There are few things over which geeks and gadget lovers unite, but one stonewall certainty is that we all love big TVs. Give us some content and an enormous panel to watch it on and you'll have us transfixed. In fact, there's probably a directly proportional relationship between the size of the screen and the amount of time spent arrested by its charms. So, with the recession hitting just before CES 2009 and the subsequent absence of a new claim to the world's biggest TV at the annual Las Vegas tech binge, it didn't look like a good year for home cinema. Fortunately, we were wrong.
Below you'll find a Pacific Ocean of contenders for this year's most coveted of crowns - the Vodafone Pocket-lint Gadget Awards 2009 Best Home Cinema Device - but which little devil has stolen your heart? Let us know.
There's simply no other place to start the bidding than with the panels themselves and, while neither size nor width was particular a factor over 2009, there's been some excellent ground covered in both quality and design. If the economic climate has done one thing for the positive, it's to make technology manufacturers more conscious of green issues. When many consumers see that a TV can save them money on energy, then suddenly the double win of the situation means that the environment can benefit as well.
Sony has been the most overt at capitalising on the situation with the Bravia WE5, which goes so far as to switch itself off when it knows it's not being watched. Others though, like LG with the LH2000 and the Sharp DH77 and LC-32DH57E TVs simply use a blend of light-sensing and component efficiency to get the job done and, in LG's case, manage to get the wattage to almost record lows. Even Loweve is in on the act this year, adding a certain level of style to the proceedings with the Art SL eco range. At least you can counter-balance the initial outlay with some cheaper running costs.
Of course, for many of us, it's all about performance rather than environmental or economic credentials and, where picture quality is paramount these days, people are heading to LED backlight LCD technology. Philips brought out the third in its premium line with the Aurea 3, complete with an Ambilight as well as the pin-point LED dimming. Three more manufacturers joined the fray with the LG LH9000 borderless design, the Toshiba REGZA SV and the Sharp Aquos LX series, while Samsung continued to extended its presence in the field with the Samsung 6000, 7000 and the high-end, high-priced but very highly acclaimed 8000 model too.
Fortunately, the expansion at the top end has meant we can get a better quality picture at more affordable prices with a straight LCD panel. 200Hz frame rates are more or less the standard now, internet connected widget TVs have been all the rage since CES and we've also seen a huge pick up in built-in Freesat support, with LG and Sony Bravia seeing a great deal of value in the no cost satellite platform. Philips has been looking strong with the high end Philips 9000 range, which has included the 20mm 9664, and if slim is the choice for you in straight LCDs then the Sony Bravia ZX1 may only have 100Hz technology but manages to squeeze it all into a 9mm frame - otherwise it's probably the Bravia Z5500 that you'll be after from the Japanese giant.
As always, though, the most exciting area of TVs is in the very new - the cutting edge and the sets of years to come. Sadly, for much of the innovation we see, it either never exists or it's years before we can get our hands on it. Fortunately, 2009 has brought some excellent developments straight to the shelves. The two standouts have got to be the Philips 21:9 Cinema super wide TV - the ultimate set for movie buffs - and right at the other end of the scale, the incredible Sony XEL-1 11-inch OLED TV. Curiously, they're both around the same price but both will blow you away - if for very different reasons.
Of course, it's not all about panels. If it's size you're really after then DLP is the more cost effective way to go. While there's plenty of cinema quality light-throwers at cinema industry prices, there's still been a steady trickle of models more suited to the average consumer's budget this year. LG has continued its onslaught on just about every area of tech with a flurry of monitors and projectors at very reasonable prices, Optoma brought in the HD20 1080p unit and BenQ has hedged their bets and covered all your bases with the W600, W100 and W6000 depending on just how flush you're feeling.
If money's no option then another choice for 2009 would have to be the Panasonic PT-AE4000, but the prize for the most interesting take on it all has to go to the Epson EH-DM3 which takes the gaming projector one stage forward to bring you the karaoke version. It needs to be seen to be believed.
AVRs and speakers
Naturally, a quality picture is nothing without quality sound to back it up and 2009 has given us even more choices when it comes to home cinema systems. For the best of Britain, KEF has turned up with both a 5.1 set up and a sound bar of note, whilst further afield there's the likes of Creative, the Klipsch HD Theatre systems and Tefuel Theatre 80, all with some high quality, good value offers. For the ultimate choice, though, Panasonic has come up with 10 home cinema systems including a 7.1 set up and an internet connected system with DVDs, docks and the odd BD player thrown in too.
