Sony's latest all-in-one is a compact system that arrives in a modestly sized box.Open it up and you're greeted with a very attractive main unit and a decent enough sub/sat speaker system.
The asking price looks a little steep when you consider some of the spaces on the spec sheet,but if it punches its weight it may still work its way into our affections.
The main unit is delightful to behold.It is imposing and impressive, with a sweeping fascia and minimal controls to clutter things up.
Connections at the front include an S-video input,but no DV connection for serious camcorder use, the first serious omission. At the back there is no HDMI output,but you do get component video outs,so progressive scan signals are still on the menu. The Scart sockets can accept and deliver RGB signals (but more on this later),but audio connections are limited to simple stereo outputs.
An optical or electrical digital audio output would leave open the possibility of upgrading the sound system in the future, if you found you were happy with the HDD/DVD recorder section but then decided you wanted more sonic impact.
The HDD is a 160GB model (the step-up RH7000 has a 250GB version) and can store as much as 269hr of programming.There are nine recording modes,providing great flexibility when it comes to getting maximum picture quality out of your recordings.
One of the modes,an HDD-only HQ setting,would be ideal for DV camcorder footage but is rather wasted here.
The other eight modes let you fit 1hr, 1.5,2hr, 2.5,3hr,4hr,6hr and 8hr on to a single DVD.
The DVD drive is also very versatile, recording on everything except DVD-RAM and dual-layered DVD-R discs (dual-layered DVD R platters are compatible).
Editing options on the HDD are very comprehensive indeed and include the priceless ability to trim out unwanted material (such as advertising breaks) before archiving a programme on to DVD.
The sound system is ambitiously quoted at 120W per channel - far too much for the little satellites to handle.They are both light and plasticky and feature a 70 x 100mm cone (the centre box has a 55 x 100mm design).
The subwoofer (which is unusually large and carries the connector ports for the satellites) has a 160mm cone.Frequency response figures are not given. Sound modes include the normal Dolby Digital/DTS/Pro-Logic II formats,but there is no place for the 6.1-channel variants.There is also a smattering of surround sound modes on offer.
Interesting sound options include a 'Virtual Multi Dimension'mode, which cunningly creates five sets of surround speakers from just a single pair,promising a more immersive soundstage in the process.
The onscreen menu system is pure class. Beautifully laid out and easily navigated, it teaches many other companies out there a lesson. The remote is also stylishly designed and the colour-coded speaker cables make life even easier.
There are some problems, however,most notably in the setup of the video outputs.Annoyingly, you cannot have the Scart output set to RGB when the component video sockets are also activated. This doesn't seem like much of a problem,but the only way you can get an RGB Scart input is to have an RGB output at the same time.The result? You can't have an RGB input (for best recording quality) at the same time as a progressive scan output (for best playback quality).
You can set the Scart input to 'Decoder' - which accepts an RGB signal - and have the component output active.This is not clear in the manual and so may cause problems. Editing is easily accomplished using the wonderful onscreen display.You also have the option to add chapter marks while you are watching a recording,or you can pause during the recording stage to manually take out all of the commercial breaks.
Recordings on the hard drive in the 1hr setting are dynamic and detailed, with every bit of the original signal captured. A testing football broadcast revealed excellent handling of fastpaced action alongside sweeping camera movements.
The step-up 1.5hr mode is indistinguishable from the 1hr mode,at least to the naked eye. It is only when you get to the 2hr setting that you start to see some artefacting being introduced.
Fast camera pans now add a little digital blocking on the pitch,while players have just a hint of mosquito haze around them as they run. Less-demanding material still looks close to pristine and only shows deterioration at the 3hr setting.This deterioration is mild and is still largely unobtrusive at the 6hr mode on very simple programming such as cartoons.Football at the 6hr setting is starting to get messy and it is fairly ropey at the topcapacity 8hr setting.
On to editing,and pausing recordings results in some very impressive transitions,while A-B deleting creates a disappointing pause in playback, rather than a seamless edit point.
Playback via the progressive scan feed delivers a very rich image,with excellent sharpness and deep colours. The picture exhibits a huge amount of detail and stability.
The sound system does a decent job at fairly modest volume settings. It delivers effective dialogue and is able to reinforce this with solid music delivery.
The subwoofer effectively fills in the bottom end and the overall effect is quite warm.
Turn the volume up and our suspicions about the little satellites are confirmed.They cannot handle much volume and the soundstage begins to falter.
The two elements stop meshing and separate, with the satellites struggling to match the sub and failing. It's not a poor performance, but not a raucous one, either.
This is therefore a system of some quality,with some excellent characteristics.The picture on both recordings and playback can be excellent and there are enough editing features to keep most users reasonably happy.
The sound system does not really match up,but does a capable job at reasonable volumes,while the omissions on the socketry (HDMI output,DV-input) are enough to hit the value for money score. And,for what it's worth,the looks would grace even the most stylish front room.A good system then,but not. David Smith