REVIEW: Orbitsound T9 soundbar

No Comments

orbitosund-t9-top.jpgreview-line.JPGName: Orbitsound T9

Type: Soundbar/ iPod dock

Price: £199.99 direct from Orbitsound

Who said that good things can't come in small packages? Orbitsound's latest soundbar/iPod dock combo, the T9, is as dinky as they come, but doesn't scrimp on either volume or audio quality. Read on to find out why we may have a new favourite soundbar.

review-line.JPGWhereas your average soundbar can be upwards of 20 inches long and a few inches deep, Orbitsound's T9 is positively minuscule by comparison, measuring just 300mm x 94mm x 94mm. Even the supplied subwoofer is relatively small, measuring 230mm x 139mm x 344 mm. Available in either black or white (we got our grubby mitts on a white version), the T9 set is small enough to fit into even the busiest of home cinema set-ups. As with earlier Orbitsound soundbars, it looks very nice too; both the soundbar and the subwoofer are simple, inoffensive boxy shapes, with a metal grille attached to the front of the soundbar magnetically, which can be removed if you prefer the look of the T9's exposed speaker array.

Being so small, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the T9 would struggle to hit higher volumes without distorting, or be capable or the width and space a more traditionally sized soundbar could achieve. But you'd be wrong. Orbitsound's T9 makes use of a patented audio system called Spatial Stereo Technology. As well as housing speakers (two mid-high drivers and one tweeter) at the front of the T9, Orbitsound also pop two midrange speakers onto the side. Combined with some clever audio-processing wizardry, the result is that, no matter where you position yourself ion relation to the T9, you'll always feel enveloped by that stereo "sweetspot". It's impressed us before on earlier Orbitsound gear, but with the size of the T9 so dramatically smaller, it's even more marvellous an achievement here.
Volume levels too can reach disarmingly loud heights with the T9, despite the size. You'll easily fill a decent sized room with sound, be it for a party filled with guests or a booming blockbuster movie night. There's little sign of distortion even towards the top decibel levels, with volume maxing out at 140RMS from the soundbar and sub combined. Made from a lacquered wooden case, lows can resonate without ever rattling, and overall the sound is always warm and smooth at the preset EQ levels.

The sub and soundbar feel well balanced with each other too; the sub here is a little less boisterous than with earlier Orbitsound gear, making it (to our ears) better suited to music playback than before, which a handily placed iPod/iPhone dock on the top of the T9 easily accommodates. Again, the speakers are well tuned, with great detail no matter what the genre. Likewise, movies sound just as good, with dialogue cutting clearly through even in busy action scenes.
If you do feel the need to tinker with the well-balanced EQ presets, a tidy little remote control lets you do so. You can tweak bass and treble settings, but the jump between notches is quite significant, so a delicate touch when refining the sound to your own personal preferences is needed. The remote also lets you pick the audio source connected to the T9, as well as jumping through iPod tracks, and feels sturdy enough in the hand.

A strong array of audio connections mean that the T9 can hook up to practically any audio source. As well as the iPod dock, you've got 3.5mm and stereo phono inputs, as all as an optical S/PDIF input, with an optical cable popped into the box for good measure. If there's one thing missing, it's HDMI, which Blu-ray audiophiles will likely miss. Other than that, it's a thorough offering.

The Orbitsound T9 ticks almost every box for a soundbar. Room-filling, crystal-clear and spacious sound is complimented by a balanced subwoofer, all in a package small enough to fit into even the most cramped of AV set-ups. The Spatial Stereo technology continues to impress, and though it's a shame that high-quality Blu-ray sources aren't better catered for through HDMI, there are plenty of connectivity options to counteract that. Take into account the relatively low £199.99 price too and the T9 quickly climbs to the top of the soundbar pile. Great stuff.



spyder4hdtv-box.jpgreview-line.JPGName: Datacolor Spyder4TV HD

Type: HDTV calibration tool

Price: £100.05 from Amazon

You've forked out more money than you care to share on a new HDTV set, and now you want the thing looking the best it possibly can. Enter the Datacolor Spyder4TV HD calibration tool. Through a combination of hardware and software, it promises to make your display match industry standards. But is it really much better than just using your own tweaking judgement? Read on to find out!

