Just because something’s cheap, it doesn’t automatically follow that it’s nasty. Take Samsung’s HT-X30: given it costs just £200, you’d be entitled to fairly low expectations, but in fact this teeny home cinema in a box system is perfectly capable, so long as you don’t ask it to play too loud, or live in a loft-style apartment.
At its heart is a slimline DVD/receiver unit equipped with an HDMI output, 720p/1080i video scaling and an input slot for an optional SWA-3000 wireless transmitter module (£100). It also includes an optical digital input for connection to a satellite box or games console, plus 3.5mm and USB sockets for MP3 players.
Usefully, the HDMI output supports Samsung’s Anynet+ system (their variation on the CEC system offered by several manufacturers). This means you can operate a telly and the system using just one remote, which is handy. Finally, you’ll find an FM radio, although curiously it doesn't have support for AM, so no FiveLive for you.
So far so impressive – at least, given the price – but here comes the compromise: the loudspeakers in this system are both small and pretty lightweight. Samsung’s claimed 800w of output is ever-so-slightly optimistic, as is the assertion that the slimline, vertical subwoofer can reach down to 35Hz.
These are the real-world specs of ‘serious’ separates systems, and in practice, the HT-X30’s sound isn’t anything like as gutsy as the figures might suggest.
It’s not a bad listen, though. Be sensible with the volume and use it in an average-sized living room, and you’ll be impressed at the weight it can create and the punch it can conjure: it won’t set your trousers flapping or pin you back in the sofa, but in terms of both detail and involvement, it’s definitely a clear step up on the limited sound you’ll get from most TV speakers.
Proper speaker placement is a must, though: unlike pricier systems, you don’t get any fancy auto-calibration or equalisation systems here. Proper set-up (level adjustment, delay settings and so on) is all done the old-fashioned way, instead.
Best in class pictures
The HT-X30’s image quality is right up there with the best in class – no surprise, given Samsung’s pedigree with budget DVD players. Using its HDMI output, and with video scaled to 720p, it provides a smooth picture that should flatter most affordable flatscreen partners. Detail is excellent, motion-tracking very convincing and there’s impressive insight, even into dark areas of the picture. Colours have considerable snap and punch, too.
Of course, the fact that it doesn’t upscale to 1080p might put some off, but in practice, this doesn’t matter a great deal. With typical television partners – such as Samsung’s own LE40R88 (£800) – the HT-X30’s scaling and deinterlacing options are more than adequate.