An excellent balance of good quality sound and easy installation makes the home theatre
Nowadays, a top home theatre system can give you a great audio experience to rival a more complicated setup. But, without the added complication of buying individual components.
A home theatre system which gives the ease of improvised audio in the room, turns off the terrible TV speakers and gets a bigger and more satisfying sound when watching a movie.
Normally selecting a home theatre leads to dealing with various audio-visual equipment such as receivers, soundbars, surround sound speaker packages and all-in-one systems.
To make the selection easy there are two main ways to get good quality audio in home theatre:
- to buy an AV receiver and a separate speaker package
- to buy a home theatre system or soundbar.
Buying a separate amplifier and speakers is too complicated so an all-in-one home theatre system or soundbar becomes the preferable solution as this includes an amplifier and speakers all in the same box. This rule out every extra component.
SELECTING A HOME THEATRE
Previously, a home theatre system would often include an amplifier, a DVD player and surround sound speakers; all in a single package. This was often called home-theatre-in-a-box.
These types of systems are not very common now as there are many cost-effective solutions available. But they are not recommended as better options can pay off your hard-earned money with a long-lasting and attractive solution. And they are:
- All-in-one home theatre system: this comes with some form of an amplifier and a complete set of surround sound speakers and subwoofer.
- Soundbar system: all the speakers are built into a single, stylish and compact unit that you install under (or over) your TV. Some of these have separate surround speakers and a subwoofer to install around your room. Most have all the speakers contained in one box.
It depends on the requirement that, one needs a traditional all-in-one system – or a soundbar system
AMPLIFIER OR SPEAKERS?
The main advantage of an all-in-one system is that it includes an amplifier and speakers designed to work well together. So, there is no need for any technical details such as to match the speaker with an amplifier to create a compatible assembly to get the best output and avoids confusion.
A complete package covers some accessories which are necessary and some extras too such as speaker cable, which is not required for wireless home theatre system.
Careful research while selecting these systems is very important for example buying a speaker package without realizing that it will need an amplifier to work.
Correct selection of cable to get the improved sound quality also depends on the type of devices are being played, whether it is TV, Blu-ray player? Or it is from Netflix or Amazon Prime or Game console?
You need to be clear what you want to be able to playback through the speakers – and then choose the right system that allows this.
Some systems will have one, or more, HDMI inputs. This will allow you to connect your games console or Blu-ray player with a single HDMI cable. Or, anything else that has an HDMI output.
Others may have optical or coaxial audio inputs for audio-only. Some may have all of these. However, a few systems are limited in their input connections.
A soundbar especially may have very few inputs, which are designed to just play audio from your television. However, some models do offer more input options.
The modern soundbars get the sound from the TV via an HDMI ARC connection. HDMI ARC allows the TV to send the audio down the HDMI cable into your soundbar.
However, if you have an older TV, you might not have an HDMI ARC connection. HDMI, yes, but maybe not the ARC version which is newer. In this case, you might need a system that has an optical connection. This is more common on older TVs.
Be clear on what you want to connect to your new sound system, and then buy the right product for your needs.
What Surround Sound Speaker Layout Do I Want?
As these systems are for home theatre, most will come with subwoofers and surround speakers. The most common layouts are 5.1 and 7.1.
For example, a surround sound 5.1 speaker system has a centre speaker, two front left and right speakers, and two rear speakers. The 7.1 refers to a subwoofer, which provides extra bass.
Some systems may not include surround sound audio and simply offer 2.1 or 3.1 instead.
Systems with a soundbar usually have all the speakers in one box. These are all placed at the front of your room under the TV.
However, some soundbar systems do come with separate wireless rear speakers. In this case, the front left, centre and front right speakers will be in the soundbar.
A few systems may support the newer 3D audio formats of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Some soundbars have Dolby Atmos too. However, these extra speakers are usually built-in to the soundbar – rather than as separate speakers around the room.
Dedicated speakers around the room will give a much better surround sound experience. If this is important to you, decide which speaker layout you want, and buy the model that provides this.
How Much Power Does My Home Theater System Need?
This is an interesting one. When buying a separate amplifier and speakers, one of the main specs to look out for is the power rating, which gives a guide to how loud a system will be in the room. And how well an amplifier will drive a set of speakers.
When it comes to all-in-one home theatre systems and soundbars, my general advice would be to forget about power ratings because getting power ratings that allow you to compare one system with another is almost impossible.
Some models like the Yamaha and Onkyo all-in-one systems give power ratings like they do with their standalone AV receivers. They are specifications measured against an accepted standard.
