Weekend Roundtable: Home Theater Regrets

Have you ever bought something for your home theater that you soon realized was a big mistake? I bet we all have. Perhaps it was a big piece of equipment that doesn’t do what it was advertised to do? Perhaps it was an expensive limited edition movie box set that you blind-bought, only to find out that you hated the movie? That’s what we’re discussing in this week’s Roundtable – our biggest home theater regrets.

We’re trying to keep this to actual big regrets. Wasting a buck to Redbox a movie you thought was just sort-of OK doesn’t cut it. There should be some significant expense or inconvenience to your life involved. I’ll start things off.

Josh Zyber

This one is especially stupid, and I really ought to have known better. Have you ever heard of the Laserfilm video format? I didn’t think so. There’s really no reason for you to have. It’s an ultra-obscure video disc format developed by McDonnell-Douglas in the early ’80s for flight simulators. The format didn’t catch on and was never marketed outside the company.

Nevertheless, several years back, someone got hold of a bunch of these players (they were cleaning out McDonnell-Douglas storage, I assume) and listed them on eBay for extremely low prices. Curiosity got the best of me. I think I paid $10 for one, but the damn thing was so heavy that shipping cost twice that. Still, $30 was still not a lot of money to waste, so I didn’t feel too bad about it… until it got to my home, and I quickly realized that I had no idea what to do with it.

The Laserfilm player was a big, heavy tank of a machine. It had only one video output: RF coax (the pointy one that cable TV comes in on). I managed to plug this in (I had to route it through my VCR) and power on the unit. That brought up a blue screen that verified it was working. And then… Well, that was it. I had no software to play on this thing, and no way of ever getting any.

So, two minutes later, I unplugged it. That was the end of my grand Laserfilm experiment. I eventually got rid of the player, but I have to admit that it sat as a doorstop in my home theater room for quite a while, taunting me with repeated reminders of my foolish impulsiveness. I’d like to say that I learned my lesson and never made similar mistakes again after that, but sadly that’s not the case.

Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)

Back in the early days of high definition TV (before Blu-ray or HD DVD), JVC released an HD-compatible recording/playback format called D-VHS. It used MPEG-2 encoding to record audio and video digitally onto a tape the same size as a standard VHS cassette. As a huge fan of HD, I ran out and bought one of the first consumer D-VHS recorders, the HM-DT100U, for around $1,200 (list price was $1,499). It had a built-in ATSC tuner, so all I needed was a roof antenna to capture all the free HD shows I could find and store them forever on those sexy rectangular VHS tapes.

Unfortunately, the format was not only expensive, but glitchy too. While it worked for recording over the air HDTV, the unit I purchased had major playback problems. It hiccupped on the audio and video every few minutes, even on the demo tape included in the package. Fortunately, J&R Music World had a decent return policy. My love affair with D-VHS lasted exactly three days, and I was able to get my money back. I’m still waiting for a home Blu-ray recorder, though. Anyone…?

Dick Ward

This isn’t something I bought for myself, but rather something that my sister and I pooled together to buy for my dad. Five or six years ago, we decided to surprise him by getting some audio equipment for his then seemingly enormous 32-inch Bravia. Based on the salesmanship of a Best Buy employee, we went with the Bose CineMate Home Theater System. At that time, I didn’t really know any better.

On Christmas Eve, when my father was asleep, we set up the system. In the morning, he came downstairs and was blown away with the amazing gift. Then we turned it on and found that, like The Doors, there was no bass. It was as if the subwoofer didn’t even exist. A quick trip to Best Buy the following day resulted in an exchange for a Panasonic system loud enough to make my mom complain – always a good sign. Needless to say, I learned my lesson and won’t be buying Bose again.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

I don’t really have a horror story, so sorry if this one’s kinda boring. I excitedly shelled out for my first plasma TV in the summer of 2005 so that I’d have something to watch all my shiny new HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs that were less than a year off on the horizon. I wanted to take advantage of the set as much as I could in the meantime, so I picked up a Sony DVP-NS70H upconverting DVD player. The upconversion was great, and at $129.99 or whatever it was, the price was right. The frustrating thing is there’s a black bar a little over an inch tall on everything I watch on it. I guess the entire image is slightly distorted to compensate for that too, although that’s never really bugged me. How no one noticed this at Sony, I have no idea. As far as I know, there’s never been a firmware fix either. (It stopped being my primary player years and years ago, so I admittedly haven’t checked.) Strangely enough, even with as long as that bar was displaying on that plasma, there’s no uneven wear on the screen. Score one for Panasonic?

Nate Boss

Honestly, I haven’t had a bad home theater purchase, or an expensive as hell home video release that bit me in the ass (other than paying thirty bucks for some movies in the early days of DVD…). In fact, other than the occasional DLP lamp burning out due to excessive use, the only home theater problem I’ve ever encountered was the HDMI handshake issue with my Onkyo TX-SR606 receiver. Even then, I had definitely used the piece of equipment so bloody much that I couldn’t complain.

