Why Buy a Home Theater in a Box
The top home theater systems in our review are Onkyo HT-S7700, the Gold Award winner; Onkyo HT-S5800, the Silver Award winner; and Yamaha YHT-5920UBL, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 products.
Creating the perfect home theater setup can be quite daunting. The process involves several cables, components, speakers, woofers, a receiver, video game consoles and media players. Altogether, the entire ordeal is both a major investment in time and money for your home. Enter home theater in a box systems. These are all-in-one packages that are convenient and oftentimes offer a discount compared to purchasing each individual component separately. They have an easy setup and grant you peace of mind knowing that each component is compatible with its counterparts so you can bring rich, full surround sound to your home.
Prices vary greatly with home theater in a box systems. We evaluated systems that cost as little as $150 to those costing $800. These systems come with speakers of various shapes and sizes. Most come with two front speakers, two surround speakers, a center speaker and subwoofer, forming a 5.1-channel home theater setup. They all include an AV receiver, but some are outfitted with a disc player that plays Blu-ray, DVDs and CDs. Despite these minor differences, they are all ready to operate right out of the box and include accessories and supplies for setup; just make sure the batteries are included for the remote.
If you already have an AV receiver and just want a set of speakers, be sure to check out our home theater speakers reviews. On the other hand, if you are up to the challenge and have the time and money for purchasing and piecing together a home theater sound system separately, we're here to help. Check out our home audio page, where you can compare AV receivers, bookshelf speakers, center speakers, floor standing speakers, and home subwoofers.
We have also ranked sound bars, which are inexpensive, require practically no setup and are definitely a step up from your television's speakers. However, they simulate surround sound but may lack volume and sound quality when compared to home theater sound systems. Another disadvantage to sound bars is they lack bass unless they include a separate subwoofer. Sound bars have a smaller footprint and are good for people that have limited space or are on a budget.
With a home theater in a box system, however, you can guarantee you'll hear true surround sound, not just the illusion of surround sound like you would with a sound bar. For additional information, take a look at our articles on home theater in a box systems.
Home Theater in a Box Systems: Our Evaluation
It goes without saying, bar none, that the most important trait of a good home theater sound system is audio quality. Your system should provide you with rich, unified sound – sound that is balanced whether you're watching a live music concert or an action movie. The speakers need to sound stunning at all volumes and frequencies, but they can't be too overpowering, making it difficult to hear dialogue. The subwoofer needs to boast a bellowing bass that is deep enough you can practically feel it in your chest. The sound should be tight and precise, not muddy.
All home theater in a box systems include an AV receiver. However, some receivers are just glorified Blu-ray players with inputs and outputs on their backsides for plugging in a few components. The AV receivers that don't have disc players typically perform much better than those that do; however, these units are more expensive. Those AV receivers with disc players are beneficial to those that prefer physical media like Blu-ray discs, DVDs and CDs to streaming audio and video. Several of the Blu-ray systems support Wi-Fi and allow you to download apps and stream audio or video. Some even have full internet browsers.
You'll want to make sure that your home theater in a box system supports Bluetooth. This way, you'll be able to use your home theater speaker system to stream music from afar. You should be able to connect your smartphone, MP3 player, tablet or computer to your home theater wirelessly over Bluetooth to play all your favorite music. Fortunately, if a unit doesn't support Bluetooth, you can use the auxiliary input for a wired audio connection, just make sure you have a 3.5 mm male-to-male cable, since they aren't included.
General Info on Our Evaluation
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication. We intended to include a Sony Blu-ray home theater system in our reviews, but the company was unable to provide us with its speakers' frequency responses after we reached out to them by telephone and live chat, forcing us to drop its product from our lineup.
What Else Is Important in Selecting a Home Theater in a Box System?
The requirements of a good home theater sound system are relatively straightforward. As previously stated, it needs to have fantastic sound quality in regard to sound effects, music and dialogue. In addition, it should have all the latest connectivity options, both wired and wireless—including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, HDMI and even older connectivity options like composite video.
The main reason most people would purchase a home theater in a box system is because of its all-in-one approach to home theater and easy set up. You'll want to pay attention to whether or not the manufacturer has included all the parts needed to get your home theater in a box set up. Most probably don't include HDMI cables, but they should have a remote control, FM antenna and batteries. These are just some of the criteria we took into account when evaluating home theater in a box systems.
You shouldn't have to worry about having a lack of connectivity options with your home theater sound system. Most have at least two HDMI ports, but the more the merrier. Multiple HDMI inputs are essential for connecting several devices to your sound system. This way, you easily switch between your cable box, Blu-ray player, video game console and streaming box.
Although digital inputs like HDMI come standard now, we feel as though home theater in a box systems should still offer other connectivity options, such as component and composite video inputs, so that you can hook the systems up to older televisions or DVD players.
The system should support Wi-Fi and have a FM tuner so you can stream audio through the internet or over the air. Last, a home theater sound system needs to have an auxiliary input, so you can plug in your smartphone, iPod or other devices. Bonus points if the system has a USB port so you can charge your phone while it is playing the music.
If you are in the market for a home theater in a box system, you more than likely want to get true surround sound in the absolute easiest way possible. So, you'll probably want a phenomenal support system, too. In the event something goes wrong or you need help setting it up, you'll have somewhere to turn.
Many manufacturers offer warranties for their speaker systems for one year; the best home theater systems have a warranty for two years. Remember, you're not just buying one product. Instead, you're purchasing multiple speakers and components. You can feel a lot more comfortable with a longer warranty, since there is a chance something could go wrong to one of the six speakers or its receiver.
You should be able to easily reach the manufacturer by telephone or email in the event of any questions or problems. In addition to a decent warranty period and strong support, the manufacturer ought to offer a downloadable user manual in the event your original is misplaced.
We also looked for products with social media pages and live chat options, both quick ways to reach the manufacturer.
Home Theater in a Box Systems: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Three home theater in a box systems, Onkyo HT-S7700, the Gold Award winner; Onkyo HT-S5800, the Silver Award winner; and Yamaha YHT-5920UBL, the Bronze Award winner – stood out from the other home theater sound systems.
Each offers excellent sound quality to help you recreate the cinema experience in your living room. They sound great in all directions – no matter where you are sitting. They can play softly for when you don't want to wake sleeping children or loudly when you really want to experience an action flick. These systems have a seamless setup and aren't too intimidating to connect to your television. They sport stylish designs that look great in your living room without taking up too much room.
Other Noteworthy Choices
The Samsung HT-H6500WM also deserves some recognition. If you are searching for a Blu-ray home theater system that plays discs, this one is your best choice. It has a wide frequency response range. Its setup is also easier than most since each speaker cable is color-coded.
If you are tired of reaching for your television remote to turn up the volume so you can hear your shows and movies, a home theater in a box will certainly improve your overall audio experience. After considering all the factors above, you should be able to choose a system that is best suited for you and your family. Happy listening!