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The HTS8000S has been placed on a strict diet by Philips, forced to thin down until it could match the dimensions of plasma and LCD TVs. And this goes for every part of the system -- the subwoofer can be hung on the wall, the DVD player is a unique vertical design and the speakers could easily be tucked away on a bookshelf.
Being a 2.1 system (i.e. two speakers and a subwoofer), the HTS8000S is clearly intended for use in the bedroom, and judged on these terms the system performs well and offers plenty of features. Because it's so obviously intended to complement a flat-screen TV, the system can provide excellent video quality via progressive scan. The support for DivX video is a great touch, while SACD disc playback is a more premium feature not usually seen at this price. The 2.1 setup can't match a 5.1 system for movies, but Philips' speakers can certainly cope with loading a smaller room.
There are three main components to this system -- the two satellite speakers, a subwoofer and the DVD unit. This is supplemented by a separate AV connections board, a slinky remote control, and a shed-load of wiring to tie everything together.
The DVD player is the most interesting part of the package. It stands upright, with a slot-loading disc mechanism on the side. Time and track information is displayed on the centre of the front panel. As well as being unconventionally mounted, the player is also diminutive. If it was laid down, its footprint would be much smaller than your average DVD player.
The consequence of this shrunken form is that the player doesn't house any connectivity. Instead, there's a separate input/output board the size of a glasses case. The RGB Scart cable can't be removed from this block, but if you have a flat-screen display you'll want to use the component video outputs anyway. You'll need to buy a component cable separately, but the progressive-scan video mode is far superior to RGB Scart and makes the outlay (which should be no more than £10) worthwhile.
If you want to plug your iPod into the system, there's no special connector like there is on Denon's S-101. But if you buy a headphone-to-phono audio cable (again, no more than £10), you'll be able to plug in your MP3 player or any other external audio source. The coaxial digital audio connector will accept all Dolby Digital/DTS signals, and chances are you'll want to use this for your games console. The only problem is that all games consoles feature an optical audio output as opposed to the coaxial variety, so you'll need to buy an adaptor for around £15 from a specialist electrical retailer.
The subwoofer is a necessary part of the 2.1 setup, but its physical design is a failed experiment. You can hang it on the wall, but it doesn't share the same sophistication as the rest of the kit. A large subwoofer can certainly look out of place in a minimalist setting, but hung underneath your flat-screen TV, Philips' new design doesn't look any better. Put it on its stand and hide it away as best you can.
Even though it's a budget system, Philips' HTS8000S does things that systems at twice the price don't. DivX playback has become almost universally supported on standalone DVD players, but it's still uncommon to see playback offered from home-cinema systems. Even rarer still is to see SACD support from anything at this price. True, support for the format is still limited, and the sort of people that will go for its audio purity may scoff at playing discs on a system of this price, but it's a welcome inclusion.
Philips is marketing the HTS8000S not only as a 2.1 system, but also as a virtual-surround system. The company's SonoWave technology processes audio streams (including Dolby Digital and DTS mixes from DVDs) and outputs them in a way that's designed to trick your ear into thinking it's from multiple speakers. The system uses your walls to bounce sound around, so you need to set it up accurately based on room dimensions. We've seen (or rather heard) more convincing results from KEF's KIT 100, but watch your favourite action film and after twenty minutes you may forget you're listening to a 2.1 system. The shared power of the system is 550W, which is more than enough to give considerable presence to your action-movie requirements.
Other features of the system are fairly standard for home cinema systems. There's an FM radio with 40 preset stations and an auto-search facility, and you can play a JPEG slideshow or create an MP3 playlist from CD. What's special is that you can play your photos at the same time as your music, creating a media centre-quality show that you can then bore your friends and family with. The system will also play unprotected Windows Media Audio (WMA) files, but not Apple's preferred AAC format.
The HTS8000S just about manages to convince you that it's producing a surround sound. Sit down, close your eyes and play a particularly bombastic movie like Bad Boys 2 and you can hear the rush of an explosion passing your ears. Denon and KEF offer particularly good examples of virtual-surround technology, but their systems cost twice as much. By comparison, the SonoWave technology can hold its own, and while it'll never replace a true surround system, it's likely to impress friends.
Picture quality from the Philips system is excellent, thanks mainly to the component-video outputs. The progressive-scan video mode is as solid as you'd expect, with vibrant colours and little bleed. Switching to the RGB Scart on our test Sagem LCD TV resulted in a loss of detail and a small amount of flicker. As the HTS8000S is so obviously meant to go with a flat-screen though, it's likely that you'll stick with component video, and as such it can't be faulted.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide