While looking to upgrade my home theater system, I’ve noticed several websites selling a ‘home theater in a box system’, which I decided to look into to see if they were a good idea for new starters.
So, are ‘home theater in a box’ systems any good? Home theater in a box systems offer a quick and easy way to get started, but companies usually bundle together poorer products in a bid to offer a “good deal.” The quality can be well below the most basic standard which does not make them very good option for a home theater set up.
In order to get the best understanding for what a ‘home theater in a box’ can offer, I decided to look into the systems in more detail, including what the package contains, the benefits of the systems, and the drawbacks.
Read on to find out more information about ‘home theater in a box’ systems.
What’s Included In A Home Theater In A Box?
In short, a home theater in a box (HTIB) is a bundle that contains all you need to get started in the world of home theaters.
HTIBs usually contain:
- A DVD and Blu-Ray player (usually combined)
- An amplifier (usually with multiple channels, and generally including a watching movies. It’s the “.1” in a 3.1, 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound decoder, and other items)
- Surround sound speakers
- A remote control
- All the wiring needed to set it up.
Why Home Theater In A Box Systems Are Not Good
At first glance, this might seem like a really good deal, but as I found, many of the components are entry-level at best, and are usually not even up to that standard.
There’s nothing wrong with an integrated DVD/Blu-Ray player, but something designed to do both will generally excel at neither.
Home theater in a box systems usually include 5.1 channel surround sound, including a subwoofer. This again might seem like a good deal when combined with all the other components, but you should always be wary of manufacturers who offer several electrical components at a low price.
It generally means the quality won’t be there when compared to standalone products, and speakers are usually where you don’t want to cut corners on quality.
The systems are usually made by brands that already have a solid hold in the electrical and home theater markets, such as Sony, Philips, Samsung, and others, and Bose produce higher-end systems, obviously with a much higher price tag. Also read: Are Bose systems worth it?
The fact that these systems are made by trusted brands can be taken as a sign of quality, but this is again something you should be wary of.
Who Are Home Theater In A Box Systems Designed For?
While researching the systems, I found that they are generally aimed at people looking to get started in the world of home theaters, and are looking for a way to get started quickly and easily.
They offer a simple solution for those looking to experience better quality sound, but without the process of researching and building a custom home theater system.
They also provide a good option for those with little or no technical skill. Considering a home theater in a box has all the necessary wiring for the components included, they can essentially be unpacked and set up, and usually come with easy to follow instructions.
This makes them ideal if you simply want to improve the sound quality of your TV, but don’t want to learn about electronics.
Home theater in a box systems vary massively in price, but the cheaper ones offer an easy way into the home theater market, particularly for those who aren’t looking to spend lots of money.
As a general rule, people looking to save money on this kind of system aren’t as fussed about things like sound quality, and so the systems provide an inexpensive way in.
So, in short, home theater in a box systems are designed for those who want a quick way to improve the quality of their TV viewing experience, but aren’t looking to break the bank, or teach themselves electronics.
However, as I’ve mentioned, this convenience comes at a price, usually in the form of lower quality equipment.
The Pros And Cons Of Home Theater In A Box Systems
As you’ve probably noticed by now, home theater in a box systems have a range of pros and cons. I’m still not completely sure whether I agree with the idea of them, but this could also be because I’ve always built my own home theater systems, and so I see this as just another part of the process.
However, if you’re considering getting a home theater in a box system, go through these pros and cons first to see if they’re the right choice for you.
1. Easy to Get Started
Home theater in a box systems offer a quick and easy way to get started with a home theater. All you need to do is purchase a bundle, unpack it, and plug all the wires in. This means you could theoretically be set up in minutes, depending on how quick you are at wiring.
They contain almost all the parts you need to get started with a home theater. They have an amplifier suitable for the speakers, a DVD or Blu-Ray player, and all the relevant wires, meaning you don’t need to do as much shopping around.
2. Easily Available
Generally, they’re widely available, both online and in stores. You’ll probably find it much easier to track down a home theater in a box system in store than something like a phono amp.
They’re usually designed to save on space, which makes them a desirable option for those not looking to redesign their room to accommodate all the equipment.
The speakers are usually compact, and the combined DVD/Blu-Ray player means you don’t have to devote shelf space to more than one machine.
Similarly, the subwoofers are designed to be easily hidden, and so they make a good choice for smaller living spaces. Check out my top recommendations for subwoofers for every budget based on actual testing in realistic home environments.
4. Easy to Install
You don’t need to have a degree in electronics to get one of these systems set up.
They usually come with detailed instructions, but these are little more than plugging wires into terminals. This makes them a good option for those who just want to set up and go.
5. Cost Effective
For an all-in-one system, the lower-end price units offer an easy way in for those who might not have much money to spend on a home theater system.
Building a home theater can be a big (and expensive) commitment, and so these offer a way to boost your viewing experience without spending loads.
Similarly, the more expensive systems offer the same convenience, but with higher quality parts. You can expect to pay several thousands for a good home theater in a box system, and this price will be reflected in the increase in quality.
1. Quality Not Too Great
The components included in a home theater in a box system are usually not amazing quality. After all, manufacturers need a way to still make money on these units, and this is reflected in speaker quality, and the wiring provided.
Wiring is one of the most fundamental parts of a home theater system, and is something you never want to compromise on.
2. Not Good For Music
Another thing to consider is that these systems are usually designed to optimize TV and film (so visual media) over solely audio media.
