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Five complete home cinema systems for every need: wireless, mobile, premium and more

Five complete home cinema systems for every need: wireless, mobile, premium and more
(Image credit: Future)

Search What Hi-Fi?'s pages, both digital and hard copy, and you'll find a wealth of home cinema reviews. We love home cinema as much as we love hi-fi, and we imagine you do too; but we also appreciate that you might be a little too busy to wade through every critique of each AVR, speaker package, projector, TV, disc player and/or streaming service that there is, to find the best home cinema system for your needs.

Fortunately, you no longer have to. We've put together five excellent home cinema set-ups to cover all kinds of budgets and situations, including constraints of space, location and parameters introduced by any less sympathetic housemates.

Whether you want to buy a complete home cinema system from scratch or just upgrade what you've got to look a little more like one of the setups below, we should have something to suit your thinking.

If you do wish to go freestyle, remember that a very rough guide for a traditional set-up is to spend equal amounts on the picture and sound parts of your system. Spend twice as much on your AVR as your Blu-ray player and then twice that amount again on your speaker package. As we say, though, that's just a rule of thumb and should be applied with plenty of flexibility.

And don't forget to leave a little change for cables, wallmounts, projector screens, TV units and AV racks where needed. And maybe enough for some 4K Blu-rays and a streaming service subscription too.

Home cinema on the move

Best home cinema systems for every need: wireless, mobile, premium and more

(Image credit: Future)

Apple launched a couple of stunners in the audio and video space in 2020 and 2021 – and it turns out that putting them together makes the best mobile home cinema set-up that you'll find anywhere.

The Mini LED backlight technology on the iPad Pro (2021) has been a game changer for the Apple tablet, and the high-end laptop-derived processor sat inside only helps squeeze even more video performance.

Although it has the same pixel density as almost all other iPads, the 12.9in Pro seems to dig up even more fine details. But it's the near-perfect blacks that really make the huge difference. It’s like having a miniaturised top-end TV that you can take almost anywhere. Combined with super bright highlights, it makes a more dynamic and exciting picture than we've seen on a tablet before, with colours typically authentic and vibrant.

It can handle HDR content, including Dolby Vision, which makes partnering it with the wealth of PAYG content available on iTunes all the better. As well as top quality streams, iTunes also houses huge numbers of Dolby Atmos films and TV shows too, which will sound fantastic on the Apple AirPods Max.

It's easy to look at the price of these headphones and scoff but they justify every penny. They’re so much better than the existing competition in terms of authenticity, detail and crispness of sound, and their spatial-audio smarts make them out of this world for home cinema. This clever tech provides a virtual surround sound experience for 5.1, 7.1 and even Dolby Atmos content. Not only that, but built-in head tracking means that the sound is always relative to the screen, even when you move your head or the iPad on which you’re watching.

Whether you're on your commute, on a long-haul flight or simply wandering off to a different part of the house, this is a magic three of mobile cinema that you just can't beat – not cheap, but utterly sublime.

Entry-level home cinema

Best home cinema systems for every need: wireless, mobile, premium and more

(Image credit: Future)

Big aspirations are great, but they require big bank accounts and often lots of space too. It might also be the case that you're not quite ready to commit to something really premium right off the bat. In that case, you might want to get the ball rolling with an entry-level home cinema set-up and leave yourself with plenty of scope for upgrades in the future.

We'd highly recommend the Epson EH-TW7100 4K HDR projector as the centre-piece of the system. It's the current What Hi-Fi? Product of the Year in the projector category for its solid performance and affordability. While it won't match the more serious native 4K machines for their black depth or HDR punch, it still delivers a very watchable picture with good colours, notable contrast handling and natural looking motion.

To match that for sound, go with a combination of the Denon AVC-X2700H AVR and, ideally, the Q Acoustics 3050i home cinema speaker package. The Denon AVC-X2700H is Denon's entry-level X-series home cinema amplifier. It brings up to seven powered channels of sound, 150W per channel, which you could arrange in 7.2, 5.2.2 or just a simple 5.1 in this case. There's always scope for Dolby Atmos at another time.

It's feature-packed for the three Cs – codecs, connectivity and compatibility – and sounds excellent with its precise rhythmic flavour and the kind of spatial abilities that will create plenty of detail in the soundfield for you to enjoy.

