Advice Guide

Buying the best home cinema system

by Lewis Skinner Back to advice guides

Home cinema systems bring the surround-sound of the cinema into your home, making you feel as if you’re in the thick of the action.

In this guide

  • A home cinema system can bring a new level of audio excellence to your home
  • We explain what to look for when buying, from great sound quality to the right type of speakers for your room
  • Hate cables? That doesn't have to matter - consider buying a wireless system

What makes a good home cinema system?

Great sound quality

The best home cinema systems deliver top-quality audio, clear dialogue and realistic surround sound effects. Home cinema systems that deliver great surround sound quality help make you feel fully immersed in a film.

Easy to set up

Clear instruction manuals and auto set-up modes take the hard work out of setting speaker levels and delay times to suit your living room. If the amount of cabling is an issue, look for a system with optional wireless speakers.

Easy to use

Once set up, your home cinema system needs to be a breeze to operate. Look for a home cinema system with easy-to-control features and a well laid-out remote control.

What type should I buy?

All-in-one systems

These are the easiest way to get a home cinema system. They contain everything you need to get started; the amplifier, speakers, cables and instructions on how to hook it all up. A DVD or Blu-ray player may also be included. Packages are available as 2.1, 3.1, 5.1 and 7.1 systems, which refer to the number of speakers included in the setup. 

Separates

You can buy the components of a home cinema system separately – amplifier, speakers, and a DVD or Blu-ray player. This bespoke route may appeal to the committed audiophile or home cinema enthusiast wanting to perfect their set-up. It also easier to upgrade different components over time. Buying separates is, however, more expensive.

Soundbars

Sound bars cram several speakers into a long bar-shaped box that’s mounted below or alongside your TV. The sound to each speaker is then electronically processed in order to recreate a virtual surround-sound effect despite the lack of rear speakers. Although Which? tests on sound bars have revealed that they’re never as good as full-blown surround-sound systems, Best Buy sound bars are still a good option if you have limited space. 

What else should I consider?

2.1 and 3.1 systems

A basic home cinema set-up is the 2.1 system, which sees two speakers placed to the left and right of your TV set, and a subwoofer placed elsewhere in the room. 

A 3.1 system adds an extra front speaker that helps boost the sound of dialogue. You won't get true surround sound with either of these systems, but you should experience a significant improvement compared to built-in TV speakers.

5.1 systems

These deliver full surround-sound with three front speakers, two rear speakers, a subwoofer and usually a DVD and/or Blu-ray player.

7.1 systems

These add two more rear speakers to the 5.1 layout. However, the challenge of fitting so many speakers into your room means this type of system is only for the true home cinema enthusiast who has the space and budget to suit.

Could I go wireless?

Ditch all the speaker cable snaking round your living room by opting for a system with wireless rear speakers. These use a radio transmitter so the rear speakers can receive sound from the amplifier, although they still need to be connected to the mains for power.

How else can I get better sound when watching movies?

Blu-ray players not only let you watch movies in stunning high definition through a HD TV, they can also deliver high-quality digital surround sound when connected to a home-cinema system.

If you don't already have a Blu-ray player, consider buying one of our Best Buy Blu-ray players or a home cinema system that includes a player.

You can also hook up your games console to a home-cinema system for the ultimate gaming experience. Consoles such as the Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation support Dolby digital surround sound, and many games have full surround-sound tracks to accompany the on-screen action.