Stack up the electronics currently living under your TV, and chances are you'll have more than a few boxes and a veritable spider's web of cables. Think about it -- the average household is likely to have at least a DVD player/recorder, Freeview/Sky receiver and games console, while a good proportion will have an AV receiver, SACD/DVD-Audio player, hi-fi and 5.1 speaker system as well.
Thankfully for those of us whose living rooms are starting to look like AV testing labs, Philips has integrated a DVD recorder and home cinema system into one slinky package. This means you get a Dolby Digital/DTS system for your films, and a DVD recorder to archive your favourite television and home movies, all out of the box. The two go together perfectly and Philips' LX7500R system doesn't cost you disproportionately more for combining the two.
The system itself is nicely designed and well featured, with everything you need to get started. Four tall satellite speakers provide the environmental effects, with a centre speaker for vocal details and a relatively thin, lightweight subwoofer. The DVD recorder is quite large, but is stacked with connectivity and can play Super Audio CDs, plus it offers progressive scan video output. Unfortunately though, what the system has in looks, it doesn't offer in power -- the audio feels lightweight, especially next to Denon's superb. However, it is an excellently detailed audio performance -- perfect for everyday television viewing and music. While DVD recording doesn't seem to have a detrimental impact on the price, home cinema enthusiasts might feel short-changed in the audio department.
The size and weight of the main box certainly gives the impression this is a substantial package. In addition to the six speakers and main DVD recorder, it includes stands for the rear speakers, in addition to wiring and a considerable number of accessories. However, it's the ease of setup that deserves most praise.Wiring up speakers can be a fiddly and tiresome process, but Philips has colour-coded the terminals on the main unit for each of the speakers, which are USB-sized instead of spring-clip terminals. Unfortunately, it couldn't go all the way and use the same colour-coded terminals on the speakers themselves, opting for the more fiddly spring-clip types, but at least they're halfway there.
The speakers themselves are classy. The four satellites are tall and cylindrical, utilising four drive units, while the centre channel speaker sits horizontally with a total of five drivers. It is essential to sit satellites on the included stands, because the wires go into the bottom of the units, meaning they won't stand comfortably on their own. However, everything is included in the box, and assembling it all is a cinch.
Connectivity on the LX7500R is also very good. If you've got a flat screen or projection TV, the progressive scan component outputs will ensure a smooth and judder-free picture. However, if you're yet to make the upgrade to a digital TV, you can still make use of the RGB Scart output, which retains the rich colours of component, if sacrificing a little detail.
When recording from AV sources such as a Sky or Freeview digibox, you can use the RGB Scart input as well. Use the M1 or M2 recording modes (see Features below) and recordings made to DVD will be almost indistinguishable from the original broadcasts. As with most DVD recorders, there's also an i.Link (FireWire) input to make direct recordings from your camcorder, plus optical and coaxial audio inputs so you can plug in other sources such as a PlayStation 2 or Xbox. As this is an all-in-one package, Philips has thankfully included all the cables you need, even down to the component interconnects.
The remote control is nothing special -- it took us a while to work out how to access the system setup menu, which is a heinous crime in the eyes of the AV police. Most of the buttons have two different operations, with a button on the side you hold down to toggle between the two. An ugly and unresponsive menu system makes matters worse -- the main unit will flash to say it's received an infrared signal, but it will often take a second for anything to happen on-screen. The only design flourish is that the DVD recorder has a flashing red light on the front panel, which, much like the Sky Plus system, lets you know when it's busy recording. It looks pretty cool.
Philips is at the heart of the DVD+RW alliance, so it's not surprising to find that the LX7500R shuns the cheaper -R/RW format in favour of the more compatible +R/RW. However, that's the only format it supports -- a lack of DVD-RAM compatibility makes this one limited little recorder. However, it claws back some favour thanks to Super Audio CD compatibility -- a real bonus for any audio purists. While the catalogue of titles is still fairly limited, the format can provide multi-channel music that far surpasses the quality of standard audio CDs.
The number of recording modes on offer is also particularly impressive, especially as this isn't a standalone recorder. Many such devices, such as, have only four recording modes at increments of one hour, two hours, four hours or six hours per disc. The LX7500R recorder, however, offers up to eight hours recording per disc. We find that the number of recording modes beyond around 3 hours is academic, as the quality loss is noticeable enough to spoil the viewing experience, but any of the M1, M2 or M2x (two and a half hours -- perfect for a movie) are very acceptable. And of course, if you use a DVD+RW disc, you can edit down your recording and cut out the ad breaks. With the system's VideoPlus system, you can also set recording schedules with ease, and with up to six programmable events for a month into the future. This might seem limited, but with a relatively small amount of space per disc, it's unlikely that you'd need any more.
Surround sound support is wide ranging, even if it doesn't touch the advanced features of the Denon system. The player supports vanilla Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, which will cover every DVD movie on the market, and you can also route your television audio through the analogue inputs. The system will then create a Dolby Pro Logic II surround stage from the stereo source, with rear effects calculated automatically. The remote control also allows you to tailor your surround sound experience. You can adjust the bass, subwoofer and treble levels without going into any menus, and you can set the system to a quieter 'Night' level as well. If you prefer your surround-sound investment to be more noticeable, you can also turn up the rear speaker levels.
Disc access is extremely slow, however. It took about a second to actually skip chapters through test disc Punch Drunk Love, which proved very annoying. Nearly all other players can do this immediately.
While the speaker system will serve most physically undemanding programmes well, the subwoofer really lacks the power to maintain a commanding performance. Sure, the dialogue is accurate and detailed, thanks to the centre speakers' accurate driver positioning, but when you turn the volume up on a movie like Bad Boys II, you can't help wanting more. The speakers are very adept at picking out the detail from an SACD, though -- Beyoncé Knowles' Dangerously in Love was even more enjoyable than usual.
Picture quality, on the other hand, is universally excellent. Recordings in the M1 or M2 mode are very enjoyable to watch back, and commercial DVDs look great whether you use RGB Scart or component as your output of choice. The colour reproduction was excellent, and the player was able to pick up plenty of shadow detail too, making it far from a budget performer when it came to DVD playback.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide