Home cinema buyer’s guide
In recent years there’s been a massive boom in home theatre technology. A combination of huge price drops on massive televisions, big advances with HD and the stability of Blu-ray as a film format have made staying home to watch films the option of choice.
But you need more than a great picture to make a great cinematic experience: the sound quality is arguably equally important. Modern televisions are super slick with 108p HD practically standard – but with a one-inch thick box, where do you get the depth of sound you need?
That’s where home cinema – and Genie Shopping – comes in. Below you’ll find a guide to what to look for to get a home cinema setup that’s right for you – while above you can compare prices from the biggest names on the market (from Sony to Bose to Onkyo) and then click through to your favourite high street and online retailers to seal the deal.
Soundbar, home cinema speakers or full system?
You first decision needs to be working out exactly what you want to buy – and how that tallies up with your budget. You essentially have three broad choices:
- Soundbar: A soundbar is a single speaker that usually sits below your TV and gives a nice boost in sound quality to your TV experience. Pedal-style soundbars can give you that bass boost you need, while 5.1 soundbars (and above) can give you that feeling of 3D sound depth you want for an immersive home theatre experience. For more information, check out our dedicated soundbar page.
- Home cinema speakers: While a soundbar can give you depth of sound through tricking you into thinking there are speakers all around the room, these are the real deal. You’ll need to think carefully about placement around your room, and may include getting someone in to do some wiring, but this is the way to go for the true home cinema aficionado.
- All-in-one home cinema system: You can also find home cinema equipment that includes everything built in – from a DVD/Blu-ray player right through to smart TV and radio functionality. Bear in mind that what you’ll save in price on an all-in-one solution you’ll usually pay for in overall quality, but this can be a great way to go if you’re on a limited budget or are looking for simplicity.
Surround sound type: What is right for you?
When it comes to audio the numbers can seem pretty baffling at first, but the basics are actually pretty simple. Take standard audio stereo as the base, which is described as 2.0 – two speakers, working in stereo, each putting out a full range of sound.
If you see something described as 2.1 it means much of the bass depth is removed from the two stereo speakers and instead put through a large mono subwoofer speaker.
This means the two speakers can be much smaller and less intrusive, while you still get the bass ‘whumf’ from your home cinema experience.
As you go above this (5.1, 7.1, 9.1 etc) you are adding extra speakers to give better depth of sound – or surround sound. In a soundbar this will describe home many individual speakers are inside the bar, while in a home cinema system it will be how many individual speakers you’ll end up with placed around your room.
Inputs: HDMI, optical and analog inputs
While it might seem incredibly boring, you do need to think about the kind of inputs you need on your home cinema kit. There’s no point finding what you think is your ideal gadget, only to get it home and find it’s not compatible with your television…
- HDMI: Given the choice, a HDMI connection between your television and home cinema will likely be your number one option. Most modern TVs will have HDMI connectors, the cables are relatively cheap, and you’ll get the ultimate multi-channel high def audio from your Blu-ray collection.
- Optical: Even relatively recent TVs may not have HDMI connectors, but will have optical inputs. You can still get great sound from your TV (some say the best), including multi-channel digital audio; just not the latest high-resolution audio on Blu-rays. However, in the majority of cases, you’re unlikely to hear much of a difference.
- Analog: If you have an old school TV you may be using analogue connections (the old red and while cables/connectors). While these cables are fine for music they’re not designed for digital signals – it’s probably time for an upgrade.
Other home cinema considerations
So you know how to narrow your home cinema search down, but are there any little extra you might want to be looking out for?
An important consideration is dimensions. You really need to think about where your soundbar, subwoofer and speakers are going to go. The same goes for style: will the unit you love really fit with the style of room it’s going in to?
If you really like to pump up the volume for the fully immersive experience, but your housemates or neighbours don’t agree, make sure your new home cinema kit has a headphone socket!
Bluetooth connectivity can also be a boon, letting you easily stream audio and video via your smartphone or tablet – while not all home cinema equipment comes with a dedicated remote for those couch potatoes.
Buying your dream home cinema system
Once you’ve found your perfect home cinema set-up, purchasing it online couldn’t be easier – or safer. Genie Shopping partners with the UK’s leading retailers – from Amazon and AO to John Lewis and Currys – so you don’t need to worry about reputation.
And remember, once you click through from Genie Shopping you’re taken directly to the official website of your favourite UK high street store or e-tailer – you won’t be dealing with us directly, we just help you compare, find the best deals and then point you in the right direction. Good luck!