Home cinema buying guide

Home cinema systems

Bring your movies to life with atmospheric surround sound. Our buying guide will take you through the types of systems available and their benefits. View our range of home cinema systems and watch our Panasonic sound bar and John Lewis sound booster videos.

Why do I need a home cinema system?

Everybody has a favourite movie, from a Hollywood blockbuster to an art house film. A home cinema surround sound system with its immersive audio qualities will bring all those memorable moments back to life, letting you relive them over and over again, all in the comfort of your own home.

How does it work?

Blu-ray has long responsible for the most recent growth in popularity of home cinema. Most Blu-ray discs contain 5.1 multi-channel digital audio, which when decoded and amplified by a home cinema system puts you in the middle of the action, giving you a listening experience akin to your local multiplex.

You can also use your home cinema system to extract surround sound from stereo sources. Connecting up your TV and games console allows you to enjoy broadcasts and video games, revealing detail you hadn’t heard before.

 

Home cinema systems typically include a receiver and Blu-ray player as well as a subwoofer and multiple mini satellite speakers. The subwoofer provides powerful low frequency bass while mini speakers are placed around the room to provide the sound effects

5.1 surround speaker system

5.1 surround sound

5.1 surround systems utilise 6 speakers including a subwoofer. The supplied cabling is normally thin enough to be run along skirting boards so things don’t get untidy.


As the best sound formats such as Dolby Digital utilise 5.1 channels, this type of system is perfect for soundtrack reproduction, each channel having a dedicated loudspeaker. This, plus the precise positioning of the speakers around the listener mean 5.1 systems are generally considered to give the best surround experience going. However, not all of them have the Blu-ray player built-in.


The improved sound capability of Blu-ray has lead to the development of systems that support 7.1 channel sound. Some of our new Blu-ray home cinema systems support 7.1 sound, but will require additional speakers.

 

2.1 surround speaker system

2.1 Surround system

2.1 surround systems utilise 2 speakers (either separately or mounted together in a unit which sits under your TV) plus a subwoofer.

2.1 surround systems are perfect if your want an immersive sound experience but have a small living room, and/or you don’t want the hassle of running wires to where the surround speakers would normally be situated. 

5.1 sound formats such as Dolby Digital can be “downmixed” for 2.1 reproduction, so you can still enjoy multi-channel surround sound from just 2 speakers and the subwoofer. Clever psychoacoustics (the way you perceive sound) convinces you you’re in the middle of the action.

Again, not all of them have the Blu-ray player built-in.

All-in-one speaker system

All-in-one speaker system

All-in-one units contain surround sound decoding, amplification and multiple speakers in one neat box which sits under your TV (or is built into a TV stand your telly sits on). The DVD player is not normally included.

The speaker array contains drivers positioned at different angles which then fire the 5.1 sound around you. Again psychoacoustics (the way you perceive sound) convinces you you’re in the middle of the action. The perfect solution for wire haters.

View our range of home cinema systems

 

Glossary

2.1

Cinema-style surround sound from 2 speakers and a subwoofer. Front left and right channels deliver dialogue and on-screen sounds, and also surround effects normally reproduced by separate surround speakers. The LFE (Low Frequency Effects) channel provides low frequency bass at certain points for sound effects such as explosions. 5.1 sound can be “downmixed” by a 2.1 system.

5.1

Very precise cinema-style surround sound from 5 speakers and a subwoofer. Front left centre and right channels deliver dialogue and on-screen sounds, while twin left and right surround channels provide the surround effect. Both Dolby Digital and DTS are forms of 5.1 surround sound.

All-in-one

A unit containing surround sound decoding, amplification and multiple speakers.

Centre speaker

A loudspeaker which generally sits above or below your TV and reproduces dialogue and other front-oriented sound effects.

Coaxial digital cable

A lead used to connect a DVD player to a home cinema surround system. Carries the 5.1 signal to be decoded by the receiver.

Dolby ProLogic

A technology which decodes audio encoded in two-channel Dolby Surround for four-channel playback. The channels consist of Front Left/Right, Centre (mainly for speech) and Rear (for sound effects), combining to offer superb three-dimensional sound. Good sources of Dolby Surround material include TV broadcasts, video games, or DVDs of older films (which don’t carry 5.1 audio).

Dolby Digital

This sound format is more advanced than Dolby ProLogic. The surround speakers output full-range stereo sound, and a subwoofer channel for deep bass is provided. The format is also referred to as 5.1 with the subwoofer designed as the 0.1 channel. All six channels are recorded separately for superior channel separation, which ultimately leads to greater steering of sound effects around the room.

DTS

A type of 5.1 surround sound created by Digital Theater Systems. DTS uses less compression than Dolby Digital, which leads to a slightly clearer sound.

Optical digital cable

A lead used to connect a DVD player to a home cinema surround system. Carries the 5.1 signal to be decoded by the receiver. Also known as TOSLink.

Popcorn

Popcorn is usually served salted or sweetened and is enjoyed during the movie-watching experience.

Receiver

The heart of the home cinema, this unit decodes and amplifies the 5.1 signal (Dolby Digital or DTS) from the DVD player. Will also usually feature a Dolby ProLogic decoder as well for extracting surround sound from stereo sources. The receiver may also have the DVD player built-in.

Subwoofer

A loudspeaker which reproduces very low frequency sound i.e. bass.

Surround speaker

A surround speaker reproduces sound effects. Used as a pair, surround speakers sit generally above and behind the listening position.

Virtual Dolby

Provides a surround sound effect while only using two front speakers. Normally found on televisions or All-in-one systems.