When we first took Sony's HTP-BD3IS Blu-ray home-cinema system out of the box, we sniggered. One glimpse of the ridiculously tiny speakers -- they look like Ping-Pong balls with a chunk sawn out -- was enough to convince us that we were about to review an expensive AV gimmick. But this £550 kit soon wiped the smiles off our faces.
Beauty before performance?
The insanely tiny speakers seem to suggest that this is a 5.1-channel surround-sound package aimed squarely at those who put -- or are forced to put -- decorative concerns before uncompromised audio excellence. At first sight, we experienced feelings of ambivalence. The gadget lover in us could but marvel at how any sound worth a damn could ever emerge from such puny devices, while the audiophile in us feared that the system's sound might actually be something akin to that you'd get from two tin cans and a piece of string. There's no denying, though, that, as well as being unfeasibly small, the HTP-BD3IS' five satellite speakers are also very cute.
'Cute' and 'unfeasibly small' are most certainly not words that could be used to describe the HTP-BD3IS' subwoofer. It's one of the largest we've seen with any home-cinema system, and its size is merely exaggerated by the minuteness of the other speakers that feed off it.
The subwoofer, as is commonly the case with all-in-one speaker packages, also houses the audio processing and multi-channel amplification for the other speakers. With this in mind, it's handy that the subwoofer sports a little LED screen to keep you appraised of basic operational information. We'd like the display to be bigger and thus more legible, though.
That the subwoofer is really the brains of the outfit is also revealed by its connections. As well as plugs for all the other speakers and an HDMI input for the Blu-ray player, it's also got two other HDMI sockets, two component video inputs and a composite video input for adding further external sources to the system. There's even one of Sony's own DM ports, so that you can feed in files from computers, Bluetooth mobiles and portable music players.
The HTP-BD3IS is also compatible with Sony's S-Air technology, which allows audio data to be sent wirelessly to the rear speakers if you cough up extra for the necessary optional kit. We were pleased to find, too, that the package ships with a microphone so that the system can calibrate its speaker balances automatically.
On paper, the Blu-ray section of the package is its weakest element. The Blu-ray player is a BDP-S350, a deck that's now being superseded in Sony's line-up by the markedly superior .