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Home Theater in a Box
By Dawn Gordon Luks
If you’re "space-ially" challenged, or just more frugal during this latest economic downturn, then you might not be in the market for a large entertainment system costing thousands of dollars. That's okay, you're not alone. Fortunately, numerous manufacturers offer "home theater in a box" systems that are surprisingly theater-like.
So, what's "home theater in a box"? To put it simply, this product category usually consists of a surround-sound receiver, DVD/CD player and 5 small speakers plus a subwoofer. Like anything else, prices and features will vary. Let's take a look.
Panasonic SC-PT464 ($299.95) www.panasonic.com
The SC-PT464 is an entry-level DVD home theater system designed for those buying a first system at a very affordable price. The 5.1-channel, 1000W receiver up-converts DVDs to 1080p via HDMI for enhanced picture quality on HDTVs and features an integrated iPod dock for music playback. A Smart Setup Guide simplifies the process of installing and calibrating a surround-sound system. In addition to DVDs, the system plays CDs, VCDs, SVCDs, MP3s, WMAs and JPEG photos.
LG LHB953 ($530.00) www.LGE.com
Full HD 1080p resolution and 1080p upscaling with 5.1 surround sound make this LG Network Blu-ray Home Theater System a great value. The ability to stream Netflix movies, YouTube videos, TV shows, weather updates and Pandora channels is a very welcome feature, especially at this price. Simply connect to a broadband home network through the built-in Ethernet port and navigate with your LG remote. Other features include Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and dts-HD Advanced audio codecs, and an iPod dock.
Samsung HT-BD3252 ($799.99) www.samsung.com
This system pairs a Blu-ray disc player with a 1000-watt, 5.1-channel speaker system. Like the LG system above, the HT-BD3252 allows you to stream Netflix content and music from Pandora. With 2 HDMI inputs, you can hook up your TV and another device, plus you can enjoy stored music and media using the built-in iPod dock with video, audio and iPhone compatibility. Additionally, you can even wirelessly view pictures and listen to music from your PC. Other features include 1080p up-conversion and Dolby TrueHD and dts-HD decoding.
Epson Ensemble HD ($4,699+) www.epson.com
Although this system is not technically a home theater in a box, Epson's Ensemble deserves mention here. The Ensemble is an amazing home theater system, complete with projector and screen. In partnership with speaker manufacturer Atlantic Technology, Epson's system features three front speakers built into the top of a 100" electric projection screen and two surround speakers built into the projector housing. There's also a subwoofer and a receiver/DVD player with HDMI inputs for other components such as a Blu-ray player and a cable box. I've demoed this system several times, and it sounds and looks fantastic. It's such a great concept that I'm surprised no one thought of it sooner.
Dawn Gordon Luks is a veteran consumer electronics journalist. In addition to her writing schedule, Dawn also designs home audio, home theater, and home automation installations in South Florida. Send an email to Dawn Gordon Luks.