Quick, cheap HT advice

For a friend (I'm strictly two-channel), what's a good-for-the-money cheap HT package, say, under $400. My friend has heard of a JVC THC5. How's that? What's better in the same price range? What are the important variables?

Can't say much more. Non crappy sound and build quality all about what one can hope for here. Any guidance appreciated.
I take it your friend is buying a system that is sold as a package, an all-in-one unit, or some sort of home-theater-in-a-box? Even if it didn't include a DVD player, it's going to be tough to find something that isn't a serious sonic (or video) compromise or does have serious low (or just adequate) build quality.

If it didn't have to be a "package" that would open up the options of buying refurbished receivers, high value speakers (new, used, refurbs, closeouts, kits, diy, etc).

Also there is also the matter of the "sub woofer" or rather just "woofer" at this price point, since usually you just get a 4.5 driver in a plastic enclosure. So bass is going to be seriously compromised at this price point. From the sounds of what you are describing (a package) this needs to be 5.1 (with LFE), amplification, and the whole deal. I'm sure this is already stuff that you know so I'll stop now. Sorry I don't have any recommendations for you.

I did see a 5.1 system with 5.1 analog input and a 54W (total summed power, including LFE channel) intergrated amp at a computer store for $99. To me, it sounded "just as good" as the $400 HTIB offerings at the other stores. So assuming you can find a DVD player with 5.1 analog out or don't need Prologic decoding that might be the way to go! That's what I would do.

Panasonic SC-HT05 – a remarkably powerful Home Theater in a Box (or HTIB) package for a measly $250! The SC-HT05 is the ideal choice for those of us who already have a decent TV and DVD player but need an audio system that offers 5.1 surround sound via a variety of formats (i.e., Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS). Connectivity is an important consideration when choosing your home theater equipment, and the options here are respectable: on top of three stereo inputs and one out, you get one input each for SACD/DVD-Audio and coaxial digital and two optical inputs.

The SC-HT05 may not be the system you will use in your Golden Years, but it’ll sure serve you well until you’ve paid off your student loans. (Wait…that will be your Golden Years!)
HSU Ventriloquist might be worth a look.

Well before I ever recommended anything "solid" or concrete, I'd have to know more about his room and potential setup/needs. I mean, how big is the space we're talking about here? Acoustics? Seating?...This all matters.