And now for something a little different... Those crazy Dutch designers have been in full flow for Philips' HTS8000S home theatre system, creating a multipart contraption with smooth brushed-silver curves and enough acres of gloss white plastic to make a field full of iPods.
This 2.1 system comprises a central DVD console with vertical side-slot loading and a huge glowing circle surrounding the display. It handles DVD, CD, MP3 CD, Super Audio CD and DiVX discs and comes with a full colour onscreen display.
It also has Philip's latest 'porthole' remote control - cooler than a penguin's nose. The main unit can be stand or wall mounted with the supplied brackets and is connected with a single cable to an off-board connection hub for discreet installation.
The hub itself connects to the subwoofer with a dedicated cable, outputs to a captive Scart lead and contains connectivity for another one AV source - but that's your lot.
The sub houses the system amplification and is a slim, upright design ideal for slipping down beside the sofa... as left out in the open it has all the cosmetic appeal of a cheap convector heater. The system is complete with two satellite speakers.
The system takes Dolby and DTS, decodes it into 5.1, and pretty much outputs it without too much extra processing to the speakers through the dedicated multicore cables. The drivers nearest your TV are angled in to produce dialogue at the screen and the mid drivers aim directly forward as main L/R channels. The outer drivers bounce surround sound information off the side walls to throw effects around the room.
It's not the slickest surround sound method, but in a roughly symmetrical room it should create a nicely spacious sound. And, once you have found the quickstart guide and worked out the convoluted connection routine, it is fairly easy to set up - and the rewards are plentiful.
As is to be expected from Philips the picture output from DVD is well up to scratch and the progressive component output is a nice addition on such an inexpensive system. The picture is sharp and dynamic and displays very little in the way of blocking artefacts.
The overall sonics are not bad either. The sound is remarkably robust for plastic speakers and the subwoofer is as subtle and unobtrusive as it looks. There is a fair amount of detail in the mix and effects, and backing off the sub volume a little cleans up the balance to reveal finer details still.
Explosions won't rattle your fillings and maximum volume is cleverly limited to avoid overdriving, but the system as whole remains eminently enjoyable on a day-to-day basis.
Dialogue is surprisingly uncoloured and there is a good spatial sensation to the overall soundstage. The centre channel remains locked to the screen, although it drifts either way slightly if you are not in the hot seat truly perpendicular to the central axis of the two loudspeakers.
Likewise, the surround effects are somewhat variable depending on your position, room shape, wall coverings and probably your shoe size, but do go some way to creating the all-important enveloping sound of home cinema at its best.
Philips' HTS8000S looks great, is well featured, simple to use and gives an entry-level flavour of true home cinema at a price that won't break the bank.