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Understanding Home Theater in a Box Systems

Written on Oct 20, 2008 by Brian and filed under Knowledge Base

Home theater in a box systems, also referred to at HTiB, are great for many home entertainment needs. They’re popular because they’re simple. HTiB systems come with everything you need out of the box, so it’s largely plug and play to get started. They’re also generally cost effective. While systems can range into the thousands of dollars, smaller systems can be had for a few hundred, meaning there’s a solution for every budget.

Home theater in a box systems all generally ship with the same core components: satellite speakers, subwoofer, tuner and DVD player. The quality, size and features of those components are what will usually vary based on price. But don’t let the sticker trick you, paying $2000 doesn’t guarantee the system you buy is the best system for your home theater. Factors like room size, television type and other devices you want to use with the HTiB system all need to be considered.

We’ll break down each of the HTiB components for you to help give an overview of what’s in the marketplace. Of course, be sure to read our reviews and consider your options, one size does not fit all in the home theater world.

Speakers

With any home theater in a box system, you’ll get surround sound speakers, or in smaller systems, speakers that attempt to replicate surround sound. The number of speakers will generally be represented like this “5.1.” The 5 refers to the number of satellite, or surround sound speakers. The 1 refers to the number of subwoofers in the system. Right now there are HTiB configurations that feature from 2 to 7 satellite speaker configurations.

Aside from the quantity of speakers, there are other factors to consider. The style is a big one in these systems. One of the ways manufacturers differentiate is by design. You’ll see flat speakers, champagne flute speakers, tiny speakers and everything in between. Make sure the design is consistent with other features in your room or the system will look out of place.

Some of the larger systems are starting to offer wireless speakers. While this is most common for the rear speakers, wireless is something we’re seeing more and more of recently. If home theater in a box systems are about simplicity, it doesn’t get much easier than wireless speakers. Some of these wireless speakers can also be configured into a second zone, instead of used in your surround sound system. That means you could set them up in the dining room for instance, to play music using your home theater system.

Subwoofer

Most systems come with a subwoofer, which gives the deep thumps and rumbles to movies and music. The subwoofer will be measured in watts, the higher the rating, the louder it will be. A common mistake here is to buy a bigger subwoofer than your room can support. Most HTiB systems will give you enough rumble; too much can be, well, too much. You don’t want the sound to be overpowered by bass.

Not all systems come with a dedicated subwoofer though. Soundbars and a few other niche systems will integrate the subwoofer or otherwise play sound tricks. There’s nothing wrong with those systems, but in that case, you can’t expect deep lows. In smaller rooms this is probably fine, but in larger rooms, the sound may come across as flat or lacking depth.

Receiver

The receiver is the core component where everything else plugs in. Receivers will differ in a lot of areas including how much power they can output to speakers, the number and type of inputs/outputs, usability and design to name a few. One of the most important is making sure the proper inputs and outputs are there to connect to your television and any other components you wish to connect, like game systems, digital music players and so on.

DVD Player

The last thing that most home theater in a box systems include is a DVD player. The basic systems will have your garden variety DVD player, while the higher end systems are starting to feature Blu-ray players. Blu-ray is the de facto standard now for high definition DVDs. Blu-ray players can also play standard DVDs. This feature is only worth paying for though if you have a high definition television or plan on getting one. Otherwise the extra cost won’t do anything for your enjoyment of movies.

The bottom line when buying a home theater in a box system is to do your research. Read reviews, ask questions and make sure you get a system that can do what you want. These systems are easy to set up and add tremendous value to your movie night. Take the time to do your homework and you won’t be disappointed.


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