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Choosing a Prepackaged Home Theater System
Today's TVs look fantastic, but the sound you get from their small speakers just can't do the picture justice. There are a number of options for getting better sound, but if you want to get that "movie theater experience" in your home, a full surround sound system is the way to go.
You've got two options for surround sound: building your own system or choosing a
All prepackaged home theater systems come with at least five speakers, a subwoofer, and an A/V receiver — beyond that, there are lots of additional features to choose from.
Video and music options
|If you already have a disc player, then look for a system with a standalone home theater receiver — it will also offer better sound quality, too.|
Some systems have a Blu-ray player built directly into the receiver to create a single media console. This is a great option if you don’t have space for a lot of components.
Some newer prepackaged systems also allow you to connect the receiver to your existing wired or wireless home network and stream web content from services like YouTube™, Netflix®, and Pandora® Internet Radio. Many Wi-Fi-capable systems also let you play music stored on your computer.
Some prepackaged home theater systems come with iPod docks in the box. Other systems offer USB inputs for connecting your iPod, iPhone, or iPad®. Be sure to check the compatibility of the home theater's receiver with your generation iPod, and read closely to find out exactly what kind of playback you get. For example, some systems will only play music from your iPod through the speakers; others will also give you video playback, onscreen menus, and full control of your iPod with the system's remote.
If you have an iPod®, look for a system that comes with an iPod dock in the box.
If you want better sound, look for systems with higher-quality receivers. For example, receivers with class D digital amplifiers offer clean power and detailed sound.
"Powered" subs have their own built-in amplification, and can deliver deeper, more accurate bass. "Passive" subs get their power from the receiver, like the rest of the speakers, and won't pack as much of a punch.
Lossless surround sound formats
All home theater receivers these days support 5.1-channel Dolby® Digital and DTS®. Some also offer built-in decoding for Dolby® TrueHD and DTS-HD™ Master Audio. These two advanced surround sound formats give you exceptionally detailed sound to go with the high-def picture on your TV. You can learn more about the different surround sound formats available using our helpful chart.
Features for easier setup
Plenty of inputs
If you want to connect additional gear to your system, like a cable box or a gaming console, then you should check to make sure it has the type and number of audio and video inputs you'll need. For example, if you plan on hooking up high-def sources to your receiver, then make sure that it has enough HDMI or component video inputs. Prepackaged systems that offer a dedicated home theater receiver generally come with more inputs for additional gear.
|Wireless rear speakers can make your setup much easier. A separate rear amplifier means you won't have to run wires from the front of your room to the back. It receives signals from the receiver and provides power to your rear speakers. Just plug it into the wall and connect your surrounds.|
Automatic speaker calibration
With automatic calibration, you simply place the speakers following these basic guidelines, and plug an included microphone into the receiver. The receiver plays test tones and "listens" to your speakers, adjusting their settings to best suit your room and setup. You can check out our video to learn more about how automatic speaker calibration works.
Wireless rear speakers
Some home theater systems come with a second, smaller rear amplifier that you can connect to your rear speakers. It saves you the hassle of running long wires from the front of your viewing room to the back. If it's not included with a system, you may be able to get it as an optional add-on..
A universal remote can really help simplify the day-to-day use of your home theater system, particularly if you have additional connected components.
An HDMI connection will give you the best picture and sound when you're connecting a high-def component.
Not all home theater systems come with an HDMI cable in the box, and even if they do, you may want to upgrade to a higher quality cable or get a different length. Learn more in our articles about connecting your TV and why cable quality matters. [Shop for HDMI cables.]
Although your system will come with a remote, a universal remote can really help simplify day-to-day use of your system, especially if you have multiple components connected. It’ll be the only remote you need – no more coffee table clutter. Check out our article about universal remotes to learn more. [Shop for universal remotes.]
Setting up your system
Get every ounce of performance you paid for with our helpful home theater system setup guides:
- Learn how to set up your receiver for the best picture and sound.
- Get tips on speaker placement for exciting surround sound.
- Keep your system looking neat and tidy with our tips on cable management.
- Find out how to clean and maintain your system.