For a long time, the home theater conversation was dominated by technophiles sneering at this simple, cheap solution. But now that flat-panels are the norm, manufacturers are responding to everyday users with systems that can suit your every need, in an easy-to-understand -- and easy to afford -- one-box answer. And, increasingly, their claims about the ease of setup are justified: Most systems now are almost entirely plug-and-play.
Most HTIAB ("Home Theater in a Box," a once-derogatory and now accepted term for all-in-one systems) devices include a receiver and a number of speakers. The receiver itself acts as a way-station for all the signals your digital devices can supply: radio and CD audio, cable signals for your TV, onboard DVD or Blu-ray player, and even A/V input from your laptop or other computer media station. With the touch of a button to choose your source, audio input goes out through the speakers, and video displays on the TV screen.
While most systems do include an onboard DVD or Blu-ray reader built into the receiver, these pieces can also be bought separately. By looking at your library of physical discs, you can determine which of these options is most useful for your life at the time you're buying a system. After all, for some of us, the majority of our entertainment streams or downloads from online, so an onboard disc reader may not be a priority.