With these, you can compare one device with another. And, with experience, you have a fairly good idea of how loud it will be just by looking at the numbers.
Power Rating of a Yamaha YHT-4950U Home Theater System
However, with many all-in-one systems and soundbars, this pretty much all goes out the window.
Some brands offer ratings that sound impressive because they are very high. However, they aren’t measured against the same standards as those by Yamaha and Onkyo.
Any system which declares it has 1000 watts of power isn’t really telling much. As in the real world, their systems won’t be as loud as the specifications suggest. Some manufacturers like Sonos and Bose don’t offer any power ratings at all. In some ways, this may be the best way to deal with the power rating for a home theatre system.
The amplifiers and speakers are built to work well together. They are designed to fill an average-size living room. As a rough guide, if your viewing distance is around 6-12 feet, then any home theatre system or soundbar should be suitable. Larger spaces might still be fine, but it all depends on how loud you want to have the sound. If you have more specific needs, then maybe an all-in-one system isn’t the right choice for you?
In this case, a separate AV receiver and speaker system will give you more options to increase the volume in the room.
Do I Need Wired or Wireless Speakers?
A few years ago, you had no choice, but there are now some serious options if you want wireless speakers.
Some people will wonder if you can get the same sound quality as with using a good old cable. Others will care less and can’t wait to remove all those annoying speaker cables.
Which are you?
Many soundbars come with wireless subwoofers and surround speakers. All-in-one systems are more likely to rely on cables – but not all.
How Good Is the Sound Quality of a Home Theater System?
You cannot always get sound quality if you pay large. It will probably come as no surprise if the higher-end models sound better than the budget home theatre systems.
However, if you are an audiophile, a separate AV receiver and speakers might be a better bet – rather than an all-in-one system?
There’s no right and wrong here. We all have different views on what sounds good – and what is good enough. What sounds great to one person, won’t be so good for another.
There’s always a trade-off against what you are willing to pay. And, what you consider to be value-for-money.
For soundbars, any soundbar will improve on the sound that you get from your TV’s speakers. Even the cheapest models. So, if that is all you need, there’s no need to break the bank.
However, if you want something that sounds good for TV, movies and music, then you will need to up your budget a little more. You’ll need to go higher if you are critical about good sound quality.
Do soundbars and budget all-in-ones sound as good as proper hi-fi amplifiers and good-quality bookshelf or floor standing speakers? Honestly, no. Although, it does depend on what you are used to listening to.
If you don’t already have a dedicated music system – then a home theatre system will probably be fine for your music listening needs.
Bigger speaker cabinets and drivers with dedicated hi-fi amplifiers will always sound better than the small speakers you get in soundbars and most all-in-one systems. But, they cost more too.
How Do I Choose a Home Theater System?
So, before buying a home theatre system, think about these issues:
- Type: do you want a more traditional all-in-one surround system – which comes with an amplifier and surround sound speakers – or a more modern soundbar system? Also, don’t forget that you could also buy an AV receiver and a separate surround sound speaker package.
- Price: your budget will quickly narrow down your choices. The cheapest home theatre system is a simple stereo soundbar. Surround sound is better for movies, but you don’t have to. The more you are prepared to spend, then the more features you get – and better sound quality.
- Speakers: how many speakers do you want? Do you just want stereo sound? Or a stereo 2.1 system with a subwoofer? From here you can get 3.1, 5.1 surround sound… or more. Dolby Atmos systems have elevated channels for immersive 3D sound. These might be 5.1.2 or 7.1.4.
- Center Speaker: Do you want a system with a dedicated centre speaker? This should help speech to be clearer. Or is stereo enough? Most all-in-one systems will have dedicated centre speakers. Some soundbars have a centre speaker built into the unit along with the front left and right speakers. Some don’t and are stereo only.
- Surround Sound: do you want a system with dedicated surround speakers that you need to install around your room? Most all-in-one 5.1 systems will have this. Most soundbars will have all the speakers contained in the actual soundbar itself. But there are some soundbar systems that do allow for rear-mounting surround speakers.
- Connections: what external devices do you want to connect to your system? Or, do you just want to hear the sound from your TV? Do you want to connect a Blu-ray player? Or your mobile device via Bluetooth? Also, check how the system connects to your TV. Many soundbars use HDMI ARC – so your TV needs to support this.
- Features: which other options do you need? Bluetooth? Streaming services like Netflix or Spotify?
- Wireless: do you want a wireless speaker system? Some soundbars have a wireless subwoofer and options to add wireless surround speakers. Many all-in-one surround sound systems will use wires to connect the speakers. Some don’t.