To date, all of the integrated home cinema systems we have come across have been geared to playing disc media like DVDs, CDs and MP3s. The £550 MX6000i from Philips, however, can be hooked up to a PC or broadband network to expand your choice of entertainment significantly.
Among the additional goodies the MX6000i brings into the realms of possibility are games, photos, movie clips and internet radio. It will also play MP3 music and DiVX/XViD video content stored on your PC's hard disk.
The MX6000i looks like just another snazzily-styled home cinema in a box. The glossily-finished front panel gives you a five-disc autochanger, a giant amber LCD info screen and the main playback controls.
The speakers are styled to complement the unit. All bar the centre are identical, employing two 3in mid-range drivers and a 1.75in cone tweeter. In contrast, the low-profile centre speaker ranges two pairs of smaller (2in) mid-range drivers - which are angled, presumably to aid dispersion - around a centrally-positioned tweeter.
The front models plug into columnar stands that each incorporate a 4in subwoofer, so there's no need to find space for a dedicated bass box. The surround speakers, meanwhile, are supplied with wall brackets. All speakers have removable grilles.
Around the back of the system unit, you'll find a fair sprinkling of connectors. These include an RGB-compatible Scart as well as composite phono and S-video outputs. Unfortunately, the Scart cannot itself be configured to output S-video and there's no component output, prog-scan capable or otherwise.
Audio connections include colour-coded, springclip speaker terminals for ease of set-up, a pair of analogue stereo inputs and a coaxial digital input. These are complemented by analogue and coaxial audio outputs, which are intended for audio recorders. Finally, we have FM and AM aerial inputs for the MX6000i's built-in RDS-capable 40-preset radio tuner and the system's pièce de résistance - a 10/100Mbps Ethernet port.
This is the key to the MX6000i's flexibility, although an internal Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b/g) transceiver is included as a wireless alternative. The internet settings are entered via a menu system before use and thankfully, DHCP is supported for ease of installation. You need to switch between Wi-Fi and wired networks manually.
If you've specified Wi-Fi, a WEP encryption key can be entered if your network is a secure one. If you don't have Wi-Fi, Philips supplies a wireless USB adaptor as part of the package. We had no serious problems integrating the MX6000i into a broadband network based around a Belkin F5D7230 wireless gateway router and cable internet connection.
Once you've set up the network, two main options are available. The first, 'Internet', provides four online-content choices, which can be customised via a special Philips website. First up is 'games', which downloads simple games to the unit. Next is 'music', which gives you a list of internet radio stations to tune into.
This is followed by 'pictures', a series of online photo albums to thumb through. The final option is 'video', which jumps to an amalgam of movie trailers and music videos. All of this is quite impressive, although the picture quality of the MPEG4 compressed video on offer tends to be quite poor. According to a Philips spokesman, the available content will be expanded in the future.
The other main option is 'PC Link' and this is where the network connectivity really comes into its own.
Install the supplied Media Manager program on your PC, and you can choose which movies (MPEG-1/2, DiVX or XViD formats), still images (JPEG, BMP or GIF) or music (MP3 or MP3 Pro) should be available to the MX6000i across the network. Categorisation makes the content easy to select from the MX6000i, and there's even a 'recent' function that remembers the last 20 items played.
As for the other functions, the DVD changer is a boon, especially for those multi-disc sets. Switching between discs is sluggish, though, and it's far from quiet in operation. The player section will handle CD-ROMs containing MP3 audio or JPEG still images, in addition to the usual DVDs and audio CDs. Oddly, though, discs containing DiVX files are rejected with an error message.
The MX6000i's onboard 5.1 surround decoder, will handle Dolby Digital and DTS DVD soundtracks. A Pro-Logic II mode can be engaged for stereo stuff. Also thrown in are a 'hall' DSP option, simple bass/treble controls, 'night' (DRC) mode and dialogue enhancement.
The MX6000i musters a respectable performance as a DVD player. We noted sharp detail and pleasantly-rendered colours via RGB. DiVX content fared better than expected, although Wi-Fi playback yielded 'hiccups'. Switching to wired Ethernet made playback of such material a lot more reliable.
We found the Wi-Fi range of the review sample to be poor. Communication with the network was thus erratic and MP3 playback would break up. It looks as if the MX6000i's lack of an obvious aerial is to blame.
The MX6000i produces a PAL output, regardless of the source material. As a result, a DiVX file encoded from a NTSC source suffers from jerky playback. The same is true of region-free NTSC DVDs.
In terms of audio, the MX6000i will be acceptable in most homes, but it's far from hi-fi. Dialogue tends to sound hollow, while the system's shallow low-frequency performance demonstrates that there's no substitute for a subwoofer. However, a creditable soundstage is extracted from 5.1 soundtracks, and the system generates reasonable sound levels before distortion sets in.
Provided you're not after the last word in sonic performance, there's a lot to like about this system. Although there are a few areas in which the MX6000i could be improved, it's the first time we've found network capability in an all-in-one system and it certainly expands the horizons of your audio-visual entertainment.