If you're looking to enhance your home viewing experience, you may be thinking about buying a surround sound system. For keen audiophiles, a good home theatre system can add extra realism to movies and TV shows, providing cinema-quality sound you can enjoy right from your couch.
Home theatre systems range in price anywhere from $400 to $4,000 or more. We'll help you decipher any confusing technical jargon, take you through key sound system features and show you how to find the best home theatre system for your needs.
Compare some of the best home theatre systems
What is a home theatre system?
However, people generally use the term "home theatre system" to refer to the audio component of your living room electronics. An all-in-one home theatre system (sometimes also called a home theatre in a box) has a few key components:
The AV receiver is the brain of your home entertainment system. It's the central hub where you can organise the audio and video inputs and outputs from all your connected devices. In other words, it takes the pictures and sound from your DVD player or games console and feeds them to your TV screen and speakers.
Most home theatre systems have at least five speakers to create a surround sound effect. In some units, the speakers are separate and include a centre speaker and front and rear speakers for the left and right side of the room. However, some other systems incorporate multiple speakers into a soundbar system.
The subwoofer delivers the bass and is essential for those deep booms and rumbles you get in any action movie worth its salt. Most systems have one subwoofer but some come with two or more.
Please note that it's also possible to buy an AV receiver on its own and a separate speaker package. While this allows you to pick and choose the features you want, it can lead to a complicated set-up process and may be too technical for some people.
Pros of home theatre systems
Why buy a home theatre system? There are a couple of key reasons:
- High-quality sound. You may have the biggest, clearest TV screen in the world, but pictures are only one half of the viewing experience. The other half is the sound, which is something modern flat-screen TVs aren't all that great at producing.
- Get the cinema experience at home. A home theatre system gives you high-quality surround sound to match those crystal-clear images you see on your screen. The aim is to create a fully immersive experience – rather than simply being launched at you front on, these systems let you hear sounds from above, beside and behind.
The end result is more realistic and enjoyable viewing, regardless of whether you're watching an action movie, your favourite TV show or live sport. You may also want to buy a home theatre projector and pair it up with your sound system for an even more impressive home cinema set-up.
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Cons of home theatre systems
Home theatre systems have a couple of major disadvantages:
- They're expensive. You can easily pay a few grand for a top-spec system.
- They take up space. Many systems take up a whole lot of space in your lounge room and create excess clutter.
If you don't have much space to work with, or if you're happy with the viewing experience provided by your TV's built-in speakers, there's no point splashing out on a top-end surround sound system.
However, if you decide you want better sound quality than what your TV offers without taking up as much room as a home theatre system, you might want to consider buying a soundbar instead. Soundbars offer a noticeable boost in sound quality and are also a more affordable option than surround sound systems, so check out our soundbar buying guide for more information.
Speaker configuration: Types of home theatre systems
If you've started comparing home theatre systems already, you will have seen different systems referred to by a variety of numbers – 5.1, 7.1, 7.1.2 and so on.
These numbers indicate how many speakers and channels a home theatre system has. The most common options are 5.1 and 7.1 home theatre systems, but there are many other configurations available.
- The first number indicates how many speakers or channels the system has. Most home theatre systems have five or seven.
- The second number indicates how many subwoofers are included. Most have one subwoofer but others have more.
Many systems only have two numbers, but some also feature a third number that indicates the number of "height" channels a system has. In other words, it refers to how many upward-firing or ceiling-mounted speakers are included to produce sound that creates a sense of height.
When you see a system with a third number listed in the sequence, this means it supports Dolby Atmos, which is an advanced surround sound technology. However, there's a competing technology, known as DTS:X, which is designed to work with standard surround sound set-ups and unlike Dolby Atmos, doesn't require additional overhead channels.
How to compare home theatre systems
You'll need to consider the number of speakers and subwoofers you need, the size of your room, how you'll use the system and how much you're willing to pay.
Home theatre systems aren't cheap. Entry-level models generally range from $400 to $600, while top-spec units start around $1,500 and go up to $4,000 or more for high-end or bespoke options. While you generally get what you pay for, make sure the extra spend is worth it for what you need. Many people will be more than happy with a 5.1 system, so paying for anything larger may be overkill.
These are the key factors you need to take into account:
Which home theatre system is best for me?
The best home theatre system for you depends on several key factors, most importantly your budget and the size of your room. Before you start shopping, take some time to think about the key features you want in a sound system and how much you're willing to spend. Once you have a clear idea of what you want, start comparing the pros and cons of suitable models.
If you want to buy a home theatre system to enhance your viewing experience, start comparing your options now.
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