Investing in Home Theater Gear?
Crazy? Sort of. There must certainly be better things to invest in. Like real estate…oops, nope. How about gold? Not bad. How about the stock market in general? Wouldn’t you rather take a rollercoaster ride? Home Theater gear? In that context, not really all that bad.
In order of life expectancy, here’s how I see it:
1. Speakers. Live long, prosper, sound good. If you got a great set of speakers 20 years ago, you’d like still have a great set of speakers. I personally have a pair of Large Advent speakers purchased in 1973. Yes, I’ve replaced drivers, foam surrounds, etc., several times, but I still have them, and still like them, though they aren’t in every day use. If you bought a great THX Home Theater system when it arrived on the scene, it would still be a great THX Home Theater system. Nothing else in this list can say that. Invest well in speakers, they’ll server you for decades.
2. Wiring, installed or not. The most expensive of all wire you should buy is HDMI cable, and that’s because of what it is. However, it’s not necessarily expensive. If you bought high-speed HDMI cable a few years back, it would still work on all current HDMI standards, save perhaps the Ethernet function, but nobody’s really implemented that anyway. I almost placed HDMI cables much farther down the list, though, because frankly, HDMI is dumb. Yes, I know, single-cable solution, built-in copy protection, yadda yadda. Look, the darn stuff is expensive, and if you need anything over 15 feet, it’s the size and flexibility of garden hose. Stuff that into an entry-level receiver, shove it back onto a shelf, and snap! you break the HDMI connector in the receiver. Nice design. Hopefully there will be a better alternative in the next 5 years or so. I’m not saying what…but I fully expect it. Speaker wire, on the other hand, will last a lifetime. 12ga copper wire, nothing works better. Barring damage from the outside world, speaker wires should last 100 years. Probably shoulda put them in the #1 position!
3. Receivers and audio gear. While no where near as long-lived as speakers, receivers, specifically AVRs don’t often die young either. Mostly what happens is technology changes, and features are added, so the new stuff is more attractive and upgrades are made. Truth be told, not much of what’s new results in an audible improvement, though. A receiver is about a 5 to 10 year investment, mostly because you’ll want new tech.
4. Disc players. Ah, the compact disc. Thirty years old and not going all that strong. Ah the DVD. Pushing 17 years, and well on the way to obsolescence. If you bought a DVD player 17 years ago, you’ve replaced it already. Probably several times. My first was a Pioneer, expensive, purchased because it could decode 5.1 channel Dolby Digital soundtracks. It’s long gone, been replaced about 3 times. A physical disc player, ANY disc player, is about a 3-5 year investment, and the need for it will probably be less as time goes on, not greater. Media players, servers, on-demand and streaming, it all points to the end of physical media, and the end of disc players at some point. Probably not completely for another couple of decades, but it’s coming. In any case, a disc player is clearly not the place to sink a buzillion dollars expecting to be set for a long time. I like the $500 – $1000 players a lot, but the average Joe will be perfectly served with a $150 Blue-Ray player…for 3-5 years. If you bought a brande-new HD-DVD player a few years ago…move to last place. Sorry.
5. Display devices, TVs, Projectors. You want to really spend a lot of money on a terrible investment? Sink it into the newest, latest, greatest display, and in 3 years it’s performance is old-hat, and something superior will cost half as much. Remember the 50″ Plasma TV of 2005? It was $3500, and displayed a razor-dull 1080i or 720p, and didn’t even have a real resolution that matched anything. Today’s 50″ Plasma is under $1000, 1080p, and probably has some “smarts” in it. A good 1080p projector of even 5 years back was $4000, dim, and had poor bulb life. Bright back then started at $4000, and excellent began at $20,000. Today a respectably bright 1080p projector can be had for just over $1000, and really good stuff just over $2000. Excellent starts at $3000. Thanks to the pseudo-demand for 3D capability, projectors today are brighter and better than ever on 2D. You can take the two free pairs of glasses and put them in a drawer, and just enjoy the fantastic 2D. Not 5 years ago 1080p came at a premium. Now 1080p is standard, and 4K is a premium, with the first projectors pricing at $10,000 and up. But hang on, wait…don’t go anywhere…there’s already 8K! Oh darn! See what I mean? The pragmatic route is to get a good 1080p projector now, plan to upgrade in 5 years to whatever. For TVs and flat-screens, if you can live with an LED/LCD, and there are some nice ones, it may take to 7 years. They are still getting better, though. Plasma still wins in many ways, and often looks better for the same price point. No more life-span issues with plasma, and despite its predicted demise a few years ago, it’s still here. Probably not forever, but a good value now, which means more smiles per gallon. LED/LCD is the low-cost way to go, but if you want really good pix out of it, the Sharp Elite series will still set you back over 3000 beans. Watch for equally good pix for half that in the next 2 years.
There you go. Invest away. One more thing, most of us Pros spend an inordinate amount of time keeping up on gear. We read, listen, test, install, uninstall, return, exchange, reinstall all sorts of stuff. If you buy from a custom installer, we have more hands on than anyone else. Trust our recommendation, and get personal service to boot.