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REVIEW

NOKIA HCS-1000 HOME CINEMA SYSTEM

 

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When it comes to home cinema technology Nokia are some way ahead of the pack, at least as far as their big-screen TV sets are concerned. They're one of only four companies  marketing 16:9 wide-screen televisions in the UK, but when it comes to the sound side of the home cinema experience their TV and VCRs all have more or less conventional stereo sound systems. Now, as if to make up for lost ground, they've launched the HCS-1000 home cinema sound system, a complete Dolby Pro Logic set-up in a box. Well, it's almost complete, the only other thing missing is a NICAM stereo TV, or a hi-fi system. HCS-1000 comprises a SRP-1000 Dolby Pro Logic processor, three speakers and a generous 20 metres of speaker cable. The processor is sourced from Taiwan, the speakers come from Denmark, a most unusual combination. The two fully enclosed bookshelf speakers have 4-inch drivers and are for the rear surround channel. The third speaker,  which has two 4-inch drivers and a 1-inch tweeter is magnetically shielded, and carries centre-front dialogue.

 

The layout and cosmetics of the processor are unremarkable, it's an anonymous slim black box with an unthreatening array of knobs, buttons and winking lights; the price, at just under 400 seems reasonable, and the Nokia name inspires a good deal of confidence, but something is wrong!

 

There's no point beating about the bush, the system, is badly flawed. The main problem is the design of the processor. It has only one line-audio input, which limits the number of source components that can conveniently be used with this device, to one... Apparently Nokia think that's enough, presuming the prospective purchaser to have only a NICAM  VCR to connect it up to; but what if they want to add a satellite receiver to the system, or a laser disc player, or a CD and tape player, maybe a CD Video or CD-i deck in a year or two's time ? In short they can't, at least not without a lot of lead swapping around the back of the processor, or buying some sort of external switch box. Ironically there is a second line input and output, for an audio tape deck, but this completely by-passes the processor and seems to serve no useful purpose whatsoever.

 

Nokia make the rather rash assumption that the user already has a stereo TV, or is willing to re-locate their hi-fi system and speakers. The processor only has three channels of amplification, driving the rear surround and centre-front speakers, the main stereo channels have to be carried on the TV's own speakers or channelled through the living-room hi-fi. In short Nokia have managed to put together a system that can be of interest to just a tiny fraction of individuals thinking about setting up a home cinema system.

 

Perhaps the HCS-1000 has other qualities, that redeem its sorry lack of flexibility? 'Fraid not. The processor has three operating modes, Dolby Pro Logic -- more about that in a moment --  'Hall' and 'Matrix'. Hall is supposed to recreate the ambience of a large space; on the evidence of our sample the hall in question is about the same size as the one between the living room and the front door in most British homes... Matrix is a pseudo stereo mode that outputs a signal from a mono source through all four speakers, clearly Nokia didn't want to excite would-be customers too much.

 

The Pro Logic decoder is just about okay. Set-up is reasonably straightforward, it has a sequential pink noise generator, input level control, centre and surround output controls, the minimum needed to achieve a balanced sound field, though it could do with front/rear balance as well. Thankfully the winking lights only come on when the levels are adjusted, they are a distraction. Unfortunately the rear speakers have to be driven hard, too hard in fact for such small units and at times they sound strained as they struggle to make themselves heard alongside the main stereo channels. The centre-front speaker, in contrast, is quite well suited to the job, the only trouble is, the dialogue channel on our sample was not as sharply defined as it could have been with leakage from the main stereo channels.

 

Surround sound performance on this system is fairly average, the best Pro Logic decoders focus specific sounds with great accuracy, you instinctively move your feet out of the way in a good car chase, or cower as fighter aircraft screams overhead; the SPR-1000 fails to generate that kind of emotional intensity. It manages to pick out the surround and dialogue channels from Dolby encoded soundtracks, but with no great conviction, there's too much else in there as well and  the unequal fight between the rear speakers and main stereo channels doesn't help.

 

Nokia must be aware of the way the home cinema market is going. Hitachi and Toshiba have convincingly demonstrated the appeal of TVs with built-in Dolby Surround and Pro Logic decoders; technophobic consumers obviously appreciate this simple one-box approach. Several other TV manufacturers are following suit, and we would be very surprised if Nokia haven't considered this option at some stage, and may even have a set in the pipeline. The more demanding home cinema enthusiast will go for a component-based solution, built around an AV amplifier or system. Nokias HCS-1000 sits uncomfortably in between the two extremes, bundling speakers in with the  processor is a very good idea, but why go and spoil the whole thing by making it dependent on a stereo TV or hi-fi amplifier, and then cripple it with only one line input? The suspicion is this is a quick-fix solution, getting Nokia a toehold in the home cinema market, if that is the case we look forward to a more considered response in the very near future because in its present form the HCS-1000 does them no favours whatsoever.

 

Plus: Reasonably cost-effective upgrade for unambitious NICAM VCR and stereo TV owners. Generous supply of speaker cable.

 

Minus: No input selector, no stereo channel amplifiers, green instead of red 'on' indicator light, underrated surround speakers, woolly centre channel, need we go on?

 

Sound Quality ***

Build quality               ***

Value for money         ***

Compatibility              **

Features                     *

Facilities                     *

 

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1994 1003

 

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