RealSimple.com
Justin Bernhaut

What You Should Care About


Surround sound: Listening to your TV, DVD player, radio, or iPod through the speakers of your home audio system is a great way to enhance the experience. HDTV and many DVDs support surround sound, which divides the audio into at least five channels that are delivered to speakers around the room, so you feel like you're in the middle of the action.

Components vs. all-in-one system: Purists build their systems piece by piece for the best quality, but a "home theater in a box"―which includes speakers, an amplifier, and a DVD-CD player―offers a good price-performance compromise.

What You Can Overlook


Wattage: "Most systems have at least 100 watts per speaker, which can handle the peak moments, like when a cymbal crashes or a bomb explodes," says Julie Govan of CrutchfieldAdvisor.com, an audiovisual-information website. A system with more juice than this is just overkill, except maybe to your Terminator-loving teenage nephew. But you know his mother is going to thank you for your restraint.

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