HomeSecurityGearLab – Informed Advice and Product Reviews

Home cinema - feature picture

How to Build the Ultimate Home Cinema

We are an Amazon Affiliate
Our site is supported by you, our readers! This page contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase - you will not pay any extra. More details here.

By combining the promise of smart lighting and devices that respond to your whims, your home cinema set-up really can impress.

Recreating the richness of the cinema - or movie theatre - experience in the home has a lot of appeal.

We can't often get to the cinema, and it certainly isn't always showing our favourite movies, but at home we can be in charge of the selection, and the price of the snacks need be no more than it is in the local supermarket.

There are hurdles to overcome though - cinemas are equipped with high-resolution projectors and screens that envelop you, banks of speakers and sophisticated surround-sound systems that draw you into the director's vision, plus walls and doors that keep the rest of the world at bay, at least for 90-120 minutes plus trailers.


Choosing a television is a subject worthy of many pages, but it's also not something you need or want to do every day.

So long as you've opted for an adequate screen size on your current set, there is no reason to change it, but when you do come to update your display there are some things to look out for:

  • OLED Organic LED technology, as found in Sony, Philips, Samsung and LG sets, works in a different way to the flat screens popular until now.
  • Traditional LCD flat panels have a single light behind the whole screen and then each pixel blocks the light to a greater or lesser extent, while OLEO works the opposite way, making dark areas of the picture truly dark and maintaining detail in the shadows.
  • This is actually better than most cinemas, since digital projectors effectively work like inside-out LCD displays.
  • 4K Ultra HD A resolution of 3840x2160 pixels - like four of the original High Definition screens bolted together, but without the join.
  • HDR High Dynamic Range makes richer colours possible, and ties well with OLEO technology.
  • Size For a sitting distance of about three metres, cinema-standards company THX would recommend a 90in screen for cinematic effect, but most retailers recommend a 55in set for this kind of distance.
  • The measurement is always the diagonal of the TV screen (the biggest number).

The atmosphere

Cinema isn't just about getting the picture and audio right; part of the experience is the atmosphere of the room itself.

There are a number of ways that smart tech can make its way directly into your TV screen, and still more that can surround it for the ultimate viewing experience.

Philips has led the idea of a screen behind-a-screen for many years with its Ambilight TV sets, which use colored LED lights behind the screen to extend the broad colors from the image itself into the room around the set.

Now this effect can be recreated using smart home lights too: step forwards Philips Hue Sync.

Philips' range of Hue lighting includes color-changing LED strips that can be placed (and curved) behind furniture and TVs, or up-lighters that can be pointed at bits of wall.

Philips' software then allows you to define an area on your monitor and let the colors being displayed in that area influence the lights, enabling you to make the room continually respond to the TV (if you watch movies through your computer).

Go to Hue Entertainment in the Explore area of the Hue app to look into this and other features that are being added all the time, either directly or through third-party apps.

Hue Disco, for example, does exactly what you think.

Hue Camera, a paid-for phone app, sets your lights to match the image your phone's camera is taking.

You can rest the phone with the camera pointing at the TV and the lights will keep changing to match the average color of the image.


  • Creates a truly cinematic ambience


  • Requires Hue Lighting, which isn't cheap
  • Hue Sync requires you to play your entertainment through your computer, which is fiddly for those who aren't used to this
  • The Hue Camera is effective, but it suffers from a lag (the time it takes for the phone to decide on an average color, send it to the lights, and for them to change, which is up to half a second)
  • Hue Camera also means you need to leave your phone pointing at the screen (recreating the no-phones rule of the cinema!) is up to half a second)


Satellite and cable television are very much products of the past.

Even with the boost of digital recording systems like TiVo and Sky+, both are ultimately dependent on media being delivered to you by a TV station when it chooses.

It has to be said that, as most move toward streaming alternatives like Netflix and BBC iPlayer, one of the issues that has emerged is that some people don't always like having to decide what to watch.

There is a certain irony that 'curation' (as technologists call it) is now an additional feature that media apps need to offer so people can cope, while in the days of broadcast TV it was just the way things were.

In any case, streaming software like Netflix needs both the service to provide the films and shows (or 'content' as the internet generation calls it) and a player app to view it.

Because transmission is via the internet, that app can be on any device capable of connecting to the internet; your phone, your tablet, your computer and, perhaps, your TV.

The player apps need an operating system to run on - in your phone or tablet this might be iOS or Android, but what about televisions?

In fact, it's essentially the same; Google has provided a version of Android which TV manufacturers adapt as they choose but has access to a shared app store, making it possible to download the latest version of the player app (and more besides - simple games, weather apps and viewers for smart home security cameras are also available).


Those that prefer the Apple ecosystem won't find a TV with a built-in version of Apple's operating system, but Apple does sell its own box - the Apple TV and Apple TV 4K - which connects via an HDMI cable (the same as you'd use to plug in a cable box or modern games system).

Apple's system is based on an operating system called tvOS, which is really just a variant of iOS (from the iPhone) designed to operate with a remote control rather than your fingers.

If you're an iPhone user with an Apple account already, you can sign in and play all the same music, videos and photos you have in your collection seamlessly.

You can also add apps from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, the BBC, Sky (they call it Now TV) in order to play videos you might have on those platforms.

Or you can rent or buy videos from Apple's own service without subscription. Apple has an extensive catalogue.

Apple also includes a socket for a wired internet connection - great to keep the strain down on homes with busy Wi-Fi.


  • Apple TV is also a HomeKit hub
  • Compatible with Dolby Atmos surround sound, 4K UHD
  • Apple TV can work like a Wii remote for high quality games
  • It's relatively expensive


  • Fewer TV catch-up apps (in the UK) as the other devices, but iPlayer and ITV are there


Both Google, with its range of Chromecast devices, and Amazon, with its Fire TV Sticks and Fire 4K, offer similar products that connect to an existing TV set and allow access to their services.

The Google one is, naturally, a little more open than Amazon's, which is keen to encourage you to use Amazon's Prime video subscription (something you can also do on Google's device by adding the Amazon app).

A nice touch about the Chromecast is that it can dangle from an HDMI socket without an adapter, so it can get out of the way of other cables or the wall, and for a very minimal outlay your TV is brought into the smart era.


  • Compact dongle
  • Chromecast Ultra is 4K and affordable
  • Good range of catch-up apps (iPlayer, All4 etc.)
  • Can use both Android and iOS devices to ‘cast’ the content


  • Not as many audio options as Apple TV


Amazon's Fire TV products add Alexa to your remote and Apple's TV adds Siri to its, using a microphone in the remote and an activation button.

It will also respond to commands made to other Alexa/Siri devices via the network - the Google Chromecast will do this too.

Amazon's Fire TV works with Android, which allows you to load a wide variety of applications straight onto all of the Fire TV devices.

Of course, Amazon's aim is to keep you in its own ecosystem, so the Alexa search option is mostly compatible with Amazon Prime video and music.

Alexa can also turn your TV on and off with a couple of the Fire TV devices.


  • Compact dongle
  • Extremely inexpensive, and includes 30-day Prime


  • A lot of games apps, but many are junk
  • Needs an Android device to 'cast' the content to it