This ultra stylish, well specified 6.1-channel system boasts wireless rear speakers, which is a godsend if you're a stickler for tidiness. The unusual main unit features a touch-screen control panel and a side-loading disc slot.

The subwoofer is styled in matching black and silver and handles amplification duties, while the flat-panel speakers can be wall mounted or perched on the four tallboy stands included with the system.

The features list is staggering. There's Dolby Digital EX decoding, HDMI output with video upscaling (720p/1080i), SACD, MP3, WMA, JPEG and DiVX playback, plus a built-in FM radio tuner.

The main unit's unusual design necessitates the use of a separate junction box, which is awkward to use. Thankfully it sports a decent selection of sockets, including component video output, a permanently attached Scart lead and an electrical digital audio input.

The extra receiver box for the three rear speakers and junction box makes it more complicated to set up than your average system, but the use of colour coded speaker cables is helpful in this respect.

The well-designed remote is blighted by chapter skip keys that double up as search buttons, and the system is occasionally slow to respond (particularly when toggling through sources).

When rigged up via HDMI and upscaled to 1080i the picture is clean and crisp, with vivid colours. The intergalactic pyrotechnics of Serenity look stunning, offering sharply-defined shots of detailed spacecraft and scenery. Drop it down to 720p and images are equally impressive, however when displayed on a competent flatpanel TV you won't see much difference between 720p and 1080i.

Component video and Scart pictures are noisier, but there's still a wealth of detail during dark scenes and colour fidelity is admirable.

Sound of the underground

Audio quality is excellent, demonstrated by the sublime reproduction of Serenity's riotous soundtrack. As spaceships rumble past the camera, the sub pumps out rich, powerful but tightly controlled bass that bolsters the soundstage brilliantly.

The fronts and surrounds do their thing with impressive clarity, while the centre speaker delivers audible dialogue at all times. The wireless rear speaker performance is nothing short of flawless - surround effects are conveyed with aplomb with no evidence of drop outs or distortion.

SACD playback is equally impressive. The 5.1-channel mix of Avalon by Roxy Music really sparkles, with Bryan Ferry's patented brand of aural seduction sounding sleazier than ever. This all-round stellar performance is topped off with fantastic stereo CD playback.

It might be pricey but the HTS9800W is very classy and packed with loads of hi-tech features that make it worth every penny of its price tag.