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FEATURE

 

TEN EASY UPGRADES

 

INTRO

Homogenous home cinema is possible. Banish the boxes with our in-depth guide to Dolby Pro Logic upgrade packages

 

COPY

New Dolby Pro Logic televisions have been coming out of the woodwork lately. Itís not difficult to see why so many TV manufacturers have adopted the so-called Ďone-boxí approach to home cinema. The concept is still quite new; the apparent complexity of the technology, and the need to clutter their living rooms with boxes and cables everywhere, has proved difficult for manufacturers to overcome. Televisions with built-in DPL decoders, and just a couple small speakers are much easier to accommodate, especially when the purchase coincides with the replacement of the family TV.

 

Whilst DPL TVs undoubtedly provide a satisfactory solution for many people, they have their drawbacks. Firstly performance. The stereo speakers fitted to most home cinema TVs are weedy little things. Theyíre set far too close together, inside big hollow boxes, so itís unfair to expect them to create anything more than shallow, ill-defined soundfield. The rear speakers supplied with these sets are generally disappointing, and more often than not, underpowered as well. Secondly, not everyone is in the market for a new TV, particularly those who have brought a NICAM stereo TV in the last year or two.

 

Thereís clearly a pent-up demand for a simple, fuss-free alternative to DPL TVs and traditional systems or AV components, and thatís precisely what we have been looking at. Weíve gathered together ten new (or nearly new) home-cinema outfits, that can be easily integrated with a TV and NICAM VCR and/or a satellite receiver. Theyíre all relatively easy to assemble and use, moreover almost all of them out-perform most Dolby Pro-Logic TVs. More good news, with only one exception none of them will upset your bank manager and weíve even managed to track down one system that wonít leave the living room criss-crossed with unsightly cables.

 

 

THE TESTS

 

AMSTRAD SRD2000 £380 (inc. 60cm dish)

Having a Dolby Pro Logic decoder inside a satellite receiver makes a lot of sense, especially if you havenít got around to satellite TV yet; satellite channels are a rich source of Dolby Surround material. By connecting the receiver between the TV and NICAM VCR it can also process surround sound movies and TV programmes broadcast on terrestrial channels and films on tape. The Pro Logic facility blends in quite well with the  rest of the SRD-2000ís main features. Itís a reasonably well-specified design with a 300-channel tuner, Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction, twin LNB inputs and an easy to follow on-screen display system. Incidentally, itís also the first Astra satellite receiver to be Ďdigital readyí, though you neednít worry too much about that just yet.

 

The receiver has built-in amplifiers to drive the front stereo and rear effects channels, just add speakers, or better still, hook it up to a hi-fi system. Amstrad are offering an optional 5-speaker JPW package for an extra £100. Performance is satisfactory, DPL channel resolution is good but the on-board amps could do with a bit more power; the controls are a mite awkward, but it is very easy to install and use

 

Value for money 90%

Amstrad plc, telephone (01277) 228888

 

 

BOSE LIFESTYLE 12 SYSTEM, £2500

Lifestyle 12 is full of surprises, and that includes the price! This is the odd-one out in thatís itís also a mini hi-fi system, the feature list includes a CD player and AM/FM tuner. The configuration is also highly unusual, the flat silver box contains the control electronics,  CD and tuner, whilst all of the amplifiers and main power supplies live inside the sub-woofer. Five neat little Acoustimass cube speakers are used for the front, centre and rear channels.

 

Installation and set-up are virtually painless; the outfit comes with abundant supplies of idiot-proof colour-coded cables and a test CD that helps the user to check out the wiring and set surround-sound levels. The remote control handset transmits RF (radio frequency) signals, rather than IR commands, so it can be used anywhere in the house.

 

The twin cube speakers pack a real punch, theyíre highly directional and can be adjusted to precisely contour the front and rear soundfields. DPL accuracy is excellent, though the centre-front channel sounds a little strident at times. The sub-woofer produces a deliciously rich, deep-throated bass that really adds to the atmosphere, especially on sci-fi and action movies. CD and tuner performance are both good. Top scores all round, the only real drawback is the price.

