Weekend Roundtable: Best Home Theater Gifts Ever

Since today is Black Friday (with Cyber Monday just around the corner), we figured that this week’s Roundtable ought to have a holiday shopping theme. So, today we discuss the best home theater gifts we’ve ever given, ever received, or gifts we’d like to ever-so-subtly hint to our loved ones that they ought to buy for us.

This week, we’re also joined by a new guest contributor, Chris Boylan from Big Picture Big Sound.

Josh Zyber

My obsession with home theater started in college. Via my work study job, I had access to a pair of Laserdisc players and four-hour evening shifts with absolutely to do nothing but watch movies. (Seriously, this was the best job ever!) Every day after class, I’d stop by a local store called Laser Craze, rent two movies on LD, and bring them with me to work. I did this almost every single weekday for four years (minus summer break and other vacations). I watched hundreds of movies at that job, and became a real Laserdisc aficionado.

Sadly, I was a poor college student turned poor graduate. The work study job itself paid for all those disc rentals, but once I graduated, I couldn’t afford a Laserdisc player of my own. Those things were expensive back in the day! However, that first Christmas after graduation, unbeknownst to me, the future Mrs. Z saved up her pennies and bought me my first Pioneer LD player. It was an entry level model, could only play one disc side at a time (meaning I had to manually flip the disc after an hour of play), and had no frills whatsoever. Even that would have cost a good $300 or so at the time – a fortune to a struggling 20-something. And it was amazing.

The player itself didn’t last (Mrs. Z still gives me grief for eventually upgrading to a fancier model), but I knew that the relationship would.

Junie Ray

My first television was a hand-me-down from Josh’s in-laws. I thought it was great, even though there was no remote, so I had to change the channel by turning a knob. There was also a coat hanger/tinfoil antenna arrangement. My father came to visit for a few days as I was recovering from knee surgery. By Day Two with the antique TV, he was so distraught that he made me hobble with him down the street to a bar to watch the games on a proper television. That Christmas, there was a new TV under the tree for me.

Now, that was some time ago, but I did pass that Christmas TV along to a very happy recipient who is still using it. In this season of thanks and giving, if you’ve got last year’s gadget that you’re not using – pass it along!

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

I’m more than a little bit of a Blu-ray evangelist. Last Christmas, I bought pretty much everyone in the family shiny new Blu-ray players. I gave my mother, stepfather, and kid sister a Panasonic DMP-BD60 along with the seventh season of ‘24‘, ‘Up‘, ‘Monsters vs. Aliens‘, ‘Enchanted‘, ‘Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs‘, the remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead‘, and ‘Rachel Getting Married‘.

I handed a Sony BDP-S360 over to my father, stepmother, and kid brother. To start them off, they also got ‘Ben 10: Alien Swarm‘, ‘Aliens in the Attic‘, ‘Ghost Rider‘, ‘Inglorious Basterds‘, the ‘Ultimate Avengers‘ collection, ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘, and ‘Monsters vs. Aliens‘ under the tree from me.

Finally, I gave my grandfather an LG BD-370 player along with ‘Rio Bravo‘, ‘Deliverance‘, ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford‘, ‘Quantum of Solace‘, ‘The Searchers‘, ‘The Wild Bunch‘, and ‘From Russia with Love‘.

I guess the moral of the story is that it’s kind of worth it to be on my Christmas list.

Mike Attebery

I’ve always loved drive-ins and watching movies outdoors, so I think the perfect movie related holiday gift would be an all-in-one projector. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I don’t need 1080p image and perfect sound. Yeah, I’m a snob when it comes to home theater. But when it’s for the purpose of grabbing the projector, a movie, and a big orange extension cord, and watching an old black and white movie like ‘Animal Crackers’ in the backyard, probably on a bedsheet nailed to the side of the house, this is exactly the kind of setup I’m dying for! Sure, I’d probably run a couple of speakers up front, cause tin can sound coming from behind me would just drive me nuts – but other than that, a simple, solid, reliable all-in-one unit is just what I’ve always wanted. This is the best gift, for me, for you, for anybody!

[Since Mike asked me to add in a recommendation for this, I might suggest that a business projector would be a good fit. They’re generally smallish, portable, and geared for high light output so that corporate folks can read their PowerPoint slides in a room with the lights still on. You probably won’t get 1080p, and the picture quality may not be at all suitable for home theater; but for the purpose described, it should be adequate. Bring along a laptop with a DVD or Blu-ray drive and a pair of computer speakers, and you’re good to go. -JZ]

Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)

Shortly after I got married, around 1993, my wife knew I had been lusting after a 32-inch Sony XBR TV (CRT, of course, there were no other choices back then). For Christmas, she cut out a picture of the KV-32XBR35 and put $1,000 in $100 bills into an envelope. (She knew I would prefer to shop for it so I could get the best deal.) A Merry Christmas indeed. I knew then that she was a keeper. The TV looked amazing, hooked up to a Pioneer Laserdisc player. Of course, by today’s standard it was positively archaic – not even widescreen! Over time, we’ve gone through quite a few more TVs, but I’ve kept the wife (and she has kept me).

Dick Ward

I distinctly remember my father having a decent home theater when I was a kid. It wasn’t anything amazing, but he had a Yamaha receiver with left and right speakers and a record player to go with it. Somewhere through the years, the system went away and he was left to watch through TV speakers. A few years back, my sister, my brother-in-law and myself all went in on a new home theater system for him. Thanks to a Best Buy discount from the brother-in-law, we were able to get a pretty good Home Theater in a Box for a reasonable amount of money. It wasn’t amazing, obviously. It was just a $500 or so home theater system, but those times when the family gets together to enjoy a movie are a whole lot better because of it. It’s nice that dad’s got a subwoofer again – especially when I bring over my Blu-ray player for a viewing of ‘Star Trek‘.


