The low down: Best Home Cinema Device 2009
We're getting close to the day of reckoning that is the Vodafone Pocket-lint Gadget Awards 2009 and there's only a few of this year's nominees to take a look at before the big decision is made.
Today, is a chance to take a look at the gloriously expensive category that is home cinema. TVs and players aren't the kind of things you buy every day. In fact, for most of us once every few years is about as good as it gets, which means that when we do shell out the cash, it's all the more important to get it right.
But before you head down the shops here are the best of 2009 to look out for, and don't forget to cast your vote when you return.
Philips Cinema 21:9
The Philips Cinema 21:9 was one of the few gadgets of 2009 to really break the mould. It was the first cinema proportioned LCD TV ever released for the home and it's put an end to black bars at the top and bottom of your picture so long as a) you're watching a widescreen film and b) you can actually afford the thing.
The price has perhaps been the one stumbling block with £4000 proving prohibitively expensive for the average Joe but the 21:9 still remains a real stunner and an utterly unique item for the home.
It has an awe inspiring 56-inch panel with an immersive three-sided Ambilight Spectra effect, a 200Hz frame rate with Philips HD Natural motion for wonderfully smooth panning, a 2560 x 1080pix resolution and all the connectivity you could wish for including Wi-Fi. Oh, and if you're concerned with how it copes with non-widescreen programming, it has a smart mode for that too so that you don't get black bars down the side.
At the other end of the TV scale sits the excellent value 1080p LCD TV, the LG LH7000. Unlike the Philips, it offers just 100Hz TruMotion and there are no frills added on like the Ambilight, but what the LH7000 does do, it does very well. The panel is just 52mm thick which is fantastically thin for a mid-range LCD, but it still houses all the HDMI, USB and Bluetooth connections you could wish for. Yes, there's no Ethernet or Wi-Fi but, for £583, it's still an excellent deal.
The set will play VOB, MOV (Quicktime), MKV and DivX HD video files – alongside more usual filetypes such as AVI and MPG - as well as JPEG and MP3 too, which you can even do via Bluetooth. Design-wise it's in the same vein as the Scarlet series but without the red patches and would be perfect to hang on the wall if the cables don't get in the way. All the same, a very good TV at a very good price.
Bringing the first Blu-ray recorder to the UK, it's of small wonder that the Panasonic DMR-BS850 made the shortlist of nominees for Best Home Cinema Device 2009. As well as etching the blue ones, it features a twin Freesat tuner that allows users to record one Freesat channel whilst watching another and receive a couple of HD channels as well.
On top of that, it stacks a mighty 500GB HDD to store all your bits and pieces and you can archive your AVCHD files from your camcorder, thanks to an SD card slot, USB and DV connections, meaning you can keep them in that space too. Naturally, the BD players supports BD-Live and BonusView, as well as Panasonic’s new Viera Cast technology, so you can access selected online content as well. What's more there's also smart compression options, so your high-def content can be compressed, meaning you'll get much more onto your recordable media, albeit with loss in quality.
The only downside is that you can't copy to USB, but that's more of a bit of a shame than a product ruiner and one most people soon forget. All in all, a very strong contender for this year's gong.
When the Humax Freesat+ Foxsat-HDR was launched at the end of last year, it was the only device capable of pausing, rewinding and recording Freesat HD digital TV, as well as access SD TV, radio and interactive channels. Then the Panasonic DMR-BS850 turned up. Nevertheless, the Humax offering gives much of the same functionality, minus the Blu-ray and 120GB of the HDD space, but at a much lower price.
The 320GB hard drive stores up to 80 hours of HD programming, or up to 200 hours of standard definition shows, while the 8-day on-screen electronic programme guide makes it easy to scan the Freesat TV schedule and plan your viewing. It has advanced digital text, interactive services, HDMI connectivity, parental controls, Dolby digital output, two SCART sockets and is a really good buy at £123.
It may not be the first gadget you think of when someone mentions home cinema but the PlayStation 3 Slim offers so much more than just a few good games. Most obviously, it negates your need for buying an additional Blu-ray player but it also acts as an HD media streaming device as well. It plays WMA, AAC and MP3 music files as well as a fair amount of video codec support with MPEG4/H.264, MPEG2, AVI (MJPEG), AVCHD, DivX and WMV all represented and there's BD Live and DNLA devices too.
Naturally, there are both Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections to get the thing on your home network plus optical, USB and HDMI connections along with Dolby and DTS sounds support. All this on the inside and finally Sony has made it not so much of a monster on the outside.