You've been hearing a lot about "Home Theater"; your neighbor has a huge big screen TV, DVD Player, surround sound receiver, speakers, and a subwoofer that you can "feel" when you are trying to sleep. Your kids are begging you to get a home theater system, but your partner says "no way" to remodeling the living room to accommodate "all that junk". So how can you:
1. Keep your movie-going costs down?
2. Improve your TV viewing experience?
3. Please the kids?
4. Satisfy your Partner?
One answer just might be: A Home Theater-In-A-Box.
Home theater-in-a-box systems are quite popular amongst mainstream consumers. These systems are a great, affordable, introduction to the fun of home theater.
Here are some benefits:
First: Home theater-in-a-box systems are reasonably priced. Complete systems start as low as $200, but can go as high $2,000 or more. You will find these home theater systems at just about any consumer electronics retailer, including Best Buy, Circuit City, and even Walmart.
Second: Home theater-in-a-box systems contain most (or all) of the components needed for a basic Home Theater system, including all speakers, a surround sound receiver, in most cases a DVD/CD player or, in some cases, even a VCR and/or DVD Recorder.
Third: Home theater-in-a-box systems are compact. These systems are designed so as not to overwhelm a room. The central DVD/Receiver units are sometimes not much larger than a DVD player, although some systems do include separate DVD player/Receiver components. However, the speakers that are included are very compact, the five or six satellite speakers are small enough to be mounted unobtrusively in room corners or shelves. Even the included subwoofer is usually of very compact design so as can be placed easily in a corner or next to a chair or table without attracting attention - except the deep bass sound it generates.
Fourth: A home theater-in-box is easy to install and use; most all the connection cables are provided. All you need is a TV with AV inputs and Audio outputs, A HiFi VCR, and/or DVD Player or Blu-ray Disc player (if one is not supplied), and you are set and ready to go. No special skills are required, just the ability to read simple instructions and diagrams. Also, most systems come with a remote control that is used for all the functions of the system.
However, there are several cautionary points to be made when considering a home theater-in-a-box.
First: These are not high-end systems. Home theater-in-a-box systems have a tendency to cut corners on speaker construction and quality, when compared to their separate unit cousins. However, with advances in both compact speaker and compact subwoofer technology, some of these "budget" systems will surprise you as to how good they can sound.
Second: Home theater-in-a-box systems are designed to optimize sound for home theater use more than for music listening. If you are a serious listener to music from CD, SACD, DVD-Audio, or even Vinyl, you might not be happy with the performance of most home theater-in-box systems.
Third: Many home theater-in-a-box systems do not deliver the "clean" power that you might need for a larger room. The specifications may indicate a large wattage output, but you must also consider what distortion levels are present at the system's rated power output. In fact, some of the more expensive home theater-in-box systems may actually deliver better sound, even though they may have a lower power output than a "cheaper" system. For additional information on this issue, refer to my article Power Mad!
Fourth: If you have other devices, such as a VCR, video game console, digital cable or satellite, make sure the system you get has enough auxiliary inputs to plug everything in. Most systems have provisions for at least one or two additional audio/video device(s).
The Bottom Line on Home Theater-in-a-Box Systems
Despite the above drawbacks, at a price range from $200 to $2,000, there is a home theater-in-a-box system available that will fill basic needs for home theater and casual music listening, whether for an apartment, meeting room, or moderately-sized living room. My advice is to check out how the system sounds at a local dealer before making a decision. In addition, make sure you can return the system in a reasonable time if it doesn't fit your listen needs once you try it out at home.
For a sampling of my current favorite home theater-in-a-box systems, just go my Home Theater-In-A-Box - Top Picks Page.