Home theater systems can be quite cumbersome since they include an AV receiver, speaker system, and any playback devices you plan to use with them. Considering how fragile and numerous the pieces of a home theater are, are they travel-friendly?

You can carry a home theater in flight. The TSA website has no guidelines for AV receivers. However, most mainstream electronics, including speakers, televisions, laptops, gaming consoles, and media players, are allowed in carry-on luggage. For further questions, contact AskTSA on Facebook or Twitter.

Read on to learn how to transport your home theater system safely in flight. Itching for that home theater fix on the go? Read on for some tips to transform your airline seat into a travel-sized home theater (as much as possible anyway).

Are Speakers Allowed in Hand Luggage?

Speakers are allowed in carry-on (hand luggage). Furthermore, the Transportation Security Administration permits most standard consumer electronics in carry-on luggage. This option benefits the traveler because it gives them autonomy over the handling of these very fragile devices.

Let's go over some of the most common electronics in home theater systems and what the TSA has to say about them.

  • DVD players: DVD players are allowed in carry-on and checked-in luggage. The TSA advises that you check with the airline to ensure that the device will fit overhead or under your seat. Additionally, remove any discs from the DVD player to avoid damage.
  • Extension cords: Extension cords are also allowed in carry-on and checked-in luggage. The TSA recommends wrapping all cords neatly to avoid damage.
  • Full-sized video game consoles: All current-gen devices such as the Playstation 5, Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch are allowed in-flight in checked-in or carry-on luggage. The TSA asks that you place them in a separate bin for x-ray scanning.
  • Laptops: The TSA permits laptops in carry-on and checked-in luggage. During the screening, place your computer in a separate bin for x-ray scanning. Travelers pre-approved by TSA PreCheck are not required to remove their laptops for scanning.
  • Projectors: Projectors follow similar guidelines. The TSA permits these devices in checked-in and carry-on luggage. The administration advises you to place the projector in a separate bin during x-ray scanning.
  • Speakers: Speakers are allowed in carry-on and checked-in luggage. The TSA advises you to check with the airline to make sure they will fit overhead or under your seat.
  • Tablets: The TSA permits tablets in carry-on and checked-in luggage. However, the TSA DOES NOT ALLOW the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in any capacity in-flight. The aforementioned ‘phablet' device is prone to overheating and possible self-destruction. We are beyond the point of widespread adoption of this older device, but it's worth pointing out that the TSA will make special exception to dangerously faulty devices.
  • Television: Televisions can travel in-flight via carry-on or checked-in luggage. The TSA advises that you wrap all cords and check with the airline to confirm the television will fit overhead or under your seat. Like other fragile electronics, the TSA recommends that you carry-on this item to avoid damage.

As you can see, most, if not all, home theater devices are allowed in-flight, both as a carry-on and checked-in luggage. The TSA encourages carry-on storage to prevent damage. There are universal guidelines that the TSA recommends as well.

It is vital to pack electronics neatly and remove any loose physical media before packing your luggage. Additionally, while the TSA allows these items, they still advise you to double-check with the airline.

The only device we could not find conclusive evidence about is the AV receiver. This question gets regularly asked among audiophiles. However, considering it is a stereo device, it should be fine.

Fortunately, the TSA provides resources to tie up these loose ends. AskTSA, provided via Facebook and Twitter, is a platform that the TSA uses to field passenger questions. We recommend checking with them over any devices of which you are unsure.

How to Set Up Your Own Home Theater In-Flight

What if the airline you are flying with does not provide good in-flight entertainment? That is a valid concern, especially if you are traveling via a local airline in which in-flight entertainment is not the highest priority. Luckily, there are personalized entertainment options you can use in flight.

Note: When trying out the ideas proposed in this article, please consider your fellow passengers' safety and comfort. Make sure you pick a seat that accommodates your needs without intruding on your fellow flyer's personal space. Furthermore, do not block any aisles or emergency exits with any of your devices. The most enjoyable flight is a safe one.

Establish Essentials

Setting up a mini home theater while traveling on a plane requires two significant components: power outlets and Wi-Fi. A power supply is necessary for running your media source, whether it is a laptop, portable DVD player, or gaming monitor. Wi-Fi support is not as essential, but a lack of support will limit your media options.

Let's discuss how to check if your airline provides power outlets and Wi-Fi.

Booking Your Flight

Most booking websites offer comparison tools that will quickly inform you what features your airline offers. One example is Trip Advisor, which lists power and Wi-Fi features in columns under ticket information.

Airlines also list these features on their websites. If the booking website you are using does not provide this information, check a different booking site. However, your research does not end there.

There are plenty of potential pitfalls to consider. Connections are an easy thing to miss. One flight on your trip may offer Wi-Fi and power, while another does not. How these services work is another important detail that deserves your attention.

