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Should you buy a home cinema system?

By Martin Pratt

The best surround-sound home cinema systems bring the immersive cinema experience into your living room, but with wires galore and potentially fiddly setup, would you be better with a sound bar?

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It is possible to buy a modern TV with decent sound quality, but if you want a truly immersive experience you'll probably want to invest in some dedicated speakers.

Home cinema systems offer a complete and wide-ranging solution - from compact to beefy, two speakers right up to seven or more, and wired or wireless connections for a tidier finish. 

Read on to learn more about home cinema systems so you can buy with confidence.

Ready to improve the sound from your TV? Click here to see all our Best Buy sound bars, or check the table below for our home cinema reviews

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.

Home cinema system reviews
Model Score Review Price
Subscriber only content 81% This is one of the best home cinema system we’ve tested. The stunning, well balanced sound is only improved by the upward- firing speakers. The system may be bulky, but this Best Buy is worth making space for. £599
Subscriber only content 79% If you're a movie buff who really wants to immerse yourself in your favourite films, this system is a great choice. Our expert listening panel were thoroughly impressed, and the Best Buy award is well deserved here. £339
Subscriber only content 76% This Best Buy is a wise choice for anyone who wants to bring their films to life. With plenty of power behind the sound that this system gives out, action films come alive and are immersive. There's a lot to like here. £486
Subscriber only content 57% While the stereo and surround sound effects are decent, the actual sound quality doesn't make the grade. The DVD and Blu-ray playback quality is excellent, but it's not enough to redeem this home cinema system, and we'd suggest you look elsewhere. £170
Subscriber only content 52% Picture quality is superb, particularly high definition Blu-ray playback, but it's not the most intuitive system to set up or use. Sound quality could be improved and falls short of the levels achieved by rival models. £279
Subscriber only content 39% This model is packed full of features, including a unique 'Football Mode' which enhances football matches by adding prerecorded stadium sounds. But it ultimately fails when it comes to overall sound quality, and is a Don't Buy. £199

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. Packages are available as 2.1, 3.1, 5.1 and 7.1 systems. The numbers represent how many speakers and subwoofers each system has, for example a 5.1 system would include five speakers and one subwoofer.


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

Sound bars

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 they don't create the surround-sound effect as well as home cinema 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 to add some oomph to the bass. 

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 and 7.1 systems

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

A 7.1 system adds 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 one.

You can also hook up your games console to a home-cinema system for the ultimate gaming experience. Consoles like the Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4 support Dolby digital surround sound, and many games have full surround-sound tracks to accompany the on-screen action.


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