Onkyo HT-S3900 5.1 Channel 3D Home Theatre System
Onkyo HT-S3900 5.1 Channel 3D Home Theatre System

How does a home theatre in a box stack up against a system of separate components, and can either hold a candle to a real theatre experience? Today we weigh up the options to help you decide for yourself.

Remember the joy of a night out at the movies? Ordering tickets from the vendor in the booth, the smell of the butter (or butter-like product) wafting through the red-carpeted foyer, the ambient lighting that gave everything such an air of chic sophistication, the buzz as movie-goers milled to and fro, matching screen numbers to tickets. Happy days indeed.

If you’re anything like me you have a laundry list of reasons why you don’t often go to the movies anymore; too expensive, too much much hassle, too many chatterboxes, can’t agree on a movie—no wonder we prefer to stay on the couch!

Get a real theatre experience

All that said, it is hard to beat the real theatre experience, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try. If you’re a movie buff who likes to keep your finger on the pulse of all the latest buzz-worthy epics from Tinseltown, then a good quality home theatre set up is an investment you’ll be glad you made. And while the TV itself and the image quality are very important, for an authentically spine-tingling, hair-raising experience, you need to make sure your audio is up to scratch.

Speakers and receivers: piece by piece

The first thing you need is good speakers. Are you going to go with a soundbar, a soundbar plus subwoofer, or maybe a speaker system with towers, subwoofer and tweeters? To power a speaker system you’ll need a home theatre receiver. A home theatre receiver differs from a traditional stereo receiver primarily because it is designed to accept an input from your media player. You can then run a single HDMI cable between your receiver and your TV which reduces cable clutter. Also, a good receiver will process the signal from your media player to make sure it takes full advantage of your screen’s capabilities. So for example, it can upscale a HD signal for a 4k screen, giving you a better viewing experience than if you just connected your player straight to the TV.

Home Theatre in a Box: simple, easy, cost-effective

Choosing separate components is going to take some time because you’ll be weighing up the various specs and prices etc of each one. An easier solution is a home theatre in a box, which gives you everything you need in one simple package. You’ll get a set of speakers, a receiver and all the cables required. Setting it up is seamless and straightforward and you’ll be ready to enjoy your favorite blockbusters in no time. There’s a lot to be said for the simplicity of knowing the all-in price up front so that you can easily fix your budget. At BestBuy.ca there are a range of excellent home theatre systems from Onkyo, a brand you don’t hear mentioned very often, but one that is widely respected amongst those who know their audio gear.

Home theatre in a box: Onkyo HT-S3800

At the entry level you have the Onkyo HT-S3800 5.1 Channel 3D Home Theatre Systemwhich includes the receiver, one sub-woofer, and 5 speakers. As the receiver is Bluetooth enabled you can stream your favorite music from any Bluetooth device. Aside from your media player, you can also connect your games console, TV box or any other device to the receiver as it has 4 HDMI inputs. You can then switch between your devices and control the audio using the receiver’s remote controller, which is handy. The receiver can handle all the latest audio standards, like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and it also supports 3D video. If you’re a traditionalist who likes to tune into the radio every now and then, you can program up to 30 presets into the AM/FM tuner.

As you can tell this is a fully featured receiver, and when bundled with that speaker system represents excellent value for money. As one Best Buy customer put it: “All in all, the sound is great and loud, and couldn’t ask for more from such a low cost unit. It is enough to shake concrete walls but the sound does not get distorted even at high, ear-piercing volumes”.

More power with Onkyo HT-S3900

If you have a bigger space and need more power, than the Onkyo HT-S3900 5.1 Channel 3D Home Theatre System packs a little more punch than the HT-S3800. It puts out 120 watts per channel, as opposed to 105 watts from the HT-S3800. Aside from that the units are pretty similar, although you can expect better audio performance over Bluetooth with the HT-3900 due to the integrated Qualcomm® aptX™ technology. Bear in mind your device has to have Qualcomm® aptX™ onboard too, which iPhones don’t, but many LG, Huawei and Sony devices do.

Go big with Onkyo HT-S7800

Now if you really want to show your neighbours who’s the boss, then maybe you should go all out and invest in the Onkyo HT-S7800 5.1.2 Channel Dolby Atmos Home Theatre System. Now we’re getting into the audio big leagues. The front left and right speakers are Dolby Atmos enabled with upward-firing drivers, which create a multidimensional surround sound experience that takes you closer to the proper movie theatre experience. Interestingly the HT-S7800 only delivers 100 watts per channel, but don’t be fooled by the numbers, this set up will deliver an audio experience second to none. A word of warning though; you can do a lot of fine tuning with this unit, which is great for advanced users, but some people find it a bit overwhelming.

Check out a review of the Onkyo HT-S7800 here.

Onkyo HT-S7800 5.1.2 Channel Dolby Atmos Home Theatre System
Onkyo HT-S7800 5.1.2 Channel Dolby Atmos Home Theatre System

When it comes to wiring the systems up Onkyo has some neat touches. For example, the speakers wires are color-coded, so there’s no confusion about what goes where. Also the labelling on the back of the receiver is deliberately placed upside-down so that when you’re leaning over the unit from the front, everything makes perfect sense. After many years fiddling with audio cables and wires I think this is awesome!

Be sure to check out all the options for the ultimate home theatre experience in the home theatre section!

Justin Morrison
I am a professional photographer, working in motion and stills. I create portrait, lifestyle and documentary work, and I strive to tell real and authentic stories. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia.