Buying Guides

I’ve Got $500, What Upgrade for My Home Theater is Best?

The upgrade bug bites hard. Usually right after you find yourself in possession of some unexpected money. If you’ve got around $500 to spend (hypothetically), what would be the best upgrade for your home theater? Let’s discuss!

Author’s Note: We will be assuming here that you have a fully functional home theater. You’ve bought all the pieces you need for at least surround sound and a decent picture. A 5.1 system at the very least and a TV. This is not a list for people that looking to start or complete a system but for people that want to improve their existing system.

Acoustic Treatments

The number one improvement most people can make to their home theaters is adding room treatments. Many people believe that the only way to get better sound is to improve the quality (and expense) of their speakers. That’s simply not the case. The room affects your sound way more than you might expect. Leaving the room untreated hamstrings your speakers keeping them from sounding their best. If you want to improve your home theater, room treatments are the best way.

Fortunately, $500 is usually more than enough to make a big difference in room treatments. Check out these articles to help you shop and make your own:

Second Subwoofer

Most home theaters start (and stop) with a single subwoofer. If you are looking for a $500 upgrade for your home theater, a second subwoofer will make an audible difference. For most small home theaters, you can find a subwoofer for that price. For larger theaters, you may need to wait for a sale, buy used, or save up for a bit. Either way, that second subwoofer is not to increase the volume or extension of your single subwoofer but to even out the bass response across all of your seats. Check out these articles for more information.

Light Control/Paint

If you often watch TV during the day, you’ll know if you need light control in your home theater. For $500, you can probably pick up black-out curtains that will be a great upgrade for your home theater. This will allow you to enjoy the best picture during the day. If you have a projector, you may have heard that you should paint your walls a dark color. This helps with overshooting and also increases your perceived contrast. While we don’t necessarily agree that you need to paint your walls black, paint is relatively cheap and can upgrade your home theater experience.

Whatever it takes NOT to use HDMI CEC

You may have started with a new TV. You quickly realized that you were having problems understanding what was being said on the screen. So you added a soundbar. Everything worked pretty well. You could control everything with your TV remote. But then you decided to add a game system, disc player, or streaming device. Now nothing works as it should. Devices turn themselves on and off for no reason. Your remotes don’t work right anymore. What happened?

HDMI CEC happened. HDMI CEC is how you are able to use one remote to control everything without having to program a universal remote. Unfortunately, HDMI CEC is notoriously finicky and glitchy. It usually works okay when you have a display and one other device (usually a speaker like a soundbar). The minute you add a third device (streaming box, game console, cable box, etc.) it can start to have issues.

If you want to upgrade your home theater experience, spend your $500 on getting rid of HDMI CEC. This may mean buying a universal remote (Harmony or Sofabaton are the only real options). You could just ditch the HDMI CEC control and simply use the individual remotes (clunky but it works – plus it’s free!). However you do it, divorcing your system from HDMI CEC is sure to make your overall experience better!

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