What is a Home theater system in a box?+ Top 5 Home theater systems

Home theater in a box also known by the “HTiB” acronym or an all-in-one HT system is a term used to refer to a bundle of home theater components that are sold together. HTiB mainly comprises of sound processing, amplification components, and speakers that can range from the standard 2.1 front sound stage set up to a full-fledged surround system.

This bundle can also be made up of either entry-level, mid-range, or high-end products.

Depending on the quality of products the price can range from a very affordable price point to outright expensive for high-end products from well-recognized brands such as Klipsch.

The main advantage of a home theater in a box is that it provides you with convenience and saves you from the hassle of having to buy different compatible devices.

This can come in handy, especially for beginners that are looking to set up a basic home theater, and are mainly geared towards movie enthusiasts.

However, it is worth pointing out that not all HTiB bundles will be worth your buck as most are made up of cheaper products that are done to keep the cost of the bundles low. But as I mentioned other products are above average if not great.

So, is this something that you should invest in? Before I answer that question, we should look at some of the main components that you can find in a home theater in a box.

Main components of a home theater in a box

1.      Sound processors

There are two main sound processing options that you can find in the HTiB bundle for your home theater system build and these are;

  • A receiver– Most home theater system bundles will include a receiver as the main video and audio processor. A receiver will act as the main hub of the setup and will allow you to switch between audio and video sources.
  • A Soundbar– This is mainly a speaker that can also be used as a video and audio processor. A soundbar home theater box will be used as the main processor for your system and will most probably have enough inputs for your sources.

2.      A subwoofer

A subwoofer is a component that is used to reproduce low frequencies which are essentially bass or low-frequency effects also known as LFE.

Whether the box will include a receiver or a soundbar as the processor, the subwoofer will be made to match your home theater needs. The sub can also be passive or active.

An active sub will contain a built-in amplifier while a passive subwoofer does not have a built-in amplifier. Soundbar subs will be active and wireless.

3.      Surround Speakers

Different speaker configurations can come with every home theater system bundle and this can be 2.1, 3.1, 5.1, 5.1.4, 7.1, and so on.

Most boxes will have 5.1 speakers and this will be 3 front speakers for the left, right, and center channels, the left and right speakers, and a subwoofer. For a soundbar system, the soundbar will contain speakers for the center, left, and right speaker with extra speakers for the surround sound.

A 7.1 system is basically a 5.1 system with two extra rear speaker channels for a fuller surround sound.

You can also have height speakers that will mainly include two or four height speakers. Height speakers are represented by the number in the second decimal place, for example, 5.1.4, where the four represents 4 height speakers, two front heights, and two back heights.

4.      An amplifier

An amplifier is used to power the speakers and can be contained within the speakers, in the receiver, or as a separate entity.

The audio signals go from the processor to the amplifier where they are made powerful enough by converting the low voltage audio signals into high voltage audio signals with enough gain before they are sent to the speaker drivers.

5.      Cables and speaker wires

The cables included in the box will mainly depend on the input and output port selection in the system.

This can range from HDMI ports for HDMI cables, RCA ports, or optical ports for TOSlink cables. There should also be speaker cables for wired speakers. Wireless speakers may not include speaker wires for the various channels.

6.      Connectivity options and a remote control

Remote control is essential for every home theater system but you can also replace it with a universal remote that you can use for all your devices.

The home theater box components can also include Bluetooth that will allow you to connect wireless speakers or with other Bluetooth enabled devices. Wi-Fi connectivity will enable you to stream movies and music online and connecting with other wi-fi enabled devices.

The pros and cons of an all-in-one Home theater system

Pros:

1.       Convenience

An all in one home theater system box is easy to set up, especially when you are getting started with your first HT build.

This is because you are provided with the most essential components that you need for your system where all connections are considered. Setting up will not require you to have technical skills since most of the time instructional diagrams and charts are provided to simplify everything for you.

In some cases, a Blu-ray player may be provided and may be Wi-Fi enabled to allow you to stream both music and movies from online sources.

Most packages will also contain wireless speakers which give you more flexibility when it comes to installation and placement.

