Best Home Theater Systems

Top 10 Home Theater Systems 2014

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Today more and more families are picking up home theater systems, or “home theaters in a box.” It’s no wonder why—these systems conveniently link surround sound to the TV, sometimes with a built-in DVD or Blu-ray player. As we surveyed the vast selection of home theater systems, including some Panasonic models coming out this year, we looked at the following qualities in choosing our top ten:

1. Crisp, pure sound quality
2. For DVD models, upscaling to near HD quality
3. Straightforward setup process
4. Flexibility in speaker arrangement
5. Wireless subwoofer
6. Audio Return Channel (ARC)
7. Bluetooth or USB port for playing music
8. Comprehensive system for media streaming
9. Easy-to-navigate interface
10. Attractive design
11. Value

Sony BDV-N7100W  9.5/10

3D Blu-ray player
5.1Surround sound
1000 watts total
1080p and 4K upscaling

This complete home-theater-in-a-box is ranked highly with those who have tried it out, the Sony BDV-N7100W is the top contender when it comes to quality. It’s a feature packed system…Read More


1 HDMI input
Built-in Wi-FI
1000 watts power
Bluetooth compatible

For a 3D Blu-ray surround sound system in a box, the Samsung HT-F5500 offers plenty of features to turn up the volume of your movies. The built-in Wi-Fi gives…Read More


LG BH6730S  8.5/10

No HDMI inputs
Built-in Wi-Fi
5.1 Surround
3D Blu-ray player

With built-in Wi-Fi, the LG HB6730S is an extremely convenient addition to your TV or movie room. The wifi connection makes it fast and simple…Read More


Component and HDMI outputs
160 watts
Energy Star
18.5 x 10.5 x 13.7 inches
Requires an ARC-compatible TV

Movie fans no longer have to worry about replacing all their DVDs with Blu-Rays; thanks to the Panasonic SC-XH170 their standard definition DVDs are up-converted to near high…
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Optical component inputs
Wireless subwoofer
60 watts
Energy Star

For sharp, pure sound, the Panasonic SC-HTB350 is a solid purchase, ringing in at about $299.99 For that, you get multi-positional speakers, which you can either…
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240 watts
Dolby Digital and DTS
1080p
Down-firing subwoofer

A widescreen HDTV is not complete without a home theater system that vastly enhances the sound. The Panasonic SC-HTB20 offers the ability to boost and enrich the…
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LG LHB535  7.5/10

2 HDMI inputs
Built-in Wi-Fi
USB drive

With built-in Wi-Fi, the LG LHB535 makes accessing music, videos, and photos convenient and fast, without having to mess with dongles that take up space. Not only can you…
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Sony HT-CT150  7/10

3 HDMI inputs and 2 optical inputs
6 total inputs for external devices
200 watts

Ideal for smaller homes or apartments, the Sony HT-CT150 offers quality sound for a reasonably priced sound bar system…
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Home Theater System Buying Guide

How to pick the best home theater

So you want to simplify your home entertainment system and enjoy a cinematic experience from the comfort of your living room. Buying a home theater in a box is an affordable option that provides high quality surround sound and sometimes other special features like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

What you need to know beforehand

Choosing a home theater in a box can be tricky if you don’t know what would best suit your home. The first thing you need to consider is what you already have—TV, DVD or Blu-ray player, game console, HDMI cables, etc. Even consider practical factors. Do you have the furniture for a TV stand arrangement, or do you favor a wall mount setup?

Also think about the size of your room, which may determine how many speakers you need. Home theater systems classify themselves with a number such as 7.1, 5.1, 2.0, and so on. These numbers let you know how many speakers come in a system (designated by the first digit) and whether it has a subwoofer for low frequency bass (shown by either a 0 or a 1 after the decimal point). So how do you know which number is right for your home? Let’s break it down.

  • The bigger the room, the more speakers you’ll want to get the richest sound. Think 3.1 at the minimum. Smaller rooms can make do with smaller systems—2.1 or 1.1, for instance.
  • If ease of setup and cost are major concerns, then be aware that the more speakers you have, the higher the price and the trickier it will be to set them up and adjust them to optimize the sound.
  • For an audio experience closest to a movie theater, spring for the extra speakers. The deep bass provided by subwoofers contribute to this effect, making you feel the rumble of special effects as well as see and hear them. If, however, you don’t want that ground-shaking bass (say you live in an apartment), then avoid systems with a subwoofer.

Figuring out inputs and outputs

If you already have special components such as a Blu-ray player, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, etc., then make sure the home theater in a box you choose has an adequate number of inputs and outputs to connect these components to the audio system. These include HDMI, digital audio, USB, headphone jack, and docking port for smartphones/tablets. Based on the components you have (or plan to have), look for a home theater in a box that won’t limit you in the number of sources you can connect to it.

Other special features

Once you know the number of speakers and input/output ports to look for, then it’s time to consider other special features that can make your home theater experience more immersive and fun. Like playing music? Bluetooth lets you wirelessly stream music and other media from your iPod or iPad. Other systems have a docking station or USB dongle to connect these devices.

With the rising popularity of Blu-ray, you may wish to consider a home theater system that’s compatible with 3D Blu-ray. Some systems come with a built-in Blu-ray player, which is handy if you don’t already have one. Additionally, many of these systems also give you access to various apps and streaming services like Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, and more.

Think about the features you most desire, and shop around for prices. Obviously, the more you pay, the more you get, but quality home theater systems are available for less than $1000, some at half that price. Budget models give you the basics for an affordable price and suit those who don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll be better prepared to find it at a great value.

Steve Holdgren Steve Holdgren is an engineer by trade and has worked for some of the largest energy related engineering firms in the world with his latest stint in Switzerland. He holds a degree is mechanical engineering… See more about Steve


 

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