You will likely spend more than $400 on a "good" 5.1; 6.1 or 7.1 surround sound setup and speakers. however the question is would you use it frequently; the YES, its well worth it. There are some very minimum and must have specs to look for; don't cheap out and find out about your headaches down the road.
Like anything involving money, it all depends on whether you'll use it and how much it's worth to you. For example, it took my wife 5-years before she developed a preference for HD over SD...seriously, it took her that long. Until that point she was just as happy watching her shows on a 19-inch B&W. I am active member of the Cheap Bastards Club. But occasionally I will spend money on something I like, and I love Home Theater. I spent a lot of HT systems over the years but it doesn't have to cost a lot of money if you shop smart. Still...$400 isn't going to cut it IMO.
That's the kind of question that only you can answer.
My suggestion for you is this: go to a local audio/video store that has showrooms and give it a listen. Ask the sales person to switch the sound back and forth between the integrated speakers and a set of surround speakers.
My guess is that you will be amazed by the difference in sound. But whether it's worth the price for you - you will have to decide for yourself!
For the money surround bars are a very good out of the box solution & in the budget you specified. I have personally heard several in use & am impressed for what they are. Might be worth a look (polk) hint, hint.....
You can start small (budget) and grown into your system. For example, I initially purchased a HT receiver and pair of Infinity speakers for less than $500 ('97 ish). I later added a modest 10" subwooder and a pair or rear surround speakers. In 2000 I purchased a quality Yamaha HT receiver and quickly realized my speakers weren't up to the job. So I taught night computer classes at a college while overseas I could buy my HT system. I initially purchased Bose 701 and 301 speakers and I was actually quite happy with them...until I heard HT on Klipsch speakers.
You guessed it...I purchased KLF30s and KLF10s and main and rear surround speakers, a KLF-C7 as the center channel speaker, and a 12-inch Klipsch subwoofer. I later added a pair of bookshelf JBL speakers for the front effect speakers. Over the years I have upgraded the Yamaha HT receiver 3-times. There was nothing wrong with the old ones, but I just wanted more "techie toys" and I have no other vices. The biggest expense was adding a pair of Klipschorn speakers, but I mainly use them to listen to music...and they'll last a lifetime.
Again, start small and if it's something you like and can afford then upgrade your system over time.
Like most others, I have considerably more in my audio than $400. I also have built it slowly over the last 30 years. Hard to say how much is currently in the system.
The value of surround is very dependent on what you watch. If you like action adventure type movies, then a Blu Ray player and the best sound system you can justify is a must. If you mostly watch network TV, you may find that surround sound adds very little. Most TV these days is mostly mono.
However, that doesn't mean that you can't gain even with broadcast. TV speakers are always of poor quality that makes it hard to hear the dialog, much less the background. I think you would find that a HTIB would improve things. In your particular case, you might get more from a $400 soundbar though. You could get better speakers in the soundbar, although fewer of them. You give up the rear sound, but can get better overall sound from the front.
if you want room rattling bass, ear piercing highs and all that crap you won't get it with a $400 system. BUT in reality I have a small 8 X 11 man cave sort of room where i just installed a $179 samsung home theater in a box and was impressed by the sound quality of it. dont let people tell you ,you need to spend alot on this. unless you have 500 or 600 sq. ft. room you will notice a big difference with almost any system.
I spent around $250 on a Kenwood system about 8 years ago and it's the best investment I ever made. Might not be the best or most expensive available but it gets as loud and clear as I have ever needed.
Just be sure to hook it up correctly, i.e. the rear speakers actually behind the sitting area. I have seen plenty of systems which are five speakers all in the front of the room, pointless.
And don't just use it for movies. Almost everything is DD5.1 these days, even the commercials.
Glad that works for you James. I think that is in line with the advice that most of us gave. It is worthwhile for most anyone to improve the audio from the built in speakers. Beyond that is a personal choice based on viewing habits and expectations.
I tend to agree that better 3 channel sound is better than marginal 5 channel, but I would still go with a system that can eventually be expanded to a full 5.1 or 7.1 system.
Having speakers behind definitely makes a difference. The speakers I have for front channels are 'middle of the road' in terms of cost. The speakers I use for the surround/rear channels were on the cheap end and they work fine for the purpose. (They would not make for good front channels because there's so much more sound from those)... The rear channels don't put out nearly as much so you don't have to spend a lot of money on rear speakers to get decent results. ...so unless you're a big audiophile and are trying to win a trophy, you don't need super-expensive speakers for the surround channels.
$400 will buy a speaker (one) on my system! It took me years to get it all, but for $400 you can get an okay integrated amplfied 5.1 speaker system to hook up to your TV and DVD/BluRay. And yes it's worth it, But it really depends on your ear! What I consider a "good" surround system costs more like $1000-1500 total.
Id recommend taking your time, and buying a good 3.1 system first. Reason I say this if Ive already down the tv speakers to HTiB to average 3.1 to nice 3.1 to nice 5.1 back to nice 3.1
I'd suggest anyone just take the time, buy a nice AVR like a Yamaha/Denon, then buy a matching set of fronts and center, and then a sub. The reason I went from a 3.1 to a 5.1, then back, is my room just isnt setup for it. People kept telling me "you gotta go 5.1, you gotta go 5.1", at the end of the day the rear location requirements just made then annoying, so Im happy with my 3.1 back.