The Aiwa AVJ-X55's mix of black and silver bodywork gives it a muscular feel. What's more, the bookshelf-sized front speakers and large main unit make it more chunky than most systems. The centre and rears are relatively unobtrusive, but the sub is again quite monstrous. Still, removing the front speakers' nondescript black speaker grilles reveals smart speaker drivers and silver-coloured surrounds.

The AVJ-X55 was manufactured under the watchful eye of parent company Sony, and has many hallmarks of the Japanese brand. It's equipped with both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoding for 5.1 DVD soundtracks, along with Dolby Pro-Logic II processing for creating a convincing surround sound experience from stereo sources.

And the Aiwa brand is clearly targeting a more youthful market with its features as well as its styling - it has a Karaoke facility with two mike inputs on the front to turn it into a PA system! There's no Super Audio CD playback though, which is a bit of a disappointment given Sony's association with the format.

Setup is straightforward, with colour-coded speaker cables to ensure there's no chance of wiring the system up incorrectly. A handy Scart takes care of all video connections to a TV screen, providing both RGB and composite video signals. There aren't any best-quality component video connections however (or S-video sockets for that matter), which means the Aiwa isn't ideally suited for use with all flat screens.

As we fired up the AVJ-X55 with our LOTR: The Return of the King test disc it was immediately clear that it comes from good stock. Colours were realistic and details plentiful when using the RGB Scart connection. And if your TV can't handle RGB signals, basic-quality composite video still looks pretty good, with minor colour fringing between boldly coloured objects our only real complaint.

We can't be quite as positive about the Aiwa's audio however. The distinctive-looking speaker package does create an immersive soundstage with LOTR, but it isn't the most coherent we've heard. The fronts exhibited different tonal characteristics from the centre and rear surround speakers during our test, which meant that voices and effects changed character as they moved around the room from speaker to speaker.

Fighting fit

Still, the subwoofer put in a tremendous performance during LOTR's battle sequences, lending the spectacular scenes plenty of energy. But dialogue had a tendency to sound thin through the centre speaker, and Gollum didn't quite sound his usual self!

While the larger main speakers falter with surround sound, they score with stereo music. The Aiwa created a punchy and dynamic sound, superbly underpinned by the subwoofer, when playing our The Libertines album.

The Aiwa AVJ-X55's looks mean that it is more likely to catch the eye of the younger home cinema buyer (or anyone who wants a system that can act as a Karaoke machine!) Its performance is respectable, but it doesn't have the edge over some of the competition here, even at its attractive price.