620Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 wireless speakers: $270Lenovo Mini Wireless Keyboard/Trackball: $50Total: $940
All Work and No Play? Make a Home-Office Theater
Maybe you're a broke college kid looking to repurpose your work tech for fun, or you're a working stiff with a home office instead of a home theater. But 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 or office-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 (as the HP Mini 311 and the Asus 1201N, for example, do). 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?
So spring for an external monitor--you can find a name-brand 22-inch display for about $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 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.