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Buying a Home Theater System, Part 1: Home Theater in a Box

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Now that you know all about surround sound from Michael Miller's earlier series of articles, you're probably anxious to turn your home TV into a viewing center with heart-pounding bass and the feeling of being "right there, right now." Part 1 of this series explores the possibilities of preassembled home theater systems. Part 2 will describe how to do it yourself by selecting and setting up individual components.

One of the essential parts of a home theater system is the audio necessary to reproduce surround sound. The audio part—the amplifier and speakers—is also one of the most daunting parts of the system for the average consumer to purchase and set up. Fortunately, many electronics companies are making this part of the home theater experience easier to implement, thanks to the introduction of all-in-one home theater in a box packages.

Home Theater in a Box: Everything in a Single Package

The great thing about a home theater in a box (HTiB) system is that all the homework has been done for you. You don't have to worry about matching a receiver to a set of speakers, or determining what separate components you need. Instead, everything you need is all in one box. Just open the box, connect everything, and you're ready to go.

Here's what you get in the typical HTiB system:

  • A single unit that functions as an amplifier/preamplifier/control center, with a built-in DVD/CD player or changer. This unit also contains the surround sound decoder, typically capable of decoding all the major surround sound formats, including Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro Logic II.

  • Six speakers—front left, front center, front right, surround left, surround right, and a subwoofer.

  • Wireless remote control.

  • All the cables and wires you need to connect everything—typically color-coded for easy hookup.

The only thing not included is a television!

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