The simplest form of home theatre system is a home theatre in a box (HTiB), which provides a complete package of source, amplification and speakers. Frequently, these systems are inexpensive, small and severely constrained in performance terms. You’re unlikely to benefit from the same picture-enhancing features as you could expect to find on a standalone DVD player, for example, while most systems feature amplifiers with strictly limited but often wildly exaggerated power outputs.
This will be especially noticeable in larger listening rooms, where the acoustic demands of the space will have a considerable impact on any system’s sonic potential. It’s true that you can find higher-performance complete solutions from certain manufacturers, but even so, these are still limited in both capability and longevity next to separates components.
Choosing separates kit, on the other hand, ensures you get to enjoy both excellent performance and a long lifespan from a system. Even the cheapest surround sound receivers will sonically outgun HTiB kit, providing more power, more exciting dynamics and vastly superior surround sound processing. They’ll also offer an extensive range of input sockets for source components coupled to additional channels of amplification to support 7.1 surround sound. If you don’t intend using these channels, you can frequently redirect them to suit other purposes, such as bi-amplifying your front speakers (see our hi-fi guide for more) or even powering another pair of speakers in a second room. Most receivers can also serve as video-switching hubs for all your sources, simplifying wiring and operation by allowing you to switch picture and sound simultaneously.
There’s no need for aesthetic compromises, either. Couple a good receiver to a quality DVD player from the same manufacturer and you have matched aesthetics that look every bit as elegant as the most thoughtfully styled HTiB. What’s more, both components should also work off a single remote control.
Finally, opting for separates kit allows far more flexibility over speakers. You can opt for large or small designs as your room, budget and tastes allow, and you can also opt to add more speakers, giving a still-more cinematic surround effect. A 7.1 speaker array can add considerable surround ambience to your listening, and also tends to give more flexibility over speaker placement. This involves add two extra rear-speakers which provide more atmosphere. You could also consider adding an additional subwoofer for a still-more convincing and realistic spread of bass.