Posted Wed Jul 1, 2015 at 08:00 AM PDT by Steven Cohen
As a man wearing eyeliner once proudly sung, "school is out for summer" -- and for many recent college graduates, that means it's time to finally enter the real world! You know, the one that doesn't include meal plans and weekly keggers. Congratulations… and my sincerest condolences.
While this might be an equally scary and exciting time for new grads, if there's one thing former students can definitely look forward to, it's being able to finally move out of their tiny dorms. Say goodbye to socks on the doorknob and smelly roommates, and hello to… moving back in with your parents. Or, for you lucky ones with jobs lined up and no student loans -- say hello to renting your first apartments!
You're probably in for a nice upgrade in space and privacy, which for us home theater enthusiasts likely means more room for all that fancy HD video and audio gear you've been saving up for. With that said, even a spacious apartment still can't quite grant the home theater freedom that an actual house brings. With potential limitations in mind, we've put together a gear guide filled with budget-conscious and space-conscious A/V equipment that will allow grads to get the most out of their first apartments.
For many who are leaving the dorm lifestyle behind, one of the biggest perks will be the addition of an actual living room. Yes, that's right, most apartments have these! Well, unless you're in New York City. Then you'll be lucky to even get a closet. Or a window. But assuming you have a decent-sized living room, you'll probably have the space to upgrade from that wimpy 24-inch television that you had balancing on text books (what else are they good for?) back in college. Well-performing Ultra HD TVs in the 40-inch to 50-inch range have come down to pretty reasonable prices lately (under $1,000 in many cases), resulting in a few great mid-range offerings from several manufacturers. Though a projector is probably out of the question, and you might not be able to splurge for new features like HDR just yet, here's a rundown of some quality displays that should suit most apartment setups.
VIZIO M-Series 4K Ultra HD TVs
The 2015 M-Series Ultra HD displays incorporate full-array local dimming with up to 32 zones for superior black levels and uniformity. In addition, the panels include VIZIO's Active Pixel Tuning tech for increased accuracy and contrast, the company's Spatial Scaling Engine for upscaling lower res content, and Clear Action 360 for fast moving images. VIZIO's Internet Apps Plus smart TV platform is integrated as well, offering Ultra HD titles from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, UltraFlix and Toon Goggles. HDMI 2.0 connections with HDCP 2.2 support are also included, letting users watch copyrighted 4K content like upcoming Ultra HD Blu-rays. Sadly, there is no 3D support this year.
Sharp UB30 Series 4K Ultra HD TVs
The UB30 series Ultra HD TVs offer 3840 x 2160 resolution, 4K streaming with HEVC and VP9 support, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, smart TV options, Sharp’s Revelation Upscaler, two USB ports, and HDMI 2.0 connections with HDCP 2.2 copy protection. Likewise, the below models feature 120Hz tech with edge-lit LED panels. Again, sadly these displays do not include 3D support.
UB30 Series 43" LC-43UB30U - $597
UB 30 Series 50" LC-50UB30U - $800
Samsung JU750 Series 3D Curved-Screen Ultra HD TVs
The new JU7500 series features a curved-screen design along with edge-lit precision black local dimming. In addition, these models include built-in Wi-Fi, a 240 motion rate, 4K upscaling, and HDCP 2.2 copyright protection. Finally, unlike many 2015 4K sets in this price range, these displays also include 3D support along with one pair of 3D glasses.
VIZIO E-Series HDTVs
Though 4K sets are quickly becoming the industry standard, the reality is that depending on seating distance, many users won't actually see a substantial improvement from HD to Ultra HD -- especially on sets under 60-inches. Since most grads with new apartments likely won't be able to fit or afford a display that large just yet, the VIZIO E-Series 1080p TVs (yes, they still make them!) might be sufficient for your home theater needs. The E-Series features panels with full-array LED backlighting with up to 16 active zones to produce deep black levels and superior uniformity. Likewise, all of the models include the company's VIZIO Internet Apps Plus smart TV platform that offers built-in Wi-Fi and popular services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, iHeartRadio, Hulu Plus, Spotify, YouTube and more.
