The Pioneer DCS-360 is a mid-priced home cinema system with the latest facilities for connection to flatscreen TVs. Critically, not all of us own a new flatscreen TV with HDMI socketry, so Pioneer has included socketry for connection to standard def TVs too, and buyers have the reassurance that the DCS-360 can accommodate a new flatscreen TV when the time arises.

Ugly tallboys

The sleek silver and black main unit is easy on the eye, and its flexible playback capabilities include DivX, DVD-R, DVD-RW, MP3, WMA and JPEG. Unlike former models, the DCS-360 has no 3-Spot pseudo surround processing or speaker placement flexibilities, and the tallboy speakers aren't nearly as good looking. The black cabinets make them difficult models to disguise, while the cheap wooden plinths don't give much stability and the lightweight speakers are easy to topple over.

The silver coloured subwoofer seems at odds with the black satellites, but it's a compact enough model, although not the ultra slimline model we've seen partnered with previous Pioneer home cinema systems.

The DCS-360 is ideally suited to HD Ready flatscreens, with HDMI support for 720p and 1080i screen resolutions. Standard definition screens are also catered for, and the Scart socket delivers RGB, S-video and composite video signals.

Of course, the mention of high definition on a standard DVD player or home cinema system is a bit misleading, as the Pioneer DCS-360 doesn't actually play HD DVDs. Nevertheless, the benefits are there for all to see, and for best results we recommend connecting the Pioneer via the HDMI socket and selecting the highest picture output resolution your screen can handle.

Pictures are amazingly solid and noise free, and clearly show HDMI as the best connection for hooking up to a compatible flatscreen TV. Images while watching our DVD of V for Vendetta look amazingly sharp, and the subtle bruises on Natalie Portman's forehead are clearly visible.

Scart for Scart's sake

Scart RGB picture signals are good but there's some noise during shadowy sequences inside V's hideaway. Images have less depth too, but these are minor criticisms and only really noticeable when making a comparison between RGB and HDMI signals.

Surround performance is good and the lightweight speakers sound respectable but Hugo Weaving's dialogue from behind the mask sounds a little more muffled than we expected from the centre speaker. Stereo music playback isn't that spectacular. It's a punchy sound that works well with upbeat pop, but it's too in-yer-face for more relaxed musical listening.

The DCS-360 follows Pioneer's successful one-box home cinema trend. It drops some of the brand's traditional features for better connectivity, but this is no great sacrifice and HDMI performance is very impressive indeed.