Whilst we all love a good night out at the local cinema, it can't be denied that there's something altogether more special and desirable about enjoying your cinematic entertainment from the comfort of your own home.
With a decent home cinema setup, simple movie nights can become the stuff of legend that you and your friends will be talking about for years to come. And who doesn't enjoy being the envy of their friends?
Here, we'll be looking into the questions you should be asking yourself before you take the plunge and invest in a home cinema system of your very own. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's start with the basics.
How much does a home cinema system cost?
This depends very much on what you're looking for in a home cinema system.
If you're happy with a more subtle setup that you might only choose to fully utilise on special occasions, you could probably get away with spending just under a grand and still come away with a complete and respectable system. You'll also need to figure out how much room you actually have in your living room (or wherever you choose to house your system), as many home cinema systems can be rather large.
Finally, there are various complete home cinema systems that offer wonderful value for money, but lack the flexibility of separate components. Also, complete systems might include features you'll never need or use, so you could be paying extra for things you simply don't want. These are all things to take into consideration when choosing what direction to take with your system.
What do you need for a home cinema system?
Most complete home cinema systems will be composed of a set of speakers and an AV receiver. Very few systems will also include the devices actually required to play your movies, though chances are, if you have even the smallest interest in cinema, you probably already own a decent blu-ray player and television set.
AV Amplifiers and Receivers – These are very much the brains of the operation. Your amplifier is what decodes the sounds coming from your chosen media, so you'll want to make sure you go for an amp that is compatible with your Blu-Ray player, games console or media device. The receiver, meanwhile, is the device that breaks this sound down into its separate components and sends it to your speaker setup, so you'll want to make sure your receiver and speakers are compatible. Your home cinema receiver drives your entire speaker system, and will also require a fair amount of cabling to operate. Thankfully, the lion's share of the cabling required should be shipped with your system, but it never hurts to have a few spares knocking around!
Speakers – Sound is what makes a home cinema system really pop, and without a decent set of speakers, you might as well just plonk on a pair of headphones and be done with it. The first choices you're going to have to make with your speaker setup, is whether you'll be opting for a 9.1, 7.1 or a 5.1 surround setup, whether you'll be needing a subwoofer, or whether you'll want to settle for the more affordable option of a TV sound bar. Before you splash out on an extravagant system of speakers, be sure to make sure that you actually own a device that can output to these formats, otherwise you'll essentially be throwing your money away. Also, remember that your centre speaker is by far the most important, so that's where you want to be putting most of your money!
Projector – If a gargantuan 60 inch TV simply isn't enough for you, then your only real option is to opt for a home cinema projector. Of course the first thing you'll need is a clean, white wall or a decent projector screen on which to project your films, then you'll need to look into the actual projector itself. Whilst projectors can't possibly give you the same crystal clear definition of a 4K TV, there are plenty of affordable projectors capable of projecting at 1080p or even in 3D! Even the lower-end projectors should also be able to produce incredibly sharp images up 10 100 inches in diameter! Not too shabby right? Brand wise, Epson (otherwise known as the printer guys) are a genuinely respected brand, but if you fancy a more affordable, but no less worthy option, Optoma are also a solid bet!
TV – If you've decided a projector isn't for you, then you probably already have a decent TV ready to form the centrepiece of your home cinema, but if you haven't upgraded in a while, you might want to consider perhaps opting for something a little larger or something a little sharper. 4K TVs are surprisingly affordable these days, and whilst the format still has yet to properly make its presence felt in the mainstream, it's certainly only a matter of time, what with services such as Netflix and companies such as Sony currently researching ways in which to bring the ultra high definition format to their platforms within the next couple of years.
What’s the best home cinema setup?
This is an incredibly subjective question, but it's also a very important one. The best thing to do is do your research, as you'll want to be as informed as possible before you start digging into your wallet. There are many dedicated AV magazines (both on and offline), as well as online forums that should help you figure out what your best options are. These sources should also help you figure out which products work best with one another and complement one another.
There are countless brands to consider, each offering their own positive and negative traits. As a rule of thumb, the more famous brands are always going to be more expensive, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will be any better or even more reliable. Indeed, smaller brands often put a greater emphasis on customer service and quality, as they need to do so to remain relevant in an incredibly competitive market!
One of the very best home cinema system brands is Denon, who are specialists in the field and whose products have won more awards than almost any other brand. Onkyo too is a brand with some real gravitas. We're not saying you should count out the big boys such as Yamaha, Pioneer and Sony, of course, but that you should at least give the little guys a once over before you make your decision.
In terms of setup, the best configuration will depend on what you want from a home cinema system. Do you want to be completely immersed in your entertainment and blow the roof off with crisp, detailed visuals and explosive sound? Or would you be quite comfortable with a more modest setup, which allows you to enjoy the latest blockbusters from the comfort of your own home, without feeling like you're missing out?
Either way, there are plenty of options and configurations to choose from, and whatever you choose, you'll never want to go back to the cinema again. Now all you need is a popcorn maker!