Breaking Out of the Box

Buying a home theater system used to mean going to a swanky boutique where a designer deftly guided you through the process. Like a tailored suit, your system was carefully assembled one component at a time after hours of diligent auditioning. But to get this kind of high-end service you usually had to have a high-end credit-card limit - which immediately placed these systems beyond the reach of most people. Thankfully, as the demand for home theater grew, more affordable gear began to appear at the big electronics stores.

But a lot of people still found it too hard to pick out a complete system à la carte, so many companies started packaging everything together - and the home theater in a box (HTiB) was born. Today, buying a system can be as simple as phoning QVC or just tossing a box into your shopping cart at Wal-Mart!

This isn't entirely a bad thing, because any kind of home theater speaker setup is usually better than just using a TV's meager speakers. And many systems are so cheap that they've brought surround sound to people who otherwise couldn't have afforded a home theater setup.

But then there are the people who pick up really cheap HTiB systems at the same time they're paying several grand for high-tech flat-panel LCD or plasma HDTVs. They can afford something better, but the sound part of the equation gets short shrift for whatever reason. If you find yourself in that category - or have been thinking about buying an all-in-one setup just to keep things simple - read on. Here are ten steps that will help you break out of your box and get into better sound!