On the AVR side, it's Onkyo that's been by far the busiest in 2009 with the rather sexy and nearly affordable TX-SR707 and TX-NR807 as the tempters and the totally obscene TX-SR5007, TX-NR3007 and TX-NR1007, with their 9.2 channels its the stuff that dreams are made of. And last, but certainly not least, there has been a rare moment of innovation in this field with the rather novel Q Acoustics Q-TV2s back mounted speakers. A cracking solution for small TVs at a very small price to match.
Once we had our system set up, it was content that we were after and with even Toshiba cracking under the pressure this year, 2009 really has been the first time Blu-ray can feel confident that it's going places. The options have ranged from the subtle to the insane. Samsung showed us the incredible wall mounted slim jim that is the Samsung BD-P4600 at the beginning of the year and, since, the likes of the LG HLB54S has added some sound to the form factor as well as just about anything you could need in a piece of home cinema hardware.
Philips went for mass appeal and mass affordability instead with the BDP3000 and even Denon reached down some of the way to give the public a taste of luxury with the DBP-1610 and the £600 Denon DBP-2010, for those that simply couldn't resist. Sony hasn't been slow to promote the company's very own format with two networked players featuring DLNA and a few tasty features, with the BDP-S760 the pick of the crop, while Pioneer has added a little more class and sophistication at the expense of the Wi-Fi and quite a bit more money.
What seems to be the hallmark of 2009 in AV though is what LG and most notably Panasonic has offered. They may not look like the prettiest things in the world but when you combine a BD-player with twin TV tuners, Freesat and a big old HDD to record onto, you've got integration at its best. Keep 'em peeled for the LG HR400 and probably the pick of the others would be the Panasonic DMR-BS850 with just about all the trimmings you could possibly want - unless you really need Sony's 400 disc MegaChanger, that is.
There have been a few eyebrows raised on the subject of optical storage and removable media. With video files, streaming and, let's face it, piracy all doing well, there's plenty of manufacturers looking at cheaper, more convenient AV solutions for computer literate users (is anyone not computer literate these days?).
The Emtec Movie Cube P800 combines a removable, portable HDD with a strong media interface, while the recently released WD TV Live from Western Digital has brought an upgrade to a hugely successful almost pocket-sized device. Naturally, the PS3 has plenty about it as a streamer and with the PS3 Slim launched a few months back, it could well be in for a shout of a gong whether in this category or another. Fresh on the scene at an alarmingly reasonable price tag is the Asus O!Play networked storage device and media player, but for something rather more profound the Compro T1000W VideoMate will do just about anything you like for £200.
Even the simple set top box has got a little more interesting in 2009. We're seeing a lot more with PVR capabilities such as the Humax PVR-9300T with 500GB of space and the Digital Vision GiGo which ditches it all for three USB ports and whatever kind of memory sticks you wish to supply it with. But perhaps most interesting of all are the teeny-tiny PCTV Pico Stick tuners which'll turn your PC into a TV and the Elgato EyeTV Sat which siphons HD satellite programing straight from your dish to your computer, and you can even edit the footage later.
Last of all come possibly the least likely little fellows to receive a Pocket-lint Awards nomination but, then again, you just never know. There are three to consider that not only throw the rule book out the window but take both barrels of a shotgun to it too. The insane looking The Loop remote control promises impressive ergonomics and pin point accuracy, the Philips uWand adds full gesture control to the buttons and the Glide TV Navigator couch mouse looks like bringing Star Trek just that little bit closer. Definitely worth a look at the future, if not your vote.
What do you think?
But these are just some of the fantastic choices our readers have had in 2009. What would you like to see held aloft as the winner of Pocket-lint Best Home Cinema Device 2009? What have we missed out? Which are your unsung heroes and of those we've already mentioned, which would get your vote? Let us know in the comments below and you can help our panel decide which make the shortlist of nominees to be announced here on Pocket-lint on 16 November. We'll have all out coverage of the Vodafone Pocket-lint awards 2009 right here. Don't miss a minute of it.