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We've said it so many times, our faces are bluer than a member of The Blue Man group on an especially chilly day. But if you really want a good home cinema experience, you can't rely on the speakers that come built-in to your TV. There are dozens of ways to improve the sound, from adding a simple stereo amplifier and a pair of speakers, right up to a buying a 7.1 home cinema system worth thousands of pounds.
The Onkyo HTX-22HD offers a compact solution with potential for future upgrades and it won't break the bank at around £300. It's designed to help people who want better sound, but who aren't inclined to fill their entire lounge with speakers and their attendant cables.
Because the Onkyo's main AV receiver is integrated into the subwoofer, connecting everything up is really simple. You run two cables out to the stereo speakers and either an HDMI cable, digital interconnect or analogue input into the AV receiver/subwoofer.
We're actually quite impressed that the Onkyo has a pair of HDMI inputs, which means you can plug in a Blu-ray player and something like SkyHD or Freesat without fumbling around behind the machine. A single HDMI output takes those video signals to the TV, which keeps everything nice and simple.
There are also two optical and a single coaxial digital input for connecting other AV gear like games consoles, DVD players and other set-top boxes. We can't help but be impressed by such a decent selection of inputs on such a compact product. Unless you've got dozens of bits of AV kit, you should be able to cater for everything with this device, which gives it advantage over sound bars such as the Yamaha HTY-750 and Denon DHT-FS3. They both have much more limited connectivity, and no HDMI support.
A remote control is included, as you would expect, and there are no surprises -- it's small and has just a few buttons to control volume, make selections and navigate through the menu systems. Very easy to use, which is exactly what we want on something like this. It's aimed at people who don't have a degree in cabling from the univeristy of wasting time.
It was a real surprise to us that Onkyo has opted to decode both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD internally. We would have expected, on a smaller piece of equipment like this, that the company would opt for just Dolby Digital and standard DTS. However, we never look a gift horse in the mouth, so we're thrilled by this addition.
If you don't want to set the system up yourself, there's an Audyssey microphone supplied that you connect to the unit once everything is plugged in. You then start the auto-setup procedure, which detects where the speakers are placed and how much sound is reaching your sitting position, and it adjusts the system's settings automatically.
Sound quality is excellent overall. We tested the 2.1 system, rather than the full 5.1 setup. Even so, dialogue in movies was clear and never swamped by the movie effects. Bass was tight and powerful too, which makes action movies a treat to watch -- just make sure you set up the power levels first, or you might find the bass too overwhelming.
Our major complaint with the Onkyo HTX-22HD is that at £300 -- or £400 if you add the extra speakers -- it's possibly too expensive for people who want to improve their TV sound, especially considering it doesn't have a built-in DVD player like many simple home theatre systems.
That said, we are of the opinion that if you spend £1,000 on a TV you should be spending some money on audio, too. Sound really is half the experience of home cinema, and if you do it badly you're cheating yourself out of a wonderful experience.
By default the setup of the HTX-22HD is pretty good. We found that the subwoofer was too keen at times, which led to a slightly bass-heavy sound. The good news is that it's incredibly easy to reduce the subwoofer level, and doing so improves the overall balance brilliantly.
The build quality of the 22HD is good overall. The included stereo speakers don't feel like they would stand up to much abuse though, so keep them somewhere where they can't fall to the floor.
One of the small usability problems we discovered is the location of the screen. In an effort to stay simple, the Onkyo is controlled through its built-in display. This means that if you wanted to tuck the subwoofer away somewhere, you'd be stuck when the time came to adjust a setting.
In our opinion, Onkyo doesn't include enough AV cables. You get one optical lead, but we would have hoped for at least two HDMI cables to be thrown in. A digital coaxial and second optical cable would be appreciated too, and given the price of the system, it's not much to ask for.
The included speaker cable is functional, but very thin and not particularly high quality. Speaker bindings are those nasty spring clip things, and while they're generally good enough, we'd prefer some proper banana clips or twist bindings. That said, the speakers are small, and clips are a space-saving function.
It's hard to criticise the Onkyo because it produces such good-quality sound. We do think it would be improved with the optional rear and centre speakers, but keep in mind that buying them increases the price.
In our opinion, the HTX-22HD produces a better sound than products like the Samsung HT-X715 and LG HT902TB, but it's more expensive and doesn't come with a built-in upscaling DVD player. Speaker bar systems like the Yamaha HTY-750 and Denon DHT-FS3 can sound great, but don't have anywhere near the features. So with all that considered, the 22HD is well worth your hard-earned cash.
Edited by Marian Smith