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SONY DAV-S300, £550

 

Our guess is that the reason surround sound has been comparatively slow to take off in this country is not so much the extra cost – which these days is negligible – but the hassle of lots of little boxes and wires all over the place. Unfortunately the higher up the surround ladder you climb the more boxes and cables there are to contend with, but as those of you that have scaled the home cinema heights will know, it’s well worth the effort. In an attempt to bring the joys of Dolby Digital 5.1 et-al to a wider audience Sony has come up with the DAV-S300. It’s what manufacturer’s like to call a ‘lifestyle’ system, which basically means lots of functions, small shiny packages and as near idiot-proof installation as possible.

 

The DAV-S300 is billed as a compact AV system and the key features are a DVD/CD player with integral 5.1 channel decoders (Dolby Digital, dts & PCM), combined with a 6-channel amplifier and AM/FM tuner with 20 station presets. The outfit includes five matching ‘Micro Satellite’ speakers plus a passive sub-woofer, speaker leads and a multi-brand TV remote. The amp section has an interesting set of DSP modes to play around with. In addition to the standard digital and analogue surround settings there are ten sound fields, including three ‘Cinema Studio’ options, based upon the acoustic characteristics of real-world sound production suites. There’s also the usual hall, jazz club, theatre and game settings, for beefing up stereo soundtracks. The DVD section appears to be based on Sony’s mid-range stand-alone players, which means it’s short on frills but all of the most important replay facilities are included, and everything is controlled from an easy to use on-screen display.  That’s just as well because the front panel display is very small and difficult to read more than a metre or two away.

 

Sony has certainly managed to take the sting out of connecting the system up, each speaker is colour-coded with its own lead -- and a good length they are too -- long enough for the most tortuous route under the carpets and around the sofa. The speakers are really tiny though, they work hard but with only 30 watts per channel on tap they soon run out of puff in anything larger than a small to medium sized living room, and don’t even think of trying to use it without the sub-woofer!

 

Teaming a DVD/CD player with an amp/decoder and an AM/FM tuner is

a great idea but Sony has been a bit tight with the external inputs and socketry. In fact there are just two AV inputs, enough for a VCR and satellite set top box, but what about the games console? Both inputs use phono connections, there’s no SCART sockets, so no RGB connection to the TV and no S-Video inputs, which seems a bit shortsighted. It’s also worth noting that the UK version doesn’t have any digital bitstream inputs, unlike models made for some other markets.  

 

On screen performance is comparable with Sony’s regular home deck players, the picture is clean and full of fine detail, colours are true to life and we saw no evidence of processing artefacts during our checks. Contrast is satisfactory though darker scenes are a shade gloomy and layer change could be a bit quicker, it took a full half a second on our R2 copy of Godzilla. Trick play speed options are limited to 2-stage picture search and slomo (in both directions); search is much too fast and jerky and slomo too slow.

 

Speaker layout is quite critical; spacing is important, if they’re too far apart the soundfield collapses and sounds appears to be coming from a series of well defined points around the room; moving sound or dialogue can seem jumpy, which can be a little distracting. They’re also a bit light in the mid-range; the sub woofer fills in with a solid bass but overall it can sound a wee bit harsh. When you find sweet spots for the speakers Dolby Digital material is very lively indeed with sharply focused effects; dts soundtracks are even better and there tends to be more coming out of the sub to help move things along. The system is optimised for AV material so music CDs are a tad thin, unless your tastes tends towards metal or drum and bass.

 

Much depends on where you use it, we suspect Sony has at least one eye on apartment dwellers and those with relatively modestly sized living spaces looking for a stylish and comparatively effortless route into multi-channel home cinema, in which case the DAV-S300 does a fair job. However, we feel that movie junkies and those seeking a bit more muscle to fill larger rooms might find it less than involving.

 

Contact Sony (0990) 111999, www.sony.com

 

BOX COPY 1 – REMOTE VIEWING

With so many functions to play around with it’s not surprising the remote is large and busy -- there’s a second keypad under a flap – nevertheless the buttons you use most often are easy to find and well spaced. Multi brand TV control is a bonus but key labelling could be better, even so it’s something you can get used to quite quickly.

 

THE HARD FACTS

 

SONY DAV-S300    

 

OUTPUTS

SCART             none

S-Video             1

RGB out                        no

Optical digital            n/a

Coaxial digital            n/a

5.1 decoder                   yes

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2 PAL/NTSC/PAL 60, Dolby Digital & dts decoders, 10-mode DSP, time search, AM/FM tuner with 20 station preset, sleep timer, multi-brand TV remote, 2 AV inputs, 5 x 30 watts RMS amplification, 5 micro satellite speakers (single 2.75-in driver) & passive subwoofer (7-in driver) included

 

GOOD POINTS

Compact one-piece design, idiot-proof set-up

 

BAD POINTS

Small display, average sound

 

Ease of use            4

Picture  4

Sound               3

Features            3

Overall  4

 

BUYERS GUIDE EXTRA INFO

Price                 £550

SCART none

S-Video 1

Digital out            n/a

Decoder            Dolby Digital, dts, PCM, DPL

 

Good Points

Compact one-piece design, idiot-proof set-up

 

Bad points

Small display, average sound

 

Rating

***

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2000, 1205

 

dim355/70/365

 


 

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