In the market for an incredible home cinema system? Look no further.
£15,000 is a huge amount of money, of course, and it is perfectly possible to get a decent way down the road towards this sort of performance by spending many thousands less. But if you've got it, or you feel like dreaming for a few minutes, we think this is a pretty special way to get a serious home cinema.
These components are either What Hi-Fi? Award winners – current or from years past – or very closely related to one. As we always say, please don’t assume just sticking a group of Award winners together will make for an Award-winning system; things just aren’t that easy. Starting with our favourite products, though, clearly makes sense – you can tweak which kit you use from there if something doesn’t quite marry.
For your money, you can be sure that this system will cover all the necessary bases and leave plenty of wiggle room for upgrades.
Projector: Sony VPL-XW5000ES (£5799 / $5998 / AU$9990)
AV amplifier: Arcam AVR31 (£4799 / $5250 / AU$11,495)
Speaker package: Wharfedale Evo 4.4 5.1 (£2799 / $5095 / AU$8067)
Blu-ray player: Panasonic DP-UB9000 (£999 / $1225 approx / AU$1916 approx)
Video streamer: Apple TV 4K (2022) (£149 / $130 / AU$219)
Total: £14,545 / $17,698 approx / AU$ 31,687 approx
Projector: Sony VPL-XW5000ES
We start with the projector. Sony’s VPL-XW5000ES will set you back £5799 / $5998 / AU$9990, but it is nevertheless the cheapest native 4K laser projector you can buy. That’s important; it might be rather tricky to set up, but once you (or your dealer) have everything sorted, it delivers such an obvious step up in picture quality over rivals that claim (and have) 4K images, but achieve them through double-flashing technology or pixel shifting. Its images are phenomenally sharp. Combine that with extraordinary black levels and contrast to go with laser’s traditional strengths of colour breadth and brightness, and the money feels truly well spent.
Blu-ray player: Panasonic DP-UB9000
While Blu-ray as a format is struggling with the prevalence of a plethora of streaming services, a projector such as the Sony deserves to be served by the best image you can feed it. Which is still a Blu-ray player with its physical media. Step forward Panasonic’s venerable DP-UB9000, a machine that won a Blu-ray player Best Buy from us back in 2018. It can still hold its own.
Not only is the unit pretty much bomb-proof, but it also provides a picture that still blows us away five years after the player came to market. Motion is handled with confidence and the image is filled with stunning detail and an impressive colour palette. Crucially, the Panasonic will upscale a regular 1080p Blu-ray to 4K brilliantly.
As we said in our review “This is a focused, high-performance machine – and a home cinema powerhouse.” Nothing has changed in that regard over the following five years or so.
Video streamer: Apple TV 4K (2022)
It would be remiss of us not to include a product that can access all the streaming services as well. While Blu-ray is certainly the optimum way to watch 4K content, the quality offered by the likes of Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and, in particular, the Apple TV app is not to be scoffed at. And the best video streamer we know is Apple’s excellent TV 4K.
This bijou box will bring a whole world of top-quality entertainment to this home cinema set-up. It has received a processor upgrade over its predecessor, and it makes a noticeable difference. The Apple TV 4K combines a rich yet natural colour palette with excellent motion handling; and, appropriately for the creator of the iPod, the sound is as impressive as the picture.
AV amplifier: Arcam AVR31
Both of the sources above are capable of providing the best in picture and sound, so they need an appropriately impressive pairing to reveal them. The projector, we have discussed; the AV amplifier we have gone for in this set-up is Arcam’s excellent, Award-winning AVR31. If you were buying purely on the specification sheet, you might well overlook this amp. You will have gathered, though, that that would be a mistake.
The AVR31 can decode up to 16 channels – enough for pretty much any full-blown system – but it provides power for only seven of them. So extra power amplifiers will need to be purchased to take advantage of that ultimate potential. With wide-ranging audio format support, including Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced and Auro-3D, as well as Dolby Virtual Height, DTS Neural:X and DTS Virtual:X for systems without height speakers, the AVR31 is well placed to be enhanced with the addition of a separate power amp.
The reason Arcam insists on having just seven channels amplified by the unit is, it says, that this is the maximum number of amps it can fit that allow the musical performance to be on a par with a stereo amplifier. Any more, and the quality drops off significantly, Arcam says. Useful in this system, as the Apple TV unit is a fine music streamer as well.
All we can say is that, however it has done it, Arcam has produced a magnificent-sounding AV amp that performs beautifully with music as well as movies.
It uncovers subtleties in a soundtrack that most rivals simply do not pick up, with a meticulous, refined, articulate sound that really draws you into a movie.
Its superb performance is one thing, but the Arcam AVR31 is also as future-proofed as you can get, with HDMI 2.1 sockets that mean it will be performing at the highest level for years to come.
Speaker package: Wharfedale Evo 4.4 5.1
The final piece of the audio puzzle is the surround speaker package. In our review of the Wharfedale Evo 4.4 5.1 package, the one con was “huge centre speaker”. Now, if you can’t house something that big, of course, you will have to go for something smaller. But if you can accommodate it, this package is remarkable for its cost. The Evo range was developed in conjunction with Wharfedale’s flagship Elysian range, and so it benefits (greatly, we might add) from similar technology.
It’s an elegant design – an important factor for pieces of furniture that will be clearly on display – but most importantly, this is a package that works beautifully together. Powerful and detailed, it never sounds as though it is having to work too hard. Indeed, in our review, we say: “It’s striking that when we start playing Dune in 5.1 on the Evo 4.4 surround system, it immediately prompts us to question whether there is any need for Dolby Atmos. Of course there is, but it’s a great reminder that if you have quality speakers capable of detailed precision and fluid transparency, you don’t need to go all-in on rears and height channels to have a seriously immersive home system.”
Of course, with the abilities of the Arcam amp, an upgrade to Atmos would certainly be on the cards – and could be achieved with these speakers. Wharfedale recommends its Evo4.s surround speakers (£1000 a pair) as the ideal option for Dolby Atmos in this system; although we haven’t tested them it would seem reasonable to believe that they would fit in well.
Even without Atmos, though, this home cinema system is a stunning example of what can be achieved with a “simple” (but expensive) 5.1 set-up that will truly immerse you in your movies and music for years to come.