Sony's latest cosmetic quirk could land it a place in the Guinness Book of Records. The DAV-IS10 features the smallest satellite speakers ever seen on a home cinema system, each one being the size of a golf ball, so they can be discretely integrated into your room's décor. Despite their tiny size Sony insists they'll deliver the same sound quality you'd get from far bigger ones. This is a claim we'll put to the test.
The speakers are visually unremarkable, but incredibly well made, feeling weighty and robust. More exciting is the main DVD/amplifier unit, which is styled in a luxurious black gloss finish with classy, touch-sensitive controls along the top and a front-loading disc slot.
The system's powerful subwoofer is understandably a lot bigger than the satellites, given its bass-generating duties, but thankfully it's just as good-looking.
The main unit's rear panel sports HDMI, component and composite video outputs, plus optical and electrical digital audio inputs to feed in sources such as a Sky+ box.
Also on the rear is a Digital Media Port, which lets you connect a variety of optional Sony-made adaptors for peripheral gadgets, which can then be played through the system. These include an iPod cradle plus network Walkman and Bluetooth audio adaptors to stream music to the system wirelessly.
The unit features video upscaling to 720p or 1080i from the HDMI output, but not 1080p. It also plays a pleasingly wide range of disc types.
The main unit uses Sony's 32-bit S-Master digital amp and sound processing and will happily play back Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks. You'll also find Pro Logic II processing and a whole host of Sound Field modes that apply different effects to the sound, including a specific setting for portable music devices.
Ease of use
Setting up the system is a breeze. The colour-coded speaker cables plug into the corresponding terminals on the back of the subwoofer, while the main unit and sub are joined together by a single umbilical cord.
Once you've hooked it all up, you can optimise the speakers for your room using the system's superb automatic calibration mode, which sets the speaker distances and channel levels in about 30 seconds.
Elsewhere, the unit's operating system is a delight, using a succession of clear and logical onscreen displays and a remote blessed with sensibly arranged buttons. There are two setup menus - Quick and Custom - which could come in handy if you only want to alter the basic settings.
The DAV-IS10 delivers high quality 1080i pictures from the HDMI output, as a blast of Fellowship of the Ring demonstrates. Every detail is captured, giving pictures a bold and punchy appearance that looks great, even on screens over 42in.
What's more, the system's video processing is also respectful of the movie's colour palette. The organic tones of the scenery are warm and vivid, yet perfectly natural and free of nasty MPEG noise.
It's hard to believe but those diddy speakers do generate the sort of neighbour-waking power that home cinema fans crave. Turn up the volume and the output is loud, dynamic and free from distortion, making the Mines of Moria sequence sound thrilling.
What's most impressive is that the system doesn't simply rely on the subwoofer for its power, although it does play its part, underpinning the action with dollops of brutal bass, but the midrange and top-end from these punchy satellites is given plenty of room, resulting in a well balanced soundstage.
Credit also goes to the rear speakers, which convey a great deal of sonic detail. Their sharp reproduction of delicate effects and subtle ambience heightens the creepy, claustrophobic atmosphere of the Moria scene, particularly as the hordes of snarling goblins swarm from the mine walls. Effects are also accurately placed and well separated, creating an engaging surround experience.
This is topped off by an excellent performance from the centre speaker, which allows dialogue to cut through the chaos and make itself heard.
The system's only real weakness is that you need to turn it up to near maximum to get the best results, and soundtracks lose much of their vigour at low-volume, but then who wants to watch movies quietly?
CD and MP3 playback are terrific, but considering the price we reckon Sony should have included SACD playback.
Inevitably, the DAV-IS10's aesthetic innovations make it expensive compared to many other one-box 5.1 systems on the market, and at this price the lack of SACD playback and 1080p upscaling is a poor show.
But what you do get for your money is a stylish, living room friendly system that delivers powerful sound from its minute speakers - and on that basis it's well worth investigating.