Light at the end of the tunnel

The UK has been dragging its economic heels for years, but parts of the AV industry are thriving

We may still be in the grip of economic gloom but I can see some light at the end of the consumer electronics market’s long dark tunnel, and that light is home cinema. During this recession, the electronics industry has fared even worse than other consumer goods sectors and has had more dips than a fondue party. The general public are simply not buying TVs and audio systems like they used to. In fact, throughout 2012, the UK public purchased half as many TVs as it did in 2006.

The trouble is we already own flatscreen HDTVs - and lots of them. In the UK we have 2.25 TVs per household, the highest penetration in the world, although someone else must have my quarter. Should one of your TVs fail and finances are tight, you don’t actually need to replace it and many people don’t. Compare that with washing machines where most people have just one appliance - about 3 million are sold in the UK year after year after year.

HDTVs are reliable and reasons to upgrade are limited. Smart features are available via almost every device you can plug into your TV and 3D transpired to be a herring so red you could stick a scarf on it and call it an Arsenal fan. Ultra HD may well make ripples at the high-end but, for many people, it’s hardly a ‘must-have’ feature. Size does matter, though; the only sector of the TV market that has been constantly on the up is screens of 42in and bigger. Every year, over 10 per cent more people enter the heady world of home cinema with a super-sized TV.

So what about sound? Well, ‘home cinema in a box’ packages are down in sales, almost on mute, in fact. Instead, people are turning to soundbars to deliver more oomph to their TV and home cinema sound. There are some superb models out there and many of them make for a compelling experience without the hassles of amps and speakers. In fact, soundbars have introduced many people to decent home cinema sound who would have otherwise never bought a traditional surround sound system.

In the more specialist parts of the home cinema market, where big research companies don’t get out of bed, one has to rely on anecdotal market intelligence. Having asked a few AVR and loudspeaker makers directly, the overall theme is that business is ‘not outstanding, but okay’. Certainly, one speaker brand I spoke to said that its £300 5.1 package was flying out of the door and the sheer number of budget AVRs launched annually indicates the entry-level end of home cinema is alive and well.

At the top end, custom home cinema installations with eye-watering price tickets are still the must-have home accessory for the well-heeled. A home cinema room is a lot less ‘showy’ than a second Bentley, so gives the impression you are more in touch with the age of austerity even if you are minted. At the recent Munich High End Show, a big event where price tickets of individual hi-fi and home cinema components range from several thousand pounds up to figures that would otherwise buy a house, exhibitor and visitor numbers were high.

Home cinema fans in all sectors of the market are upgrading parts of their system every year and I thank eBay for that. Second-hand values of home cinema equipment on the auction site are relatively high, ensuring you can offset a lot of the cost of new kit by flogging your old stuff. Combine this with traditional retailers happy to offer a discount on new gear if you're buying a couple of items at the same time, and upgrading your home cinema system has never been more affordable.

Do you ever buy second-hand home cinema hardware?
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