If you’re wanting a home theater system that’s as good with music as it is with film, then definitely look elsewhere.
Although surround sound systems are generally not your friend when you want superior music quality, some systems can still deliver good audio performance on stereo tracks.
3. Not Good For Larger Rooms
A side effect of home theater in a box systems being compact is that they don’t usually perform too well in larger rooms.
They don’t have the power needed to adequately fill the room with “clean” sound, and you might notice a lot of distortion when trying to get the right volume from the system.
4. Lack of Customization Options
One of the biggest drawbacks of a home theater in a box system is that it lacks the ability to customize. In a way, this is also one of its biggest benefits, but if you’re thinking about modifying your own system in the future, you’d be better to build from scratch.
The components in these systems work with the other components provided, and you really don’t have the option to improve these at a later date.
5. Sound Quality Settings
They also don’t have as much control over sound quality. For example, the included amplifier may only have a few EQ settings, as opposed to the number you find on standalone units.
If you’re not too fussed on sound quality, this might not be the biggest con, but if you’re a true audiophile, then you won’t get what you want from these systems.
Summing Up The Pros And Cons
The general points you should take away from this list are that home theater in a box systems are good if you want a quick and easy way into the market, but should be avoided (or treated with caution) if you think home theaters will become something of a hobby for you later.
I built my first system from scratch, but in the process of doing so I realized how much I enjoyed putting it all together. Since then I haven’t even considered buying an integrated all-in-one system.
What Are Good Alternatives To Home Theater In A Box Systems?
As you can probably tell, I’m not completely sold on the idea of a home theater in a box. I’m something of a purist when it comes to home theaters, and I think they provide a quick and easy solution that doesn’t really deliver in the ways it’s meant to.
So what are your other options?
Well, the simplest solution is to build your own home theater. This might not be something you feel willing to do, but considering most people reading this will own at least a TV and a DVD player, you’re already most of the way there.
If you do already own a DVD player, then all you’re really getting from a home theater in a box system is a set of speakers and an amplifier, and you can buy a good set of those for the same price as the whole system.
Many people are put off by the research and work needed to build a home theater, but finding out the right information is really easy, and building a system is nowhere near as complicated as it might seem. Here is one of the helpful videos on building home theaters:
After all, you can buy all the components you need quite easily, and many manufacturers will produce speaker systems and amps that match already. Then all you need to do is buy some wires, and you’re done. For wiring, all you need to do is read my guide on home theater cables.
Also, building your own system gives you complete control over what parts you use, and what the system is designed to do. For example, you might want to integrate a vinyl player into your home theater, something you couldn’t do with an all-in-one system, but is actually very easy to do.
Many standalone AV receivers already come with the right parts, and failing that, many modern vinyl players have the parts fitted instead.
I find that building your own home theater system is a lot of fun. It gives you something to learn about, and a sense of satisfaction in completing the job. Plus, if you’re like me and know you’ll want to tweak your system in the future, then it’s best to start from scratch.
How Does Building Your Own Home Theater Compare In Price?
When it comes to price, there can be plenty of variation, particularly when you consider the range of brands and equipment available.
You can find basic equipment for next to nothing, but this usually means sacrificing a bit on quality. However, this is the same warning I give about home theater in a box systems, so this is really a warning about electronics in general.
Admittedly, building your own system will work out a bit more expensive. After all, if it was cheaper to build your own system, there wouldn’t be a market in all-in-one systems.
The advantage of getting to build your own system is that once you have an idea of necessary components, you can shop around different retailers to make sure you’re getting the best deal on parts. For example, if you save on an AV receiver, you can spend slightly more on speakers, and so it all balances out. Check out my most recommended home theater receivers.
Although I’m not really a fan of home theater in a box systems, I can admit that they have a place in the market. If you think they might be a good option for you to get started, then consider these tips to make sure you’re coming from an informed place.
- Price is important. It can be tempting to buy an entry-level system, but you should be willing to accept that this will mean sacrificing quality. Home theater in a box systems cut corners through speakers and wiring, and these are usually areas where you want to invest in order to get quality.
- Because the systems are usually widely available in bricks-and-mortar stores, consider testing them whenever possible. This is more important than with building your own system because you won’t have the option to upgrade parts if you’re not happy with the quality.
- If you already own most of the components (i.e. a DVD player or other ways to view media), consider investing your money in a higher-end surround sound speaker system. Spending money on a speaker system instead of an all-in-one will ensure much better sound quality, and will save you doubling up on equipment.
- The size of your room is always an important factor to consider. If you have a large room that you intend to use for your home theater, the chances are a home theater in a box system won’t have the juice you need. This will be dependent on a range of factors though, but see if you can get information on the speakers’ power output.
- If you just want to improve sound quality for visual media and don’t want the hassle of a home theater system, soundbars are always a good option. They’re inexpensive and even easier to set up that an all-in-one system, and offer a good compromise between price and quality.
Final Thoughts On Home Theater In A Box Systems
Home theater in a box systems are a quick and easy way to get started, and do offer improvements in sound quality. They make a good option for those not wanting to break the bank, and those who might not have the technical skills to build their own system.
However, what you gain in convenience you lose in quality. I’ve said this many times in this article, but it bears repeating again: quality is important, and is worth investing that bit extra.
As with any technology, it’s worth shopping around so you know all your options, and testing the systems whenever possible. I feel you take a bigger risk with a home theater in a box system, and so should give them more thought.
Thanks for reading! In case you still decide to go for a HTIB, check these ones out on Amazon.