This is the latest all-in-one to try to persuade us to live without rear speakers.

Philips' stylish HTS6600 comprises a central unit for spinning discs, a subwoofer housing all the amplification and two attractive stereo speakers.

It's a very handsome system at an attractive price, but will the touted 'Ambisound' technology really make us feel as if we're at the very heart of a full-on surround sound system?

Multi-format compatible

All of the standard functions are present, including a video zoom (up to 4x) and the usual trick-play features. Multimedia playback is impressive, with DiVX discs catered for and a video-on-demand code provided. MP3, WMA and JPEG files are also all welcome.

Disappointingly, you cannot play DVD-Audio or SACD discs.

This is also a standard DVD player, so no HD discs can be played. You can, however, upscale standard-def DVDs up to 1080i. It won't approach genuine hi-def quality, but when it's done well there should be a visible improvement.

Connectivity therefore includes the necessary HDMI output, as well as component video and RGB Scart as fallback options. The sub offers audio hookups, including an electrical digital audio input, for connecting external sources.

The speakers use a combination of 'psychoacoustic effects' and angled, full-range 2in drivers to create an illusory surround soundstage - or that's what the Ambisound blurb says, anyway.

The system will detect whether the incoming source is of multichannel or stereo nature and switch playback accordingly (although you can opt to engage multichannel Ambisound playback on stereo sources if you wish).

DoubleBASS promises to retrieve low-frequency information that is below the capability of the sub and reproduce it within the audible range, although it obviously won't be as deep.
Finally, for those who like a few frills on their audio, there are Action, Rock, Concert, Classic, Drama, Jazz, MTV, R'n'B, Gaming, Party, Cartoon, Lounge, Sports and News presets.

User friendly

This really is a very easy system to set up: you simply plug the subwoofer in, hook up the main unit and speakers using the cables and umbilical supplied and you're ready to proceed with the onscreen setup.

You can opt to mount both the main unit and the stereo speakers onto a wall, which would certainly make an arresting installation. For this test we stuck with the nicely designed stands.

The user friendliness is completed by an attractive, well thought-out remote control.

Strong images

The images via the RGB Scart are very good. We enjoyed a range of test discs with bold colours, fine levels of detail and no nasty artefacts. Trick-play functions work well and the zoom is effective, too.

A progressive scan signal via the component video outputs proves to be more stable than the Scart, we like the HDMI-delivered picture best, though. It comes over as cleaner and more precise.

For example, the stark, monochrome palette of the neo-noir movie, Good Night and Good Luck, is presented with crisp whites and deep, solid blacks.

Exuberant animation such as Finding Nemo proves the Philips is no slouch on saturated colour either.

Upscaling, however, does not deliver a noticeable boost to the image, so don't expect the disc player to work miracles with your DVD collection.

Improved soundstage

The audio performance is a bit of a letdown at first. You can tame the subwoofer to stop it from taking over, though, and this improves the sound considerably.

Dialogue, is handled very well and subtleties of soundtracks are well picked out. However, the subwoofer is noisy in operation, emitting a distracting sound similar to a PC's cooling fan.

There is also a very annoying glitch that sees audio drop out when re-engaging play after pausing. The video rolls on, but there is no sound for two seconds, which can mean you miss some dialogue.

Finally, it must be said that although the Ambisound technology does produce a wider soundstage than a standard stereo TV, it does not come close to mimicking the presence of surround speakers.

It also highlights a very flat and muffled performance when the system is in two-channel stereo mode, where quality seems to be lost. This means you'll probably limit your viewing and listening to the multichannel setting.

There is plenty of volume and you certainly get a more immersive audio experience than just using your TV's speakers. The subwoofer certainly has impact at the very bottom end of the soundstage.

Value for money?

The HTS6600 is a decent bet if you want something compact that does a better job than TV speakers but aren't too fussed about achieving genuine surround sound.

This system comes agonisingly close to getting an overall four out of five, but the foibles of a noisy sub, sound dropout after pauses and the fact that Ambisound doesn't live up to its claims, keeps it down to three stars.

This is a very neat and, effective setup, within its own limitations. It just doesn't really perform as a surround sound system and it would perform best as a secondary installation.