Keeping the Onkyo in my home theater, rather than buying an HDMI 1.4 compatible receiver when I first decided to go 3D, resulted in me buying a Blu-ray 3D player with a second HDMI port for 1.3 compatibility that ended up costing me a few hundred bucks extra. Even with a new receiver, that second port has allowed me to make a unique setup that I still am utilizing until I split my review televisions into separate rooms, further making my home a giant man cave. I guess I’ve been lucky that all of my purchases, save for a near-launch XBox 360, have paid off.

Mike Attebery

I may be among the lucky few, but aside from the occasional blind buy disappointment, I haven’t really had any big home theater purchases that I’ve come to regret. It probably helps that I live in a tiny condo, where I can’t exactly blast the surround with a series of ever-updated sound systems. The size of our living room also puts a big limit on the size of the flat screen we can fit on our wall. I guess I don’t really have any regrets. I just want to make a few improvements (bigger screen) as money allows. Other than that, I’m content.


  1. I wanted to contribute to this roundtable, but I really haven’t had a HT purchase that I’ve regretted.

    I sure hope these comments fill up with comments starting out with “Well, I bought these cables from Monster…”

  2. Aaron- I got a $1k bonus one year from work, and I went out and bought a 600 buck PS3 (launch, baby!), the awesome backwards compatible one, saved some of the money, and made two other HT buys with it: 30 bucks for Pearl Harbor Blu-ray (after owning the DVD and never watching it), and 70 bucks for an HDMI cable.

    I still use it, though, so I can’t call it a regret. AND it was just funny money, so I really don’t care.

    • The only think you should be embarassed about Nate is paying $70 for an HDMI cable. I still laugh at people who pay $100 for one thinking it’s superior to the ones that cost $10.

      • I’ve made up for it by not paying even 10 bucks since. it’s averaged out.

        It’s not embarrassing, either. I had cash in hand, not money in account, and locally there was no way to get something cheaper. Just did what I had to do to get me some 1080p picture so I could watch Ben and Josh have their bromance in crystal clear high def.

        It’s bad enough my first DVD buy was MALLRATS…my first Blu-ray was the Pearl. my god. at least my first HDDVD was Batman Begins, that’s slightly redeeming.

  3. Well, I am going to stretch home theater just a bit. I was a huge fan of the All-In-Wonder video card, a nifty little video card that also had TV out and video capture. After about two years with this, I plopped down $200 – while in college, so 3 weeks wages – on an All-In-Wonder Pro. ATI’s craptastic drivers (which they still seem to have issues with) ment the video capture on this thing never worked. I called ATI, and they told me to return it to the ATI store. (I bought it through ATI’s website).

    Here is the thing – I didn’t know about RMAs or whatever they are called, so I sent the card back with a copy of my reciept. Guess who never recieved a refund.

    Second regret I have is when I was 12, I saved up money from mowing lawns to buy a Sega Game Gear! The thing was absolutely beautiful, and it would take Nintendo roughly 10 years to come out with a comparable product. Problem was, there was only like 15 games ever released for it, and they all sucked.

  4. Oh, Josh, I actually DO know what Laserfilm was. If it makes you feel any better, my old church tried to give me a 3/4″ tape deck. The only reason I turned it down is that I had no way to transport it – it was roughly the size of a 2 drawer filing cabinet and weighed about 250 pounds. So, I never got the thing home, and they were giving it to me, so I don’t know if that counts.

  5. I had an RCA Videodisc player, a laserdisc player, and a HD-DVD player, but can’t honestly say I didn’t get my money’s worth out of them…althought the HD-DVD player seemed to have the shortest “use” life (at about a year).

  6. Alex

    My regret actually isn’t my own. I went to visit my father one weekend and he took me into the den to show me his fancy new 5.1 audio system. He’d picked a killer system, chocked full of incredible features and was ready to enjoy the best that surround sound has to offer. However, what he had forgotten to take into account, and which I reminded him of, is that my father is stone-deaf in his right ear. It hadn’t even occurred to him when he’d bought the system.

    A month or so later, I went to visit him again. All 5 speakers were packed together underneath the television. My father, who had been so proud of his surround sound system, had converted 5.1 into mono.

    • Josh Zyber

      This story is AWESOME! 🙂

      I can also foresee people spending lots of money on 3D rigs and then realizing, “Oh wait, I’m blind in one eye.”

    • Oh dear. Wish we had some kind of prize to give for this story. Simply fantastic. I could just picture someone with 5 speakers packed right up by there TV. That’s classic.

        • hell yeah. the random Bonus View awesomeness award of valor or some shit. this one is great.

          i also foresee people discovering their inability to view 3d in the near future, the more the stuff gets out there. i also foresee the same people returning the set and getting two others before then blaming the hardware rather than their own limitations. you know, the whole inability to accept blame thing.

