Home cinema is becoming less of a luxury and more of an everyday occurrence in the modern living room. With that in mind, it’s time to look at some of the kit you should be considering adding to your own personal space…

HARMAN-KARDON HS250 (around £650)
VERDICT: 7/10

The price tag hanging off this Harman-Kardon system might seem a little steep for a 2.1 channel set-up, but the HS250 is not without its charms. The stylish black kit features two supermodel thin speakers and one plus-size model subwoofer, along with the main DVD receiver unit. A handy bonus for Apple audio fans is the included iPod docking station, which Harman-Kardon calls The Bridge. Picture quality lives up to the standard of the upscaled 1080i images, with an absence of screen noise. Meanwhile, sound is enhanced by a thumping bass that is only slightly let down by a tinny treble. All of which should push this system towards the winning post in this test, but a poorly designed menu system and a clumsy remote control leave it lagging behind.

Specifications:
Disc type: DVD
Supported media: MP3, WMA, JPEG, DivX
Connections: HDMI output, Component Video output, Composite Video output, S-Video output, Optical digital input, Coaxial digital input, 2 x Analogue audio input, USB
Total speaker power output: 130W
Sound channels: 2.1

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NAD VISO FIVE (around £799)
VERDICT: 7/10

NAD is well known for producing functional-yet-boxy-looking sound systems and while the Viso Five boasts a classier design than its brethren, it still can’t out-glam most of the other systems on test here. Thankfully, what’s inside more than makes up for any cosmetic factors. Packing in the technology to handle Dolby Digital, DTS and Pro-Logic II decoding, it can push 45W of excellent sound out to five speakers. Picture quality is also commendable, with upscaling up to 1080i. And if you’re willing to shell out for some NAD add-ons it’s easy to upgrade to an iPod connection and a DAB digital radio receiver. Unfortunately, the lack of HDMI input won’t thrill those who already have multiple sources such as Sky/Virgin, a games console and a Blu-ray player to connect to their flatscreens.

Specifications:
Disc type: DVD
Supported media: MP3, DivX, DVD-A
Connections: HDMI output, Scart output, S-Video output x 1/input x 3, Composite output x 1/input x 3, Component input, Optical Digital input, Coaxial Digital input
Total speaker power output: 500W
Sound channels: 5.1

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Onkyo HT-S9100THX (around £650)
VERDICT: 8/10

Simply looking at what comes as part of this set is enough to give most buyers goosebumps, as it seems to promise everything a user could need for a full-on cinema experience. On the image side, Onkyo’s impressive DV-SP406 DVD player is matched with the company’s HT-R960 receiver to kick out some of the best pictures on show in this test. High-def junkies certainly get their fix as the upscaling capabilities reach a full 1080p and there are three HDMI inputs. That receiver also links up with the 7.1-channel speaker system to dispense everything from Dolby Digital TrueHD and DTS HD, to Pro-Logic II and DTS Neo 6. Sadly, the system falls down when it comes to the speakers, with a cheap feel creeping through into the sound quality – particularly when it comes to the bass unit. That makes what should be a winning system fall at the final hurdle.

Specifications:
Disc type: DVD
Supported media: MP3, WMA, DivX
Connections: HDMI output x 1/input x 3, Component output x 1/input x 3, S-Video output x 2/input x 3, Composite output x 2/input x 3, Optical Digital input x 2, Coaxial Digital input x 2, Analogue Audio input x 3
Total speaker power output: 1,200W
Sound channels: 7.1

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PANASONIC SC-BT100 (around £500)
VERDICT: 5/10

As with the Onkyo HT-S9100THX, Panasonic has produced an impressively specced package that will make those looking for a quick home cinema fix sit up and take notice. And – as with the Onkyo system – Panasonic’s all-in-one offering has annoyingly concentrated on one major aspect at the expense of the other. Once again the sound quality is ruined by speakers that turn movie gunshots into a painful bang to the earhole. Which is a shame, as the included Blu-ray player makes full use of processing power that can command 15 billion pixels per second and draft flawless 1080p images. There are also some hidden bonuses in the form of support for SD and SDHC memory cards and a concealed iPod dock, but nothing can make up for that poor sound quality.

