Instant home theatre

The prospect of choosing all the bits and pieces required for a surround sound system can be daunting, so you may find it easier to choose what?s popularly referred to a ?home theatre in a box?. Stephen Dawson explains what to look for.

?Home theatre in a box?, or HTIAB, is a system which requires only the addition of a display, such as a TV, to provide a complete home entertainment solution. Within the box (actually, some use two or more cardboard boxes to hold the bits and pieces), are all the parts required. There is a DVD player and a home theatre receiver (often combined into one unit), a subwoofer and five ?satellite? speakers, plus all the cables required to connect these bits and pieces together. Many systems also come with wall-mounting brackets or stands for the satellite speakers (these are very small speakers that are not intended to produce any bass. Instead, all that is handled by the subwoofer).

HTIAB systems can cost anywhere from $300 to over $2,000, and as with most equipment in home entertainment, you get what you pay for. Or, more to the point, you don?t get what you don?t pay for. At the higher end of the price spectrum you get wider compatibility with various disc formats (eg. MP3, JPEG, recordable DVD, SACD, DVD-A); tower, rather than mini satellite-type speakers; higher power ratings; more attractive cosmetic finishes, carousel-type disc trays, karaoke functions, even wireless rear speakers (Pioneer) and DVD recording capabilities (Philips).