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This could be just another compromised style-system with a few convergent features -- designed for those who want convenience wrapped in a stylish cloak. Improved picture and sound performance, however, make the HTS6510 an excellent alternative to separates if you have a limited budget.
Images are surprisingly impressive and the SonoWave system makes a good attempt at recreating surround-sound effects, even if it never totally convinces. Similar systems from Denon and KEF offer further improvements -- but not at this price.
Home cinema-in-a-box systems are designed with space-saving style and convenience in mind. The lustrous design of these unusual sloping units is a far cry from typical separates and you'll find some out of the ordinary features too.
The three main components -- two satellite speakers, a subwoofer and the DVD/receiver unit -- are homogenously styled with contrasting glossed black and silver tones. The main unit has a contoured front, which makes the display appear as if it's floating within it. This gives the system a contemporary feel that will appeal to style-seekers. You can control the entire system using the suitably stylish glossed white remote.
The on-screen menu is neatly presented with a basic range of adjustments to strengthen plug-and-play convenience.
There's a smattering of cool-looking controls and an unguarded slot-loading drive, which operates like an in-car CD player. There are two front connections that have been designed for convergent digital devices. A USB port means you can access JPEG images from a digital camera while the MP3 input lets you connect a portable music player using a supplied adaptor cable.
Rear panel connections are enhanced by a HDMI digital output, which allows you to upscale standard-definition DVDs to near-HD quality 720p and 1080i signals -- provided you have a compatible digital display -- and carry sound using a single cable. There's also a full suite of analogue options, ranging from standard AV outputs to a single RGB Scart, and component connections for receiving progressive scan video.
The speakers and subwoofer are connected to the main unit using easy-to-handle colour-coded terminals, although the cabling is thick and difficult to disguise. The wide satellites feature three unevenly positioned drives that attempt to project sound in different directions to enhance the impression of surround sound. They are stand-only designs and come with fabric grilles, but they look more attractive without them.
The passive sub is a fair size for a system like this and its wide dimensions, with a front-firing port, might limit positioning. But it's attractive enough not to create an eyesore, and the 203mm drive unit packs a powerful punch.
The technological trickery used to conjure the illusion of surround sound from two speakers is called SonoWave. The system uses a six-channel amplifier, some advanced digital processing and multi-directional speakers to try to fool you into believing there are more speakers. It's designed for listening to DVD surround soundtracks using Dolby and DTS algorithms, although you can also listen in stereo if you prefer.
As well as accepting standard and +/- DVD recording discs, the system will also play various CD formats including encoded discs carrying MP3, WMA, JPEG and high-compression DivX Ultra video files. You can view high-resolution JPEG digital photos up to 2 megapixels without losing image quality.
Compared to a full 5.1 system the HTS6510 is incredibly easy to install. As SonoWave relies on bouncing the sound off walls, you'll need to experiment with speaker positioning. Calibrating the acoustics only involves selecting limited distance options -- the system automatically calculates delay settings to enhance spaciousness.
Upscaled DVD images are solidly defined, using dense black levels to expose detail and contrast, even in dark scenes. Colours are vibrant, although gradations can appear speckled and there's a hint of background noise during complex scenes.
Apart from being more affordable, a 2.1 home cinema system can save you space and the frustration of setting up separates. But you can also expect some sonic compromises.
You're never going to be completely convinced that the ambient sounds are coming from behind your head, but with time the experience is engaging. Dialogue carries enough natural expression and dynamics are impressive for speakers this size. Surround effects, however, are occasionally confused and, while the sub is powerful, it can lose composure at times -- try standing it in free space away from the wall to counteract this. The uneven alignment of drives on the satellite speakers restricts stereo performance, which loses focus and detail but is still good enough to get by.
That said, this is a first-class ambassador for pseudo-surround systems in its price bracket.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Elizabeth Griffin