        • This story is AWESOME! Let’s award him Gone With The Wind!

          I got a similar story, but not NEARLY as good as this one, so I promise I am not trying to one up.

          My uncle was the first person I know to buy an HDTV – back in 2000. Big honking huge 60 inch screen (possibly bigger) in a projection TV. Must have spent 5 grand on it. He then also bought a Bose 5 speaker surround sound system (no subwoofer though, but those little satelite speakers were capable of producing some pretty darn good bass). Then, because the television did not have a built in tunner, he plucked down $700 on a directTV HD reciever and we had to errect a 30 foot tall outside antenna because he lived out in the country down in a hole. (No, he didn’t have DirectTV, just the reciever). Now, remember, this was 2001, the only thing in HD was The Tonight Show, then this crazy local business man named Mark Cuban decided he was going to start this 24 hour all HD network and broadcast it on channel 21 called HDNet (after about a year or two, it started getting picked up by cable networks and such). So nice thing about HDNet is it had about a whole 4 hours of programing a day playing in a loop.

          I also had to learn what the heck component video was, and we had to get it through our heads that SVideo was no longer the greatest video format ever.

          Here is the funny thing – my uncle was as blind as a bat! He didn’t want a big HDTV for the clearer picture, he wanted it so that he could actually see the TV! He sat about 3 feet from it, with his thick glasses on, trying to understand what was going on on the screen. And after all the money invested, he could not tell the difference between 480i stretched and 1080i broadcast! So why did he do it? Basically to tell all his friends he had it.

          Oh, and that 5 speaker Bose system? Rarely got turned on unless he was watching an action movie. He pretty much has a huge collection of LPs he listens to on a 30 year old stereo, and he watches TBN.

          He bought three Blu-Ray players about 2 years ago for the house, but only has one HDTV. However, that’s not THAT werid – I have two but only one TV. I pretty much got tired of not being able to watch my discs in the bedroom.

          Now, my uncle DID finally get some useful use out of his TV. He hooked his computer up to it. Remember how I said he is blind as a bat? Well, 60 inch monitor now, sitting two feet away, running Excel so he can catalog his music collection.

          Yeah, welcome to my world!

  7. motorheadache

    My first HDTV was a Philips 34″ 1080i tube set. I think I paid 1500 bucks for it (HDTV wasn’t quite mainstream yet).
    Man, that TV sucks. First of all, the overscan was atrocious. It literally cuts three inches of the picture on all sides. Also, the geometry is pretty bad– vertical lines are really crooked going from the top to the bottom, so 4:3 mode kind of has a hourglass look to it. There’s also these weird bars you can see on the left side of the screen.

    Now, I ended up figuring out how to go into the service menu and reduce the overscan, so that helped a bit. I still use the set for DVD’s and old video game systems, but I always regretting paying that much money for such a lemon.

  8. Mike

    Josh, that’s exactly why I don’t do 3D. Not blind, but one eye is very messed up (kerataconus), so 3D just barely works for me. My brain was throbbing after 30 minutes of Avatar in the theater. Never again.

  9. BMH

    Having avoided truly disappointing home theater equipment, I can say that most Limited Edition movie releases are underwhelming. If your Limited edition movie doesn’t do a good job of holding the movie discs, and contains at least one crummy item… well it is almost to be expected.

    I pre-ordered the batpod Dark Knight blu ray from Amazon. $48 for a crummy plastic model with a silly back plate for the two-disc movie and a poster-card envelope for the digital copy.

    At some point soon, I’ll put the discs in a different case and the batpod will be in the trash.

    • Hey, what’s wrong with the Batpod!It creates a conversation piece! You know how many conversations get started with people looking at my Tron Disc, my Harry Potter Trunk, or my Fantasia Laserdisc Box Set?

      What is bad, though, is when the display item is included inside of the really big pretty boxed set – aka Ten Commandments. While I love how pretty the box is on the shelf, I hate the Tablet Case – I honestly think it is worse than the Back To The Future case.

      • BMH

        The Batpod is too small(& crummy) to be a good conversation piece. “Hey whats that?… Oh…”

        A nice looking boxset type item is the Batman Arkham Asylum giant collector box. The batarang is unspectacular, and the other extras are not great. The giant box that houses it all is cool.

        Another reason to rid myself of the Batpod is that combined with the giant Arkham box, it looks as though I’m a huge Batman fan when I’ve only ever read a few Batman comics.

  10. BMH

    Once the movie studios and tv manufactures give 3D a break, they will probably start releasing Limited Edition Movie themed tvs such as the numbered Wizard of Oz Anniversary 46″ plasma (by Vizio) featuring Wizard of Oz burn in option, single button Wizard of Oz movie launch (requires internet), Wizard of Oz restoration features that play every time you access a setting menu, plus an urn attached to the top of the tv with the remains of actual Wizard of Oz film cells.