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Hands-on with Unity home theater

The home theater market will get a new contender later this year with an impressive sound system, disc playback, and an assortment of inputs and outputs. Is its design its worst enemy?

Unity's street price is $999 and will be available later this year. Pictured with a 47-inch TV. Christopher MacManus/CNET

During CES, I got a chance to hook up with Engage, the company behind Unity, a well-built home theater system.

Unity is the brainchild of Todd Beauchamp, an ex-Apple audio engineer (he worked closely on iPhone acoustics, for example) and Mike Fidler, an individual with a strong marketing and engineering background in Sony.

The sound system looks familiar because it has a design similar to the many sound bar and subwoofer combos out there, but stacked on top of each other. Unlike most sound bars, Unity's modular design has a depth to it that can support a 60-inch TV.

I quickly learned that the idea is a "system that can be set up in little as 15 minutes," Beauchamp said enthusiastically. You can tell that a lot of time and dedication went into the first version of the home theater and future versions could be compelling as the design evolves.

One issue I have with Unity echoes something our readers commented on in our previous story. A number of them were unsure of the "tShape." I would prefer an alternative model with a shelving unit in the middle and a subwoofer on each side. That way other devices, such as game systems and content delivery devices, can reside peacefully. As it stands, you will have to place those things either on each side of the subwoofer, or on top. When confronted about this, Beauchamp did not buy it.

"It's the visual cues. Sony tried those 15 years ago. It was mass, and it was bulk. If you look at the reaction of a product like that versus this, it feels like a giant TV stand and the sex appeal vanishes," Beauchamp noted.

Inputs and outputs are solid, including HDMI connections, iPod/iPhone connectivity, USB, component and several power outlets for your other devices. Christopher MacManus/CNET

From the side. MacManus

There's more to Unity than meets the eye. It has an integrated Blu-ray/DVD player in the dual 10-inch subwoofer enclosure. At the top resides a basic LCD screen that displays information about the current input or playback information if a disc is spinning inside. The top portion of the system has several center (left/right) speakers and a 5.25-inch down firing mid range speaker underneath.

During playback of Transformers on DVD, several moments in the beginning were definitely impressive with excellent highs and mid-range clarity as the crescendo of music and sweeping scenes played on. Explosions and those sonically challenging moments were a little over the top in the low range, but it would definitely be enough to impress your friends. I sensed little vibration, and was surprised at the output power at only moderate volume levels.

I also was impressed with the ability to hear dialog quite clearly at various volume levels without the need for adjustment.

A sleek TV mount that attaches to the back of Unity is also in the works. The aesthetic accessory would create several inches of space between the TV and the top of Unity, giving owners a place to put content delivery devices.