Once all the rage, surround sound TVs have all but disappeared since the arrival of affordable all-in-one home cinema packages. But JVC clearly feels there's still a market out there and with an asking price of just £450 for its new 28in AV-28R57 surround model, it might just be right!
The AV-28R57 is reasonably attractive. The silver finish is hardly innovative and rather plasticky, but the lines are elegant. The supplied rear speakers are interesting ,too, if only because of their exceptional smallness, leaving the odd-looking subwoofer as the only bum note.
Connectivity is fairly sound. Three Scarts (two RGB) are provided, plus there are spring-clip connectors for the rear speakers, a clip-on jack for the subwoofer and an optical audio input for receiving Dolby Digital audio bit-streams from a DVD player or Sky box. The only disappointment is the lack of any four-pin S-video option.
Although the set is hardly overloaded with features, it backs up its surround sound capabilities well, with individually tweakable Dolby Pro-Logic II Movie and Music settings, a 'Distance' adjustment for the rear speakers, relative volume adjustments for each speaker, and the facility to choose which video input the digital audio jack works with.
The AV-28R57's audio is best summed up as great versus budget Nicam sets, but flimsy versus a decent cheap separate surround system. The weakest links are the rear speakers. They sound tinny and out of kilter with the front speakers in the TV and distort and/or rattle when the going gets tough. They also make you too aware of their physical location by not dispersing sound widely enough.
The subwoofer's much more adept. It doesn't kick in as readily as we'd like, but when it does burst into life, it blends surprisingly well with the TV's built-in speakers. And these front speakers really are very solid. They don't spread their sound over a particularly wide area, perhaps, but they can go loud without distortion and keep dialogue rich and clear at all times. They also avoid the harshness and thinness experienced with the rears.
Pictures are about fair for the money, losing out on higher praise thanks to one single irritating flaw: over two or three inches of each side of the screen you can frequently make out small, shadowy lozenge-shaped boxes seemingly caused by a weakness in the TV's electron beam, deflection yoke or screen configuration.
The picture also looks a bit soft compared to the best budget contenders out there. It can kink quite alarmingly around bright image parts (especially in 4:3 mode) and suffers some slight low-level dot crawl.
On the plus side, colours are very natural in tone and reasonably bright for a 50Hz TV. The set's black levels also reach darker than those of many sub-£500 28in TVs and as always with a 50Hz TV, it's a pleasure to find a picture completely unsullied by digital processing artefacts or problems showing moving objects.
Overall, the AV-28R57 is certainly worth considering as cost-effective first step into home cinema. Just be aware that any TV that offers so much for so little inevitably demands a few compromises. John Archer