To get the best value for your dollar with your home theater you need to know where the margins are in this business. Generally, the high profit products are speakers, accessories, cables and services. Things like LCD and plasma displays are generally not very high profit. Projectors can be products where the profit margins are pretty high especially those models that have restricted distribution.
The first option to consider is purchasing from your local store. The price listed in the store may not be the lowest price they are willing to sell it for. If you research the prices on the Internet some stores will price match or split the difference. This may be your best option if you want to be able to have someone locally to work with if you have problems.
Another option is to purchase products from Internet direct retailers. Always verify the seller’s reputation. Many of them are poor. Key questions to ask these vendors are the following.
- Is the product new or B-Stock (used)?
- Does it have a manufacturer warranty?
- Do you support the product after I purchase it?
- What is your return policy?
- What happens if it is damaged in shipping?
Buying products that must be shipped to you does carry some risk. The more fragile the product the greater the risk. In general large flat panel displays seem to have the most problem with shipping. Be sure you have a way to install or move that product before it arrives. Some of these products are difficult to install because they are heavy and fragile. I would carefully weigh the cost savings versus the risk on any of these purchases. Cables for example can be an easy way to save money, but a huge mess if they do not work and they are in the wall. Products like high light output projectors (Sim2 Lumis) tend to be very low sales volume and may require more manufacturer or seller support than a high volume unit like a JVC DLA-RS25U for example.
Another way to save money is to buy used. Many enthusiasts change their gear out pretty regularly. Getting the last generation subwoofer, speaker or receiver is not generally a problem unless there is some new feature you must have. Doing this well can save you 50% or more than buying new. With the Internet there are many places to look for this equipment. Common ones to search are www.ebay.com, www.audiogon.com, www.videogon.com and www.avsforum.com. When buying used it is best to deal with people with good rankings and you must know the real value and condition of the product. The buyer must always be careful in the used market because some people are out to rip you off, but if you do this carefully you can get the same system for less money or a better system for the same cost.
Today manufacturer direct electronics, speakers and subwoofers can be an excellent value. These manufacturers are able to deliver a higher quality product for the same price or a lower price on a similar quality product to that found in your local store. Their cost can be lower because they bypass the retail, distribution and marketing costs other products have. Some examples of these include Ascend, Elemental Designs, Epik, Outlaw, Salk and SVS. The perceived negative here is that you cannot listen to these in the store, but many of these manufacturers offer excellent home trial periods and return policies. Some of them will also have enthusiasts in your area who are willing to let you hear them in their home.
When it comes to cables and accessories avoiding certain highly marketed products can save you quite a bit of money. One source of generic products at a much lower price point is Monoprice.
When it comes to services the lowest cost approach may not be the best. If the person doing it is horrible your system will never perform right. I can’t tell you how many systems I have worked on where the installer used the wrong type of connection or did not do the basic setup so the surround sound was even operating properly. In general I would try to use the proper person for the task. If you know how to do it then do it yourself. When you do not know what you are doing then find someone who does. This page has some additional advice on this topic.