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Best TV surround-sound systems put to the test

January 1, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Watching movies in your living room with surround-sound is great, but getting set up can set you back big bucks. An alternative is a home-theater-in-a-box system, which can save you money and a lot of hassle. Consumer Reports reviews systems that cost anywhere from $250 to nearly $2,000.

Some people opt to buy stereo components separately for their TVs. Another option is to get a home-theater-in-a-box system. They come with all the components you need: a center channel speaker, two speakers for the front of the room, another set for the back of the room, and a subwoofer to enhance the bass. Many systems also come with a Blu-ray player.

"A big advantage is that all the components come together in one box. Everything matches," said Jeremy Wright, Consumer Repots. "And generally the price is less than buying everything separately."

In the Consumer Reports Audio Lab, testers use a reference-speaker system to judge the sound quality of each setup.

The good news is that the quality of these systems has improved.

"It used to mean that if you bought a home-theater-in-a-box system you had to compromise on audio quality," said Wright. "But that isn't necessarily true anymore. Some of the best models that we tested had audio quality that approached those of buying separate components."

The $800 Samsung HT-E6730W system is among them. It delivers terrific sound, includes a Blu-ray player, and has other nice features like an iPod dock so you can listen to your iTunes library as well.

If you don't need a Blu-ray player, you can get a surround-sound system for half as much money. Consumer Reports recommends the Yamaha YHT-497, which costs about $400. It delivers very good sound and also has an iPod dock.