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Sony's DAV-DZ830 is an unsurprisingly stylish home-cinema system that features a full 5.1 speaker arrangement for a reasonable price of around £400.
There are some useful features including 720p and 1080i video upscaling, vanilla Dolby and DTS surround decoding and an optional media port for accessing digital files from a portable player or PC -- but is it style over substance?
There's a good deal of system for your money here, with five decent-sized satellite speakers supported by tall, height-adjustable stands -- all stylishly finished to complement the glossed black main unit and a separate subwoofer.
The speakers are wired through the stands while the rear channels are wirelessly controlled from a small infrared transmitter, which gives the system an attractively clean and inconspicuous appearance without having to trail wires the length of your room.
Once installed, the well-presented menus are easy to use and the accompanying remote is spacious and intelligently arranged. There's also a microphone-based calibration system that automatically adjusts all the audio settings without you having to make any effort.
If you've got a compatible television that can display upscaled video signals via HDMI, picture quality is impressive. There's plenty of detail and depth-defining contrast supported by decent black levels, although dark scenes can struggle to retain distinction. Colours are evenly balanced and natural, especially with skin tones -- so ambient films such as This Is England appear untainted and realistic.
The sound is surprisingly powerful with enough dynamics to raise the excitement in scary thrillers such as 28 Weeks Later, while the subwoofer's deep low frequencies add to explosive special effects.
Although the system looks attractively stylish from afar, build quality using lightweight materials isn't that impressive when you get up close and personal.
Assembling the stands then feeding the wires through to the speakers is a fiddly process that takes more time than you might think. And, although the rear speakers claim to be wireless, there's only a receiver on one of them so you have to run a connection between the two rear channels and use a separate power adaptor.
We've also seen some systems at this price that offer full 1080p upscaling, which enhances cohesive movement and ensures the system is totally future-proof. And, although you can access digital music and photo files through the optional Digital Media Port adaptor, we don't think you should have to pay extra for the privilege.
Like most home-cinema systems, image quality easily outperforms audio ability. While the sound is reasonably powerful and authoritative, it lacks some subtlety and expression -- ambient effects are not especially involving and dialogue can sound unrealistic at times. It's also not that special with stereo music tracks, with a slow sense of musical timing that fails to get your toes tapping.
Ultimately, Sony's DAV-DZ830 is easier on the eye than it is on your ears -- it's a good-looking system that offers impressive image quality, but the powerful sound could be controlled with more refinement in certain areas. Still, at around £400, it's decent value for money.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Jon Squire