The Denon's character is on the mature side, but the Q Acoustics 3050i speakers will add a nice aggressive edge. Made up of floorstanders at the front and small standmount surrounds, the package is easy to set up and position and offers plenty of power and insight at the bottom end. If they are beyond budget, then the 3010i cinema pack is a five-star possibility too. Comprising standmounters all round, it's an easy upgrade from there when you're ready. You can even pimp out your low frequencies too with the excellent Q Acoustics QB12 subwoofer.

That just leaves source material; and the very easy answer to that is the Panasonic DP-UB820EB 4K Blu-ray player. Another Award-winner, this is a long way from the cheapest disc player on the market, but it's a lot more muscular and grown-up for it.

It delivers weighty and powerful audio that’s capable of explosions with plenty of gusto but also plenty of control. It brings a detailed and vibrant picture too. It's also an adept upscaler, capable of taking even quite grainy SD and HD films and turning them into something very watchable indeed.

Buy this little lot and you'll never look back.

Premium home cinema

Best home cinema systems for every need: wireless, mobile, premium and more

(Image credit: Future)

You love home cinema. You've tried it, you've got the space, and it fits into your life. Now it's time to go big.

Again, let's start with a projector. The JVC DLA-N5 is terrific and at a price point long before returns begin to diminish. It has deep blacks, brilliant colour reproduction, and excellent shading abilities and contrast handling. We particularly like its frame-by-frame dynamic HDR offering. While projectors don't support Dolby Vision, this very much feels like a worthy next-best thing – grand and cinematic to the last; you won't be disappointed.

A great picture, of course, deserves top-end sound, and one need look no further than the five-star Dynaudio Evoke 50 5.1 speaker package. The two front towers of this arrangement are seriously big, and the centre is no shrinking violet either. Of course, they create plenty of impact and growl when required, but it's their rapid rhythm and fluidity in the midrange and high frequencies that stands them out as classy performers. Paired with the smaller surrounds, they make a well-balanced soundfield with plenty of detail for dialogue, music and effects.

Although this is the only format of this package that we've tested, you could easily swap out the standmount surrounds for another pair of the Evoke 50 floorstanders. Another possible upgrade would be to invest in some Dynaudio in-ceiling speakers to enjoy Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks to their full – quite the mouth-watering prospect.

For source material, there's simply no other option than the fantastic Panasonic DP-UB9000 4K Blu-ray player. It's the very best on the market right now, bringing an immensely detailed and sharp picture with an excellent colour balance and sense of realism, plus a solid and powerful audio performance.

Speaking of which, you'll need the Denon AVC-X6700H to tie it all together. This 11-channel home cinema receiver (at a claimed 205W per channel) is feature-packed and ready to go whether you want to watch films with 3D audio or have some low input-lag gaming.

Sonically, it's expressive and engaging with a powerful presentation to deliver both weight and precision. Yet, while it has all that punch to grab your attention, it is the detail and dynamism that will lock you in for hours at a time. Dialogue is delivered with intensity and emotion, and soundtracks with great insight.

Together, it all makes for a wonderful system. Just leave us in there, please – turn off the lights, close the door and pop through new discs and some snacks every now and then.

Streamlined home cinema: TV and soundbar

Streamlined home cinema

(Image credit: Future)

All those boxes and wires aren't for everyone, or at least everyone who shares your home. While a speaker package and AVR is going to deliver the very best in surround sound, there is a nifty and very creditable option if 5.1 is out of the question.

The sound system you're looking for is the Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar. Launched in 2020, it's still the best soundbar we've ever tested. It's priced well beyond most other soundbars and is also a lot bigger too – quite the ambitious project for the company's first ever such device.

Measuring 127cm wide, 14cm tall and 18.5kg in weight, it’s a beast. Inside is an array of six 10cm woofers and five 25mm tweeters arranged across the front and sides, plus two upward-firing 9cm full-range drivers. Supporting both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, its trick is to bounce sound off your room’s walls and ceiling to create those 3D audio effects. Its mic-driven calibration will compensate at least somewhat for an irregularly shaped and/or cluttered room.

