There has never been a better time to upgrade to the latest wireless music systems and high-resolution TV screens.
Technology manufacturers have finally started to realise the importance of the ‘home’ in home entertainment systems. Gone are the unsightly black boxes; instead we’re seeing design-led products that enhance rather than clutter up your home. Combined with wireless technology and simple app-controlled operation, these mean that everyone – not just the tech-savvy – can get the best from their gadgets.
LS50 Wireless streaming speaker system (Kef: 0800 652 2696; kef.com)
Flat-panel televisions have come a long way in a short space of time. Modern sets have exceptional picture quality, elegant design and smart features that give anyone with Wi-Fi an inexhaustible selection of television and music to enjoy. Most new sets come with smart features, including online streaming such as BBC iPlayer (for which you’ll need a TV licence), Netflix and Amazon Prime. Look for built-in Wi-Fi to avoid running a cable between the TV and your router. If you don’t have a smart TV, you can upgrade your existing set with an affordable device such as Google Chromecast, Apple TV or Amazon’s Fire Stick, which plugs into the TV and connects to your Wi-Fi.
The Stockholm streaming soundbar (Vifa: +45 97 88 11 88; vifa.dk)
The latest high-resolution televisions, such as LG’s W TV, are so thin they can be hung on the wall. This brings cinema-quality viewing to the sofa without having the machinery dominating the room. Choose a screen with at least Full HD (1080x1920 pixels). The best on the market right now is 4K (also known as 4K Ultra HD or Ultra HD Premium), which offers four times more pixels, giving you jawdropping clarity and lifelike colours. 4K is still new though, so, for now, only Netflix and Amazon Prime offer new content for this system.
For the best quality movies, you can’t beat Blu-ray. Players start from just £50 and will also play older DVDs. Spend more and get smart features, allowing you to connect to online content. If you’ve bought a 4K TV, it’s worth investing in a 4K Blu-ray player. While only a handful of compatible movies have been released so far, players will upscale older formats, improving the quality. Film buffs could invest in a 100” screen; just ensure that your viewing distance is 1.5 times the size of your screen. If you sit between six and eight feet (1.8-2.4m) from your TV, then your ideal screen size is 48”-55”.
Sony's ZD9 UltraHD HDR 4K TV (Sony: 020 7365 2810; sony.co.uk)
One of the downsides of ultra-thin televisions is smaller speakers and poorer sound. Boost performance with a surround sound system – multiple speakers positioned around the room – a soundbar that sits in front of the set, or a soundbase, which the TV sits on top of. These will enhance the audio performance, especially when watching films. Look for models with Bluetooth connectivity, so you can stream music as well.
Thanks to the popularity of services like Spotify and Apple Music, virtually all new hi-fi systems can stream wirelessly from your smartphone via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Spotify has around four million songs in its library, so you can finally reclaim the space taken by your CD collection. Don’t think that CDs are obsolete though; in fact, sound quality remains superior, and you can find a selection of products that combine DAB radio, CD and Bluetooth – try Roberts and Ruark.
If hi-fi is your preference, having a separate amplifier, CD player and speakers will offer the best sound quality, but will take up the most space. The best brands to look out for are Cambridge Audio, Naim or Onkyo.
Bluetooth speakers are convenient and range from portable models to impressive sculptural centrepieces, but remember – unless Wi-Fi compatible, range is limited to 10m. Invest in Beoplay, Vifa or Libratone. Multi-room audio allows you to connect speakers via your home’s Wi-Fi, so that you can stream music to different rooms; look out for Sonos and Denon Heos.
For traditionalists, affordable turntables with built-in speakers – try Crosley – will bring your record collection back to life, but look for bluetooth designs, such as Audio Technica, for better sound quality. Despite the plethora of hi-tech options, vinyl sales hit a 25-year high in 2016, proving that, for some, the way to take your home entertainment system forward is to look to the past.
The Art Bluetooth speaker (Tivoli Audio: 0800 047 0487; tivoliaudio.co.uk
Words: Chris Haslam