Here are some questions to mull over:

  • Is the Wi-Fi free, or is it a paid service?
  • How much data can the in-flight service handle?
  • Are there power outlets in every seat, or only individual sections of the plane?
  • How many passengers can each outlet support?
  • Are the power outlets plug outlets or USB ports?

Checking Your Flight

Once you book your flight, there are resources available to research the amenities in more detail. SeatGuru is a recommendation that is frequently made, as it is a service that provides seat maps for specific flights.

Once you plug in the flight information, SeatGuru provides a chart that lists amenities in greater detail than average booking sights. Some info on display includes power outlet locations and Wi-Fi plan pricing specs. This site is an excellent tool when deciding what seats to reserve.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee of accurate information. Air travel is unpredictable. The possibility of either of these amenities being out of service by the flight time is real. Anticipate the possibility of reassignment to a new plane as well. It is up to you to decide if you are willing to invest money in these services with these risks in mind.

What to Do if Your Flight Has No Power Supply

If the flight you are boarding has no power supply for your electronics, you need to carry one with you. Phones and tablets can stay powered with an external battery pack. However, more powerful devices require an AC outlet for two-prong and three-prong plugs.

Luckily, there are power banks out there that provide this feature. Bear in mind that power banks often use lithium batteries, which can be dangerous to aircraft vehicles. This is why airlines constantly bring them up in boarding and safety checks.

Unfortunately, malfunctioning batteries can overheat, which leads to a phenomenon called thermal runaway. Thermal runaway can produce smoke, flames, and even explosions. However, since consumer electronics commonly use them, you can carry them on planes, with exceptions. It is imperative to check with the TSA before carrying on any luggage with a lithium battery. Power banks are usually permitted by TSA as long as they are not in your checked baggage.

We recommend investing in a power bank compliant with the Federal Aviation Administration's guidelines. The FAA is a government organization upholding high levels of safety and efficiency in aerospace travel.

Their compliance program oversees manufacturers and helps them create the safest products possible for use in-flight. Products usually tout their FAA compliance, like the AIMTOM 97Wh Portable Power Station available on Amazon.

Some don't, like the power bank I purchased: Anker PowerCore Essential 20000 PD Portable Charger. They don't explicitly say FAA compliant, but you can check the specifications yourself. To do a calculation of missing information, multiply the volts (V) by the ampere-hours (Ah). If you are using mAh, just divide the result by 1,000 in order to get to Ah.

For instance, the power bank I purchased is 20Ah on a 3.75-volt output, which is 74Wh. The FAA goes into detail on taking power banks on planes. Here's the rundown:

  • Any battery you take on board should not exceed 100Wh, which is a capacity of 27Ah.
  • External chargers or power banks are considered a battery.
  • Batteries between 101Wh and 160Wh need airline approval.
  • Anything above 160Wh is not allowed on any plane.

For more information, refer to the FAA website for lithium battery safety resources and battery packing guidelines.

Look for Media Playback Devices

You cannot have a home theater experience without something to watch or hear. Fortunately, this seems to be a puzzle with simple solutions. After all, laptops, smartphones, and tablets all can playback films, TV, music, and games. Why stop there?

If you are looking for better audio and visual quality than these devices can provide, consider these options:

Portable TV

Portable TVs are great for all kinds of travel. They are super compact while providing picture quality of up to 1080p. Some even offer built-in TV tuners, which may not be viable in-flight but still provides the flexibility of on-the-go TV service without a price tag. Additionally, higher-end models offer plenty of inputs as well as Chromecast and FireStick support.

Mini Projector

A mini projector, also known as a pico projector, is worth mentioning. However, the utility of this on a plane is probably next to none. Projection size is proportionate to the size of the nearest wall. In theory, you can project an image onto the back of the seat in front of you. However, you should use discretion. You would not want to risk blinding the people sitting around and in front of you.

Your ideal projector can produce HD images without ‘downsampling,' have a short throw distance, and is bright enough to overcome light pollution. Feature-wise, a quality projector will tout plenty of inputs and a headphone jack. Finally, you will need the functionality that comes with less weight and long battery life.

Digital Audio Player

They are your run-of-the-mill digital audio players, like those you find on a smartphone. However, high-end portable music players can accomplish remarkable, bit-by-bit, hi-resolution music playback. Most high-end audio players can store hundreds of gigabytes of internal memory, much higher than a smartphone's average storage capacity.

Portable DVD/Blu-ray Player

If you like to watch movies, a portable DVD/Blu-ray player is an excellent option, especially in situations when you do not have Wi-Fi and must rely on physical media formats. Look for models that support multiple formats, feature high-resolution monitors, and include healthy battery life.

Gaming and Entertainment Mobile System

GAEMS has become the first choice for portable gaming among soldiers, pro athletes, and travelers of all kinds. The company's ‘personal gaming environments' are incredibly resilient, with a secure casing that will protect your gaming console in transit. Additionally, these devices have a built-in monitor so that you can play wherever there is a power supply.

