Buying a Home Cinema System
With high tech home cinema systems and 5.1 surround sound, there’s less reason than ever for going out in the evenings. Save money and relax with some movies and a takeaway instead.
Home cinema systems can seem complicated at first, but this handy guide will show you the key features and types so you can buy the perfect kit for your needs. Don’t know your 2.1 from your 7.1 or your sub-woofer from your satellites? Read on.
What is Included in a home cinema system?
A home cinema system is a complete package for media playback, including a TV or projector, a sound system, and devices to provide content.
Home cinema systems are evolving rapidly with more and more people watching movies streamed over the internet than ever before, although you can still play back movies and other video from DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
Blu-Ray films are the highest quality available and provide the best movie experience when used with a high quality display and a suitable surround sound system.
Home cinema systems sometimes use media streamers, which act as storage devices for movies, but you can also use a television that streams movies from online libraries where you can rent or subscribe to receive access to thousands of films.
The display or television standard for home cinema systems is full HD and many people are choosing 3D options to further enhance their viewing experience. Finally, speakers deliver the sound output to complete the movie experience. Home cinemas systems usually have a surround sound system that uses 2.1, 5.1 or 7.1 sound formats, which deliver sound around the viewer to complete the cinema experience.
Screen Quality in Home Cinema Systems?
The screen size is often the most important consideration when someone buys a home cinema system.
It’s difficult to achieve the cinema experience when you need to squint to see the detail. A large screen from 40” upwards is best, but picture quality is equally important.
LED screens have replaced LCD as the best home cinema displays on the market. They are popular because they have low-energy consumption and have better colour depth. 3D options require viewers to watch movies with 3D glasses, but give a great cinema experience, which is often better than the real thing.
The standard for high definition (HD) home cinema systems is 1080p and this provides a high quality image for movies and television broadcasts filmed at the standard 24 frames per second.
Plasma, LCD and LED home cinema systems all work at a minimum of 50 hertz, which is the refresh rate with many screens going much higher than the minimum.
There is a possibility of the live broadcast industry moving from the 24 frames per second format to 50 frames per second. This is why manufacturers who wish to future-proof products prefer the minimum 50-hertz refresh rate.
How Many Speakers do I need?
Not all living rooms are the same and your needs may be different because of your room layout, shape or size.
As the name suggests, home cinema systems give you the feel of the cinema, but this is only achievable by completely immersing the viewer in the presentation. There are various ways to do this, but the most popular are 5.1 home cinema systems. 2.1, 5.1 and 7.1 systems all have a different number of speakers to surround viewers and they need to be set up accordingly. Large rooms might need the delay adjusted to make sure the sound from all the speakers gets to you at the same time.
Typical speaker set ups include;
- 2.1 sound system. This setup includes 2 speakers for left and right sound and a Sub-Woofer, which is where the .1 in 2.1 comes from. The left and right speakers should be angled toward the audience so to give the wrap-around sound effect. The sub-woofer can be located anywhere because the sound it generates is omnidirectional. The only place you should not locate the sub-woofer is in a corner because this generates boom, which is bass that sounds too heavy.
- 5.1 home cinema system. This system gives the user the same speakers as the 2.1 surround sound, but the 5.1 home cinema system also includes speakers placed behind the audience to give a complete ‘surround sound’ effect.
- 7.1 surround sound. These are the best home cinema systems on the market today as anything greater (such as 10.1) falls in the commercial equipment class. Most movies are made to cater up to 5.1 surround sound, with a few taking advantage of the extra speakers with 7.1 surround sound. As with 5.1 home cinema systems, there are front left and right as well as rear left and right speakers accompanied by a sub-woofer. The only difference is that 7.1 systems have dedicated side speakers to sit on the left and right of the audience.
The most suitable system for most people’s needs is the 5.1 home cinema system because most movie releases support this format whether they are Blu-Ray, DVD or streamed.
You can also get sound bars which sit underneath your TV to improve the quality of the sound without the need for a huge number of speakers.
What’s the difference between Plasma, LCD and LED Televisions?
Plasma TVs were the first of the flat screen televisions to become popular in the home that did not require a cathode ray tube.
No tube meant Plasma TVs could be thinner and easier to accommodate in living rooms than older models.
Plasma TVs are still the largest of home cinema screens and offer the highest refresh rates, excellent colour characteristics and brightness available on any home cinema systems.
How energy efficient are they?
Out of Plasma, LCD and LED televisions, plasma screens are the worst offenders when it comes to energy consumption, but some LCD screens are not a great deal better.
LED screens tend to receive the green energy efficiency label more often than the other two and some examples have energy/carbon figures in the low 30s for kgCO2/year. Others are closer to 100kgCO2/year and it is best to check each unit individual unit as different televisions from the same manufacturer consume energy at very different rates.