 

Value for money 80%

Bose UK Ltd., telephone (01795) 475341

 

 

CANON MOVIE SOUND KIT B £499.95

Canon Audio have earned considerable respect for their range of home cinema speakers but now theyíve branched out into the systems market, with three affordable packages selling for between £490 and £700. System B includes two pairs of SV-15 wide dispersion speakers -- for the front stereo and rear channels --  thereís an S-C5 for the centre-channel and a D-300 5-channel amplifier/decoder. Canon make no excuses for it; itís a basic entry-level design, thereís no front-panel displays, save for a few LED indicators. Levels can only be set from the front panel, which is rather inconvenient; it has two external inputs and of the 20 buttons on the remote handset only 7 have any function. Itís a straightforward 5-box set-up, cables are not supplied and the speaker terminals on our sample fell apart at the slightest touch.

 

The speakers perform brilliantly, moreover the amplifier and DPL decoder both work reasonably well. Surround-sound resolution is good with frontal effects very clearly presented. Centre channel information is tightly focused, the back channel is plenty loud but a little diffuse; the rear SV-15s need room to breath and are at their best when theyíre some distance from the seating position. A safe, realistically-priced introduction to home cinema, though the amplifier is somewhat crude.

Value for money 94%

Canon Audio, telephone (01483) 740005

 

 

CELESTION HTiB, £749

HTiB stands for Home Theatre in a Box. The box in question is a cube-shaped enclosure that houses the amplifiers, decoder and sub-woofer. This drives the five magnetically-shielded speakers that accompany the outfit. Celestion also include a good supply of quality connecting cable. Everything, apart from sub-woofer level is controlled from an oddly-shaped remote; functions are shown on a quirky display panel on the front of the box. It all goes together fairly easily and once youíve got the hang of the controls, is easy to use. The box is not a very convenient shape though, and itís too small to put anything on top of it.

 

Centre output is very smooth and the front stereo channels provide a compact but well defined soundstage; the rear effects tend to sound a little muddy and bass from the sub is fairly brutal. Thereís plenty of power, but with some material it can be a little choppy, the control on the back panel needs careful adjustment otherwise lumpy bass sounds jump in and out without warning. The system functions adequately well but weíd guess it was better suited to smaller rooms, and the speakers require careful placement for them to give their best.

 

Value for money 80%

Celestion International, telephone (01473) 723131

 

 

GOODMANS GCH-40 Home Cinema, £300

Itís big and itís cheap but it has to be one of the quickest routes into home cinema. The console, which is sturdy enough to support a large TV, has space underneath for a VCR and satellite receiver, behind a pair of tinted glass doors. The stand also contains the 5-channel amplifier, DPL decoder, sub-woofer, centre channel, and main stereo speakers, that are built into the sides. They can be turned slightly to vary the shape of the soundfield, to suit the surroundings. DPL facilities are quite rudimentary, there are no displays and the functions on the remote handset are somewhat limited. A pair of compact back-channel speakers are also supplied; connecting the system together takes just a few moments, though we suspect the short speaker cables are going to be a source of annoyance for some owners.

 

The sub growls a bit at lower volume settings but it comes to life when fed with suitably dramatic effects. The rear effects and centre-front channels are cleanly defined and the main speakers deliver a reasonably cohesive sound close-to; further away and it begins to dissipate so it might be a tad underwhelming in larger rooms. Nevertheless the price, ease of installation and utility of the console design definitely count in its favour.

 

Value for money 92%

Alba plc, telephone 0181-594 5533

 

JVC Big Box 2 £349

Big Box 2 is one of a number of value for money packages from JVC. This particular one is based around their AX-V6BK amplifier/processor; better specified RX-416 and RX-616 AV receiver/amps are available as an option. The outfit comes with five speakers and cables though theyíre on the short side. The amplifier is a bit of a lump, and rather basic with just DPL and one Ďhallí effect option. A front panel display shows mode and status, but little else. The SP-V50 front stereo speakers are a good size and the system fits together easily. The remote handset is programmed with commands for a number of other JVC AV products.

 

Despite their size the front speakers are a touch soul-less and although the DPL processor works well, the stereo soundfield is woolly, individual effects are not always clearly resolved. Dialogue from the centre-front channel is well-defined though, and the back channel is quite lively, though the wick needs to be fully turned up for it to make an impression. Considering the price and the average to good performance this is worth considering as a budget starter outfit but check out the other amplifier options before you decide.

 

Value for money 94%

JVC UK Ltd., telephone 0181-450  3282

 

PACE MSS-1000  £400 (inc. 60cm dish)

Deservedly a top-seller, this well-designed satellite receiver would still rate highly, even without the on-board Dolby Pro Logic processor. The tuner has a 250-channel memory, an efficient Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction system plus a bundle of useful convenience features, like twin smart-card slots, two dish inputs, an interface for a positioner and motorised dish, categorised favourite channel memories and a very well thought-out on-screen display system. In addition to Dolby Pro-Logic and Dolby 3-channel modes it also has a set of simulated surround effects, but donít get too excited...

