Planning Your Home Theater

Discover the many options for your home theater audio system.

Types of Home Theater Audio Systems

You can choose from four basic types of home theater audio systems:

Home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems

Sound bars

Component systems

Separates

Home-theater-in-a-Box (HTIB) Systems

Usually five surround sound speakers, a subwoofer, and a disc player/amplifier. Sold as a unit, in one box (hence the name). Includes all wiring.

Sound Bars

A long, thin bar containing several loudspeaker units. Offers virtual surround sound. Usually designed for mounting on a wall below a flat-panel TV.

Component Systems

Your choice of an audio/video (A/V) receiver, speakers, and any source components (such as a disc player).

Separates

Component systems with separate preamplifier/processor and power amplifiers that replace the receiver.

Which should you choose? Start with our guidelines to make choosing and buying your equipment easier. Considerations include:

Your budget

Your room

What you’ll watch

Your Budget

Sound systems are available in a range of prices; here are general guidelines. For HDTVs, see Choosing the Right TV. Manufacturers continually add features while keeping prices fairly steady, so careful shopping can often net you bargains.

Price Ranges 

$200–$1,000: Home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems. A few deluxe models are priced much higher. HTIB systems usually have small speaker systems.

$250–$2,000: Sound bars offer an alternative when you simply don’t have the space for a surround sound system. Many include a separate subwoofer.

$1,000–$3,000: Component home theater systems, based on an A/V receiver.

$3,000 and up: Component home theater systems with top-of-the-line receivers or preamplifier/amplifier separates, and large speakers.

Essentially, for all equipment, more money can buy more features and higher maximum listening levels.

If you’re planning a component system, save about 50 percent of your budget for the speakers.

For more details on HTIB systems, sound bars, and components, see Surrounding Yourself with Sound.

Your Room

Where you plan to set up your system can dictate what you’ll need. A large speaker system can overwhelm a small room. And a sound bar won’t be able to fill a large room with sound.

When planning, remember to prepare routes for the wires to the surround speakers, furniture, and electrical power. See our speaker setup guide for recommended speaker positioning.

The Right System for Your Room

Here are some equipment guidelines for room sizes and functions:

Dorm room or similar: Look to HTIB systems or a sound bar. Component systems with small speakers may also be suitable.

Apartment living room: HTIB, sound bar, or small component system. This will depend on how well the system fits with your furniture (and your neighbors).

Larger living room: Component system. To create a separate home theater area in the room, an HTIB or sound bar may be adequate.

Den or "man cave": Component system. Create a dream system just for you.

Dedicated home theater room: Design the best component system you can fit and afford.

Although the ideal may be to have a dedicated home theater room, this is not necessary to build a home theater system you’ll really enjoy. Even the least expensive sound bar or HTIB system will sound far better than your TV speakers.

What You Watch

Whether you like to watch video games, sports, movies, or cultural programs, you can include equipment to bring that content and media to life. If you know, for instance, that you’ll be renting movies on Blu-ray™, you can include that in your initial planning.

Here are some program sources to consider:

Traditional TV content, including cable and satellite

Streaming media, such as Netflix®Vudu™, YouTube™, and many others

Online media (any video or audio on your computer)

Games

Discs, such as Blu-ray, DVD, and CD

Vinyl LPs

For details on what you'll need to take advantage of these, see Streaming, Online, and Broadcast Programs.