Your personal cinematic paradise
It's not about the money, money, money.
You want the very best TV, projector, router and more for your den, but you don't have a wealthy benefactor who's going to stump up the thousands they'll cost. Thankfully though, top tech doesn't have to cost top dollar.
For every eye-wateringly brilliant, wallet-busting 4K OLED TV there's a same-sized LED TV that's still going to wow 99% of viewers; why pay for a whole-house video distribution system when your pocket money would buy Google's Chromecast 2?
And what's the point of buying a high-end home cinema surround sound system when a mini-amp and a couple of bulky old speakers still constitutes a massive upgrade?
From the best-in-class to the best-value options, we've found the flagship gear – and the shrewd alternatives – that will help you turn any living room into a high-tech paradise, whatever your budget.
Four words: organic light-emitting diode, or OLED for short. It's straight to Panasonic's hugely expensive, curved 65-inch Panasonic TX-65CZ952 ($10,670, £7,499, AU$14,350) that you should head if you're after the very finest screen.
OLED here gets four times more image detail via the Panasonic's Ultra HD 4K panel, and there's also High Dynamic Range (HDR) for extra contrast ratios and even deeper blacks. The result is the most silky, vivid, and colourful/utterly black images you've ever seen.
However, you can spend far less and still get a big 4K telly. The 50-inch Hisense LTDN50K321UWT ($800, £419, AU$600) offers few add-ons, but its core quality makes it unbeatable value.
Home cinema projector
While squeezing a 65-inch TV into a living room may not be easy for everyone, getting a projector into a living room is an entirely different matter.
The luxe choice here is the Sony VPL-VW520ES ($15,000, £8,800, AU$16,800), one of very few Ultra HD 4K beamers about (and all made by Sony), but it does demand a decent-sized room and a permanent setup.
We're talking a dedicated home cinema room here, but the rewards are HDR, a whisper-quiet light engine, and the all-round best home projections on the planet.
The secret sauce is the BenQ W2000 ($1,140, £799, AU$1,500), an affordable quickdraw DLP projector that offers beautiful Blu-ray playback, and even a half-decent built-in speaker.
Every cutting-edge tech lair needs an engine, and that job traditionally goes to an AV amplifier like the 11.2-channel Onkyo TX-NR3030 ($2,399, £2,199, AU$4,200), which brings Dolby Atmos, three HDMI 2.0 ports for 4K switching, and Wi-Fi for streaming from a smartphone.
Again, though, you don't have to spend that much.
Surround sound is a matter of taste – it's not essential (and on many films it's pure novelty) – and if you happen to have a couple of old bookshelf speakers lying around, you can create a perfectly respectable stereo setup using something like the Lepai TA2020+ ($15, £10, AU$20) ultra-low-cost mini amplifier.
Measuring just 140 x 40 x 120mm, weighing barely 300g and designed for cars and boats, its 2 x 20W channels are nevertheless vastly superior to a TV's audio output in a small room. Two-channel tech is alive and well – and going for a song.
If you want a truly smart living room, don't overlook your router. Take, for example, the D-Link AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi router ($280, £200, AU$376), which is designed to cope with 4K video streaming, gaming and use by umpteen smartphones and tablets.
It's got three bands, and a combined throughput of 1,000Mbps across those eight antennas. The results? Lag-free gaming, and Wi-Fi speeds specifically calculated to how far away a device is.
That's clever stuff, but if you're an Apple user then consider its underrated AirPort Extreme Base Station ($199, £169, AU$329), which boasts faster, dual-band Wi-Fi – 2.4GHz and 5GHz – has six antennas, and is a cinch to set up.
For cinema-grade streaming of TV and movies from Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Vudu, YouTube, M-Go and the Google Play Store, it's got to be the 4K-ready Roku 4 ($130, around £100, AU$160), which takes the dongle concept and ups the size and quality considerably.
This curious circular disc attached to an HDMI cable gives you YouTube, Google Play Movies, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Sky Now TV, BT Sport and Blinkbox.
