Starting small home theater, need advice

First of all, let me apologize for my lack of knowledge. I have been reading on this site, and realize how much I don't know! So, from a newbie, my apologies.

Now for the question. I've been contemplating installing a VERY mild home theater in my small(ish) family room. (prob 15 x 20). The TV is about 10 ft from the couch, and the speakers would go alongside the TV. I'm looking at a 3.1 channel setup for now, run by a multichannel receiver, with the capability of expanding to 5.1 later. I'd like to spend around $1,000 on the setup as a whole. The primary use for the system would be TV sound (80%), movie (5%) and music (15%). In my opinion, the money is best spent on quality used equipment, rather than on a "system in a box".

My biggest question is: What brands of receiver/speakers/subwoofers should I be looking for, that combine good quality with affordability? I've been looking at the Denon/B&W range, but this may be out of my price range. I assume Denon/Harmon Kardon/Paradigm/Definitive Audio are all good. But honestly, I have little/no experience with these brands. Am I relegated to the big box stores with this price range?

I realize this is like asking a Ferrari mechanic on advice to do an oil change, but I come to you knowing the collective knowledge you all possess. Thanks in advance for all your advice.

Definitive Technology for the front array: CLR center and
ProMonitor 800s, on this site, for $344 total.
NHT supersub for $220 on this site, variable gain and
Used receivers with current HDMI capability are VERY rare on
this site, I wouldn't wait on one to show up. Recommend
Onkyo for the receiver, TX-NR414 would be entry level.
Buy new, get the warranty, it's only $449, get the
NR-616 if you have a little more money, it has pre-outs for
all channels, so you can add an external amp later. Onkyo
plays nice with apple music formats, their units have
network cards for internet radio.
Onkyo offers Burr Brown DACs at this price point, which I
like better than the AKM DACs Denon uses. Onkyo also offers
24/192 compatibility, if that matters to you. Don't know
much about Harmon Kardon, but I'd like to check out their
new AVR 1700 ($499). HK specs list current output @ 32
amps, showing this spec is pretty rare for a receiver, have
always heard good things about HK's amp sections.
Blue Jeans Cable sends you 3 HDMI cables @ 6', a 10' sub
cable and 3 sets of 8' speaker wire, terminated with
bananas, for $190.

Grand total is $1203. Best I can do. Estimate does not
include shipping.
Wow! Realremo, I can't begin to thank you for all your advice. I will take the time to research what you have laid out for me. Thanks so much for your time and wisdom, it is much appreciated.

Some really nice work there from Realremo! But you do have to go up to the Onkyo 717 to get the multi-channel pre-outs.
Woops, you're right, didn't look at that back panel closely enough. Yeah, I thought $650 for pre-outs was a great deal!
I took a look around and I don't think this option can be had on a new receiver for less than $800, +\-
Realremo (or anyone else), I Googled 24/192 compatibility, but got confusing results. Can you help me understand what this is? Is it the ability to play files from a USB source? That was what I came away with after reading the top results.

I might be opening up Pandora's box here, but here goes:
this relates to high res music files. If you rip a CD to your computer, that music signal is a 16 bit, 44.1kHz signal. Modern music recording is usually done in a higher resolution these days. You can buy high-res music from websites on the internet like HDtracks. The bit depth is how much music information the DAC "eats" at a time, 24 bits is more info than 16. The kHz rating is how many times per second the analog signal is sampled to convert it to a digital signal. 44.1kHz, or 44,100 times per second, came about because of a scientific reason that escapes me currently, but it is twice the highest limit of human hearing, which is supposedly around 22,000kHz. I sure as hell cannot hear sounds that high, but OK, whatever the scientists say.
It is the sampling frequency that is getting buzz right now, almost all high-res music files are 24 bit, but you will see multiples of both 44.1 and 48 in the sampling specifications on high res music files, which read like this: 24/48, 24/96, 24/192, and the less common 24/44.1, 24/88.2, and 24/176.4. Most modern DACs re-hash incoming digital signals to 24/96 or 24/192, which means every digital audio signal fed to the DAC gets "upsampled," a controversial process that is supposed to push high-frequency artifacts beyond the spectrum of human hearing. But not all DACs that can accept a 24/192 signal coming in. To send this signal, you would have to play the 24/192 music file from your computer.
How does all this relate to the Denon/Onkyo debate? The Onkyo will upconvert to 24/192, the Denon will only upconvert to 24/96. The Onkyo *should* accept 24/192 high res music signals thru its digital inputs, the Denon will not.
Can you hear a difference between 24/96 and 24/192 upsampling? Some people can. Some can't. Some people use DACs that don't upconvert at all. Some people don't care, and just love music!!!
Totally makes sense! Thanks for the thorough and complete explanation. Gosh, I was way off! more question and then I'm done (I promise!)

