Home theatre in a box or discrete parts: Which to buy?

A home theatre in a box setup. Picture credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ Milad Mosapoor

Home theatre systems can be of two kinds.

One is to choose individual components like speakers, receiver, Blu-ray player, cables, interconnects etc.

The second way is to buy a home theatre in a box (HTIB). In this, the player, receiver, speakers, cables etc. are all included in one single package.

One might think that the HTIB is the easier and cheaper option. It is, but with its share of drawbacks.

What exactly are we compromising on if we go the HTIB way? And who are they meant for?

HTIBs are a convenient way of setting up a speaker system that will just get the job done if one wants better sound than from the TV speakers. Or it can also be for those who just want a basic surround sound experience but do not really care about hi-fi sound and precise surround sound reproduction.

There is nothing wrong with this but to expect great sound from a HTIB setup is something that is not going to happen. The reason they are economical is because of the cheaper components used. Or there will not be enough research and development that has gone into the product. This will obviously result in mediocre performance.

Even if it is a HTIB set from a prominent brand, the same brand’s home theatre systems with separate components will obviously sound far better.

Investing in a HTIB is a definite compromise on sound quality.

If the budget for the home theatre system can be stretched a bit, the setup can be far better with the sound reproduction.

In the case of discrete home theatre systems, each and every part of a component is given close attention during design and production. Take the case of a loudspeaker. From the material used for the box (the kind of wood) and box design, individual woofer and tweeter quality and how they are integrated, the electronics inside the speaker box, the kind of cable used inside the box and many such things – it makes a difference.

When it comes to the receiver, it could be the electronic parts (digital signal processing chips, for instance) or the design of the power amplifier. High quality and dedicated receivers will make a huge difference.

There is another aspect to this. Audiophiles have keen ears and can tell which set/brand of speakers will sound better with a particular receiver. Moreover, the sheer variety available these days gives scope for infinite combinations to suit an individual’s liking.

Deciding on what one wants might be tough if it is the first time that an individual is getting into home theatre. It is best to start with a budget, weigh the pros and cons of both HTIB and discrete systems and then make the purchase.

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