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Arcam Solo 5.1: Home cinema turbo tortoise

Arcam claims its Solo 5.1 combines high-end specification and performance with the convenience of a single system -- sounds like one of Aesop's fables, no?

Like the fable involving the hare and the tortoise, there are two routes you can take to home-cinema happiness. There's the long, arduous but ultimately rewarding trek taken by separates, or the quick, convenient shortcut offered by all-in-one systems -- but as Aesop will tell you, speed is often undone in the end.

Most home-cinema systems give you affordability at the expense of overall quality, a solution that saves you time as well money if you're prepared to accept second-placed specification and performance. Arcam insists, however, that it has produced a hybrid system that will carry you across the finish line with the swiftness of a hare without compromising the impregnable performance of the tortoise.

The latest Solo 5.1 system is expensive but it integrates a disc player, AV processor, five-channel amplifier and radio tuner all within the compact confines of a single unit. All you need to do is add speakers and a display.

The player supports integrated video scaling that will upconvert standard-definition DVDs to close to high-definition quality 720p and 1080i formats –- although, sadly not the latest 1080p standard. Upscaled image quality isn't as impressive as true hi-def, but it's the simplest way of enhancing your existing film collection without spending a fortune on next-generation players such as the Samsung BD-P1000, Panasonic DMP-BD10 or Toshiba HD-E1.

Universal disc compatibility means you can play practically every format under the home-entertainment sun, including DivX compressed video and multi-channel music via SACD and DVD-Audio.

The non-digital amplifier will please purists. It offers a reasonable 50W amplification for each of the five speakers and there's an internal DAB/FM or traditional AM/FM tuner as well. Connectivity is a cut above typical systems with an RGB Scart and two component connections. There's also an HDMI digital output with two HDMI inputs that can be used for video switching, which allows separate sources such as Sky's HD receiver to be routed through the system.

Simplicity in use is an essential feature for all-in-one systems. Here it's aided by a Video Set Up Wizard and abetted by an intuitive learning remote that can be used to control the rest of your setup.

The Arcam Solo 5.1 will be available from February 2007, priced around £2,000. -RA