From home cinema systems to high-definition sound systems, we round up the latest audio-visual devices that combine great performance with stylish good looks.
Image: Sony Bravia 4K Ultra HD XF90TV (in 49, 55, 65 and 75in) has one of the finest screens ever made, boasting never-seen-before depth, clarity and smooth motion, from £1,199; Sony
While home-entertainment technology has grown, its style credentials lagged behind for sometime. Early adopters were prepared to put up with ugly hardware and complicated instructions on how to use it. These days, however, product developers put stylish design of the hard materials that encase the tech as high up on their list of must-haves as the need for any device to be efficient, intuitive and intelligent. And buyers have responded in kind, following trends in colour, size and form.
With automatic software downloads making it easier to have the most up-to-date systems in place, appearance is the new essential point of difference.Tech manufacturers have their work cut out for them, but here's the latest products on the market are impressive both in terms of style and substance.
Switch to a 4K-resolution ultra high-definition screen
Image: Samsung's The Frame, a 4K Ultra HD Smart TV (in 43, 55 and 65in), turns into an elegant digital picture frame on standby, £1,999; samsung.com
Not so long ago, the thrill of owning a 4K-resolution Ultra high-definition (HD) TV, giving cinematic images at home, came at a high price. Today, a 43in 4K TV from Hisense, the AE6100 is loaded with smart features for only £279, with top-brand sets starting from just £500.
Should you upgrade? Well, 4K screens offer amazing image quality, with four times the number of pixels in a 1080p Full HD TV screen (3840x2160 compared to 1080x1920) and it’s worth spending extra on an Ultra HD premium set, or Dolby Vision, if upgrading, for the best quality images and colour. The range of 4K content is growing, too, with the latest releases available in Blu-ray 4K disc form, while Netflix, Amazon Prime,Now TV and Sky Q offer a host of films, box sets and live sport in this format (most 4K TVs can upscale standard HD content to make it appear higher quality). As for 8K, affordable sets could be just a year away.
If it’s design that drives your choices, wafer-thin edges and premium materials mean the TV becomes a style statement. Brands such as Loewe and Bang & Olufsen blend designer fabrics and on-trend colourways with the latest screen technology. Samsung’s The Frame, designed by Yves Béhar, hangs like a picture, and LG’s OLED65W7V ‘wallpaper’ TV is just 4mm thick. LG is also working on a set that can be rolled up and hidden away.
Update your home cinema with a full HD1080p model
Image: Anker's 720p Nebula Mars battery-powered mini projector has built-in speakers and Wi-Fi connectivity so you can project online shows on to plain walls, 13.8x12.2x17.8cm, £399; Anker
Projectors are now extremely affordable, with Optoma selling Full HD 1080p models for less than £500, and high-class 4K designs from £1,000. New short-throw, all-in-one designs – try LG Minibeam, Philips Pico or Anker – are great alternatives to a second screen. With Wi-Fi connectivity and built-in speakers, these small boxes can sit close to the wall and still project a huge, pin-sharp image, and can be slipped into a drawer when not in use.
Choose a slim, stylish and effect surround sound system
Image: The slim and stylish, M3 soundbar from Q Acoustics features Balanced Mode Radiator drivers for crystal-clear dialogue and effects, £299; qacoustics.com
Modern TVs look fantastic but they are often let down by poor sound quality, especially if you love to watch films. The 5.1 surround sound system is an effective solution but it creates a cluttered look, making the slim-shaped soundbar a rather more appealing solution – for good value, try Q Acoustics. Models with Bluetooth mean you can also stream music, while the Sonos Beam can be linked with other Sonos speakers to create a discrete multi-speaker system. For a truly immersive cinema sound at home, look for Dolby Atmos speakers that bounce audio off the walls and ceiling.
Opt for studio sound quality, attractive design and portability
Image: Sculptural meets high-definition sound, the Dynaudio Music 7 (H201xW819xD185mm) has 300W of power, can stream via Wi-Fi, aptX Bluetooth and Apply AirPlay 2, and connect to other speakers in the range, £875; dynaudio.com
Current figures reveal that more than 176 million people across the world pay for music subscription services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal. Almost every new speaker or stereo now comes with Wi-Fi connectivity and established brands have begun to offer stylish products that also sound great. Mu-so, £649, from Naim and LS, from £800, from KEF, combine studio sound quality, good looks and wireless convenience.
Multi-room audio (systems that enable you to stream music to several speakers at once) is increasingly budget-friendly and easier to install yourself. Amazon and Google offer a range of speakers, much like Sonos, that also have voice control, while Apple has launched AirPlay2, a software update that allows any speakers loaded with the product, whatever the brand, to work together.
Amazingly, given the popularity of music streaming, vinyl sales are at their highest since 1991. Turntables now have built-in Bluetooth and amplifiers that can act as a complete hi-fi system – try Pro-Ject or Audio-Technica; simply plug the speakers in.
Words: Chris Haslam
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