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Tip Sheet

  • Separate components are better than home theater in a box (HTiB) systems if you have a large room, listen to a lot of music, want expandability, or want a higher-quality system with better sound.

  • The primary components of any home theater system are an audio/video receiver, DVD/CD player, six speakers (five main speakers plus a subwoofer), and television monitor. Optional components can include a separate CD player or changer, DVD changer, DVD recorder, hard disc drive recorder, videocassette recorder, HDTV tuner, satellite receiver or cable box, digital music hub, and/or universal remote control.

  • When shopping for an A/V receiver, consider the number of channels of amplification offered, the power rating per channel, which surround decoders are incorporated, how many and what types of connectors are included, and what kind of remote control is offered.

  • When shopping for speakers, make sure that the three front speakers offer similar response, and that the center speaker is shielded. Choose a speaker size that fits your room; you don't need really large speakers, because the separate subwoofer will provide all the bass you need.

  • DVD players are relatively inexpensive these days. Look for a progressive scan unit, and consider upgrading to a multiple-disc changer.

  • If you want to eliminate remote control clutter, purchase a universal remote control that can command all your separate components. The best units offer programmable touchscreens.

  • When shopping for a television monitor, consider the display type (direct-view, rear projection, front projection, or flat panel); screen size (bigger is better, to a point); aspect ratio (16:9 is best for watching movies); HDTV capability (you want it); and how many connections are offered.

  • While you can spend as little as $1,000 on a complete system, you'll get more satisfactory performance if you budget $5,000–10,000 for everything, including the television.

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