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Custom Home Theater vs. Home Theater in a Box

By Clay Hankins

Custom Home Theater vs. Home Theater in a Box


Budget is generally one of, if not the, most important factors when designing a home theater. In the entry level arena of home theater, many manufacturers sell some variation of a “home theater in a box.” For sure, some of these systems can quite adequate at fitting many consumers’ needs.  Now, for arguments sake, we need to eliminate anything that most home theater companies would not use (read dirt cheap here) and anything that has a price tag over, say $1000. The reason for the former being obvious, the reason for the latter exception being that most of us could put a pretty decent system together for the $3,000 you would pay for some Bose systems. So for the purpose of this article, I’ll compare a system that I looked at on line that includes a Denon AVR1612 receiver and a 5.1 set of Klipsch speakers for about $800 to a custom home theater that's around $1300.

The Home Theater in a Box System

The Good

First, the products in the home theater in a box come from very well respected companies. Both companies are known primarily for their audio products and do not make microwaves, refrigerators, TV’s, weed eaters, etc.  Denon makes A/V electronics, and Klipsch makes speakers.


The Bad


Though the quality of this particular system is not an issue, it does have its limitations. The Denon is rated at 75 watts per channel and is a 5.1 receiver. That means no 7.1, ever, and no multi-zone capability. The multi-zone or 7.1 may not end up being a big deal but if it ever is, it’ll be time for a new receiver. The Klipsch’s biggest limitation is the subwoofer. At 80 watts and with a 6.5” driver, it won’t deliver impact bass for home theater especially in a room bigger than a small bedroom.


The Custom Home Theater


Now that we’ve looked over the Home Theater in a Box, let’s presume our client has decided to call in a home theater company. For argument’s sake, let’s say the client is trying to do an average theater, maybe 13’ x 18’.


First, the theater in the box is not going to cut it. That system would be way underwhelming because of the above noted issues.  I would recommend a Denon AVR1912 and a Polk T1 satellite system with a Paradigm PDR100 subwoofer. This would bump up the budget about $500 at retail (less if done in a theater package) but would be an entirely different system. The sub would be able to handle a room of that size (it has a 10" speaker and 300 watts of power), and the receiver (90 watts per channel) has the option to expand to either 7.1 or could run a second set of speakers in another zone AND play something independent of what’s on in the home theater.


Understandably, a few hundred more dollars may be a deal breaker for some, but if I was asked my advice on the set up, I would tell someone to wait a little, save their money and get the right gear. Remember, you’re paying an experience. And although the theater in the box would work in that example, it would be line asking a 4 cylinder car to pull a trailer up a mountain incline. You might make it to the top, but it probably won’t be a great experience.


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