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Buying a Home Theater System, Part 2: Separate Components

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Home theater in a box (HTiB) systems are fine for some folks, but if you really want a high-performance home theater system, Michael Miller advises building it from separate components. Separate components are a bit more expensive (and more complicated to buy and set up), but they offer a lot more flexibility and the potential for much better sound.
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When you're putting together a home theater system, you have the option of buying a home theater in a box (HTiB) system, or of assembling separate components. As I discussed in part 1 of this series, an HTiB system is a simple solution, with everything you need (except for a television set) included in a single box. Go the separate components route, and you have to buy each of the components separately, and match them to form a cohesive system.

Advantages of Buying Separate Components

An HTiB system makes sense if you want to take the cheap-and-easy approach. But separate components are a better fit for many consumers, especially in the following situations:

  • Your home theater will be used in a large room. You can tailor your system's power and capabilities to better suit a larger space.

  • You listen to a lot of music. Unfortunately, most HTiB systems are designed especially for movie playback, and often fall short in reproducing high fidelity music. With separate components, you can choose better speakers for music reproduction, and a more powerful receiver as well.

  • You want expandability. If you think you'll expand or upgrade your system at a later date, separate components are the only way to go. If some new technology comes along (such as high-definition DVDs or computer-based digital music hubs) you'll be hard-pressed to add that technology to a preassembled HTiB system. Separate components provide lots of flexibility for connecting additional components as your tastes—and the technology—evolve.

  • You want a higher-quality system overall. HTiB systems are good, but not great. Whether you're a genuine audiophile or just want the best equipment money can buy, you can't get there with a prepackaged system. Buying separate components lets you indulge your tastes and get truly high-end equipment.

  • You're building a custom home theater room. Again, you can buy those particular components that fit the needs of your home theater, and the parameters of your room.

Bottom line? When quality matters, buy separate components. And—here's the real surprise—you won't always end up spending more than you would with a decent HTiB package.

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