Instant guide to home cinema audio

- Ensure matched, add-on speakers are available should you want to expand your setup later

- Select an amp that works with the power handling of your speakers and ensure that it has all the sound formats that you want now and in the future

- Look for sufficient and the correct type of connections to hookup existing equipment

Read on for our four recommended home cinema systems...

1 Samsung HT-X200 / Samsung LE-32R87BD (DVD 2.1 system/32in LCD TV) - £1,050

Samsung has gone out of its way to make the HT-X200 2.1 DVD system stand out from the crowd. The 2.1 system comes with twin satellite speakers and a chunky subwoofer, and there are two 'virtual' surround modes, a side-mounted USB port as well as MP3, JPEG and DiVX playback. The HDMI socket outputs video to 720p or 1080i, and images are portrayed with strong details and solid colour rendition. Its soundstage is strident with movie soundtracks, and tinkling high frequency sounds help to craft a wide soundstage.

The LE-32R87BD 32in LCD's shiny looks will doubtlessly appeal to fans of the brand's dazzling design statement. There are three HDMI sockets and other connection types are also well covered. Samsung is renowned for its comprehensive picture technology, and there are more settings and adjustments than you can shake a stick at here.

Black levels look natural with more subtle background detail in dark sequences, providing good scale and depth. Colours look great too, and are rich and vibrant. The slightly limited angle of view and the highly reflective screen are the only downsides.

2 Philips HTS8100 / Philips 42PF7621D (DVD Soundbar/42in LCD TV) - £2,500

The tabletop stand that supports the 42PF7621D may look bland, but when wall-mounted, the screen is extremely stylish. Two HDMI sockets rule the connectivity roost. Other connections include a PC jack, digital audio in and outs, and a USB jack. A CAM slot signifies the presence of a digital TV tuner.

Philips' Pixel Plus 2 HD image processing provides detail, motion, edge enhancement and colour optimisations for improved images from DVD sources, though it's not the latest incarnation. Good black levels don't mask subtle details.

The Philips HTS8100 Ambisound sound bar is the ideal partner. It incorporates a centrally located DVD player with wide compatibility and HDMI output with upscaling for 720p, 1080i and 1080p. Ambisound provides a wide and involving soundstage. It's remarkably effective with movies and doesn't rely on sidewall reflections to project surround effect. Bass levels are enthusiastic and hold the surround sound experience together.

3 JVC Sophisti DD-8 / Pioneer PDP-508XD (DVD 3.1 system/50in plasma TV) - £3,900

Pioneer's 50-inch PDP-508XD is the perfect screen for a big movie experience at home. It has three HDMI 1.3 sockets and is 1080p/24fps capable, making it ideally suited to high definition movie discs. The screen is from the brand's 'Kuro' range and delivers an astonishing 16000:1 contrast ratio, which means incredibly good black levels. Colours are rich and skin tones have a tonal naturalism that's very cinematic. Pioneer's 72Hz mode shows up high definition material with remarkably smooth, clear motion and very little noise.

The DD-8 is JVC's flagship network media system. As well as its 'virtual' surround sound capabilities, the DD-8 will appeal to anyone who wants to route music or video files from a PC. HDMI video output is on hand but the DD-8 only upscales to 720p. Still, DVD images are respectable with good detail levels. The DD-8 is a 3.1 speaker system with large front stereo speakers plus an unobtrusive centre and a chunky sub. Bass levels are potent from the large sub, but we recommend a reduction to the factory-set level to achieve a smoother and more integrated bass level.

4 Arcam Solo/Muso/Logo / Panasonic TH-42PX70 (DVD amp/2.1 speakers/42in plasma TV) - £3,780

Panasonic's TH-42PX70 hits the £1,000 price barrier but it doesn't skimp on features. Vreal2 is Panasonic's most sophisticated picture processing yet. Black levels look particularly impressive, while details and colour are well portrayed and there's very little motion softness or video noise.

Arcam's Solo Movie 5.1 DVD/receiver combo is the ultimate in one-box home cinema flexibility. It's capable of driving five speakers and a subwoofer, but can also be configured to a 2.0 or 2.1 setup. There are two HDMI inputs and one output, with video upscaling to 720p and 1080i/p. Colours and details are smoothly rendered showing up subtle nuances. Black levels are extraordinarily deep, and look remarkably solid and noise-free during dimly lit shadowy sequences.

The Muso and Logo speaker package is designed to compliment and can be purchased in 2.0, 2.1 or 5.1 configurations. The satellite's two-way bass reflex design follows traditional speaker conventions while the 200W Logo sub provides crossover, volume and phase tuning controls. The Solo's built-in surround sound amplifier is rated at 50W per channel, but it sounds a lot more powerful than the figure suggests and soundtracks are expertly conveyed no matter what speakers are attached. Content courtesy of What Home Cinema