Along with space for a bigger TV, a decent-sized apartment also means that you'll finally be able to replace that tiny soundbar with an actual speaker setup. Compact 5.1 systems and home-theater-in-a-box solutions are perfect for apartments, allowing graduates to enjoy genuine surround sound without losing too much room or upsetting their neighbors with an overpowered, wall-shaking system (sorry, you'll probably need a house for all that bass). And though a 7.1 or true next-gen immersive audio setup with in-ceiling speakers is likely not in the cards for most apartments, up-firing Atmos speakers offer the perfect compromise for renters who still want overhead sound. Here's a few audio gear suggestions that should balance performance, size, and price just right for your new apartment.
Energy 5.1 Take Classic Home Theater System
One of the best bang-for-your-buck compact speaker systems available, the Energy 5.1 package includes four gloss black 2-way Energy satellite speakers with ¾-inch tweeters and 3-inch poly-titanium woofers; one gloss black Energy center channel; and a 200 watt Energy subwoofer with a front firing port and 8" driver. The satellite speakers are rated for 115Hz-20KHz, the center is rated for 110Hz-20KHz, and the Subwoofer is rated for 33Hz-150Hz +/- 3dB.
Pioneer SP-PK52FS Andrew Jones 5.1 Home Theater Speaker Package
While ultra-compact systems are nice for their space-saving size, if you want the best performance, then you're going to need a slightly more robust package. Designed by speaker engineer Andrew Jones, this fantastic 5.1 system from Pioneer just might be the best in its price range. The package includes two SP-FS52 Floor-standing Speakers with three 5.25" woofers, a 1" soft dome tweeter, & 8-component high-quality crossovers; two SP-BS22 Bookshelf Speakers with a 4" woofer, a 1" high soft dome tweeter, 1 rear port, & 6-element complex crossover; one SP-C22 Center-Channel Speaker with two 4" woofers, a 1" soft dome tweeter, 2 rear ports, & 6-element complex crossover; and one SW-8MK2 Powered Subwoofer with an 8-inch long-throw down-firing woofer powered by a 100-watt amplifier and a frequency range of 38 Hz-150 Hz. This is actually the exact speaker system that I currently use in my own apartment, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
Onkyo HT-S5800 5.1.2-Channel Dolby Atmos Home Theater Package
Think only fancy home-owners have the space and budgets for an Atmos system? Well, think again. Thanks to Onkyo, there is now a solid Atmos-enabled home-theater-in-a-box solution that is perfect for grads in new apartments that want to experience next-gen audio. The package includes a 7-channel 115W/Ch A/V receiver (with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2), and a compact 5.1.2 speaker setup with up-firing front satellites that can bounce sound off of the ceiling to simulate overhead audio.
Denon AVR-X1200W 7.2 Channel Receiver
Unless your speaker package already includes a receiver, you're going to need a solid A/V unit to power and process all of your audio gear. Likewise, you're going to also probably want to invest in a model that will support all of the latest video and audio formats, including 4K video, Dolby Atmos, and DTS:X. Thankfully, this new Denon 7.2 channel receiver (80W x 7ch) will do just that -- and for one of the lowest prices on the market (that has both Atmos and DTS:X). With that said, it only offers support for a 5.1.2 system, but for most apartments anything more will likely be space prohibitive anyway.
Marantz NR1606 7.2 Channel Receiver
Like the above Denon model, this Marantz receiver also includes support for Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and 4K video for a (reasonably) affordable price -- and on top of all that, it also feature a special slim-body design that will allow users to save some extra space in their entertainment units. The 7.2 channel receiver is rated for 7x50-watts and supports 5.1.2 speaker setups.
So, there you have it. With these display and audio selections, recent graduates should be able to form an affordable home theater system perfectly suited for an apartment setting. Sure, that dedicated projector room with in-ceiling speakers and a 150-inch screen might have to wait a few more years, but I'm sure you're well on your way -- and a solid 50-inch 4K display and 5.1.2 Atmos system should definitely satiate your appetite in the meantime. After all, you have a diploma… so you've earned it! For now, what do you think about our apartment gear selections? Will you be jumping on any of these models for your own place? Do you have suggestions of your own? Let us know in the forum!
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