Home Theater in a Box

Going for the ultimate home theater usually requires separate components, which almost always include those of several different companies. Of course, for those who already have a TV and DVD player or VCR at home that they're happy with, a home theater in a box solution might be the easiest way to experience surround sound, with minimum time or cost laid out.

We have systems that start at $2,000, says Joe Damato, group marketing manager for Bose. This is the company's Lifestyle 12 system. What exactly do you get for $2,000? You get five imaging arrays, the cube speaker arrays and the front-end to our system, he says. \[This\] is an AM/FM tuner, CD player, multiroom expansion capability. You also get an RF (radio frequency) remote, while most systems use IR (infrared). With the RF remote, you can control the system from pretty much anywhere in your home, Damato says.

Additionally, the unit has a bass module for reproducing the low-frequency sounds on the soundtrack. It will decode both 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Damato says, It will take any mono, stereo or surround-encoded soundtrack and give you a very compelling and discrete-like 5.1 presentation.

For those who have a good A/V receiver, as well as a DVD player and VCR, Cambridge SoundWorks makes several sets of matched speakers that have all of the speakers needed for a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround-sound setup in one box. The MovieWorks 5.1 High-Performance Home Theater Speaker System ($1,000) includes high-performance, high-output main, center and surround speaker, along with a powered subwoofer. A unique twist is that its two surround speakers feature what Cambridge calls its MultiPole technology-they can be switched to either dipole or bipole modes, depending on the music or soundtrack being played. Cambridge also packages this system with a Marantz Dolby Digital receiver for $1,500.

The choice of a home theater in a box instead of buying separate components is a personal one. The box packages generally make setup extremely easy. When carefully chosen, separate components usually deliver better, more personalized performance. If you're not a techie or home-theater junkie, consider a boxed system. But for the best results, you'll need the patience to choose and install separate components.

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