This home cinema system from Sony may not incorporate DVD recording, but don't turn your back just yet - the DAV-DZ410 certainly has flexibilities and strengths elsewhere.

As well as offering the usual five speakers and subwoofer for a 5.1 surround sound experience in a conventional speaker formation, this Sony is flexible enough to deal with alternative speaker placement scenarios and still achieve a surround sound effect.

Flexible friend

Sony's flexible speaker placement option means that it can even accommodate installations without a centre speaker or with the surround speakers placed at the front of the room, for example. You can even place the rear speakers in another room for second zone listening.

The built-in Digital Cinema Auto Calibration (DCAC) system quickly accommodates your speaker layout scenario and optimises system performance using a microphone placed at the main listening position.

The main unit's front panel incorporates an audio jack for connection to MP3 players. Connections elsewhere aren't the most comprehensive: the Scart socket is only equipped with an RGB and composite video signal output, but thankfully there's component video with progressive scan capabilities onboard.

Video connectivity may be a bit limited, but playback includes DVD-R/RW and DVD R/RW format discs as well discs containing MP3, JPEG and DiVX material. Surprisingly, there's no provision for SACD playback.

Progressive scan pictures via the component video socketry offer the best results, delivering clean images and crisp colours while watching our test DVD of Syriana. It's remarkably detailed and copes well with camera pans across the desert.

Picture performance is also impressive with RGB signals via the Scart socket. The Sony performs well with speakers placed in a typical 5.1 surround sound layout - dialogue and movie atmospherics are expertly placed around the room. Dialogue clarity is good but it lacks openness. The sub isn't that powerful, but turning up the subwoofer level achieves better results, albeit lacking energy.

Alternative speaker layouts provide effective surround results, and the Sony's automated setup mode and pseudo surround processing delivers pleasing results no matter what speaker placement you choose.

Rum punch

Musically, the Sony system isn't the best home cinema system we've encountered - it sounds unrefined and too lacking in punch to double as a decent music system.

But, let's not lose sight of the main event here - picture performance. With component video connections, the Sony DAV-DZ410 demonstrates some of the most startling DVD pictures we have seen on a home cinema system at the price.