Your old home theatre equipment is ok

Late-2000s Panasonic TV

As a film aficionado, a.k.a. movie buff, you’d think I’d have something fancy going on in my home theatre slash media room, but, in fact, I don’t.

In actuality, my home doesn’t have a media room. (If it did, it would be a converted bedroom or some other space; maybe the garage.) Instead, I watch movies anywhere it’s convenient: typically on my phone, or in the living room (where I sport a 1080p, 50″ Panasonic plasma TV that hasn’t died yet). I screened the new spiffier version of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in my home office.

Beyond the Panny, I own a couple of other TVs, but they aren’t fancy. All of my TVs are 1080p high definition (who needs 4K?). (All qualify as “flat panels”… which is the fanciest thing about them.) One was from Best Buy, the other, Walmart. Each was under $400. And you know what? They work great.

All of my TVs are “dumb”: they don’t have any streaming software built in (and even if they do, it doesn’t work). They don’t stream anything without a set-top box or streaming stick plugged in.* I’ve avoided purchasing smart TVs because the software on them is so sketchy. Slow, buggy and obsolete almost the moment it leaves the store. And besides, it’s a lot easier to buy a new $30 Amazon Fire TV Stick every other year than to worry about upgrading a whole TV because its software is slow and out-of-date.

*I’ve experimented with HD antennas, but the reception is pretty awful out where I live.

In recent years, I’ve been reticent to spend more than a few hundred dollars on a television. The reason being, in 2008 I bought the best TV you could buy: it was a Samsung something-or-other in the maximum resolution with the then-hottest picture technology. Price was north of $2500. It only lasted 9 years before it stopped powering on and I had to lug it out into a dumpster.

I’m nervous about going out and purchasing that dream 75- or 100-inch OLED panel only to see it suffer a similar fate. And even so, I’ve been resistant to upgrading any of my TVs to 4K models. 1080p looks just fine to me.

The exception is for my home office. After years of putting it off, I finally upgraded my computer monitor. It’s a 5K screen (made by LG) that I grabbed for a sizable discount at Best Buy (it was an open-box item–probably a return from another customer). The box markets the monitor as a gaming device, but I’m not a big gamer. It works well with my Windows 10 PC. I can play 4K movies on it when I want.

I do own a Blu-ray player (it’s from 2012 but runs great, and I appreciate the analog audio outputs on the back, which allow me to connect it to my 1980s sound system). Physical media (discs, as opposed to streaming) is important to me; usually, because of higher bit rates, the picture quality on physical discs exceeds that of the best streaming service.

I don’t have any plans to scrap my 10-year-old Blu-ray player for a 4K disc player. I do own a few 4K movies on physical media (the Citizen Kane Criterion Collection boxed set and last year’s excellent Star Trek boxed set), but if there’s anything I have to watch in 4K resolution, I can usually stream it over Netflix or Paramount Plus on my PC.

One great thing about the U.S. market for 4K home media: movies usually are sold with an included standard Blu-ray disc. So I can enjoy the movie in its latest/best iteration (usually with restored picture and sound) while not having to own a 4K disc player. And when I do plunk down the money to buy a 4K player, I’ll still have a few movies I can watch on it.

A note on projectors: there are some amazing ones out there; prices have been falling dramatically. I just haven’t had the occasion to try one. If I do build a media room someday, sure, I’ll probably look around for a projector to put in it.

I acquired my plasma TV secondhand. I have no idea when it was made or how old it is (if pressed, I’d say probably 2009 or thereabouts). But, it works great. I enjoy the picture quality on its 50″ screen. It’s not HDR, but it’s good enough. And even when I’m watching sports, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

This whole discussion is to say: there’s nothing wrong with a more humble home theatre/media room setup. You don’t have to have the best, the latest, the most expensive gear. Technology marches on, but my setup is pretty future proof, and it works for me.

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