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Home Theater System Buying Guide:What to Look for When Buying a Home Theater System

The term home theater carries a lot of weight. The idea behind it is impressive because it draws on more than a century of advances in electronics to recreate the magic of a movie theater in your living room. You can add a huge TV to your entertainment room, but you won't get the full home theater experience until you add a high-quality multi-channel sound system to the mix.

ContentsSoundbars or multi-channel speakers?BudgetsChoosing the right HTiB systemConclusion:Covering all the bases

Installing a home theater seems like a simple affair until you decide to purchase a surround sound speaker system. Then comes the confusion surrounding fundamental questions such as how many channels are required for a decent multi-channel speaker setup? This is further compounded by wildcards such as soundbars that subvert the very concept of a home theater speaker setup.

Soundbars aren't perfect by far, but they still have their place in a home theater ecosystem. They make sense for those who absolutely want to avoid the potential mess and wiring complexity of a multi-channel speaker setup. What you give up in positional accuracy is made up for in the overall aesthetic of the room, which is considerably clean with a soundbar. the Sony HT-ST5000 does a commendable job of emulating a 7.1-channel surround sound setup and incorporates a powerful subwoofer that almost makes you forget the sound is coming from a soundbar.

However, the Sony soundbar is quite expensive at nearly $1,500, and those looking for a minimalist look might still take offense to the rather large subwoofer. The Sonos Beam is a great choice for those who want to sacrifice some of the aforementioned impact in their movies for a more streamlined home theater experience. This single-unit soundbar costs a quarter of its Sony counterpart, but it's still surprisingly good at sounding big and producing enough bass to stay in a small to medium-sized room.


If you're on a tight budget, try going for a less expensive desktop multichannel setup. That way, you're more likely to get better sound reproduction and more accurate multi-channel panning than a soundbar. If you're concerned about aesthetics and loose wiring, you can spend more (a lot more to be honest) on concealed speaker setups consisting of speakers and subwoofers masquerading as paintings and understated furniture. /P>

Choosing the right HTiB system

If you're too good at smaller desktop home theater speaker solutions but still aren't ready to spend a substantial amount of money, you might want to look into Home Theater systems in a Box (HTiB). HTiB systems are pre-packaged home theater setups that contain a subwoofer, five or more speakers, an A/V receiver that handles amplification and multi-channel decoding, cables and interconnects, and optionally a Blu-ray player or DVDs. The subwoofer and center channel are especially important for delivering impact and clear dialogue in high dynamic range recordings found in Blu-ray movies, so be sure to pick one with decent options for both. .

Choosing an HTiB system comes down to the most important factor in your setup:the room itself. A small space requires lower sound pressure levels and therefore a loudspeaker configuration with relatively smaller loudspeakers and lower power amplification. Larger rooms are best served by floor standing speakers. Nothing beats large speaker enclosures when it comes to efficiency, sonic accuracy, and the ability to reproduce accurate bass in spades. Just make sure the speakers are well separated from each other and from the walls as well. The rear surround channels can be made smaller to save money and space, as they aren't supposed to do all the heavy lifting like the front speakers.

Small rooms are better off with HTiB using bookshelf speakers, which strike a good balance between sound quality and physical footprint. These can be placed on dedicated stands or TV cabinets, while some front-opening models can even be wall-mounted. Space-constrained setups can turn to satellite home theater systems that use speakers with even smaller enclosures while relying on the subwoofer to reproduce lower frequencies. These speakers are not ideal for listening to music.

Finally, traditional multi-channel home theater systems with wireless surround speakers as well as subwoofers tend to be quite complicated, unreliable, and expensive. That's mainly why we didn't even consider them a viable option at all. Wireless multi-channel technology has not matured to the point of achieving the trifecta of quality, price and reliability. You're better off sticking with traditional wired speakers.

Conclusion:Cover all bases

Whether you opt for a 5.1 or 7.1 surround system depends on your budget and how accurately you want your movies to deliver the surround sound effects to your listening space. Your budget will also decide whether you opt for expensive HTiB systems capable of decoding and processing object-based surround sound formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, which feature additional ceiling-mounted speakers to add axis additional sound control. The sky is the limit when it comes to higher price brackets for HTiB systems.

Fortunately, nearly all HTiB speaker systems come with AV receivers that support standard DTS and Dolby surround sound audio codecs as well as lossless HD versions found in Blu-ray formats. Besides dedicated Blu-ray players, most modern TVs are smart enough to support video streaming services, but it's also possible to connect your home theater to media servers or even dedicated low-cost HTPCs. of form that serve everything from Blu-ray movies. and music streaming audio and video.

In summary, traditional HTiB systems are ideal for most home theater setups. The only major consideration here is that you should match the power rating of the HTiB in proportion to the size of the room. Remember that it is better to have more than to have too little for your entertainment room. Those with smaller rooms and a lower budget, or those otherwise concerned with maintaining a clean, wireless home theater room should consider soundbars. Remember that what you gain in room aesthetics, you lose in sound quality and positioning accuracy.