Home cinema has come a long, long way from the wire-entangled, speaker-inundated days of yore.
Nowadays one-box sound bar packages like this Philips HTS8140 – and others like the Samsung HT-X810R – deliver both crystal clear DVD pictures and lughole-pleasing surround sound without the unwanted side order of spouse-riling cable mess.
Killing the clutter
The HTS8140 dispenses with the traditional five-satellite-speakers-plus-subwoofer layout in favour of a single speaker bar and a hulking, glass-topped sub.
The bar, which can be wall-mounted or perched on a tabletop, also includes an upscaling DVD/CD player, FM radio and USB port for playing back MP3 and WMA. There’s even a spot for connecting an iPod dock (which comes supplied - huzzah!).
This two-piece arrangement makes setup a breeze. We’re talking so simple even a Big Brother contestant could manage it: one cable links the sub and bar, then the bar hooks up to your telly and the sub to a wall socket. And that’s it, bar some very straightforward fiddling to get Philips’ Ambisound virtual surround set up properly.
What’s Ambisound, we hear you cry. Well, it’s a bit of sonic tech wizardry that envelopes you in fake but pretty convincing surround sound.
You might hear a chopper whizzing past your left ear or a bullet cleaving the air to your right, while dialogue stays crystal clear and central, front left and right effects broaden the main soundfield. The sub underpins that little lot with bags of low-end grunt for booming explosions, rumbling car engines and the like.
Is it as immersive as a full-fat 5.1 setup with multiple speakers? Of course not, but it’s a respectable stab at surround and a heck of a lot better than relying on your TV’s weedy audio capabilities. The inclusion of a set of external audio inputs also means you can hook up your games console or Sky/Virgin/Freeview box and give its audio performance the benefit of Ambisound too.
Picture quality with standard DVD is retina-piercingly sharp thanks to built-in Faroudja hi-def upscaling, with virtually no noise and clear colours. The disc tray itself is achingly cool, too: the glass front plate is emblazoned with glowing touch controls, and a tap will bring it sliding across to reveal your DVD. Swanky.
It all adds up to a very impressive system, and the fact that it delivers both top class pictures and decent pseudo-surround makes it, in our book, the best DVD-equipped sound bar. Bar none.