Note: You still need to purchase a gaming console to make use of this device. Plus, while offline gameplay and media playback should work fine, we cannot guarantee your airline's Wi-Fi service will support online gameplay. Still, gaming consoles are fantastic multimedia devices that we highly recommend.

As you can see, phones and tablets are only the tip of the iceberg for media devices. Whatever device you use, you will need a high-quality set of headphones and a headphone jack to plug them in (or a Bluetooth enabled playback device). Nothing is ruder than playing your media on speakers for the whole cabin to hear.

Other Portable Gaming Options

The Nintendo Switch was mentioned earlier. It's pretty easy to take this gaming console on the go. I see kids at the airport with it all of the time. Another up and coming contender for portable gaming comes from Valve. The Steam Deck boasts PC like performance for PC gaming on the go.

Choose the Right Headphones

At this point, you have figured out what device to use to playback your media, but you are not done yet. The finishing touch is choosing the right set of headphones. Let's discuss what features to consider for in-flight listening.

  • Purpose of use: Why you are using headphones determines what you need to buy. In this case, you are using headphones for air travel, so you need something manageable, high-quality, and nonintrusive to your fellow passengers.
  • Type and Size of headphones: This is a subjective decision. Travelers prioritizing convenience will prefer earbuds that do not take up space. Dedicated audiophiles, on the other hand, might prefer over-the-ear headphones for higher sound quality.
  • Stereo or Surround: Most headphones are available in a left and right channel setup. Other “gamer” options include physical surround sound and virtual surround sound. Physical surround sound quite litterally has separate speakers for each channel, 5.1 and 7.1. Virutal surround sound availability depends on the headphones you get, as well as the source device you use to view media.
  • Wired or wireless: Wired headphones have a better reputation for consistent sound quality. However, Bluetooth headphones more than hold their own against them. This decision will most likely come down to personal preferences and the output capabilities of your playback device.
  • Closed or open-back: If you purchase an over-the-ear or on-ear set of headphones, you will have to decide whether you prefer a snug or ventilated back. We would recommend closed-back in respect of your fellow flyers. However, you may find open-back more comfortable.
  • Trusted brand from an authorized dealer: Do your research! There are many audio resources out there where you can find reviews of new products and manufacturer policies. Furthermore, most manufacturer websites list authorized sellers of their products. Buying a trusted brand from an authorized seller guarantees a solid warranty and reliable customer service. The choice is a no-brainer.

What Are Your Entertainment Options In-Flight?

As previously mentioned, you can carry your home theater devices on an airplane. However, what are your entertainment options while traveling?

Most, if not all, airlines offer some form of in-flight entertainment, whether it is a designated in-flight movie, an on-demand service, in-flight satellite TV, in-flight multiplayer games, or even stand-up comedians. While every airline offers something different, there are some standouts.

Emirates currently offers the best in-flight entertainment. If you are ever lucky enough to travel to a place where this World's Best Inflight Entertainment Award recipient services, you would be wise to take it. When you review some of their features, you will notice a high set of standards that you should look for in any airline entertainment system.

  • Information: While often taken for granted, simple statistics like ETAs, the weather, and the news are vital in-flight. Emirates's entertainment console offers on-screen information to keep you up to date while you are up in the air. Most domestic airlines offer this service on certain planes as well.
  • Communication: Access to communication systems, especially Wi-Fi, is an increasingly common feature on airlines. For example, Emirates offers multiple plans to its passengers—basic plans for online message apps, limited data plans, and unlimited data plans depending on your needs. Other airlines have regular cut and dry options, but you can find data plans on nearly every compatible airline.
  • Entertainment: Here is the meat and potatoes of what you are seeking. If you are looking for the best in-flight entertainment, you will prefer having options. Emirates offers plenty of media options, including films, TV shows, live TV, games, and music. Furthermore, the airline's ice platform allows you to create a music playlist pre-boarding to listen to in-flight. How cool is that!?

It is unrealistic to route your travels on an international airline only for entertainment, especially if you are making simple domestic trips. However, having a high standard of comparison, like Emirates, can help you find an airline that provides the entertainment experience that fits your needs.

You don't always have to bring your own entertainment depending on how you fly and with what airline you fly with. It may feel secondary, but good entertainment will significantly improve your travel experience, especially if you get bored quickly or experience anxiety on planes.

Now you know what to look for in quality airline entertainment, but where should you start your research? Here you can find a list of the top 25 inflight entertainment airlines in the world, according to the Daily Hive's travel publication “Mapped.”

Final Thoughts

In short, the TSA allows passengers to carry home theater devices in flight. Furthermore, in most cases, the TSA prefers you to carry-on these devices instead of check-in for security reasons and damage prevention. For items like power banks, this is mandatory. Otherwise, you risk confiscation.

However, since cabin sizes vary, it is important to double-check with your airline before bringing any larger electronics onto the plane. Lastly, if you are fixing for in-flight entertainment, you can look up your flight's options or make your own experience.