Plan your home theater

Discover the different options for your home theater audio system and choose the right ones for you to create the best setup for you.

Types of home theater audio systems

There are four basic types of home theater audio systems:

  • Home-theater-in-a-box system: Usually five surround sound speakers, a subwoofer, and a disc player/amplifier. These are sold together as one unit and include all wiring.
  • Sound bar: A long, thin bar containing several loudspeaker drivers. Many models include a separate, usually wireless, subwoofer.
  • Component system: An audio/video receiver, speakers, and any source components (such as a disc player).
  • Component separates: Component systems that replace the receiver with a separate preamplifier/processor and power amplifiers.

Your budget

Sound systems are available in a range of prices — we've pulled together a list of general guidelines to help you below. You might also want to consider adding a TV enabled with Dolby technologies to your sound system for the full Dolby experience. Many TVs feature Dolby Vision HDR technology, and some are also enabled with Dolby Atmos sound. With Dolby Atmos, sound moves all around you in three-dimensional space so that you feel like you are inside the story. Manufacturers are always adding new features to TVs so careful shopping can really make a difference to your overall setup.

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 speakers. 
  • $200–$2,000: Soundbars offer an alternative when you simply don't have the space for a surround sound system. Many soundbars are now enabled with Dolby Atmos so this option is definitely worth exploring. 
  • $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, soundbars, and components, see Surrounding Yourself with Sound.

Your room

Where you plan to set up your system can dictate what you'll need. Large speakers can overwhelm a small room. And a soundbar 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 home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems or a soundbar enabled with Dolby Atmos. Component systems with small speakers may also be suitable.
  • Apartment living room: HTIB, a soundbar enabled with Dolby Atmos, or small component system. This will depend on how well the system fits with your furniture (and your neighbors).
  • Larger living room: Component system. Create a separate home theater area in the room; an HTIB or soundbar enabled with Dolby Atmos may still be a good choice.
  • 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.

While the ideal may be the dedicated home theater room, this is not at all necessary when putting together a home theater system you'll really enjoy. Even the least-expensive soundbar or HTIB system can really enhance your sound.

Consider adding a TV enabled with Dolby Vision HDR imaging technology and Dolby Atmos sound to fully experience the Dolby difference. 

Your content

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