What are your thoughts on optical inputs? Are those for just audio? Or audio/video? If they are just audio, how do you tell the receiver, "okay, when you are on HDMI 1, use optical input 1" Does it override the HDMI input?

I'd be using a DirecTV HD box for one input, and a Samsung Blu-Ray for the other. I'm not using them now (obviously), and I don't want to invest in optical cables if the HDMI will produce the same result.

Thanks again for all your help. I have learned an awful lot so far.


Onkyo 717 @ $530, not a bad deal:

To simplify things in your case, if you are using HDMI then use that for audio and video. Toslink, S/PDIF optical are redundant and you don't need them. Use HDMI and you are good. Save yourself some $$$ buy HDMI cables from and get some great deals on gear at the store and You'll be able to make your budget that way and be happy with the results. For your stated goals, go for an Onkyo. Lots of bang for the buck and built well too. You can get great deals on Onkyo gear at accesories4less.

I think optical cable is bandwidth limited, and cannot carry high resolution audio that comes along with a blu ray signal. Even if optical cable had the bandwidth, you cannot split off the high resolution audio (Dolby True HD for example) from the blu ray player and transmit it on an optical cable. I am not sure it can even carry 7.1 audio data, though I know it can carry dolby digital 5.1...I do this at home.
YEAH...that's a good deal on the Onkyo 717, and Amazon is an authorized Onkyo dealer...
At this level I'd say minimize the cost on the receiver and put more of the dough in the speakers. Just make sure you get the features you need. I don't think preamp outs are necessary -- chances are if you're going to add higher quality amplification you'll want to add a better prepro to go with it. And I'd recommend getting a model with some kind of digital sound correction since you've mentioned you may eventually go to a 5.1 setup. I noticed you could get the Pioneer VSX822 from B&H Photo for $272, and that should get you everything you need or the 1022 for $299 if you want things like video upscaling, component video input, etc. Onkyo TX-NR414 also looks very good for $295 and may have more inputs if that's a concern. Any of these receivers will probably be fine, but speakers are a tougher and more important question at this price level imho.

Buying used can be great but also very hit or miss, and finding front L/R/C used can be tough (although the Def Techs Realremo found could be good). Another route would be to look at something like Hsu Research Value 2 package (3.1 setup) that you could get for $800 -- good value since you buy direct from manufacturer and avoid dealer markup, and you can add matching surrounds later as budget permits (and you get a warranty too). Short of that I'd look for a good pair of used monitors and a sub and try to find a matching center when it becomes available. If the monitors are decent quality and set up well you may not miss the center channel too much for a while. I think Paradigm (Monitor series Center 1 for example) and B&W (used Matrix HTM with single mid and top-mounted tweeter) make some pretty good center channel speakers so they might be a couple brands to look at for monitors as well. Since 85% of your listening will be for movies/TV I'd try to get the best center speaker I could since 80% of what you hear will be coming from it, and there's nothing worse than listening to voices in particular through a crummy center speaker (probably better to use no center in that case).

If cables/interconnects aren't in the budget you can get by with some from Monoprice (definitely for HTMI cable) until you can affort to upgrade. Again, I'd put as much money as possible toward the speakers since they'll make the biggest difference on an absolute basis at this level (assuming you don't use a garbage receiver or cables). Hope this helps and best of luck.
Thank you so much all for your comments on my situation. It is greatly appreciated. Since I promised that I would stop asking questions, this is just a curiosity :)

You have all suggested I get "monitors". What's the difference between monitors and full range speakers? Is it simply the frequencies that they can reproduce? Do monitors require the use of a subwoofer? Or does a monitor provide a more true to life reproduction of what was intended? This would be as opposed to full range speakers that could "color" the sound in the way the manufacturer intended, maybe to give it a characteristic sound?

Again, no obligation, but I hadn't heard that term (unless it's on stage at a performance), so I was curious.

Genuinely, thanks for all your suggestions. I'm always welcome to hear any more you may have if they come to mind.

Don't worry about asking questions here. We're all perfectly willing to spew our audio/video vomit for the most part. Monitors is kind of a shorthand way of writing that the speakers are relatively small and require stands, versus floorstanding speakers that don't and generally will produce more bass (but still not necessarily full range, and most aren't which is why subs can frequently help). You never "need" a subwoofer, but if you're doing a lot of TV and movies it greatly enhances the experience and makes it significantly more immersive and involving. When you mentioned 3.1 I assumed you were adding a sub (the sub being the 0.1 part and the 3 being the front L/R/C). Also, at your price point it's tough to find floorstanding speakers that don't commit a lot of sins that screw up the sound, and you'll still want a sub to get the full movie effect anyway. Hence the assumption you were looking for monitors, which is probably the smarter and more cost-effective way to go for many reasons.