2.       Lower cost

Most HTiB bundles are packaged in a way that will make them affordable at different price points.

And since you are buying several components at a go, the companies can slash the cost for each component making the whole thing cheaper than if you bought them as separates.

It is also worth mentioning that the cost for a good all-in-one home theater box can range from as low as $300 for entry-level products to as high as $6000 for a box containing high-end products.

Either way, you get to save some money than if you would decide to buy individual products and you also save on your cost of shipping.

Cons:

1.       The quality of the products is not always of the highest quality

All-in-one HTiB systems do not always have the best quality, especially for entry-level products. This is easily noticeable when it comes to sound quality since most of the surround speakers are usually small or satellite speakers.

The quality of the cables and especially the speaker wire may be of lower quality in some instances, you may be required to buy better replacements.

However, you should keep in mind that you get products that are within your budget, and compromises are usually made at lower price points.

2.       Not great for music nuts

HTiB systems are usually prioritized for movie lovers that are looking for an easy way to start and build a simple setup. However, if you are an audio nut or audiophile, this may not be the way out for you unless you are willing to spend much more on a high-end system.

You also need to keep in mind that for Hi-Fi audio, the sound processing, amplification, interconnects and power connections have to be of the best quality.

Also, if you are looking to build a high-fidelity stereo sound set up and combine it with the movie set up, you will need to pay great attention to the sound quality offered by the left and right front speakers.

3.       Does not consider room configurations

Different home theater rooms and media rooms are built differently and vary widely in shapes, volume, and general size. This is something that most companies do not consider when putting together the all-in-one components.

Larger rooms are more susceptible to deficiencies in sound quality, especially when it comes to entry-level products which may not be powerful enough to deliver better sound for those rooms even with proper speaker calibration.

Upper mid-range and high-end products are not prone to this drawback but even for the entry-level bundle, it should not be a deal-breaker if you are only starting out and if you do not pay attention to details in sound characteristics like the majority of home theater owners.

How to choose a home theater system

When choosing your home theater system bundle package, you need to decide on whether you are better off with a receiver home theater system or a soundbar system.

Each of these options will be best suited in different settings but a receiver system will be better suited for future customization.

However, there are things that you need to put into consideration when choosing a home theater system to ensure that you are getting value from your hard-earned money. So, here is what you should look for.

Speaker amplification

Since home theater system packages are usually put together and designed to work well with each other, you do not have to worry about the impedance of the speakers and the amplifier.

The technicalities of matching speakers with the amplifier are something that seems to confuse a lot of people, especially beginners.

However, you will still need to consider how much power is delivered to the speakers by the amplifier. In the case of a receiver, you will need to check how much power can be delivered to the speakers per channel. Before buying, check the specs and see if there is enough amplification for the speakers.

For soundbar systems, this should not be a big problem since the amps are built-in for every speaker.

You should avoid products that use the “PMPO” power rating on their spec sheet as most of the time, the products will be substandard.

Input and output types

For every system, you will need to pay attention to the port selection that is offered for the source inputs, display outputs, speaker outputs, and so on.

The most important ports for any system are HDMI ports. You need to have at least 3 HDMI ports that should include at least one HDMI ARC port (audio return channel) for your display device be it a TV or a Projector.

HDMI cables can carry both video and audio signals that are integral for connecting your sources such as a gaming console, a Blu-ray player, a TV box, or even a streaming box. ARC will be handy, especially if you are using a smart TV or smart projector for your streaming needs since audio can be sent to and from the display.

If you want to play 4K content, you will also need HDCP 2.2 ports which stand for High-Definition Copy Protection. This will enable you to play content in 4K resolution and will require high-speed HDMI cables to link the source with the display.

Coaxial and optical ports are also important but they can only be used for audio.

When compared to a receiver, a soundbar will have fewer connections but the number of ports will differ from model to model.

If you are looking to expand your setup in the future, you will need a receiver with preouts that will allow you to connect to an external amplifier or integrated amplifier in the future. A zone 2 output section will come in handy if you want to connect the receiver to a different room and send sound to that room. If you want to send sound signals to 2 extra rooms, you will need both zone 2 and zone 3 preouts on the receiver.

