Home cinema systems come in three types. Your budget will play a big part in deciding what you buy, but it’s also worth thinking about what you need your system to do, both now and in the future. A cheap buy might seem like great value, but it could turn out to be a false economy in years to come.
Choose Electronics that suite your needs
Home Cinema in a box
For Affordable and convenient; compact; capable of good results; usually well-equipped with extras.
Against Small speakers and low power, so not ideal for bigger rooms; these systems can frequently
sound poor with music.
Verdict These are popular and sensible starter systems that can offer a lot for your money.
Virtual Home Cinema
For No rear speakers, so your system is both easy to install and neater; convenience of a single purchase.
Against The amount of surround-sound performance you get is usually fairly limited; no long-term upgrade path.
Verdict A great way to keep your living room looking smart, but enthusiasts should ensure they consider true
surround sound, too, as these systems can frequently sound poor with music.
Seperates Home Cinema
For Flexible, high-quality sound and vision; easy to improve over time as your budget and needs allow.
Against Higher initial cost of ownership; bigger; usually more complex to set up.
Verdict Requires more effort and outlay from you, but delivers greater rewards in return. You’ll get a system
that’ll last for years, too.
Deciding on the screen and size
If you already have a decent television, you might not even need to replace it, which could be a useful way of trimming your budget. On the other hand, with prices falling every month, why not go for a bigger, better picture? We recommend 28-inch as the minimum screen size for a home cinema setup, which means you’ve got four big-screen choices.
FORGreat value and very high quality: you get a lot of screen size for your cash when compared to plasmas.
AGAINST Depth: Conventional TVs intrude into your room, and the bigger your TV, the more the intrusion.
Verdict Still the best combination of quality and performance for your money, and capable of great results.
For Light, slim, easy to hang on the wall, and the best of these slimline televisions are capable of good picture performance.
Against Not every set is as good as
it should be for image quality; not cheap, at least not for larger screens.
Verdict A great way to get a slim television that you can put anywhere. Smaller screens cost much less: you can get a
14-inch LCD for around $1000.
FOR Big screen size, increasingly impressive picture quality; terrific with DVD movies.
AGAINST Not cheap; more affordable
models can have poor pictures.
VERDICT Modern plasmas can deliver sensational image quality; and offer
performance, size and styling to die for.
FOLLOW OUR GOLDEN RULES WHEN YOU GO SHOPPINGYou should treat smarthouse’s product reviews as just that: advice, not orders. In the end, there’s no substitute for listening and looking at a product in a dealership. Only there will you be able to try before you buy. Still, it’s best to go shopping forearmed: that way you can make a more informed buying decision.
TIME SPENT ON RESEARCH WILL PAY HUGE DIVIDENDS
Paper specs tell only half the story.
It’s sound and vision quality that counts.
Time spent reading up will help you
build a better system, and save cash, too.
PLAN WHAT YOU NEED BEFORE YOU HIT THE SHOPS
Do you want your system to be able to play music well? Do you want five, six or seven speakers?
Resolve these issues before you head to the shops. Sure, you can be swayed into buying more kit
by a good salesperson and an impressive demo, but if you know what to ask before you walk in the
shop, you’ll stand a better chance of coming home happy.
INSIST ON A FULL DEMO OF THE KIT
You wouldn’t buy a new car without a test drive. The same is true for audio and video.
One person’s nirvana is another’s nightmare. Demo the system in a listening room rather
than on the shop floor.
If you can’t have a demo there and then, make an appointment for one, and come back
on that date. Alternatively, you could try to arrange a home demo with your dealer.
TAKE ALONG YOUR FAVOURITE FILM TO COMPARE SYSTEMS
Play something you know, and ensure you watch analogue and digital TV:
DVD signals can often flatter a TV’s abilities.
COMPARE PRICES AND SERVICE
Search around, compare prices from other suppliers and haggle. It’s a buyer’s market. Don’t always opt for the
cheapest price, as some online deals may offer little by way of after-sales customer support.
POSITION YOUR NEW PURCHASES PROPERLY
It doesn’t matter how much you spend: if you don’t put your kit in the right places, you could be disappointed with the sound and vision results. It’s also important that you sit in the right place to make the most of your screen. use our size finder at the bottom of the page to select the correct display size for your room.
Avoid placing your TV in front of a window as it will strain your eyes. Equally, make sure no internal
lights, such as table lamps, shine on to the screen of the TV set.
AMPLIFIERS AND RECIEVERS
Make sure you don’t obscure the cooling vents on top of an amplifier. A lot of heat is
emitted via these grilles, so it’s essential that it’s allowed to escape properly.
Put your player on the most level surface you can find. This will help you to get the best
possible picture and sound. Avoid stacking it on other kit, too. Heat (from amplifiers) can harm performance.
Front speakers (1) work best if they’re level with the TV. Avoid getting each speaker too close to the screen,
although this is less important with slimscreen sets.