But only the Amazon Fire TV Stick gives you Amazon's Prime Instant Video.
If what you really want is an app on your iPad that controls the very latest in 4K HDR movies at 60 frames per second and with lossless multichannel audio, the Kaleidescape Strato Movie Player ($4,495, £3,160, AU$6,050) is what you're after.
Not surprisingly you get more than just an app for that money – it's a pricey movie server with an (optional) 6TB hard disk, onto which you can download movies from the Kaleidescape Movie Store.
As well as 11,000 movies and 1,500 TV seasons, around 100 in 4K (with HDR to follow) from Sony Pictures, the Strato comes with five 4K movies pre-loaded. But that's all back-room stuff; it's all controlled via a deliciously fluid user interface in app form, for any tablet.
For the more budget-minded who are merely after some remote reduction, the new One For All Smart Control URC 7980 ($37, £40, AU$76) is a universal remote with a claimed 30-second set-up and sequenced control; hit 'movie' and it will switch on the relevant gear from up to eight devices, and begin playing.
Surround sound speakers
In a category that's as much about fashion and style as sound quality, picking one single brand of speakers is impossible. So here's one we love; the Monitor Audio Silver RX ($925, £650, AU$1,245 for the bookshelf speakers).
A mid-priced mix-and-match range of speakers, the British audio brand presents everything from compact bookshelf to floor standers, centres, rears and a subwoofer, in all kinds of finishes.
They're smart, simple and deliver stunning performance, although a setup can obviously end up costing a few quid.
Want a one-box solution that's far less dominating in the living room, and less of a strain on the wallet? Try the Mission M3 ($639, £449, AU$859), a 5.1 package whose tiny M-Cube satellite speakers are a uniform 90 x 90 x 88mm size, but backed up by a 200W subwoofer with a digital amplifier inside.
Judged on sound quality, top prize here goes to the Yamaha YSP-5600 ($2,269, £1,595, AU$3,050), which contains an awesome 44 individual speakers and a brace of subwoofers that create 7.1-channel surround sound customised to the exact dimensions of a room.
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay and Yamaha's own MusicCast steaming app come as extras on this, the only soundbar to support Dolby Atmos. However, it is designed to be wall-mounted.
If modular multi-room is on your mind, the much cheaper Sonos Playbar ($699, £599, AU$999) is a great place to start; gradually add a couple of Sonos Play:1's to act as rear speakers, and a Sonos Sub, before starting on the rest of the house.
You could be forgiven for thinking Blu-ray players are on their way out, but while we wait for 4K models to appear it's the Cambridge Audio CXU ($1,299, £900, AU$1,899) that provides the cinema-grade option.
It calls itself a 'universal' player, but this five-kilo monster is a belter with Blu-ray thanks to its Darbee Visual Presence video processing for upscaling Blu-ray to 4K quality.
It's also got 7.1 analogue audio inputs, which are rare indeed on any regular Blu-ray player, and it even copes with audiophile-grade SACD and DVD-Audio discs.
What the CXU lacks in streaming niceties is addressed by the bargain Panasonic DMP-BDT370 ($325, £229, AU$199), which delivers Netflix, Amazon Instant and 4K upscaling – and even 3D support – within a great Firefox OS interface.
The motorised, drop-down screen is a favourite in living rooms, but more important in a living room home cinema is a projector screen that can be used in daylight.
Cue the Screen Innovations Black Diamond Zero Edge (from $4,270, £3,000, AU$5,740), which uses a special fabric that repels 85% of a room's ambient light – eliminating the need for a blackout every time you want to watch something.
If you've a big white wall and don't want the clutter or expense of a screen, Screen Goo (from $142, £100, AU$192) might suit. It's acrylic paint that makes your wall smooth, and much more reflective.
It therefore gets rid of the shadows that you always get from projecting onto a wall, and increases the brightness of the image, although it is dark grey, and works best with black border tape (which increases your eyes' perception of contrast).