Experts agree that if you're willing to sacrifice a bit of convenience in favor of greater flexibility and better performance, you'll find some great choices in home theater systems built around component-grade AV receivers. Only a few reviewers weigh in on the 7.1-channel Onkyo HT-S9400THX (*Est. $800) , but it comes from a line of 7.1-channel Onkyo systems that have earned high ratings and editorial recommendations from a host of experts and widespread praise from users.
Setup is simple thanks to color-coded connections and the Audyssey 2EQ automatic speaker calibration feature, and the system's seven audio channels can be configured in a variety of ways. Those include a standard seven-channel surround setup with two rear center speakers, or a setup with two front "height" channels instead. You can also use the HTIB to power speakers in a different room, called Zone 2 operation.
Although connectivity is a sore spot with most all-in-one systems, it's one of the HT-S9400THX's strengths. The system includes four HDMI inputs, so it can accommodate even more complex home theater setups. It can upscale everything to 1080p for output over HDMI, and can do so with videophile-quality performance owing to the on-board Qdeo video processor. The receiver can also upscale content to 4K resolution -- 3,840 by 2,160 pixels -- for HDTVs and projectors able to display such images. Those are expected to become more widely available, albeit expensive, going forward.
The HDMI output is compliant with the HDMI 1.4a standard, which means it can pass 3D video from a 3D Blu-ray player of your choice; the system doesn't include one. It also supports features such as HDMI pass-through, which lets signals pass through to the TV even when the home theater system is off, and audio return channel for passing back audio from the TV to the Onkyo via the HDMI cable. The system is DLNA certified and supports several streaming Internet radio apps via a wired Ethernet connection or an optional Wi-Fi adapter.
For those with tighter budgets, we see a lot of good feedback for the 5.1-channel Yamaha YHT-497 (*Est. $430) , which is a component system in the truest sense. At its heart is a commercially available home theater receiver, the Yamaha RX-V373 (*Est. $250) , which gets very positive scores from both users and expert reviewers. We also name it the best low-cost choice among home theater receivers.
The YHT-497 seems to be equally well received. You'll need to budget extra for a Blu-ray player if you don't already have one, but everything else you need to set up a solid home theater system is included. The receiver has the required decoders for the high-resolution Dolby and DTS audio formats available on most Blu-ray Discs. Audio performance is more than satisfying for movie-watching, but this is far from an audiophile-grade system.
True to its component system roots, the Yamaha YHT-497 is a bit more challenging to set up than some all-in-ones. You don't get color-coded connectors or pre-cut wires, but reports say the included setup manual helps most users sort things out well enough. A built-in speaker setup function -- a nice extra in an HTIB at this price -- makes it easy to get the speakers properly equalized to produce the best possible surround sound in any room.
Of course, to achieve its lower price point, some features and niceties are left by the wayside. There are no streaming features or video processing, so you'll need to have your TV or source components like your Blu-ray player handle all the heavy lifting. However, the receiver will pass through video up to 4K resolution without harming the signal.