Spectacular sound is something we take for granted at the cinema, although it is only 20-odd years ago that Dolby and surround sound were first introduced (Star Wars persuaded cinemas to introduce the new technology). Now it is possible for home systems to reproduce sound and vision to the standard of a local Odeon. A basic set-up will consist of a screen, a source (video or DVD player), an amplifier and speakers.
One of the problems of home cinema is that the set-up takes over the room. It would not do justice to the high-end system featured here to be competing for space with a fireplace and sideboard in a small lounge. So for those without the open-plan loft, it is possible to upgrade the Philips TV from Nicam stereo to a basic Dolby surround sound system with the addition of two rear speakers.
If picking and choosing components is too complicated and expensive for you, then Pioneer is shortly introducing the NS-DV1, a complete home cinema (around pounds 1,200, available next month, stockists on 01753 789 500). It includes a DVD/CD player, a sub-woofer with built in amplifier and five compact satellite speakers, providing an excellent home cinema for a fraction of the usual cost.
Screen To replicate the cinema experience you need a large, quality screen. Widescreen is preferable in order to show films in their 16:9 ratio (wide and narrow). The Philips Silver Shadow (1) (pounds 1,600, stockists on 0181-689 4444) is a 32-inch widescreen television that uses 100Hz Digital Scan technology to ensure flicker-free images (far superior to standard 50Hz sets). Rear projection models provide even bigger screen sizes, although the quality is not as sharp. Toshiba makes a massive 56-inch widescreen model (around pounds 3,400, stockists 01276 62222).
Player DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) is the reason home cinema looks and sounds so good. It delivers sound and images far superior to VHS tape, and does not suffer from drop out or deterioration. The Denon DVD-5000 (2) (pounds 1,600, stockists on 01234 741 200) has a full selection of DVD features, such as picture ratio adjustment, multi-angle function and subtitles. It is also packed with state-of-the-art components, including a 24 bit/96Mhz converter giving fantastic sound reproduction, and a HDCD decoder to get the best from existing music CDs.
Amplifier The amplifier is used to control the distribution of sound to the speakers. There are now two competing surround-sound systems. Dolby Digital Pro Logic is the established standard and is compatible with most DVD films. The new arrival is dts (Digital Theatre Sound) which some people find superior to Dolby, but currently there are few films available that use the technology. However, it is being promoted by Steven Spielberg, so it seems likely that films will increasingly be formatted for both systems. The Denon AVC-A1D amplifier (3) (pounds 2,000, stockists on 01234 741 200) has decoders to work with either system and is designed to be "future proof" in case of further technological developments.
Speakers For surround sound, speakers can be limited to a front and a rear pair, but to get the full effect (and a good system can literally have you jumping out your seat) you will need a bass bin. The Revox Elegance Home System (pounds 2,000, stockists 01992 573 030) consists of twin front columns (4) and a pair of rear shelf speakers (5), a centre dialogue (6) and active sub-woofer (7) - pumping out 150 watts of deep bass - which, if you are at all limited for space, can be tucked away discreetly in the corner of a room