The port selection will depend on your needs and the sources that you have.

Number of speakers

A proper surround sound will need a configuration of at least 5.1 channels which is a center channel speaker, front left and right speakers, surround left and right speakers and at least one subwoofer.

However, you can also go as low as 2.1 which will comprise of the front left and right speakers plus a subwoofer, or 3.1 which is a 2.1 set up with an extra center channel.

In the case of a soundbar system, you should choose one that has 3 built-in front speakers for the center, left, and right channel and 2 surround speakers and a sub for the bass effects.

Some soundbars will also have up-firing speakers or extra height speakers for 3D formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS-X. For a full 3D sound experience in a receiver set up, you will need at least 2 height speakers for a 5.1.2 system.

However, it is worth keeping in mind that the number of speakers will also depend on your room layout and personal preference. There is no set standard on what you can do.

Room correction and calibration tools

Calibration tools are important for every home theater system, especially when it comes to room correction, crossover, and level settings.

This is because no room is acoustically perfect and to get the best sound, the speakers will need to be calibrated to compensate for the shape and size of the room. Typically, a receiver or soundbar will have an auto-calibration EQ, a calibration white noise (test tone), and a calibration microphone/SPL meter but you should also have the option of doing it manually to your preference.

Bluetooth and network support

Being able to do things wirelessly through your system using Bluetooth or through your network is a great way to operate a home theater.

You can also add a home media server that you can use to store your movie and music files for online streaming when you have a proper network connection. The network connection will also enable you to add a universal remote and to be able to stream from platforms such as Disney+, Netflix, Spotify, and the likes. This can be done through a Wi-Fi connection or using an ethernet cable.

Bluetooth will mainly be useful if you have wireless speakers and for connecting your devices such as your phone or tablet to the system which will allow you to play tracks that you may have on those devices.

Multi-room support

If you plan on using your home theater system to play music in different rooms, then you will need a receiver setup will multi-zone support. Some soundbar systems such as Sonos have multi-room support but a soundbar multi-room set is costlier when compared to using a multi-zone receiver.

You will know if a receiver has multi-room support if it has a preout section labeled as Zone 2. This can go all the way to Zone 4 for up to 3 extra rooms. The sound signals can then be sent from the receiver to the rooms of your liking.

However, for this to work harmoniously, you will need a way to control everything either using an app on your phone/tablet, a universal remote, or an infrared remote.

So which home theater systems would I recommend?

Top 5 home theater systems (entry-level, midrange, high end)

To make it easier for you, am going to recommend 3 system that is worth their cost at each price range starting from an entry-level system to a high-end system.

1.      Klipsch Cinema 600 3.1 channel soundbar

The Klipsch Cinema 600 soundbar is a great way to start a quality home theater build. This system will cost you about $500.

The 600 Klipsch soundbar is a 3.1 system that consists of 3 built-channels for the center, left, and right channels, and a 10-inch wireless subwoofer for a complete set. It is not common for soundbars to come with a 10” subwoofer and this is impressive from Klipsch at this price point.

There are 2 visible tweeters at each end of the soundbar and 4 3-inch midrange drivers. However, there are no up-firing speakers for Dolby Atmos or DTS-X support.

This soundbar system has one HDMI ARC connection, one 3.5mm Analog port, an optical port, A digital audio input, Bluetooth, and a sub-out connection for an extra subwoofer is you decide to add one for extra bass. The port selection may not be large enough but all the necessary cables are included.

Setting up is easy as you only need to connect your sources to your TV or projector, after which you can connect the display to the soundbar using HDMI, connect the subwoofer and the soundbar to a power outlet and you are good to go.

There is a motion-activated remote that you can use to adjust the soundbar settings to your preference but you can also use the Klipsch Connect app to control the system. However, it is worth noting that this is app is a work in progress but you should be able to carry out the basic functions with it.

It gets better since you can add wireless surround speakers later on but the surround speakers are not included in the initial home theater set purchase. These speakers will cost you about $250 but Klipsch plans on adding them to the bundle later on for a complete surround sound system.