The result is that the Sennheiser delivers a sound big enough not to need its own subwoofer, with clear, direct dialogue and detail and subtlety in spades. The way it stretches the sound around you creates a great atmosphere and really draws you in to the action.

Given all those acoustic tricks, it's quite fussy for positioning. To get the very best from it, wall-mounting would be a good idea and, while you've got your drill out, pair it with the LG OLED65G1 TV which comes with a flush wallmount, designed to create a delightfully minimalist look. You'll get a perfectly black OLED panel surrounded by a thin black bezel and then an even thinner metal frame.

There are one or two other great premium TVs which we might also recommend, but we've chosen the G1 because TVs from some other manufacturer do not support Dolby Atmos sound. That's not a problem if you're using an AVR or bitstreaming from a disc but this is a streamlined home cinema, and to keep things really minimal we recommend the Disney+ streaming service. There's plenty of exciting, cinematic premium content available on the platform and the app won't supply the Dolby Atmos versions unless your TV itself is Atmos-certified.

The LG OLED65G1 is Dolby Vision HDR compatible too, and that means great picture potential for our streamlined home cinema system as well. It's sharp, detailed and very bright and punchy, with an on-screen image that's reliably enticing and three-dimensional.

The G1 has LG's Evo panel which is their top display tech right now. It brings contrast enhancements that work even with non-dynamic HDR standards. Blacks are, of course, inky deep but there's a subtly to all areas of the picture too. It also upscales incredibly well, and that means you'll having a great looking picture no matter your choice of source material.

5.1 home cinema without the mess

Best home cinema systems for every need: wireless, mobile, premium and more

(Image credit: Future)

So you want to sit in a genuine surround set-up with speakers positioned about you but you don't want all the cables. Ok. We can do that. Wireless home cinema is an option, power cables notwithstanding.

Fidelity of the audio signal is key here to make sure that the sound is in sync between the speakers and with the on-screen picture too. For that, we recommend Sonos which has been carving a niche of its own in the wireless audio space for many years now. It's possible to pair its products together, without the need for an AVR, to create a 5.1 system.

The Sonos Arc is the place to begin. It's one of the very best soundbars out there and offers bags of bang for your buck. It's detailed, dynamic and weighty even all on its own – but it's the soundbar's spatial smarts that really excite.

The Arc's Dolby Atmos soundfield is generated by 11 Class D digital amplifiers that power 11 custom drivers. Eight of those drivers are elliptical woofers (four along the front, two on top and one in each end), while the other three are silk-domed tweeters that are all built in to the front, but with two firing diagonally into the room.

The Arc uses its array of speakers to bounce sound off your walls and ceiling to create a 3D audio effect, and the soundfield is tailored to your room using Sonos's Trueplay technology. It supports eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel), so it can handle higher quality Dolby Atmos too.

Add in the Sonos Sub and a pair of Sonos One SL satellites as the surround speakers and you've got yourself a 5.1.2 system with almost no fuss. You could even throw in a second Sub for a 5.2.2.

What's more, because this is Sonos, there are bonus features such as multi-room music streaming, easy voice control and great music services on board too. All sorted, then. 

Hang on a minute...

...let's not forget the picture. With all that Atmos potential, we'd recommend an LG TV once more, this time the LG OLED65C1 will be the more suitable option for its easy TV unit positioning (the G1 is really designed with wallmounting in mind).

As part of this system, we'd also recommend the Panasonic DP-UB820EB 4K Blu-ray player (as previously mentioned above) for maximum performance; but we appreciate that those looking for a home cinema system without the mess will likely want to lean heavily on app-based video streaming services too.

For that reason the LG OLED65C1 is a great option with Dolby Atmos app support, its eARC certification and also its typically high quality LG OLED picture performance.

Before you pull the trigger, though, there is one caveat. Wireless systems are all well and good but they're not quite as reliable as those with cables. What's more, even the Sonos Arc alone isn't issue-free. If you plan to use it with a Sky Q box, you might want to take a look at our Sonos Arc long-term review first.

MORE:

Here's how to combine stereo and surround sound in one AV system.

13 of the best Dolby Atmos movie scenes to test your home cinema sound

Here are 8 stunning home cinema custom installs to bring you to your knees.

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.


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