This undeniably stylish system from JVC comes with a beguiling price tag and a promising feature count,so why do we approach it with caution?

Quite simply, it's because every DVD recorder we've yet seen from the company has failed to offer an RGB Scart input. A quick rummage through the instruction manual and... at last! There is indeed an RGB-capable Scart input, but even now JVC seems a bit confused by the whole thing, offering 'Video/RGB', 'S-video/RGB' and 'SAT/RGB' options.

The SAT option is for continued loopthrough of a set-top signal when the system is shut down, so that will be the best option for many.

Looks & features

With that major issue out of the way it is easier to admire the design of this system. The main deck is svelte, yet it packs a hefty wallop if the spec sheet is anything to go by - 2 x 140W to the front stereo pair, with 130W each for the centre and two surrounds.

The active subwoofer carries its own 140W power supply and is attached to the main unit by an umbilical cord.

The sub houses the colour-coded springclip terminals for the speaker system,while the main unit plays host to all other connections.These include a DV input at the front, component video outputs at the rear and both optical and electrical digital audio outputs.

The speakers are slimline floorstanders, delivered in two pieces but easily fastened together.

The satellite speakers all carry a pair of 55mm cones,with a frequency range quoted at 90Hz- 20kHz. The front and centre boxes are magnetically shielded.

The identical driver complements the coherence of the soundstage, but whether such small speakers will be able to handle the power thrown at them remains to be seen.

The sub carries a side-firing 160mm bass driver and frequency response is quoted at 30Hz-200Hz, which should be enough to impart quite a rumble.

Sound formats include Dolby Digital, DTS,DTS 96/24 and Pro-Logic II. The 6.1-channel versions of these formats are not available in pure form, although a 'virtual' surround back speaker setting is available for use with EX and ES soundtracks.

For recording,DVD-RAM and -RW discs in VR mode offer the greatest flexibility when it comes to editing, while -R and -RW video mode discs are better for compatibility with other players. RAM discs also offer simultaneous recording and playback, and the added bonus of playback of a programme while it is being recorded.

Four record settings offer 1hr,2hr, 4hr and 6hr of capacity on a singlesided disc, while a Free Rate mode can further extend that to as much as 8hr.

Ease of use

This is something of a mixed effort from JVC. An automatic speaker setup function,which requires just a clap of the hand, is very welcome, and editing functions on DVD recordings are simple.

On the other hand,the manual is at times boggling, never more so than when telling you what to set your input Scart to.

It also often requires some unusual button presses on the crammed remote to perform a simple task. For instance, there is a 'Progressive' button for prog scan signals, but rather than simply pressing it to turn the function on or off, you have to switch the remote to 'Audio'mode, press the 'DVD' button and then hold the progressive button down for three seconds.

Speaker settings can be easily adjusted (with the help of a test tone) and we dare say that once you get used to the foibles the system will work smoothly.

Performance

Performance itself is blighted by some very spooky goings on. First things first, the deck is capable of recording a beautiful RGB image, with biting clarity and every bit as much detail as there is on the original broadcast. Colours are clean and there are no artefacts to worry about.

The story remains positive right down the recording options. Detail begins to suffer, inevitably, but the image remains watchable and the 6hr setting is one of the best we've seen, with no strobe effect and still very respectable detail. Editing produces fairly smooth edit points and the ability to pause recordings and add chapter marks on the fly is welcome. Playback of pre-recorded DVDs is very good as well.

Now for the bad news. When hooked up to a Sky box we found the system played happily, but when we switched it into standby mode and reactivated it, there was a distinct lip-sync problem.

Listening to our TV's audio at the same time as the JVC system highlighted this quite clearly. When we activated the 'Navigate' function (which displays titles on a DVD) the lip-sync error cleared up, but once we put the deck into standby once more the problem returned.

Also,the system did not consistently trigger our reference Sony widescreen TV. Sometimes a recording or loopthrough signal would be in widescreen, and sometimes it would be in a compressed 4:3 ratio.

These foibles make the system awkward to live with, but the audio is probably a bigger criticism.

The satellite speakers deliver a fairly harsh sound, with dialogue sounding brittle and lively soundtracks being a test for the ears.

The subwoofer does a decent job (although it needs to be toned down) and adds some warmth to the sound,but the overall effect is disjointed, a soundstage of two parts that do not convincingly mesh.

Playing at high volumes exacerbates the problem, while keeping things to sensible levels does help matters.

Conclusion

At the price, and considering the functionality of the system, some of the problems we encountered can be waved aside.

Overall, however, there is a lack of quality from the audio side, an unwieldy nature to the operation of the system and one or two puzzling anomalies that look like they need some further work from JVC.

There are certainly more assured performers out there at this price point or for a little more.