Akai's home cinema system with built-in DVD recorder is not exactly the most strikingly designed system we've ever seen, but it looks fairly business-like, with the four tallboy satellite speakers and squat subwoofer.

The main unit provides 5 x 50W of amplification for the satellites (although the speakers themselves claim power handling of just 30W), while pumping an additional 70W to the sub.

Connectivity looks excellent at first glance.There is a component video output for progressive scan signals, a pair of Scarts, a DV input and S-video input on the front panel and both optical and electrical digital audio inputs for connecting more equipment.

The input Scart, however, is a plain old composite type, meaning no recording of RGB images. If you want to record S-video signals (almost as good as RGB) you have to use the front panel input, which looks messy.

DVD recording includes DVD R and RW discs as well as -R and -RW platters.You can use VR editing mode on -RW discs, but the editing options are somewhat reduced compared to other VR decks we've seen.

When recording you can use the pause button to skip commercial breaks, and the Akai thoughtfully adds a chapter mark each time you do this - a very welcome feature that makes navigating your recordings much easier.

Performance

To start with the good news, the picture quality via an RGB Scart connection is fantastic. The rich colours and shady detail of Elektra stand out well, with plenty of image resolution on show in the moody shadows and no nasty artifacts to get in the way.

On brightly lit scenes the picture fairly jumps off the TV screen - first-class stuff.

More praise can be heaped on the sound system. It delivers far more than we have come to expect from such satellites, where style is so often emphasised over performance. Not so here. The soundstage meshes superbly, with the subwoofer imparting real depth despite its small stature.

Sound effects are handled with panache and the whole effect is wonderfully enveloping, with a good amount of volume on offer as well.

All of this, therefore, makes it very sad to have to report that DVD recordings are below average.The lack of an RGB input obviously doesn't help, but images are still duller and more grainy than we are used to seeing.

The two-hour mode does not dip much from the one-hour setting, but the eight-hour mode introduces a noticeable strobe effect that ultimately renders it useless for all but non-essential recordings.

When watching TV on loopthrough, there is also a slight but annoying lip-sync problem, although this is not captured on DVD recordings.

This could easily have been a Best Buy system with a decent recorder, but the price is still competitive, so if you don't really want a DVD recorder you could still enjoy an excellent home cinema system.