Hope this helps, and sorry if I'm just making it more confusing.
No Soix, that's not confusing at all! Thanks very much. I get a little hesitant because I am so new to this site, and although I have some general knowledge, I'm not nearly where you guys are. I know it can be annoying to have someone hop on a site like this and ask very basic questions, but I do really appreciate all the help I've gotten so far.

Thanks again,
I think I would recommend a different approach with regards to the receiver. HDMI functionality adds cost to the receiver and is something I would sacrifice in exchange for better quality speakers. Especially if I was in your shoes starting out.

Run the HDMI from the source (one from the DirecTV and one from the Blu-Ray) directly to the TV. The purpose of this will be video (and audio too if you don't want to turn the receiver on). Then run a digital cable from the source to the receiver. The purpose of this will be to send the audio signal to the receiver. By setting up your system this way, I think you will experience a better sound quality and a better image quality on your TV.

I suggest an older model receiver without HDMI but with a decent amp (say a NAD or Rotel) over a current entry level receiver with HDMI. A HT receiver is a fairly versatile piece of equipment. When you do upgrade, the HT receiver makes an economical second system that sounds better than most.

I have my twelve year old NAD HT receiver in my office. I use it to listen to the radio, iTunes and play my CDs. It's hard to match that functionality for the price.
Running a blu ray movie's audio over digital cable instead
of HDMI, you will lose the high definition audio quality
that blu ray can deliver. high-def audio presents an easily
heard improvement that even non-audiophiles can easily
discern. Almost all of the receivers on this site are for
sale because the owners need/want HDMI, think carefully
before limiting your system in this way.
I agree that HDMI vs digital cable has little effect on TV
or over-the-air sound, but if you're a blu ray guy, you need
HDMI, or you're missing part of the experience.
My suggested alternative was based in part on the estimated use percentages originally given.

Also, I know that blu-ray and 1080p content is increasing, but isn't it still a small portion of the overall content?
I have to agree with pgawan, HDMI will offer little to nothing in the way of sound quality for 95% of your listening. For that 5% of disc based movie watching will be Blu-Ray based? If your area is anything like mine, every brick and mortar movie rental shop closed their doors in the last couple years. Meaning, if you're a Blu-Ray fan, you're buying movies.

HDMI's main benefit is thwarting piracy for content distributors. Like Blu-Ray, it won't be around forever. Save the money, by picking up a receiver with a good reputation and digital inputs. You'll lose nothing in the audio realm.
I'm a blu ray fan, and I don't have to buy them. blu ray is readily available at any number of mail-only outlets. high definition video and audio is here to stay, it isn't going anywhere. If you haven't gotten on the wagon, and don't intend to, well, OK.
I rent Blu-rays all the time from Redbox, can't beat the convenience and at $1.50 each, very cost effective. Use the iphone app and it's easy to find and reserve a title. They often run specials for free or discounted rentals.
Is there a current push to have higher quality audio broadcast on HD channels? Or is that not really important because of the increased cost and bandwidth associated with it? And probably the few people that would actually take advantage of it....

I will say, the Onkyo receiver that Realremo suggested does have the internet capability, and the Android app for playing music through a smartphone/tablet. I do really like that....
it is my understanding that high definition audio requires too high a bandwidth to stream via cable/satellite/over the air. I don't know when or if this will happen; it depends in a BIG way on our infrastructure. The network gear most cities have in place right now was not designed to handle this bandwidth.

The thing about Dolby TrueHD and DTS master audio is that you are hearing pretty much what the engineer heard when he mixed down the final track on the movie. I think that's pretty cool!

Video-wise, blu-ray is the only source for HD content if you rent a shiny disc. You can also rent HD movies through Apple TV, and your cable/satellite provider will have HD Pay-Per-View, I'm sure. These are more expensive options than Redbox.

To my knowledge, HDMI is the only way to get high def audio. HDMI is not required to get the HD video source to your flat screen TV tho, you can get a high-def video signal over component cable, which splits the video signal into three cables, one each for red, blue and green. Pretty much all blu-ray players have these outputs. DVI connections can also provide high def signals. Not sure if all HD cable or satellite TV boxes have DVI/component outputs, check the back panel drawings in the user manuals online before you sign that contract.
"I'm a blu ray fan, and I don't have to buy them. blu ray is readily available at any number of mail-only outlets. high definition video and audio is here to stay, it isn't going anywhere. If you haven't gotten on the wagon, and don't intend to, well, OK."