And although this set up is mainly geared toward movie lovers, it can still be used to listen to 2-channel music and is fairly good since it has a flatter frequency response and a great tone when compared to other soundbar systems that are at this price or expensive than this system.

This is not forgetting the 10-inch powerful subwoofer that has deep low-frequency effects and is high-quality, to say the least.

Drawbacks:

  • Since the subwoofer is so powerful, you may tend to play it too loud or get the placement wrong. This will make the bass overwhelming when compared to the other sound frequencies.
  • The soundbar has a poor user interface as there is no screen on the soundbar but it uses a dot-based system for the controls which is not a great option for most people. This is also keeping in mind that the app is not completed but once completed the user experience will improve tremendously.
  • The HDMI port selection is small and the port panel is very recessed which means that some of your cables may not fit or the fit may be too tight.
  • There is only one-color selection which is black and this is also not the best-looking soundbar. Looks are relative and depending on your preference, you may find this system to be incredibly good look and aesthetic for your media room.

2.      Polk 5.1 channel home theater system

For between $800 and $1000, the Polk home theater system is a great start for anyone looking to build their first dedicated home theater.

This is an outstanding deal since it includes a mid-range receiver and a great 5.1 channel speaker package for great surround sound without breaking the bank.

The receiver included in this package is a Denon AVR-S950H receiver which is a great mid-range receiver but is a good option at this price. This receiver has 7.2 powered channels and each channel is rated at 90 watts with a frequency range of 20 to 20,000 hertz and a Total Harmonic Distortion of 0.08% at 8 Ohms.

The port selection in this Denon receiver is great with 10 HDMI ports (8 inputs and 2 outputs). This means that you can connect a large number of sources to this receiver and the 2 HDMI outputs include one ARC and an enhanced ARC (eARC) output.

Other ports include 2 optical inputs, 1 coaxial input, 2 component video inputs, and 1 component output, 2 composite video inputs and 1 composite output, 4 RCA inputs for stereo sound, 1 ethernet port, and a phono input for a turntable.

Wait there is more, a zone 2 pre-out section, extended wireless connection featuring Airplay, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, and the Audyssey calibration software that will do a great job at auto-calibration.

Apart from the receiver, Polk is a renowned speaker manufacturer that has been in the game for years making high-quality home theater speakers. The speakers included in this package are the Polk T-series mid-range speakers which you can also upgrade later once your budget allows you.

These speakers include 2 floor standing tower speakers for the FR and FL channels that have one tweeter, 1 6.5” mid-range driver, and 2 6.5” woofers. There is also a center channel speaker with one tweeter and 2 mid-range drivers. The 2 surround speakers are made up of the Polk T15 bookshelf speakers and a powerful 10-inch subwoofer for your bottom-end (bass).

If you are interested in Dolby Atmos and the likes, you can use the 2 extra channels to power 2 height speakers. You can but Polk height speakers or speakers from any brand but you should ensure that they have the same impedance to the receiver.

Drawbacks:

  • Does not include cables and speaker wires that you will need for your installation. You will need to buy 14 or 16-gauge speaker wires that are long enough to run through your room and other video and audio interconnect that you may need for your display and media sources.
  • The set up will also require stands for the 2 bookshelf surrounds. Stands are not included in this home theater system package.

3.      The Fives by Klipsch

This is another great mid-range Klipsch product and by now you can tell that I have a liking for Klipsch and this is because they make great products for everyday home theater use.

The Fives by Klipsch will set you back about $800 which is an incredible value at this price point for both watching movies and listening to music. They have a well-finished design with magnetic removable grilles and look great for any home theater or media room. You can choose between a matte black finish or a walnut finish.

These speakers are powered and have rich, well-detailed tones and deep rich bass. This set up includes an HDMI port, an Optical port, 192kHz/24-bit USB inputs, and a Phono input for your turntable. They also offer you wireless Bluetooth connection options

The fives Klipsch speakers are bookshelf speakers that have 1 tweeter and a 4.5-inch woofer that range between 50 and 25,000 hertz. These speakers have well-finished dials, include the necessary cables and a remote.

