Best home cinema kit 2010: and the nominees are...
The best TV in 2010 may be one thing, but none of them are much use unless you've got something good to watch on them and a way to make them sound better too. That's where the next step in your AV fascination comes in and that's why it's so important to have a Best Home Cinema Kit category in the Pocket-lint Gadget Awards 2010.
It's been an interesting year where Blu-ray players have basically become the norm, where Freeview has gone HD and where games consoles have continued their run to make that space just under your telly their very own. So, after a good rifle through the reviews archives and a great deal of heated debate, these are the five nominees for Best Home Cinema Kit 2010. Don't forget to vote.
Xbox 360 Slim
Those unfamiliar with the Xbox 360 might wonder what a games console is doing up for a home cinema award, so read close. Yes, you can deathmatch to your heart’s content on it, but it also happens to be an excellent device for bringing content from your home network and the Internet at large onto your TV screen. What’s new and improved with the Slim version is that you can do it all over Wi-Fi now, as it’s had a nice new module built in. So, that’s Skyplayer with all the on-demand and live content, Zune for music and video, Last.fm and anything you care to stream over Windows Media Centre and all without a cable in sight. As well as that, the console is now smaller, slimmer, the power pack has been reduced as well and, best of all, it’s quiet. More vents, less fan and a great cheap way of getting bags and bags of entertainment.
It’s increasingly hard to justify a separate set top box with so much functionality integrated into televisions and game consoles, but the Boxee Box’s angle of attack is to be able to play anything that you could possibly throw at it and in 1080p resolution too. Files-wise, it’ll do the lot and with all the relevant sound technologies as well. The main excitement though is that it’s internet connected as well as being networkable, so that you can stream any content from whatever you may have on your home loop. The interface is largely tidy and the remote control as perfect for scanning Facebook and Twitter as it has channel switching due to a full QWERTY keyboard on one face of it. On the viewing side, there’s every bit of free content out there that you can shake your bag of crisps at - YouTube videos, YouPorn if you fancy too, iPlayer, 4OD, Five and essentially anything it can think of. What’s really handy is that it comes with VPN software built in, so that you can watch content that’s not supposed to be on your continent. To finish it all off, it also looks rather funky as well. This is Apple TV - only much, much better.
Home cinema sound can be a daunting world to take your first steps into, but that’s why the Onkyo HT-S3305 was invented. For just £299, this all-in-one speakers and amp set-up cuts out the need to read a thousand copies of What Home Cinema Fetishist, and worry that you’re about to get it all wrong. It has a very healthy set of 5.1 speakers - albeit with a passive sub-woofer - and an AVR that’s fully HDMI v1.4 compatible making it 3D ready. There’s space to add the Onkyo DAB+ and iPod dock modules and, to finish it all off, it looks damn good too. In short, it’s the best £300 you could spend if you’ve just picked yourself up a new TV, and it provides a superb platform should you wish to start getting enthusiastic about home cinema sound.
If you want proof that quality Blu-ray players have become affordable, then the Sony BDP-S370 is it. Pitched as an entry level model, this machine hits back with the functionality of a device well up into the mid-range. Naturally, it plays back Blu-ray discs respectably and upscales DVDs to something near HD as promised, but what really lifts it up to the heights are the connectivity bonuses. First of all, since a firmware update, it’s become DLNA compatible, so perfect for streaming bits and pieces on your home network. What’s more, it’s also got an Ethernet port and brings access to Sony’s Internet Video service which includes HD programming from Lovefilm, BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Demand 5. There’s two USB sockets for all your digital download playback, a decent remote control and even iPhone apps for the same function just in case you lose the flicker down the back of the sofa. A Blu-ray player might not sound like a sexy choice for a winner, but try owning the Sony S370 before branding it dull.
Humax HDR-Fox T2
With Freeview HD launching in 2010, there was a rush for all the sets and boxes to stuff in the relevant compatible tuner, but that didn’t mean that they all got it right. Fortunately, there was one set top box that stood out in our tests, and that was the Humax HDR-Fox T2. Picking up where the non-recording Humax HD-Fox T2 left off, the company has added a whacking great 500GB hard disk with twin tuners to make it a product that’s right up there in terms of functionality and usability with the subscription boxes from Sky and Virgin Media. The 8-day EPG is a tour de force of intuition with its seven channels to a screen and two hour blocks on show all at once. It makes all the series linking and recording something you can achieve in seconds. Once you throw in all the Dolby HD, DivX HD, Ethernet, USB and on-demand streaming content as well, you’ve got an excellent player with quality output capable of 125 hours of HD recording. It’s just an all round good egg, and makes it such an easy call as to what set top box to buy if you’re looking to get Freeview HD.
So, that's the famous five of best home cinema kit in 2010, but which do you think should scoop the prize? Let us know in the comments and don't forget to vote.