 

Installation is quick and simple; it connects between the TV and a NICAM VCR, so it can process surround sound material from the satellite channels, terrestrial TV and pre-recorded movies on tape. The receiver has an on-board four-channel amplifier, to drive the front stereo and rear effects speakers directly; Pace can supply a 5-speaker Wharfdale package for an extra £150.

 

Picture quality is great, crisp, clean colours and very little noise. DPL performance is good, though the amps are underpowered and noisy action set-piece effects lack drama. Nevertheless itís a simple yet flexible solution; pipe it through a meaty hi-fi and itíll give most mid-price component systems a run for their money. 

 

Value for money 95%

Pace Micro Technology Ltd., telephone (01274) 532000

 

 

SHERWOOD/GALE Home Cinema Package £549

This package differs from the others in this round-up in that it doesnít come from a single manufacturer. Itís been assembled by Richer Sounds, who have matched a set of five Gale loudspeakers with the Sherwood RV-4050 AV amplifier. The speakers comprise a pair of classy-looking Model 4s, plus two matching Mini Monitors and a shielded centre speaker. They can be brought separately for £350. The Sherwood amp retails on its own for £199. Together they look like a pretty fair deal, in view of the quality of the components. The AV receiver is a solid design with  4 amplified output channels and 4 external inputs. The only minor drawback is the lack of cables, through Richer Sounds will obviously be only too happy to help with that.

 

The tall, elegant Model 4ís produce a mellow, well-rounded sound, thereís sufficient bass on tap to make a sub-woofer almost unnecessary. Stereo imaging is lively and full of detail; surround-sound effects are clearly located. Dialogue is cleanly picked out on the centre-front channel and the efficient rear effects speakers rarely miss a beat. Well worth considering if youíre looking for a package that can be easily upgraded into a fully-fledged AV hi-fi system.

 

Value for money 95%

Richer Sounds, telephone

 

 

SONY SA-VA15, £400

Sony have taken the concept of active speakers one stage further with the SA-VA15. The Dolby Pro-Logic decoder and amplifiers for the front stereo, rear effects channel and sub-woofers are all built into the left-hand column. A ribbon cable connects the two front speakers together, the rear-channel speakers are fed by separate wires. Inside each column thereís a pair of speakers, one each for right and left stereo channels, the other two are for the centre channel. Down below thereís a sub-woofer on each side. In addition to DPL processing thereís hall and simulated surround effects. Thereís just two external inputs, sufficient for a basic home cinema set-up but itís not going to replace the hi-fi.

 

Rear-channel output is lightweight and busy blockbusters sound rather tame. The front speakers do a good job though, plenty of bass muscle, and the DPL decoder does a fair job of picking out subtle sounds. The centre channel is slightly unfocussed, and if the speakers are set too far apart it looses cohesion altogether. A convenient, space-saving package it performs adequately well and the price is fair.  

Value for money 88%

Sony UK Ltd., telephone 0181-784 1144

 

SONY SA-V55 £800

The SA-V55 is a clear response to one of the most commonly cited objections to home cinema, namely the proliferation of boxes and cables. A pair of cordless infra-red rear-channel speakers gets around the problem of trailing wires and the two front speaker towers house meaty sub-woofers; the left hand stack contains the DPL decoder and front-channel amplifiers. DPL is augmented by two simulated surround modes (hall and stadium). Itís not an alternative to a hi-fi system though, with only two external inputs itís pretty much dedicated to home cinema use.

 

The Ďcordlessí back-channel speakers actually have a cable running between them, and they need a nearby mains supply. The IR transmitter must be carefully positioned, nevertheless it is reasonably easy to set-up. The cable connecting the two front towers could do with being a little longer though. The head-height speakers deliver a generous frontal soundfield, thereís plenty of bass power and the decoder is good at picking out intricate sounds.  The rear channel speakers struggle to keep up however, moreover theyíre quite noisy, with buzzes, odd clicks and a distinct hiss, thatís apparent during quiet passages. Fairly expensive, and not very flexible but economical on space, boxes and wires.

Value for money 82%

Sony UK Ltd., telephone 0181-784 1144

 

 

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” R. Maybury 1996 1104

 

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