The TH-L1 from JVC is a one-box surround system with a difference. Not only is it designed to deliver 5.1 sound from a DVD player, but it also accommodates an iPod, USB flash drives and even 1080p video sources.
The 360W system consists of a vertically mounted main unit, styled in moody black with snazzy blue lights, five small cubic satellite speakers and a compact 100W subwoofer.
Socket to them
The rear of the main unit is packed with sockets. There are two HDMI inputs and one output, which allow you to loopthrough a 1080p video signal but sadly the system won't decode Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams carried over HDMI.
On the front is a port that allows you to connect, charge and control your iPod using the supplied remote, and you can even watch movie files from an iPod video. It's joined by a USB input that handles MP3, WMA, JPEG, WAV, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 (ASF) files.
Setup is quick and easy, thanks to the use of labelled speaker cables while the onscreen setup menu is well designed and smartly presented. The remote is cluttered but doesn't take long to master.
Despite its diminutive speakers, the system is capable of producing a surprisingly muscular sound with our test DVD of Finding Nemo.
The scene in which Dory and Marlin are chased by sharks is especially exciting thanks to excellent surround channel steering and well-controlled bass output, which gives explosions and crashes plenty of bite without overpowering the other channels.
What's more, expert channel separation allows you to easily discern each of the sonic elements such as dialogue or delicate rear effects, even during loud scenes.
Impressive it may be, but it's worth pointing out that you can get better sound quality from a separates system, but it would cost a lot more and affordability is the real point of a system like this.
With CDs, the system turns in an enjoyably well-rounded performance, treating the pseudo-1960s soul of Amy Winehouse's Back To Black with the care and respect it deserves.
MP3 files played from a USB flash drive sound dynamic, JPEG files look terrific and the unit also plays a healthy range of MPEG-4 codecs, although DiVX sadly isn't one of them. It's also frustrating that video files and onscreen menus can only be viewed using the analogue video connections and not HDMI.
But don't let that put you off: the JVC TH-L1 is an impressive system that delivers excellent sound quality for the money, and the inclusion of USB and iPod connections is the icing on the cake.