The centre speaker (2) should be placed below a TV, if you can. Use a kit rack if at all possible. It’s best to try
to support your speaker with Blu-tack, which will help to control cabinet resonations.
Rear speakers (3) should be mounted high on your wall – tilt them downwards and inwards if possible. Use tall
stands if you don’t want to fix speakers to your wall.
A subwoofer (4) can be positioned almost anywhere in your room. Put it in a corner if you want to get even more
bass, or move it into the room to reduce boom, as needed.
MAKE THE RIGHT CONNECTIONS BETWEEN ALL ITEMS OF KIT
You can use “freebie” wires to get your system working, but better quality wires will produce better performance. These needn’t be too expensive: we recommend a total spend of about 10 per cent of your whole system’s budget on cabling. Don’t be tempted to skimp here: wires make a huge difference.
DVD PLAYER TO SCREEN
Most TVs use RGB Scart, so it’s a simple plug’n’play connection. However, LCD, plasma and projector displays also offer component video, a three-cable connector that can also send progressive-scan pictures. If this option is available, go for it.
DVD PLAYER TO SURROUND AMPLIFIER OR RECEIVER
This needs a digital cable, either an optical or coaxial variety. For DVD-Audio and SACD,
you’ll need to use an additional set of six phono-type analogue connectors.
AMPLIFIER/ RECEIVER TO SURROUND SPEAKER PACKAGE
You’ll need a lot of speaker cable here. Make sure you use the same quality of cable throughout
your system, because this helps create a more convincing surround effect.
AMPLIFIER/ RECEIVER TO ACTIVE(SELF-POWERED) SUB WOOFER
This needs a phono interconnect cable. Often, a long cable comes in the box. Don’t forget that your
subwoofer will need to be plugged into the mains, as well. Keep mains cabling away from the interconnect,
as it can pick up electrical hum. Screened cables guard against this.
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TWEAK YOUR SYSTEM TO GET THE MAXIMUM FROM IT
If you really want to make the most of what your system can do, try some or all of these fine-tuning tweaks. Most of them are simpler and easier to do than you might think. We understand not everyone has loads of time to spare: if that’s the case, concentrate on the picture tweaks first.
If you have a widescreen TV, ensure you set the video aspect ratio of your DVD player to 16:9. This will provide a properly formatted picture that cracks the electronic “anamorphic” code buried in most DVD discs. This increases the size of the picture and enhances its resolution.
Make sure you select the RGB video output option for your Scart connector. If your TV has only one RGB-enabled Scart input, ensure you plug the DVD player into this socket. Avoid routing your DVD player’s picture signal through other components if you can.
If you want to use component video instead of the RGB Scart, ensure you’ve turned the RGB option to “off” in your player’s setup menus.
Try to get the front three speakers on a similar plane - horizontally and vertically. The centre speaker should not be much lower or higher than its siblings, and try to keep all three in roughly the same line.
The centre-rear speaker can be positioned some way behind your other rear speakers, since this will add to the “depth effect”. Each speaker works best if it’s accurately “toed in” towards your seated position, at ear height. Use a laser pointer if you want to get it as precise as possible.
The subwoofer can go “where it looks best”, but if you want to find the optimum site, try placing it at your listening position. Then wire it up to something – the AV receiver if you wish – and disconnect the rest of your speakers (at the receiver end, not the speaker end). Next, play a piece of music with a consistent bass rhythm. Walk around the room – you’ll hear the bass level increase and decrease at certain points. The points where the bass sounds loudest are called “nodes”and would make ideal points to position the subwoofer.
Tape-measure the distance from each speaker to your seat, and enter those figures into the “delay” adjustment options. This will ensure the surround “brain” in your amplifier, receiver or processor can accurately compensate for the size of your room. If the delay options are presented in milliseconds (ms) of delay rather than in distances, then you can use the following calculation: measure the distance from the front-left speaker to your seat. Then measure from the left-rear speaker to your seat. You’ll have two numbers. For every 30cm of difference between the two, add 1ms of delay. For example: 300cm to front speakers, 150cm to rears = 150cm difference, so 5ms of delay is necessary.
Now configure the surround receiver. First, configure the speaker sizes. Select large or small as reflects the speakers you’ve got , and adjust the crossover point to the level that corresponds to your speakers.
If you have access to six speakers in your setup, ensure you enter in a value for your sixth, centre-rear speaker.
If you want to do the job really well, use a test tone meter to accurately “weight” each speaker. This will take into account
any variations in speaker sensitivity and acoustic influences. Any measuring is best done using your remote control.
Sit in your listening position and point the meter straight upwards, not at the speakers.
To set the meter, turn the rotary dial so that it reads 80dB. Select “C” weighting using the button next to the display, right-hand side, and select “slow” response. Turn on the test tone built into your surround receiver, and turn up the main volume dial until you get a reading from the left-hand front speaker that shows 75dB. Trim the tone from each speaker to match that level.