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Poll: Sound bar speakers vs. home theater in a box systems

It wasn't that long ago that HTIBs were the best way to buy a home theater audio system on the cheap, but sound bars are now a more popular option.

It wasn't that long ago that Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, and Onkyo were locked in a fierce competition in the home theater in a box (HTIB) market. Every year I'd report about the latest advances in their systems in my CNET reviews. These days, fewer people want to deal with all of the wires and setup requirements of a five-speaker, subwoofer, receiver, and Blu-ray player based system. Skinny sound bars that sit under a TV are now more popular than HTIB systems. Most sound bars are 2.0- or 2.1-channel stereo systems, though some promise a "virtual" surround experience. Both types of sound bar systems have minimal setup and wiring hassles.

I've been a proponent of two-channel home theater for 15 years, but I'd concede this approach forfeits true surround envelopment. I never missed surround at home, and it now seems that aspect of home theater is losing mass appeal. Most home theater audio buyers gladly opt for two-channel home theaters because they want fewer wires and setup hassles, more than they want bona-fide 5.1 channel home theater sound, even when both types of systems are close to the same price.