Why Don’t HTiB Exist Anymore?
For a long time, Home Theaters in a Box (HTiB) were a thing. They were a one-stop solution for your home theater needs. The best would come with a full-fledged AV receiver, a bunch of speakers, and a box that they called a subwoofer (it wasn’t). See the image below for an example. There were other types that we liked less (mostly because they had proprietary connections which made expanding or upgrading them impossible). Regardless, HTiB systems don’t really exist anymore. Why? Let’s discuss!
HTiB Systems – Good and Bad
The real advantage of an HTiB system is that they were a single-purchase home theater system. You got just about everything you needed in a single box. Usually, they’d come at the very least with wires. Some would include stands for the surrounds. This was great for people that didn’t know much about home theater but wanted to experience this “surround sound” all the kids were talking about.
The problem was the complexity. HTiB systems did very little to make home theater any simpler. There were still a bunch of wires. You still needed to place speakers all around your seating area. This led to confusion and some pushback. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a home and seen all the HTiB speakers at the front of the room or discarded in a closet.
When the first soundbar was released, every home theater enthusiast died a little on the inside. Why? Because they knew that the promises of a soundbar would never be realized but also that they would be hugely popular. What are the promises? A single-speaker solution that could sit at the front of your room but also give you a convincing surround experience. I’ve been to all the demos and I’ve experienced some pretty neat sound (and surround) bar solutions. But none of them could hold up to a full surround sound speaker system.
But that didn’t stop the public from buying them which caused nearly every manufacturer on the market to make their own soundbar solution. Suddenly the market was full of soundbars. HTiB solutions virtually vanished.
Wires are the Real Enemy
I would much rather recommend a good HTiB system over a soundbar solution (even the soundbars with included surround speakers). I’d love to see them make a resurgence. But they likely won’t. Not for a while.
The issue of complexity hasn’t been solved. For now, speakers need to be connected via wires. Yes, there are wireless solutions, but they are expensive (for the good ones) and still require power. This means running wires from some sort of AV receiver to each and every speaker. Placing the speakers properly in the room is challenging enough. Getting wires to them is nearly impossible for many rooms.
What Would a Future HTiB System Look Like?
For now, the HTiB option is dead and likely won’t exist again as we remember them. The thing that people like about soundbars is that the electronics are hidden. Everything is in the bar and it all “seems” easier. Future HTiB solutions would have to be the same. I don’t see standalone AV receivers as part of an HTiB solution. My favorite HTiB solutions included a standalone AV receiver because it allowed for easy upgrading later. Future HTiB systems will be completely integrated making upgrading impossible. With Atmos and DTS:X, a full speaker system is also unlikely to be on the table. Speaker systems that include upfiring Atmos modules are the only solution that makes sense.
This means that your future HTiB system is basically a speaker or three up front. They’ll have integrated upfiring Atmos drivers. They will include a bass module that they’ll call a subwoofer that will probably be wireless. You’d also get two or four “surround” speakers that would connect wirelessly to the main speaker (though they’ll still need power). These surround speakers might include their own upfiring Atmos drivers.
Wait a Minute…
If all this sounds familiar…it is. There are soundbar solutions with included wireless “subs” and wireless surround speakers. All my research tells me they don’t sell as well as the single soundbar solution with or without a “sub.” Why? For the same reason that HTiB systems don’t exist anymore. They are too expensive, too complex, and require people to place speakers around their seating position.
What most people really want isn’t a new Home Theater in a Box solution. What they want is a surround system that doesn’t have speakers, wires, and does exactly what they expect it to do even though what they expect isn’t reasonable.
Oh, and they want it to be under $500. Closer to $200 would be great.
Soundbars are the closest thing we have to those unreasonable expectations. HTiB don’t exist because they actually provide a solution for getting surround sound at a reasonable price. People would rather buy a product that promises, but doesn’t deliver, that solution as long as it fits aesthetic demands.
I’d like to think that htib in the traditional sense has evolved into sound bars, rather than one supplanting the other in a cannibalistic way. So, SBs are the HTiBs of today.