How to boost your TV’s audio: Home cinema and soundbars explained

Want to boost your TV´s sound? Check out our guide to home cinema and soundbars with expert tips

24 Apr 2014


Want to boost your TV's sound ahead of the upcoming summer of football and blockbuster movies?

Here we'll delve into the world of home cinema systems and soundbars and tell you everything you need to know - with some added insight from What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision.

Here we'll provide the following:

  • Home cinema overview
  • 3.1 and 5.1 - what's the difference?
  • The benefits of full 5.1 surround sound home cinema
  • All-in-one or separates
  • When a soundbar is the right option

Home Cinema Retro

A home cinema system places you in the middle of the action, with enhanced sound quality coming from external speakers positioned around the TV.

As TVs get slimmer and more stylish with every new release, there is generally less room for speakers.

Andy Clough, editor-in-chief at What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision, explains: "With so much focus on picture quality these days, sound is often overlooked - yet it is an essential ingredient of the viewing experience."

He explained this can be tackled with a home cinema system or soundbar, saying: "It really pays dividends to invest in an external speaker system if you want to get better sound quality - whether watching a film, your favourite TV show or sport."

3.1 or 5.1 - what is the difference?

These numbers describe the ratio of speakers to subwoofer in your home cinema set-up. With a 3.1 system you have one subwoofer to three speakers - one either side of your TV and one at the front to boost dialogue. 

A 3.1 system will be a vast improvement on your TV's sound capabilities, but if you want "proper surround sound" you want a 5.1 set up. 

This gives you the same set-up as a 3.1 system but also adds two rear speakers, to provide sound coming from behind you as well as from the front - the true cinema-like experience.

The benefits of full 5.1 surround sound home cinema

When watching the football with a 5.1 home cinema set-up, the big stadium atmosphere will be transported into your living room, with crowd roars and cheers coming from different directions - as they would in the ground.

Of course, home cinema was designed with moviegoers in mind and it really does provide the big screen experience in your living room, sucking you into the film with realistic surround sound effects and crisper dialogue.

Andy Clough explains: "If you want the ultimate in proper surround sound, then a full 5.1 system is the way to go. That way you really will hear the roar of the crowd all around you and feel like you're immersed in the action.

"A separate subwoofer (the '.1' in 5.1) will deliver more bass impact, and a 5.1 system will have a centre speaker dedicated to delivering clearer dialogue."

The different options - all-in-one or separates?


Sony Home Cinema Kit

If you want a home cinema set-up without the fuss then you should opt for an all-in-one.

With this set-up you'll get everything you need in one box. It'll include the amplifier, speakers, cables, and sometimes a Blu-ray player. Of course, it'll also include a simple, step-by-step guide explaining how to set it all up. 

Andy Clough said: "If you want proper surround sound, but without the hassle of buying lots of separate components, then a 'home cinema in a box' is the ideal solution."


If you prefer a more custom job you can go down the separates route. Opting for separates means you will choose your own individual amplifier, speakers and Blu-ray player.

Although more time-consuming and generally more expensive, the separates route will appeal to audio enthusiasts who know exactly what they're after.

When a soundbar is the right optionLG NB4530 

Another increasingly popular option nowadays is the soundbar. A soundbar is a long oblong-shaped box containing a number of speakers and a subwoofer. This can be mounted or placed below or alongside your TV.

The main advantage of a soundbar is that it's neat and compact - it enhances your TV's sound without taking up space, or leaving wires trailing around the room. Although they don't provide true surround sound they're a vast improvementon your TV's speakers. 

Andy Clough said: "The advantage of all-in-one soundbars is that they don't take up too much space, can sit on a shelf under the TV and a good one will significantly boost your TV's sound.

"Not everyone wants, or has the space, to accommodate multiple speakers and cables around their living room, which is why a soundbar is such a neat solution."

What Hi-Fi? picked out the LG NB4530A as a "neat, simple solution" for people wanting to beef up their TV's sound without cluttering up the living room with a home cinema system.  

Check out our range of soundbars