Home theater systems use audio and video components to recreate the experience of watching a movie in a professional cinema. They can be as simple as a large 4K TV screen and a few speakers fed by a basic AV receiver, or as elaborate as a dedicated home cinema room with theater-style seating and a projection system. The best home theater systems provide immersive audio, stunning picture quality, and easy-to-use functionality.
If you’re upgrading from built-in speakers or a soundbar, you’ll need a full-fledged home entertainment system to truly bring your television and streaming content to life. Home theater systems are a great choice for fans of all types of media, from movies and sports to music and games. A well-calibrated component speaker system run through a high-quality AV receiver is head and shoulders above a soundbar-based system, as the multichannel surround sound delivers more realistic and engrossing audio.
The most common source devices for home cinemas are streaming media players like Roku Ultra or Apple TV 4K, as well as gaming consoles like Xbox or PlayStation. Those devices allow you to access high-resolution video-on-demand, and they support the widest array of surround sound formats. If you want to watch Blu-rays or DVDs, you’ll need a disc player that supports those formats.
AV receivers are the brains of a home theater system, as they connect and control all of your audio and video sources. They have AV inputs for all of your source devices, processing capabilities to decode the audio and video signals for output, and amplification that powers your speakers. Popular brands include Denon, Marantz, Yamaha, Onkyo, and Pioneer.
In addition to a high-quality AV receiver, you’ll need a set of speakers that work well together and can handle the demands of your room. The best home theater systems come with a matched pair of speakers that are ready to go right out of the box, and some even include a built-in Blu-ray player.
Most home theaters are wired, but there are wireless speaker packages available that are easier to install and offer more flexible connectivity. Wired systems are also a better option if you’re looking for the highest possible audio fidelity, as wireless connections can lose some of the undiluted signal quality that comes with a wired connection.
One of the biggest deciding factors for many buyers is how easy a home theater system is to use. The best options feature comprehensive instructions that teach users all of the functionality, and they come with a remote that’s clearly labeled and easy to understand. Those looking to take things a step further can opt for advanced system controllers from manufacturers like Crestron or RTI that add lighting, HVAC control, and other automation features to their home theaters. These are sold exclusively through custom installation channels and should be programmed by trained professionals.