Sound is just as essential to enjoying a film as a decent display -- and there's no easier way of introducing surround sound to your living room than with an all-in-one home cinema system.
These systems offer compact convenience at an affordable price and are an easy-to-use alternative to expensive separates. Features are relatively basic, but often include integrated surround processing, video upscaling, digital connectivity and convergent USB options that allow you to access files stored on digital devices. Performance has also improved enormously in recent times.
We've chosen four quick-fix home cinema solutions that will have you reaching for the popcorn before the last speaker's in place:
If you don't want to spend too much, JVC's TH-P7 is an incredibly affordable system that's great value for money -- if you can accept a few compromises. The uninspired design appears economical, but the speakers can be flexibly positioned using different stands and wall mounts. Unlike the other systems, connectivity is limited by the absence of a future-proof HDMI output, which makes this model more suitable for conventional displays. There is a useful USB port that lets you access music, video and photo files from various digital devices. The 6-channel digital amplifier supports vanilla Dolby/DTS decoding and Pro Logic II processing that will convert stereo sources to multi-channel. Picture performance is good for the price and subtle sound effects create expansive ambience -- although the sub is a little lightweight.
Samsung's HT-XQ100 is a small but perfectly formed 5.1 system that won't overwhelm your living space. The unusual, stand-mounted unit and speakers are heavily glossed in trademark black with attractive neon lighting -- including an oversized display that eases operation. The system is designed for modern flat-screen displays and connectivity features high-quality HDMI and component outputs, but no Scart. There's also USB hosting and an optical audio input, which means you can connect external devices that output surround sound, like Sky HD or the Xbox 360. Picture performance is enhanced by integrated upscaling that will convert standard DVDs to near-high-definition quality, while surround sound benefits from effective steering and impressive bass.
If you want something more substantial, Pioneer's DCS-360 is one of the few systems that features floor-standing speakers. The stylish, 'tall-boy' speakers offer greater dynamics and bass extension than smaller designs can muster. There's a full range of video connectivity, including HDMI with integrated upscaling, and a USB port that lets you access a wider range of digital media. The digital amplifier claims greater efficiency and less signal degradation than typical analogue designs and is supported by the usual Dolby and DTS decoding. Picture quality is outstanding, with clean, detailed images, and the sound is expressive and unflinching -- although ambient effects could be more cohesive.
Philips' HTS6510 is slightly different to the rest as it only features a 2.1 speaker system. Pseudo-surround effects are engineered via SonoWave technology, which uses a 6-channel digital amplifier, advanced audio processing and multi-directional speakers to create the illusion of surround sound. The lustrous, classy design will thrill style seekers and complete connectivity includes all video options, a USB port and dedicated MP3 input. Upscaled images are excellent with dense blacks exposing depth and detail, but lower quality connections can appear occasionally noisy. Although the sound is unlikely to convince you that other speakers exist, it still compares well with systems of this type.