That sounds like a response to my post, and not the original poster. If so, my point is to not project your needs, availability, and bias on the original poster who states his system will see 5% of "movie use". Of that a percentage might be blu-ray, of that percentage, what content will offer a big enough audio advantage (video quality is not lost without the miracle of HDMI) to warrant purchasing (on his limited budget) a more expensive receiver because he'll get some added benefit a fraction of the time?

For the record, I own several Blu-Ray movies, and have HDMI capability in my system. Its nice, its just not as important as component selection...especially in the case of the original poster.
I'm projecting bias? Are you serious? I am making recommendations based upon years of purchasing thousands of $$$ of used gear on this site. I haven't even gotten into the warranty issue, a 2 year parts and labor warranty is very desirable on a piece of complex electronics like an AVR. Buying used AVRs presents considerable risk, even with really nice used gear. Some AVRs on this site are 4-8 years old, what happens when a rail fuse blows, or a cap needs replacing, much less the video board or DAC board goes out? Finding a tech to work on an external amp or a CD player is easy, finding one to work on an older AVR is much more difficult. I speak from experience on this. Repair on used gear is time consuming and expensive. Why wouldn't you want the heart of your entertainment center to have a warranty? How about shipping your gear all over the country without the original box or packing materials? Not all used gear has this. That presents considerable risk by itself. How many packages have I received from UPS that have been mangled and crushed, with holes punched in them? Nearly ALL of them...! Original packaging greatly reduces the risk of damage in these cases. What about integration with other modern networking electronics, like iPads, iPhones, Android's AVRs can attach to your network and play music directly from your internal or external hard drive...What about services like Spotify, Netflix, Pandora, internet radio, Sirius XM, HD Radio, Rhapsody, or playing music from USB thumb drives? The OP alluded to tech like this in an earlier post. Sure you can get this with an older AVR, if you want to clutter up your rack with numerous additional black boxes. The OP asked for recommendations, I made one, you can agree to disagree without making accusations about my motives.
Realremo is right. Why complicate things by buying a used receiver? Unlike Realremo, I've not spent thousands on used equipment. Instead, I'm an audio industry veteran who has repped for and consulted for dozens of manufacturers. From Kenwood to Sherwood, Denon to Yamaha, apogee to Bose, VPI to Counterpoint, Arcam to Totem and so on. While this is not about me, I wanted to establish some credibility to ease Brian's anxiety. Why are you guys harping about arcane digital technology like 44/192 when he's obviously a casual user on a tight budget who would value utility and reliability. While Realremo's system would work just fine, given the nature of the average Audiogon user, I think you'll appreciate some facts.
When I started Onkyo USA Corp in 1976, power supply was a big issue at Onkyo. We had our own transformer factory and spent plenty on design. The receivers would drive any load you'd be likely to run across in the real world, held up superbly and had a sweet detailed, robust sound. As the years went by, my colleagues damaged the company's image by selling giant discount chains. As sales dropped every time a chain failed, and they all did, Onkyo began building poorer product. It would become load-sensitive and we had a lot of shutting down (Brian, that means it would stop playing), hence the establishment of the Integra brand (Integra was part of the US line from 1978 on but now Onkyo redefined the main brand as a big-box item and it's heavily discounted while Integra is tageted towrd specialists. in any event, an Onkyo is feature rich and pretty reliable too. Still, it won't do well under 6 ohms and its sound is average. Burr Brown, Shmerr Brown: most of the Burr Brown chips we used varied sonically from sharp and detailed (and a bit fatiguing) to smooth with less intimacy). I assure you, the collateral circuitry and build budget precludes a sophisticated digital section. Now, onward:BUY NEW. Caps age (internal parts) especially on receivers, due to their price range and they slowly degrade the sound. You must have HDMI which many of us detest for reasons not germane, but if you want easy hook up of things you'll buy in the future, you'll need HDMI. With a Yamaha, you'll get HDMI pass through and even HDMI switching even when the unit is off! He might simply want to watch the news without the system being on. It will drive any load, has no HDMI handshake issues like the Onkyo, is more reliable than the Denon and all these are the same price. The Yamaha comes with four pre-programmed macros so you can, say, watch a movie with the press of a single button. NAD stands for "Not ALWAYS defective"...and they're not but they do have the poorest reliability of the group--sound good though but simply uncompetitive. Forget about preamp outputs. The preamp sections in these cheap receivers ain't that great. Later, buy an over-$1000 receiver and hear an immediate difference. All these brands make fine upper end units. Follow Realremo's sage advice and start enjoying your system--no convoluted configuration or sacrifice.