Specifications:
Disc type: Blu-ray
Supported media: MP3, WMA, JPEG, DivX
Connections: HDMI output, Component output, S-Video output, Composite output, Optical Digital input, Analogue Audio input
Total speaker power output: 1,000W
Sound channels: 3.1

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Samsung HT-BD2 (around £700)
VERDICT: 8/10

If the Panasonic SC-BT100 turned the heads of those looking to get Blu-ray and high-def sound in a single easy purchase, then the Samsung HT-BD2 should have their eyes goggling. A full 7.1 channel speaker set-up comes as standard, beating the Panasonic’s measly 3-channel offering. And those satellite speakers get a full work out thanks to the HT-BD2’s ability to handle the HD sound formats found on Blu-ray discs, such as Dolby True HD, DTS HD and Dolby Digital Plus. But with so many pluses something had to be missing and despite featuring a computer connection port to update the unit’s controlling software, there’s no support for BDLive internet functions. Similarly, there’s no second processor in the Samsung box, so those picture-in-picture features won’t be watched anytime soon, making this bundle only acceptable if you’re willing to upgrade the Blu-ray player in the future.

Specifications:
Disc type: Blu-ray
Supported media: MP3, JPEG
Connections: HDMI output, Component output, Composite output, 2 x Optical Digital input, Analogue Audio input
Total speaker power output: 1,100W
Sound channels: 7.1

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TEUFEL IMPAQ 500 (around £700)
VERDICT: 8/10

This statuesque system from German manufacturer Teufel bundles together a DVD receiver with two tower speakers and a chunky sub-woofer. The build quality of the units immediately sets the system apart from cheaper 2.1 systems and those solid good looks are almost matched by the sound and picture. DVD upscaling only pushes levels up to 1080i instead of the highest 1080p settings, but aside from a little loss of sharpness at times this is more than enough for most HD TVs. However, the quality of the bass reproduction does suffer from some issues, despite the sub-woofer sitting on cute rubber legs to cut out excess vibration. The Dolby Virtual Speaker system – designed to mimic the effect of a set-up using five speakers instead of two – is also no substitute for the real thing. 

Specifications:
Disc type: DVD
Supported media: MP3, WMA, JPEG, DivX
Connections: HDMI, Scart, Component, S-Video, Composite,
Optical Digital input/output, Coaxial Digital input/output, Analogue Stereo Input x 3/output x 1, USB
Total speaker power output: 450W
Sound channels: 2.1

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YAMAHA YSP-40D (around £800)
VERDICT: 9/10

On paper, this single-unit ‘soundbar’ from Yamaha should be a failure. With no outlying speakers to back it up it has to simulate its surround sound effect from a single point in the room. It also lacks a dedicated bass unit to help punctuate events with the necessary low rumbles – although an optional sub-woofer is available from Yamaha if you don’t mind adding even more to the £800 price tag. However, overcoming what should be its shortcomings, the Yamaha YSP-40D is a revelation. This is the surround sound system for those who don’t want a surround sound system cluttering up their living room.
Not that it’s a lightweight teeny option, weighing in at 16Kg and stretching to more than a metre long. But it’s all muscle, no flab, as that body hides 40 tiny directional speakers and two meatier woofers. These bounce sound off the walls of a room to create their effects around the viewing area, using a tiny microphone to initially hone that delivery.
Unlike many other systems that try and create a virtual surround performance (usually mimicking a 5.1-channel sound using a 2.1-channel set up), the Yamaha really pulls it off. Often the problem is that the sound coming from the front is transmitted well, but the effects that are supposed to behave like they’re coming from behind you never make it that far. The YSP-40D, by comparison, drops you in the cockpit for James Bond’s aerial dogfight and has you looking over your shoulder for an enemy plane. That’s thanks to decoding options which take in Dolby Digital, DTS and Pro-Logic II.
You might also expect a one-box unit to be lacking when it comes to connections, but once again Yamaha has done itself proud. Twin HDMI inputs can be fed back into a TV using the single HDMI output, while two optical digital audio, two coaxial digital audio and two component video inputs mean a good chunk of your kit will have access. There’s even an iPod dock connector, although the dock itself is sold as an extra accessory.
It’s not all about the sound, though, and the system’s 1080i upscaling creates vibrant images that only suffered slightly during very dark scenes. The HDMI output can also carry images at 24p, so there’s less image judder when they reach a high-def screen. And the unit was even able to upscale analogue sources – something lacking from a few of the other players on test here.
With great virtual sound, a fine catch of connections and stunning upscaled images, what more could you want? A DAB radio tuner? OK, it’s got one of those too. Altogether, this is a heavyweight surround sound system neatly packed in a single box.

Specifications:
Disc type: DVD
Supported media: JPEG, MP3
Connections: HDMI input x 2/output x 1, Component input x 2/output x 1, Composite input x 3/output x 1, 2 x Optical Digital input, 2 x Coaxial Digital input
Total speaker power output: 120W
Sound channels: 5.1

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