Avi Greengart is the Research Director for Consumer Devices at Current Analysis (Mobile Phones, Connected Devices, and Digital Home). He also regularly writes for Slashgear, sporadically blogs at Home Theater View and Tweets far too often as @greengartAvi's expertise lies in understanding consumer electronics marketing, consumer behavior, and technology adoption patterns: where new technologies meet the mass market. 



Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment. Avi understands TV, video, audio, computing, and wireless, how all these are coming together, and which technologies are likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life. In his weekly column, Avi answers your questions, does your product research, and provides free advice.

Column 2

Can Home Theater Come In A Box?


I want to get a "surround sound" system with a DVD player. How much do I have to spend to get something decent? (I don't want to spend more than a few hundred dollars.)


AskAvi responds: (September, 2001)


I have found that you start getting really good sound at the $1500 level, and you get crisp, exciting sound for around $500. (You can certainly spend a lot more! For comparison purposes only, the audio-only portion of my system cost about $5000, and if I were replacing it today, I'd probably spend around $9200 for a top of the line THX system comparable to what they use to mix the audio at the studio sound stage.) Even the crisp and exciting sound of a home-theater-in-a-box is only suitable for small to medium sized rooms - in a large room they will distort quickly.


If you don't get a separate sound system (speakers, processing, and amplification), you're stuck with the speakers in your TV. The sound of today's TV speakers ranges from "not bad" to "the inside of a rusty tin can." But even with "not bad" TV speakers, you get no stereo separation, no discrete center channel, no surround sound, and virtually no bass. With the incredible 6 channel digital sound available on most DVDs (and even most TV and sporting events broadcast in analog surround), it's a real shame to lose it all by listening to the speakers in your TV.


Please note: the recommendations below are based on multiple trusted magazine/online reviews. I do not own any of these products.


Since your budget is really limited, here are my suggestions in order of preference:


1. Kenwood B504 ($500 Circuit City) - this system includes an inexpensive receiver with surprisingly sophisticated electronics - it even includes the latest and greatest surround mode for TV and CDs - Dolby ProLogic II. Because it is receiver based, should you want to upgrade the receiver or the speakers separately later, you'll have that option. Reviews of the speakers themselves were extremely positive.


You'll also need a separate DVD player ($200-300). See column #1 - DVD Players for recommendations.


2. Boston Acoustics DT6000 ($600 MSRP at Harvey, probably discounted at other retailers) - this integrated system is incredibly easy to set up and use, comes with decent cables already in the box, and may have the best sound of this group. However, it is not especially flexible because there is no separate receiver, so if you want to upgrade to better speakers or a better receiver in the future, you need to upgrade everything. It does not include Dolby ProLogic II (a new sound mode useful for VHS tapes, TV, and CDs) or DTS (an enthusiast sound mode available on some DVDs).


You'll also need a separate DVD player ($200-300). See column #1 - DVD Players for recommendations.


3. Sony Dream System DAV-S500 ($600 Best Buy) - This is a truly integrated system, and includes a DVD player. It is quite small and stylish - by far the best looking of any of these systems. Like the Boston integrated system it does not include ProLogic II, but it does have DTS, and some reasonably impressive DSP modes that emulate Sony's movie sound stages. It also includes SACD capability, which is Sony's proprietary better-than-CD music format. (There is almost no music available for this format, and the quality of speakers included likely won't show off SACD to best effect, but it's nice to have should SACD take off.) System set up should be really easy - there are no cables between the DVD player and the receiver because it's all one unit.


The features and design are certainly appealing, but there are several drawbacks to this system. First, if the reviews are accurate, the Kenwood and Boston systems may sound a little bit better. Second, the DVD player is interlaced, so if you have an HDTV or "HDTV-ready" TV, you are relying on your TV to do the conversion to progressive scan (this isn't a problem for "regular" TVs, but may become one if you upgrade to a newer set). Third, the DVD player offers only S-video out - this is good, but not as good as component video connections you could use with any of the separately available DVD players (again, only an issue if you have a large TV with component video connections around back). Finally, you lose any sense of flexibility - if you want to upgrade any part of the system - even the DVD player - you need to start from scratch.


(Note: you can add $100 and upgrade to the DAV-S700, which includes a 5 disc changer - useful if you use the system to watch 2 disc DVD sets, or more likely, listen to a lot of CDs. It also includes slightly more power in the amplifier section, and component video connectors.)



You can get home theater in a box, though if you can afford it, you shouldn't. That said, all three of these systems provide an excellent entry into true home theater sound and video at extremely low prices. Enjoy!



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2001, 2002 Avi Greengart