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Ask any filmmaker and they’ll tell you that movies aren’t just meant to be watched — they’re meant to be experienced. And while theaters are now equipped with wall-scaling screens that let you see every detail, and the latest audio technology that let you hear every rip, rattle and roar, it’s also become easier and easier to replicate that experience from the confines of home.
Back in the day, having a home theater setup earned you bragging rights for your pricey big screen TV and massive speakers. And while TVs continue to get bigger and bigger, these days, the rest of your home theater system is much more compact — and affordable. Manufacturers have found new ways to deliver premium sound from speakers and subwoofers that can easily be moved and positioned around the room, to create an enveloping surround sound experience.
Your home theater system starts with a TV, and then a video source (I.e. a Blu-ray or DVD player). Next, you’ll need a receiver and a set of speakers. A cable box or streaming device can also be added to the mix. A/V receivers act as the main control hub for your home theater system, connecting and switching your audio and video components to your speakers and TV. The receiver also works to decode audio formats (say, from a DVD), and helps to amplify audio signals (read: send power) to your speakers. Many receivers can also upscale low-resolution video or older footage, working to make the images appear sharper, brighter and more detailed.
To experience surround sound, you’ll want to look for a receiver that supports a minimum 5.1 channel speaker system. That’s the main format used for surround sound; the first number refers to your main source signals (I.e. five speakers) and the second number refers to a LFE (low-frequency effects) channel, typically offered as a subwoofer. Mount the speakers to the wall or place them strategically around your room (or couch) to have audio firing from all angles and all directions. Formats like Dolby Atmos add an overhead sound element that provides an even more immersive experience.
A home theater system extends and improves the basic audio coming from your TV, and helps to bring forward little details you might otherwise have missed. Think: sound effects from a movie or video game, or sideline conversations from a big sporting event. Add in the powerful bass from the subwoofer and you won’t just be watching TV, you’ll be feeling it too.
We’ve found some solid home theater systems that deliver a ton of power in portable packages. These sleek, all-in-one-sets won’t take up too much space and blend in easily with your existing decor, while offering up rich, crisp sound, vivid images and a close-to-theater experience from the comforts of home.
1. Pioneer 5.1 Home Theater System HTP-074
Pioneer has long been a leader in the home audio space and this set comes with a 5.1-channel AV receiver, five compact speakers and a subwoofer. Connect your TV and Blu-ray or DVD player and enjoy loud, dynamic, high-powered sound throughout your room.
The speakers get you 150 watts each, while the small subwoofer gets you 100 watts of bass. The system’s built-in Bluetooth capabilities let you pair your devices for easy streaming, while a USB input lets you connect via a memory stick or flash drive as well.
The HTP-074 supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound, which is standard for most high-definition Blu-ray discs. It also allows for 4K/Ultra HD pass through, letting you see more details and more vivid colors than if you just plugged your Blu-ray player into your standard TV.
PROS: The system’s two energy-saving “ECO Modes” will drop levels down to a more moderate (but still clear) sound quality, and shut off functions when they’re not being used.
CONS: The subwoofer isn’t as loud or powerful as other options on this list.
2. Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System
This powerful, THX-certified speaker system lets you hear every rip, roar and rumble for an immersive, surround sound experience.
Whether you’re watching a movie, listening to music or playing your favorite game, multiple audio sources let you easily connect your device. Logitech says its Z906 speakers can get up to 1000 watts of power (total output). The speakers also help to bring the old, two-channel stereo from your movies, music and games to life, for 3D, Dolby digital sound.
This set includes five satellite speakers, a subwoofer, a six-foot cable, control console and a remote. Three AAA batteries and a user manual are also included.
Logitech is known for its slate of computer speakers, and this set works great on a desk as part of your gaming setup, or spaced out in a living room or den for larger home entertainment use as well.
PROS: The compact speakers can be wall-mounted or moved easily around the room for the best surround sound experience. The slim console, meantime, slots in easily to your existing entertainment unit.
CONS: The sound is loud but not as detailed or defined as the Pioneer model on our list.
3. Rockville HTS56 Home Theater System
Level up your sound — and your lighting — with this home theater system from Rockville. The system features an LED light display with multiple modes. Set the ice blue LEDs to blink to the beat, or have them change colors on a timer to switch up the vibe with each song. You can also set the panels to look like an EQ analyzer. There are four LED modes in total with seven different colors.
In addition to controlling the lighting, each speaker has its own volume controls, so you can independently control the amount of sound coming from each unit.
This plug-and-play set includes two full range 3” front speakers, two full range 3” rear speakers, a center speaker, and an 8” subwoofer. Place them strategically around the room to create your surround sound experience.
PROS: The addition of LED effects take your listening or viewing experience to the next level.
CONS: Only RCA jacks – no optical, coaxial digital or HDMI connectors.