Home Cinema

Buying Guide - Home Cinema Systems

What are the options?

Home Cinema

There are two types of home cinema system and both will give you a pretty good alternative to a visit to the cinema.  The two home cinema systems are known as 2.1 and 5.1.

The 2.1 home cinema system is the simplest to set up.  In this home cinema system, there are two front speakers and a subwoofer.  In home cinema entertainment audio systems, a subwoofer improves the bass capability of the main speakers.  A 2.1 home cinema system takes up little room yet the sound quality is not sacrificed as a result.  It is not quite so good at producing the cinematic surround sound you may be used to, but the system works well for home entertainment.

If you opt for a 2.1 home cinema system, you will find that you've only got three basic elements to position.  If you place the speakers either side of your TV and the subwoofer behind the TV then you can have your home cinema in the absence of unattractive wires trailing across the room.  The subwoofer needs some thought about the best placement.  Subwoofers don't like to be too close to walls, so as long as it's away from the wall, it will behave itself just fine.

If you live in a small property and don't wish for your home cinema system to take over your living room or bedroom, you will find a 2.1 home cinema system ideal.  There are some unobtrusive, attractive 2.1 home cinema systems available and they provide good value for money too.

The alternative 5.1 home cinema system, as its name suggests, has five speakers and is generally acknowledged to produce 'real' surround sound.  In addition to the subwoofer, the 5.1 home cinema system has five speakers - two front speakers, two rear speakers and one central speaker.  The 5.1 home cinema system emits six channels of audio, providing a genuine home theatre experience.

A 5.1 home cinema system is mainly used for movies as opposed to playing music, but computer sound cards are pushing the 5.1 systems to the next level - game playing.  For gamers, an immersive sound really heightens the experience of a home cinema system.  For those who are technically minded, the home cinema system can be extended to include more speakers, thus creating 6.1 and 7.1 systems.  These larger home cinema systems merit a room of their own yet will provide you with your very own home theatre system.

Features to look for

If you are short of space and unable to create a dedicated area for your home theatre, it's worth considering a wireless home cinema speaker system.  The wireless bit only really refers to the rear speakers on the 5.1 set-up, and it can partially solve the untidy cable maze situation.  A wireless transmitter connects to a Blu-ray player, and a wireless receiver plugs into the rear speakers on the other side of the room.  The two units are very small and they provide you with the freedom to position the rear speakers wherever you want them for optimum sound quality in your home theatre.

ProjectorHaving established which speaker system you are going to opt for in your home cinema, the next most important part of your home cinema set up is the projector.  The resolution of your home cinema projector is the number one priority.  The resolution determines the sharpness of the image and for maximum enjoyment should be HDTV compatible.  A home cinema projector should have a resolution of 1280x720, commonly referred to as 720p in HDTV speak.  Widescreen DVDs have a 720p resolution.  The latest home cinema projectors have a HD of 1920 x1080p and although they are very expensive at the moment, they are the home cinema system of the future.  Blu-ray and HD-DVD devices will be dependent on 1080p so one of these home cinema projectors will be the one to buy for long term use.

Once you’ve decided on your home cinema resolution you will need to consider the brightness of the resolution.  The brightness of the picture is determined by the light in the room in which you are considering setting up your home cinema.  If the room benefits from some natural or artificial light then you will need a bright picture.  On the contrary, in a very dark environment a bright picture will be unwatchable for home theatre use.

Fortunately, a good quality home cinema projector will have the necessary brightness adjustment feature to enable you to set the brightness to the level that suits the room.  It is highly likely that your projector will be in a designated home theatre and therefore, in a permanent position.  This means that it's important to calculate the 'throw' ratio, the screen size to distance, before you start looking for a suitable projector.  A projector with multiple lenses is the best option for ease of operation in your home cinema system.

Sound quality

The sound quality of your 5.1 system home theatre depends on the quality and positioning of the centre speaker.  It should be positioned between the two front speakers so, like the tyres on a car, they should be of the same range and the same manufacturer.

These three speakers are the most important audio element of your home cinema so if your budget doesn't allow for the full set of five or seven speakers, start with the front three and add on as and when.  The centre speaker is the one that relates to the speech element so for the best result, the speaker should be as close as possible to the top or bottom of the screen, at the same time remaining between the two front speakers.

Connection options

Once all the elements of your home theatre have been assembled, you may wish to connect up some of your gadgets for the ultimate home cinema experience.  With a little research and technical know-how it is possible to connect to your Sky or Freeview digibox and watch films, sporting events or your favourite soap in the comfort of your own home theatre.

The task may seem daunting but with the aid of the manual that came with your digibox and the manual for your home cinema system, you should be able to set up your digibox fairly quickly.  There is also plenty of information online from 'tech' enthusiasts who are happy to share their knowledge of home cinema systems.

If you're really computer savvy it’s possible to connect games consoles to your home cinema system.  To connect your Xbox to a home theatre system, you will need to plug the three blue green and red Xbox cables into the corresponding sockets on your TV before plugging one end of an optical cable into the home theatre system and the other end into the Xbox video cable.  Of course, check the appliance's manual or better still, ask the staff at your local electronics store before attempting any connections to your home cinema system.

Once you have set up your home cinema system, there will be lots more you will want to try out on it, such as digital radio and DVD players.  It is important to make sure that all these devices are compatible with your home theatre system.  If they are, you are certain to have hours of fun.  A range of online support options are available to assist in the installation of your home theatre system and once complete, you will wonder why you ever went to the cinema.