What Can a Home Theater-In-A-Box Do for Me?

What A Home Theater-in-a-Box Is and What it Can Do For You

LG LHB755W 5.1 Channel Home Theater System
LG LHB755W 5.1 Channel Home Theater System. Image provided by LG Electronics

Home Theater Without The Hassle

You LOVE going to the movies, but don't always have the time to gather up the family and trek to the local cinema, or are able to shell out the money to pay for the tickets and the popcorn. Thus, you often resort to renting movies at the local video store, but watching them on TV just doesn't always quite cut it. Granted, the picture from your DVDs or Blu-ray Discs look good, but the sound from those TV speakers is really bad.

Your neighbor has a huge big screen TV, Blu-ray/DVD Player, Home Theater receiver, speakers, and a subwoofer that you can "feel" when you are trying to sleep. Your kids are begging you to get a put together home theater system, but your partner says "no way" to remodeling the living room to accommodate "all that junk". So how can you:

  • Keep your movie-going costs down?
  • Improve your TV viewing experience?
  • Please the kids?
  • Satisfy your Partner?

The Home Theater-in-a-Box Solution

One solution to improve your TV sound is with a sound bar. Sound bars are very popular, they incorporate speakers, amplifiers, and connection arranged inside a bar-like cabinet that can be placed below or above a TV. They can improve that TV sound, but they don't always deliver that room-filling surround sound experience you may desire. The better solution: A Home Theater-in-a-Box System.

Although not in the same league as your neighbors over-the-top home theater setup, a home theater-in-a-box system is a great way to get started in home theater, by bridging that gap between a sound bar and a more complicated setup.

Benefits of a Home Theater-in-a-Box System

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 and big-box stores such as Costco and Walmart - and, of course, from online outlets such as Amazon. Here is a rundown on what to expect in a home theater-in-a-box package:

  • 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, and, in some cases, a Blu-ray/DVD/CD player,
  • Home theater-in-a-box systems are compact. These systems are designed so as not to overwhelm a room. The central Blu-ray/DVD/Receiver units are sometimes not much larger than a DVD player, although some systems do include separate DVD player/Receiver components. However, in most cases, 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, but there are some that include thin profile floor standing speakers, referred to as "Tall Boy" speakers. 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.
  • 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 (if you still have one!), and/or Blu-ray/DVD 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. Also, some home theater-in-a-box systems may include wireless speakers (or wireless surround speakers).

    Caution When Considering a Home Theater-in-a-Box System

    • 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.
    • 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 of music from CD or Vinyl, you might not be happy with the performance of most home-theater-in-box systems.
    • 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 Understanding Amplifier Output Specifications.
    • If you have other devices, such as a VCR, DVD/Blu-ray Disc player, video game console, digital cable or satellite, make sure the system you get has enough auxiliary inputs (analog, digital, and HDMI) to plug everything in. Most systems have provisions for at least one or two additional audio/video device(s).
    • Another feature you might find on a home-theater-in-a-box system is internet streaming, either from music-only services, or, if the system includes a Blu-ray Disc player, from video streaming services, such as Netflix. To support internet streaming features, such systems will include ethernet and/or WiFi connection options so that your system can reach the internet.

    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 listening needs once you try it out at home.

    More Info

    For a sampling of available home-theater-in-a-box systems, check out our periodically updated list of Best Home Theater Starter Kits.