A "home theater in a box," abbreviated as "HTIB," is an all-in-one home theatre package. It typically contains a DVD player, surround sound system and a radio receiver. This integrated package is relatively inexpensive and takes little space. Another advantage is the simplicity in connecting all the units together. As all the units in the package are supplied under the same brand, they are compatible with each other and have matched speakers. You can also easily control all these units with a remote control, having specific functions for each operation.
If you are a music enthusiast who is very critical in all the sound effects, then HTIB is not for you. The specifications of the HTIB are related to the dimensions and the conditions of the room. Please read the article How To Buy a Home Theater System and How To Arrange a Home Theater Room for details.
- Fix your budget. HTIB systems are reasonably priced. Its price is typically in the range $200 - $2,000. There are costlier models too. It is available in any consumer electronics retailer and online stores through Internet. Remember that if you are buying through the Internet, you're unable to check the quality of the system before purchase.
- Choose the brand. Reputed brands give you better quality, reliability and service. Some of the best quality HTIB units are supplied by Bose, Denon, Onkyo, Sony, Pioneer, Philips, JVC, LG, Samsung, Panasonic and so on. Consider service facility also. It is convenient if the service center of the chosen brand is nearby.
- Decide the power. The power rating of the HTIB, expressed in watts, shows the loudness of the system. It may be rated as PMPO or RMS. PMPO means the Peak Music Power Output. It is the maximum power level at certain conditions. Do not rely on the large value of PMPO. PMPO is also called "Dynamic" power, "peak" power, or "IHF" power.
Look for the RMS or Root Mean Square value. It is the average power level that can be delivered at any time. RMS power is also called "continuous" power.
The power level requirement depends on the room dimensions and its ambient conditions. Buy low power systems for small rooms and vice versa.
- Know the components of HTIB. A typical HTIB consists of a central receiver unit that contains a radio tuner, few speakers for surround sound and a DVD player. The speaker cabinets are small compared to typical stereo speakers and can be mounted on a wall or shelf. Note that HTIB systems, generally, do not include a television set or any other display system to display the video. In most cases, DVD player, amplifier and AV (audio video) receiver units are integrated as a single unit. Some systems have separate DVD player and AV receiver.
The DVD player can play the movie or music. Look for the common formats DVD-R/RW, VCD (Video CD), DVD-audio, Audio-CD, MP3, WMA, JPEG pictures, MPEG movies, CD video/audio and DivX. The new versions include the very high quality Blu-ray or HD-DVD formats.
The amplifier amplifies the weak audio signals enough to be heard through the speakers. Some systems do not have a separate amplifier. It may be kept inside the speakers or the subwoofer. If the amplifier is kept inside the subwoofer, then all the satellite speakers are connected to the subwoofer.
AV receiver is the control center. Some systems integrate an amplifier with this unit. It processes the input sound signals and sends it to the amplifier and subwoofers. It also decodes the digital audio signal and converts it to the analog signal that is suitable for speakers. This unit routes the video output to the TV or other display device. It also decodes the surround sound format and sends it to the corresponding speakers. Control units, including the volume control, are in this unit.
The AV receiver has multiple inputs and outputs to connect many devices. You can connect various inputs like DVD players, cable TV, satellite TV, VCR, game console, etc. to an AV receiver. Use the remote control to switch between these inputs.
If you have so many devices (DVD player and a satellite receiver or cable set-top box and a video game console, etc.) to be connected to this unit, check whether there are enough A/V inputs in the AV receiver unit.
The basic HTIB system has 2.1 speakers. It consists of two front speakers and a subwoofer. The number before the dot indicates the number of satellite speakers and the 1 after the dot indicates the number of subwoofers in it. Subwoofer is a special speaker that plays only extremely low frequency audio signals -- the bass. Subwoofer is also called as LFE (Low Frequency Effects) Channel. A 2.1 system can deliver the sounds but you cannot enjoy the real theater sound effects well. The next option is to go for a 5.1 speaker system that is the most popular today. You need a 5.1 channel system to enjoy the popular surround sound formats -- Dolby digital and DTS. There are higher speaker systems like 6.1, 7.1 and so on. The performance of such systems is very often room dependent. Some of these systems won't perform well in rooms with lots of open space.
- Look for HD connectivity. It is wise to buy new generation HD (High Definition) compatible units. The HD devices can deliver very good quality output. These devices are generally compatible with older analog devices, so look for the HDMI or component video inputs. Also, it should also have the S-video and composite-video inputs if you want to connect from VCR.
If you are planning to buy a HD-DVD or Blu-ray disk player, ensure that component-video input and/or HDMI compatibility with the devices like TV. You must also ensure that the system has the connectivity with any other devices you wish to connect.
- Check the whole system with speakers. Before you purchase a speaker system, ensure its quality. Play some high quality DVD/CD in the audio system with speakers. Check the sensitivity of the speakers. High sensitivity is better. The sensitivity is expressed in decibels (dB).
- Test the remote control. Make sure you can hold it comfortably, easily find functions and operate the buttons.
- Check if it can be upgraded. The main problem with the all-in-one package like HTIB is the difficulty in upgrading the units. Usually, you cannot simply upgrade a particular unit. The better option is usually to buy a new one. If you have plans to improve the quality or to upgrade the system, choose the HTIB system accordingly. A better option is to buy the components separately and assemble them. Read more about buying components separately in the article How To Buy a Home Theater System.
- Ensure warranty and guarantees. Anything can go wrong at anytime. Make sure that you understand all the warranty/guarantee terms and conditions very clearly. The expensive items must have enough guarantees.