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Samsung is currently following a strict rule when it comes to design: everything it turns out must be very shiny, very black and have at least one blue light on it somewhere. This affordable system, available for as little as £310, is no exception.
But the HT-XQ100 isn't just a pretty face. It's a self-contained home cinema system that gives you DVD playback with full 5.1-channel surround sound, not to mention bags of features. And because it's got optical and phono audio inputs, you can also plug in external kit to give it a surround-sound boost.
Looks-wise, the HT-XQ100 is quite an unusual system. Most all-in-ones have a boxy, dull main unit, but this one is truly eye-catching. It sits upright on a stand, and the smooth, glossy front is dominated by an oversized LCD display. The size of the glowing blue letters and numbers actually has a point, though -- this is one of the few DVD systems where you can actually read the display from the sofa. A few basic controls are located on the right-hand side, and the left-hand side panel features a headphone jack and USB socket.
There's no disc tray -- just a slot at the top. Pop in a DVD, CD or CD-ROM and it is quickly gripped by the internal mechanism and pulled in, which isn't the sort of feature you'd expect on such an inexpensive system.
At the back you'll find colour-coded speaker outputs for the five satellites and the subwoofer. Rather than standard terminals, these are simple sockets, making connecting up the wires less fiddly. There are also a reasonable number of connections on offer. There's no Scart output, so if you want good picture quality you have a choice between analogue component and digital HDMI. HD Ready screens will have the necessary connectors, but many older CRT TVs won't -- so make sure you check before buying. There's also a composite video output, but you'll want to steer clear of this -- it offers a poor picture.
There's also an FM antenna connection, TX card slot (this allows you to upgrade to wireless rear speakers at extra cost) and two audio inputs for hooking up external gear: one optical digital and one analogue phono.
The speakers are curvy and shiny, and the subwoofer is compact enough to hide away in a corner. All speaker cables are included, as is an HDMI lead.
The remote follows a standard Samsung pattern, which means there are loads of tiny buttons with barely legible labels. It's not too difficult to use, as thankfully the most commonly used controls are large enough to see without having to squint.
Setting up the HT-XQ100 is a doddle. You simply hit the menu button on the remote and use the arrow keys to make changes. Other options can be cycled through using dedicated remote control keys (alas, they're usually those really tiny ones), appearing on the main unit's LED display as they do.
As with most surround-sound systems, the menu system includes a series of options that enable you to configure the speakers for your particular room. These don't necessarily need to be tweaked, but they come in useful if, say, you have to put your two rear speakers a lot closer to the listening position than is ideal. In this case, you can reduce the rear speaker volume so that rear effects don't drown out the audio coming from the front and centre channels.
The system has Pro Logic II, which means it can transform any two-channel sound into 5.1-channel surround. This works with CDs, MP3s and external pieces of hardware connected to the auxiliary audio input. We hooked up a PS2 with rock simulator Guitar Hero and found that Pro Logic II added a great deal to the game. Effects are distributed to the rear and centre channels, and the subwoofer adds plenty of low-end oomph.
The addition of an optical input also makes it worthwhile to connect external kit that outputs surround sound. We tried an Xbox 360 and Sky HD, and it gave both a major kick up in quality: the sub make the engine of a muscle car in Saints Row really growl, and Sky HD's Dolby Digital movies are much better in full 5.1. It certainly beats using your TV's built-in speaker.
The side USB port means you can plug in a storage device or MP3 player for media file playback. The system is compatible with DivX, WMV, VCD, WMA, MP3 and JPEG files, and works reasonably smoothly. An XviD-encoded episode of Arrested Development ran without a hitch, but we weren't too impressed by the muddy look the system gives to photos.
All the features in the world can't save a system that doesn't fulfil its primary functions properly, so how does the HT-XQ100 get on with the simple task of playing DVDs?
Thankfully, this part of the system works rather well. If you use the HDMI output, you can tell the player to upscale standard DVD video to 720p or 1080i, but the default 576p setting provides a reasonably good image anyway. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King looks slightly noisy in some smooth areas such as faces and skies, but overall the system delivers the sort of picture you'd expect from a good-quality budget model -- it's not mind-blowing, but it is pretty solid.
Audio quality is more striking. Again, it's nothing to get too excited over, but even this modest, affordable setup adds so much to a movie, especially if you're accustomed to using your TV's speakers. Having clear effects coming from different directions, such as the scary shuffles and drips of Shelob's cave in Return of the King, not to mention extra low-end grunt from the subwoofer, makes any decent DVD that much more enjoyable.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide