Great value for money complete home recording set-up, but a few issues deny it a best buy
Sluggish to operate
Sound lacks oomph
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For years, the home cinema catch-all of all-in-one systems was something of a misnomer; since the early '80s people have regarded their televisual entertainment in terms of a TV and a video recorder, and very few of the early complete systems offered that all-important recording element.
The DVD recording revolution has changed that, and the ability to use the same device for both recording television and watching pre-recorded movies in surround sound can now be realised - and looking at this Philips system, realised at a very reasonable price indeed. It wasn't long ago that £600 was the asking price for an entry-level stand-alone DVD recorder - now you get an amplifier and an attractive surround sound system thrown in.
The main unit look looks near-identical to Philips' current range of DVD recorders, with only a volume control and an extra few centimetres in depth indicating that there is something extra packed away in the reasonably sleek silver lines. Looks can always divide opinion, but we think that Philips has got it right with this system, particularly the way the front panel around the disc drawer lights up red when recording - simple, but it looks great.
The build quality of the main unit is reassuringly robust, although the speakers feel somewhat lighter. That said, the cylindrical design of the four satellites - which can be placed either on tall supplied stands or else placed as they are - is attractive and very living room friendly. The subwoofer is also stylish, and relatively small, and as it's a passive design there's no need to locate it near a plug socket. Wiring up is simple, thanks to colour coding.
Connection options are pretty decent as well, with an i.Link (Firewire) input hidden under a panel at the flap for connecting to a suitably-equipped camcorder and both RGB-capable Scart and a progressive scan-capable component video output on the back of the unit. (The latter can also be set to non-progressive scan, if your component-equipped TV will only accept an interlaced signal.)
For many people though, the inclusion of an RGB-capable Scart input is big news, as this means that you'll be able to record direct from your satellite box - something that not all digital recorders offer. Also included are digital audio inputs for accessing the surround sound that some satellite broadcasts feature.
The supplied remote control is a typical Philips model, and while it looks quite basic, some of the multiple options on the buttons can make it tricky to use at times. It's also not backlit, and while it may be churlish to complain at this price, we thought we would anyway. The onscreen menus are the usual Philips style of icon based pull-downs, which while attractive, aren't always the easiest to get to grips with, especially considering that this system is supposed to be plug and play...
Our only other gripe with the system concerns the rather sluggish reaction times of the menu system. There often seems to be a slight lag before the LX7500R reacts to your button presses, which on a couple of occasions had us attempting to re-press the controls - not good, and we've definitely seen better on other recording systems.
Starting with playback, we were initially impressed by how well the system works with the surround sound of DVD movies. The five satellite speakers gel reasonably well when listening to the bombastic soundtrack of Aliens, and considering the asking price they rarely get harsh and brittle, even at high volumes. The larger centre speaker also performs decently, locking dialogue to the screen in a believable manner.
The only let down is the passive subwoofer. Obviously included for matters of cost, it lacks the oomph and drive that an active model would bring to the party, and doesn't really have the depth demanded by the latest Hollywood action movie. This can at times leave the whole system sounding a bit flat and lifeless, and as it will obviously be used for playback more often than recording, this is disappointing.
Audio is an equally mixed bag, with stereo lacking focus and the surround modes monkeying around with the sound a touch over-enthusiastically. Picture quality is better though, with both the component video and RGB Scart performing strongly. Detail levels are higher than anticipated from this kind of set-up, with strong lines presented even on tricky diagonals.
There's also good depth of field to long shots, which makes the image more believable. Colours are slightly less impressive, with an over exuberance visible, which while not a problem while watching Shrek 2, can become tiresome on less deliberately vivid fare.
However, the real test of this system lies in its ability to replace the VCR as the family video recorder. Setting up this aspect is simple, and if you're using off-air signals the available channels sort and load themselves quickly and without fuss. However, many people will use this system to record direct from satellite TV, and it's here that the RGB Scart input comes into its own.
Fed a Sky broadcast, the LX7500R proves itself adept at recording glitch-free Simpsons, including passable surround sound via the optical digital input at the rear of the system. There are six recording modes on offer, starting at 60mins per disc and going up to 480mins.
With the two highest quality settings there was no perceptible difference between the recording and the original, and even slipping into what Phillips terms the M2x setting (150mins) didn't mess things up too badly. Further down the quality scale is only recommended for, say, timer-recording a couple of weeks' worth of EastEnders while you are on holiday.
This system offers excellent value for buyers looking for a neat, one-box home cinema solution that not only allows them to watch the latest DVDs in some semblance of surround sound, but also lets them record their favourite movies or TV shows and play them back whenever they want. However, a few annoying flaws combine to make the decision to buy this product a less easy one than it should otherwise be.
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