Drawbacks

  • This set only includes 2 stereo speakers and does not come with a subwoofer. However, you can also get this set with a 10-inch sub-woofer but this will cost you about $300 more bringing the cost to about $1100.
  • Small port selection meaning that you may need a receiver to increase the number of ports which will drive the cost up. But if you do not have many sources, this set will make due.
  • The bass may be too deep, especially if you do not nail speaker placement correctly. Placement is also limited by the length of cables that are provided to you.

This is not a complete all-in-one set but if your needs are limited and if you are not interested in surround sound but love listening to music, this system will be enough for you.

The other reason I included this system in the third position is that you get high-quality speakers but the extra components such as a subwoofer, a receiver, or surround speakers that you may decide to add later on will significantly drive the price up. If you are more focused on quality than quantity, this is a great place to start if the budget allows you.

4.      The 5.1 channel Sonos Arc home theater Soundbar system

The Sonos surround system is a different kind of beast that does not include a receiver or preamp but uses the ARC soundbar for video and audio processing needs but is fairly expensive at a price of around $1850 to $2000.

This soundbar has 3 channel speakers with 2 tweeters, 2 mid-range speakers, 2 woofers, up-firing speakers for 3D sound formats, and 2 side speakers for a more immersive sound. The set also includes 2 SL surround speakers and a Sonos Subwoofer.

Installation is also easy since all the speakers are wireless but you also have the option of hardwiring the surround speakers and the sub. There is also one HDMI eARC port, one optical audio port, and an ethernet port for your network. You can connect your media sources to your TV after which the hi-res audio signals can be passed to the soundbar through an HDMI eARC cable.

This system also comes with remote control and you can also use the True play calibration app for automatic calibration with the built-in soundbar calibration software.

Drawbacks:

  • Limited ports for inputs and outputs with only one HDMI port but you can add an HDMI switcher for more connections. It also does not have Bluetooth but you can add Bluetooth by getting the Sonos Connect and a Bluetooth receiver which also adds to the price.
  • This is a fairly expensive investment even for a high-end soundbar with a subwoofer.
  • The True play calibration app only works with iPhones, so, if you have an android phone, this app may not work for you.
  • For a surround sound system, your TV should be able to pass through a 5.1 channel audio signal to the soundbar. Also, this system does not support DTS 3D sound formats which a Dolby Atmos competitor. If you watch DTS Blu-ray movies, this is going to be a deal-breaker.

5.      The Klipsch reference 5.1 Home theater pack

This is a great home theater system bundle that goes for under $1000 that allows you to have a wireless 5.1 surround sound set up.

The Klipsch home theater system pack is another way to build your system without spending thousands of dollars. It includes 5 speakers for the center, front left, front right, surrounds, and an 8-inch subwoofer. This system may not be as powerful as other premium Klipsch reference products but is significantly better than other systems at this price point.

The speakers are small and perfect for a medium-sized or small home theater room or media room. They can be connected to your system wireless but you also have the option to hardwire them using 14 or 18-gauge speaker wires and through the spring clips found behind them.

However, this system does not come with a receiver but you can add a mid-range receiver for under $500.

Drawbacks:

  • This is not the most attractive set.
  • The spring clips may not be ideal for most people and you can not use banana plugs. Also, you can only use 14-gauge speaker wires or thinner wires.
  • You will need to but cables and an AV receiver or a preamp to complete this set as there are no input ports for your sources.

So out of the five systems, which one would I recommend?

The System I would recommend for most beginners is the Polk 5.1 surround sound pack since they seem to offer the most bang for your buck. These other bundles are also impressive in their own way but the fact that the Polk system comes complete with a receiver that has multiple inputs and outputs is a bonus for most individuals.

You will also notice that most of the home theater systems I have mentioned above are not what would come to mind when you think about a home theater system. This is because unlike the earlier days where home theater boxes were common, times have changed and most people will purchase their home theater or media rooms separately.

You can choose to go for separate components for a more customizable setup but the cost may be higher when compared to a home theater bundle.

The concept of all-in-one home theater boxes has also shifted to mainly sound processing and speakers and the bundles nowadays will not include Blu-rays and DVDs.

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