Upgrade your home theater for less

LOS ANGELES When it comes to enjoying a good action movie, Ken Vanacoro has spent thousands of dollars and gone to great lengths, installing a sound system to enhance his home theater.

"It's very time intensive to get up into the ceiling and run wires, like with these speakers, across the studs -- to come this way, and then come back to the media cabinet," said Vanacoro.

Consumer Reports' Jim Willcox says there's an easier way to get great sound that could also end up costing you less money.

"This is a sound bar. It's basically an array of speakers that are housed in a single enclosure, and it's designed to be placed unobtrusively either above or below your TV," said Willcox.

Most sound bars plug in right out of the box. Consumer Reports tested eight sound bars, ranging in price from $300 to $1,300.

Two in particular did well in the tests. The Marantz combines six speakers and digital amplifiers to create very convincing surround sound.

And all the components are housed within a stylish aluminum enclosure that's only six inches high. But at $1,300, this high style comes at a high price.

To get more bang for your buck, consider the Sony HTCT-100. The two-piece package has three speakers and a separate subwoofer, which enables it to produce deep bass.

It's also ultra-compact, at less than three inches high.

"Despite its small size, the Sony was surprisingly clear and it was able to create a pretty wide sound field," said Willcox.

And priced at $300, it makes for easy listening that's also easy on your wallet.

Both the Marantz and the Sony sound bars have inputs so you can attach a Blu-ray player or cable or satellite box, but not all of them do. If this is an important consideration for you, be sure to check that out before buying a unit.

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