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REVIEW: Harman Kardon BDS 700 5.1 Blu-ray Home Cinema combo

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bds-700-top.jpgName: BDS 700 (Harman Kardon)

Type: Blu-ray deck and 5.1 home cinema combo

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £1099.99 direct from Harman Kardon

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The convenience of one-box home cinema set-ups often make them the first port of call for budding home theatre enthusiasts. Combining a Blu-ray deck with 5.1 surround speakers, Harman Kardon's BDS 700 set is a stylishly designed premium AV solution. But can the sparse feature list do enough to justify its hefty price tag?

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As the introduction suggests, in the box you're getting a Blu-ray player which also acts as a simple receiver for an included set of 5.1 home cinema speakers with the BDS 700. For the sake of simplicity, we're going to focus on both aspects individually, starting with the Blu-ray player.

The deck in question is the BDS 5SO. It's chunkier than your average player (as it needs to house all of the 5.1 audio connections) but is in no way lacking in the looks department. A mixture of gloss black with brushed aluminium accents, the large volume knob with its backlight adds a Tron-like air to proceedings, married with a clear blue dot matrix display. The slot-in rather than pop-out disc drive also allows the kit's smooth lines and curved front edges to be maintained, though we're always a bit fearful of what would happen if a disc ever got stuck inside.

In terms of connectivity, the deck has a single HDMI output, a USB port for media playback, an Ethernet port for BD Live functions and an array of speaker terminals backed by two optical digital inputs, two analog RCA stereo audio inputs and a coaxial digital input. You'll also be able to play files directly from an iPod or iPhone via an optional Harman Kardon Bridge IIIP dock (not included).

Despite being a premium bit of kit, we were disappointed to see how underused the Ethernet port is here. Solely for BD Live content, you can't access files stored on your home network, nor any media portals or web video services familiar to owners of Samsung or Sony decks. USB playback fares a little better (compatible with MPEG, DiVX-AVI files, MP4 in HD and even temperamental MKV files with the H.264 codec, as well as MP3, WMA , AAC and FLAC audio files) but shoots its usability in the foot by being limited to drives formatted in FAT32, leaving you with only 4GB of storage to play around with.
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Thankfully, Blu-ray playback image quality is very good. We popped in the stalwart Casino Royale disc and were welcomed by sharp images and smooth-moving action scenes, crisp textures and vibrant colour reproduction. Even murkier scenes, such as when Bond is captured and tied up, retained visual clarity, highlighting minute details in the darkened dungeon room and making the purple-y bruises on Bond's face look all the more painful. Boot-times were fast too, taking just 14 seconds to get Bond going. Remember however, that you wont be able to play 3D discs here; another feature now quite regularly found in more reasonably priced sets.

DVD upscaling was equally impressive, pushing our Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back DVD to 1080p. Colours were natural and overall images were sharpened up nicely without any smeary artifacting. The only real weak spot was during the opening yellow-scrolling introductory text, looking a little shakey with slight colour bleeding over the black space backdrop.

On then to the BDS-700's sound capabilities, which are overall very good. In the box you'll find a 200W 353mm x 267mm x 267mm down-firing subwoofer, four 167mm x 100mm x 92mm 80W satellites, and a 120W 102mm x 241mm x 92mm dual-driver central channel. Compatible with Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital and DTS-HD / DTS-HD Master Audio formats, it delivered crisp audio, consistently well spaced across the soundscape.

A quick jump to Avatar's massive tree-felling battle sequence really saw the subwoofer working a treat, booming with a ground-shakingly resonate sound every time an explosion went off, easily tweaked with the rear volume knob if it's a little overpowering. The central channel too did very well to keep dialogue clear over noisy action scenes, while the rear speakers blended in with subtle ambient sounds remarkably naturally. Our one complaint with the satellites is they at times felt a little bright, but tended to settle down once they'd warmed up a little.

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Verdict:

If you've neither a Blu-ray player nor 5.1 system to accompany your HD TV, the BDS 700 kit isn't a bad shout at all, providing you've got the dough. It looks and sounds great, with sharp HD images from Blu-ray discs too. However, buying a separate Blu-ray deck and 5.1 set up from other brands for the same combined value as the BDS-700 would open you up to far more fully-featured products. Convenient, but not necessarily good vale for money then.review-line.JPG

3/5

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