REMOTES A relatively inexpensive upgrade many shoppers leave off their budgets is a smart universal remote. If your system is too complicated to control and enjoy, you won't use it. So any product that dramatically simplifies operation should be considered a necessity.
CONTROL SYSTEMS House-wide audio accounts for the lion's share of custom installations, and an overwhelming number of systems are available, each offering a head-spinning array of upgrades. Beyond better speakers and more powerful amplification, a multizone system with advanced control is a great upgrade over a single-zone, volume-control-only system. With easier access to your music, you'll listen to it more.
RECEIVERS The most important component in your system is probably your A/V receiver. It handles audio and video switching, powers the speakers, and decodes and processes the sound. Upgrading provides a host of improvements: additional inputs for future expansion, higher-power amps and power supplies, more robust digital signal processing, HDMI switching, and conveniences such as video upconversion and processing. The difference between a $500 and $1,500 receiver is often night and day, while the differences between $1,500 and $3,000 can be more subtle. Selecting a better receiver now will likely stave off the "upgrade blues" down the road.
TV SETS If selecting a TV were based just on dollars per inch, life would be simpler: "This 50-inch plasma actually costs less than that 42-inch plasma." But what's more important: a great-looking small picture or a mediocre-looking big one? Is it worth paying more to have a set you can hang on the wall? LCD and DLP rear-projection sets are often far less expensive than their flat-panel brethren. Top-tier sets often handle 1080p, provide more inputs (especially those all-important HDMI connections), and have better scaling, color reproduction, and black levels. With front-projection systems, the current top-tier upgrade is an outboard anamorphic lens to support truly widescreen (2.35:1) pictures. More expensive? Yes. More cinematic experience? Absolutely. Worth it? To those with the budget, definitely.
A premium A/V component is like a luxury wristwatch. Even a "cheap" Rolex costs about 100 times more than a Timex and doesn't have any alarm and timer functions. Yet Rolex sells nearly a million watches a year. Premium quality comes at a price, but there's a point of diminishing returns where steep hikes in price yield only small increases in performance. To some, cost-no-object performance is worth it. For the rest of us, choosing where to upgrade is the trick, and reading reviews in S&V, auditioning gear, and using a custom installer can be priceless.
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