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Tips for Buying a Home Cinema System

Home Cinema does exactly what its name suggests – turns your home into a cinema, thus allowing you to enjoy films the way they were intended by the director and producer.

However, while the term is simple, it can be tricky to find the right system, especially with prices ranging from £130 up to more than £1,000.

But that’s where our Buyer’s Guide comes in – it will take you through the key questions you need to ask when shopping for a Home Cinema system. We’ll also explain the different choices available on the market, as well as provide a handy jargon buster at the end so you can easily understand the technical terms involved.

What exactly is a Home Cinema system?

A Home Cinema is made up of a DVD or Blu-ray player and various configurations of speakers – normally a subwoofer (which provides the bass) and either two, five or seven other
speakers. These can be small satellite ones on the wall or large tallboy speakers on stands.

When watching a movie you will then get a cinema multiplex-style surround sound to create the full movie experience.

Should I choose DVD or Blu-ray?

This depends on your budget and the quality of the movie experience you are looking for.

DVD Home Cinema systems are cheaper but are a much older technology and play discs in standard-definition (SD). Blu-ray Home Cinema systems play discs in high-definition (HD), with users enjoying improved picture and sound quality. For an excellent cinematic experience, users will need a Blu-ray player and a full HD television, known as 1080p.

You can find out more about the advantages of Blu-ray in our separate buying guide.

Whether you pick DVD or Blu-ray, each comes with various speaker set-ups to choose from.

So how many speakers do I need?

Home Cinema systems come in three types – 2.1, 5.1 and 7.1. The first number stands for the number of speakers and the .1 for the subwoofer.

A 2.1 system is perfect for bedrooms or smaller living rooms. You would usually place the speakers either side of the TV and this will offer the best sound in a small
space but without the full surround effect because there are no speakers behind you.

Therefore, for bigger rooms, the most popular option on the market would be a 5.1 system, with six channels of sound – three front speakers, two rear speakers and one subwoofer.
This provides surround sound effects to fill the whole room.

Hardcore audio enthusiasts may want to opt for a top-of-the-range 7.1 setup, adding a couple more speakers. However, the extra impact is limited if you don’t have a large open space room.

Some Blu-ray discs are optimised for 7.1 sound with an option you can select from the menu but all will deliver 5.1, making you feel as if you’re in a cinema.

What size speakers shall I go for?

Size doesn’t matter it’s what you do with them that’s important. If your speakers are set up and positioned correctly, small or large, they should provide just as good an experience.

You will want to look at the total power output available. This is often dubbed RMS. The higher the wattage, the more powerful the speakers will be and consequently the more intense the sound.

The difference with size is really just visual. Some people prefer the smaller option as it is less obtrusive and can be wall-mounted. Others love the long thin design of tallboys as they make an impact in a room. Check out both options in a store to get a proper feel for which you like best.

Wireless systems are now becoming more popular but they’re still fewer in number and more expensive.

Can I get a 3D Home Cinema?

Yes, if you have a 3D television then you can buy a 3D Blu-ray Home Cinema. You would need to check the system has this capability before buying it – not all do – plus it is usually more expensive. These systems will also ‘upscale’ regular discs to ‘near 3D quality’ and give slightly enhanced sound.

Find out more about 3D televisions by reading our guide.

What other features are available?

The latest Blu-ray players have Smart technology, allowing them to connect to the internet either through built-in wireless, a plug-in dongle or an Ethernet cable.

This means you can download apps in a similar way to how phone apps are downloaded. However, the apps available depend on the brand of Home Cinema and they include BBC
iPlayer, YouTube and LOVEFILM movie rentals. You may also find social networks such as Facebook and Twitter on offer along with internet calling service Skype. For Skype capability, a Skype camera will need to be purchased separately.

The Blu-ray player may also be able to talk to other wireless devices, such as your laptop, and stream content through DLNA technology, while some Home Cinemas have an iPod dock, which is a nice benefit.

What equipment will I need?

You’ll obviously require a TV. If you’re going for a Blu-ray system, your television will need to be HD ready and ideally full HD, known as 1080p. If it is an older 1080i TV set you will still get a good quality picture but it won’t be the best available.

Another essential item is an HDMI cable to connect a Blu-ray player to your TV. This generally will not be included and different cables are available from budget to very expensive, promising the utmost quality. A cheaper cable should work fine for a DVD player but for HD, you will need a quality HDMI cable.

An optical cable connects the speakers to the player and if you’re going for a 3D Home Cinema, its advisable to buy a 1.4 HDMI cable. This allows 3D pictures to display on a 3D television.

You can find out more about the different ways to connect up a Home Cinema System in our article on PluggedIn.

Is it easy to setup?

If you follow the instructions manual, then it should be easy to setup. You may want to move speakers around to find the optimum position for a quality surround sound experience. The subwoofer can be placed anywhere in the room.

You could also watch our video tutorial on how to get the best from your Home Cinema.

Is there anything else I should know?

Home Cinema systems can often plug into your games console, such as the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 to bring surround sound to your gaming experience. Many systems also allow you to connect your iPod/iPhone via a built-in dock.

Other things to look for include the number of HDMI connections – useful if you are plugging in a console – and also what formats of discs it works with. Some systems may not play some formats of DVD or digital movie computer files that have been produced from your home computer.

You might also find some Home Cinema systems, especially with DVD players, may contain a radio tuner to listen to FM and AM stations through the speakers. However, not all will support every format of computer audio file you may want to play from a CD.

Jargon Buster

Subwoofer

A large loudspeaker that creates low bass frequencies which regular speakers are unable to.

DLNA

The technology allowing you to wirelessly connect a Blu-ray player to other products such as laptops and smartphones, as long as they also have DLNA.

Dolby

This is the industry-standard surround sound that most Home Cinema systems use. An alternative format is known as DTS Digital.

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