Home cinema buyer's guide
We use the umbrella term 'home cinema' for all the different pieces of equipment designed to improve the experience of watching movies or television at home. Whether that's better audio, sharper pictures or simply more channel choice for viewing, getting the kit that's right for you is very personal.
You don't need a surround sound kit to watch a Blu-ray, it will work with your TV's built-in speakers, but with up to eight speakers supported in Blu-ray films for positional effects they're definitely worth investing in.
Surround sound usually comes in two different formats, 5.1 or 7.1. Those numbers refer to the number of satellite speakers (the number before the point) and a subwoofer, for bass effects.
In a 5.1 set-up, you have a centre speaker for the voice channel, and left and right speakers at the front and back for positional effects – like hearing a car or a helicopter behind you.
In a 7.1 set-up, there are two more speakers placed between the front and back ones so that effects move more naturally across the room.
How to set-up a 5.1 surround sound system
What's a soundbar?
A sound bar gives the same effect as having speakers in all corners of the room, but without actually setting up any satellites.
Instead, it's one long row of speakers in a single cabinet that sit under the TV and face towards the viewer.
By cleverly angling the speakers inside and using software algorithms to mimic the way an effect would sound if it had been played from behind you, a soundbar fools your ears into thinking that's what they heard.
It may not seem possible, but soundbars actually work surprisingly well and are very simple to set-up and don't need cables around the room.
What to look for:
5.1 & 7.1 speakers
This odd term tells you how many speakers a cinema system comes with. The first number refers to the number of speakers, the second number means it has a subwoofer to produce bass effects.
A specialised speaker that’s geared to producing low-frequency bass sound effects. This is essential to reproduce the sound effects in films and games, along with the full spread of sound in music scores.
DVD or Blu-ray player
Many cinema systems come packing a DVD or Blu-ray player, so you get the complete package in one. This makes sense if you want a cost-effective way of enjoying the full Blu-ray experience.
For smaller living rooms the power of a home cinema system isn’t too important. However the power rating measured in Watts RMS does dictate how loud a system is. Usually given as a total for all the speakers this can range from 100w up to 1200w.