How to Choose a Surround Sound System

Choosing Surround Sound to Fit Your Needs

If you love the movie theater experience of surround sound and are anxious to replicate that at home, don't rush out to the store just yet. It's easy to get overwhelmed with the multitude of options available. For this reason, you'll want to be familiar with your choices and narrow down what you want before you head out.

An important restriction has to do with the size of the room in which you're planning to set up the audio system. The bigger the room, the more power you'll need. Receiver audio output can range from 50 watts (RMS) per channel, which is fine for a small room. For a larger room, you'll be looking at 150 watts or more. Remember that the speakers you buy should be built for this power.  

Of course, your budget might also narrow down your options. To avoid overspending, set your budget for yourself before you go shopping. The upside to getting a simpler surround sound model (such as HTB, or home theater in a box) is that it can be easier to set up than a higher-end option.

While we're on the topic of setup, consider the logistics of how you'll be placing speakers around the room. The problem of running wires along the walls and floors can get frustrating. Some surround sound packages offer wireless options for the rear speakers. They aren't truly wireless because they still require power cords, but they can help reduce the number of wires stringing across the room if you plug them in to the closest wall outlets [source: CNET].

So what do you do if you don't know much about the technology and don't have too much money to spend but are impatient to get a surround sound system? This may seem like a crippling combination, but experts maintain that it's still possible to achieve movielike sound quality at home. Electronics expert G. Randy Slone says the secret is to start simple. Purchase a small, quality system, and once you get familiar with the technology and your preferences, gradually build on to it [source: Slone]. Just make sure your receiver has enough input/output jacks to handle the additions.

But there are many more facets of surround sound to consider. Before you buy, get some more tips from the experts.