  1. I’ve tried to keep my dad in line with the times in terms of home theater. Two years ago I got him a blu-ray player, but my crowning glory was last year. I bought him an entirely new Onkyo home theater system. They aren’t the sleekest looking speakers, but boy can those babies put they can put out some quality sound. Can’t wait for Inception so he can hear that sub-woofer do some work.

  2. EM

    One Christmas my parents gave me my first VCR when I was thirteen—along with a VHS copy of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Now, that was a double dose of awesome!!

    This may stretch the concept of home theater too much, but a few Christmases earlier they gave me an Atari VCS and some games, including “Space Invaders”—what could be cooler than that?!? 🙂

  3. Stephen Bjork

    Last year, my wife generously let me pull the trigger on a pair of Vandersteen Quatros with VSM surrounds and a VCC-2 center — if you do not know, a little Googling will demonstrate just how generous a gift that was!

  4. Wow, you guys actually posted stuff this past weekend? I was out of town in South West Texas with no internet. They had it down there, but apparently a switch was blown, and Verizon Corporate could not get hold of any technichians to go out there to fix it over the holidays. So, no internet. 🙁

    I swear, I sometimes think that Dick and I are brothers seperated at birth. His story is almost word-for-word the same as mine. But my HTiB was a Sony someting or other that I paid about $170 for at Best Buy. It was 5.1, and had SPIDIF and Coaxial inputs. My dad LOVED it. But one of the stupid cats could not get it through his head that the spot for the front-left speaker was for the speaker and not for him to lay on, and kept knocking the speaker off. In two days, it had busted the seal, and it rattled if you turned it up too loud. I replaced that last year.

    Christmas of 2008, I bought them their first Blu-Ray player. I think they just bought a second HDTV (both are 32 inch), but he just picked up a second at WalMart friday for $39. Neither player is fancy, just basic functionality. In fact, really surprised he hasn’t had to upgrade the firmware yet.

    This Christmas, its mostly Blu-Ray movies I am buying, but I am also buying them and my roommate Rokus. I have fallen in love with streaming Netflix (despite a few shortcomings it has, but that is a topic for another forum), and wish to share its greatness with a few people.

      • I keep debating a Blu-ray player for the folks.

        My dad wants a Wii for Wii Fit (which he uses in physical therapy for his bad back, knees and whatever else :p ) but I have such a hard time buying an SD console for his 42 inch set!

        A PS3 may be on the list if I can find one cheap enough though. I don’t know if he’ll play any games, but he’d hit Redbox and Blockbuster for Blu-rays and enjoy plenty of streaming from Netflix.

        It’s a tough job keeping people up to date!

        • Wait, you can play games on a PS3?


          My PS3 is primaraly for movie watching. I ocassionally pop in Katamari or Guitar Hero. I love Sonic 4, and Flower is pretty cool.

          My brother has the PS3. Anytime my brother tries to do more than play a game or a movie on it, my dad is calling me up wanting to know how to do stuff. He FINALLY knows how to do firmware updates and buy games in the Playstation Store, but that was like pulling teeth. A simple blu-ray player was perfect for my parents

        • Patrick A Crone

          I can proudly say I’m a gaming expert. As far as the Wii being standard def, it’s not as huge an issue as it’s made out to be. The graphics are simple for Wii fit. They wouldn’t be a huge upgrade in High Def. I do suggest purchasing componant cables for the Wii. The jump from the regular composite cables adds a huge difference in picture quality. I know there are alternatives to Wii Fit on both the PS3 and the 360. But keep in mind that you will need to purchase either Move or Kinect to play them. I’ll be perfectly honest with you though. If your dad is in his 50s or 60s, buying him a PS3 is more or less buying him a $300 Blu ray player. The Wii is perfect for casual gamers. I say buy him a Wii and a mid level blu ray player with streaming capabilities.

          • I get what you mean about the Wii Fit graphics being simple, but standard def games means standard def Netflix too, and that’s a bummer. It also means a surprising amount of games that lack a 16:9 resolution.

            The other thing about the Wii is that I’m confident Dad isn’t going to stick with the whole motion gaming thing for long. He’s an old-school gamer – the kind that would find the Xbox Game Room to be quite appealing. Of course, since that’s not available on the PS3, it doesn’t help too much.

            I think I’m just going to end up doing something else this year so I don’t have to end up doing tech support 🙂

  5. Patrick A Crone

    The best Home Theater gift I ever got was actually a gift to myself. When I was a teenager, my step father had a Lasedisc Player. It was one of the first units on the market. You had to open the top like an over-sized Discman to put a disc in it. If a disc had the slightest warp in it the disc wouldn’t play. Yet the picture quality that came out of that machine was excellent. I began buying my own small collection of discs while I was in high school. Once I graduated I was pretty much kicked out of my parents house. The first thing I did was go to my local audio/video retailer(pre-Best Buy) and put a laserdisc player on lay away. It was a Pioneer S201. It was light years ahead of my step father’s Magnavox flip top player. I finally made my last payment on it one week before Christmas 1993. I spent every night leading up to Christmas watching The original Star Wars and Indiana Jones Trilogies on my then HUGE 27″ TV. It was a very Merry Christmas