A lot of 6.1 home cinema packages come in under the £500 mark, and many offer extras such as DVD recording and PC compatibility. But not the Philips HTS9800. So what has it got going for it?
First off, this is a sleek and sexy system. The monolith-like main unit has the look of something that belongs in a higher-end - and much higher cost - system. It’s touchscreen, but a couple of days spent wiping off fingerprints will soon see you switching to the remote.
The main unit’s single HDMI output delivers upscaled 720p or 1080i pictures; all other sockets are housed in a separate box.
A centre-back channel generates 6.1 ‘extended surround’ sound, while an extra unit allows the three back speakers to connect wirelessly – massively useful for anyone who doesn’t want their living space to resemble the control room of the Arecibo radio telescope.
Fire her up and the first thing you notice is how the sound seems to envelop you, largely thanks to that extra centre-back speaker. And the integration between the main speakers and the sub makes the HTS9800’s polished sound a class leader.
Detailed treble from the flat-panel surround speakers’ Neodymium ribbon tweeters – normally only found in costlier systems – help render both movies and music with spaciousness and precision.
The player’s upscaled DVD reproduction is excellent: sharp, with good contrast and vibrant colours. Just about every disc format is supported, including SACD and DivX.
This Philips package is indeed worth paying extra for. Styling, performance and details like the wireless rears make it seem less like an expensive mid-level system, more like an affordable high-end one.