review-line.JPGThe Spyder4HD TV kit consists of a small, black pebble-like sensor unit and four discs; a Blu-ray calibration test disc, two DVD calibration test discs (one each for PAL and NTSC) and a software disc. That software disc is the important one, as all measurements and TV readings are carried out through PC software, with the pebblesensor merely transmitting information back to a PC across a super-long USB cable. As a result, you'll want to have a laptop or a moveable desktop PC and monitor nearby, or at least be prepared to move your HDTV nearer to a computer, as the Spyder4HD TV can't do its job without one. However, those looking to calibrate a PC monitor will, of course, need two computers handy; one to play test footage on the monitor, the other to read the sensor's findings.

To get started, you'll need to wait for the ambient light in your TV room to be as low as possible, and then hook the sensor unit to the front of your television. This shouldn't be a problem with either very small or very large flatscreen TVs, as the sensor is attached to very flexible bungee cords, holding it in place in the centre of your screen.
Get your test disc of choice playing on the screen and you'll then fire up the software and enter a roughly 20-minute long calibration process. The Spyder4HD TV sensor thoroughly measures settings like contrast, brightness, colour temperature, colour saturation, and tint, and suggests the optimal settings that your TV can achieve. There are also images for testing backlight settings and saturation too. It's a tedious process, but the results are pretty good, being a fair match for our own manual test disc settings. It's also very user friendly, meaning even AV luddites should be able to get a very good result from their sets at the end. However, those looking to really get the most accurate settings from their TVs may be frustrated to find that the Spyder4HD TV doesn't quite hit ISF standards, as it doesn't support tweaking individual advanced colour settings.

Once the process is completed, you'll be presented with a log of all the adjustments the Spyder4HD TV kit has made. The changes are presented through graphs, though a lack of numbers alongside the charts mean that tracking improvements can feel a little abstract at times.


The Spyder4HD TV kit comes highly recommended to AV newcomers who can't get their head around calibrating a TV away from garish shop floor settings. It'll deliver good results, holding the hand of a user through a lengthy process that could seem overwhelming otherwise. However, those who already have a test disc and know their way around a TV menu will find the tool doesn't deliver enough advanced calibration features to warrant their attention, and will likely consider it far too pricey when compared with a simple calibration disc.



REVIEW: Roku 2 XS streaming player (UK)

1 Comment

Roku XS 13.jpgreview-line.JPGName: Roku 2 XS

Type: Streaming Player

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £99.99 from Amazon

Already holding the title of the most popular TV streaming box in the US, Roku are now setting their sights on the UK market. The Roku 2 XS, with its Bluetooth motion controlled gaming capabilities and access to Netflix movie streaming, is their top of the line streaming box. Read on for our verdict.


Sitting snugly in the palm of your hand, the Roku 2 XS is as small as streaming players get. An 84mm x 84 mm x 23mm box with rounded corners, it weighs just 85 grams, with a gloss-black finish that will see it hide away easily among your other AV gear. Connecting to the internet over 802.11n Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection, the rear of the Roku 2 XS player has four simple connections; HDMI (with 5.1 surround sound pass-through) an A/V out port (which uses an included bespoke mini-jack to left/right/composite video RCA cable), the afore-mentioned Ethernet port and an AC socket. Using less than 2W of power when streaming HD video, there's no power button, with an auto-standby mode kicking in after a short period of inactivity and using only minuscule amounts of energy. You'll also find a USB port on the left hand side for playback of a modest range of media files.

Once everything is plugged in, you'll need to head online to activate your Roku 2 XS box. A reasonably short web form has to be filled out on the Roku website (which includes your credit card details, though these will only be used if you purchase premium content through the box), after which you'll be given an activation code for your streaming unit. It's a shame that this couldn't have somehow been achieved with a set-up process through the XS itself, and if you're a subscriber to the likes of Netflix, you'll also have to manually add your credentials to some of the streaming channels too.

Considering how clunky the initial set up is, using the Roku 2 XS after that point is as simple as can be. The XS comes with a Bluetooth-enabled remote, which looks much like a squat black Wii controller, complete with a D-Pad, A and B gaming buttons and Home, Back, Return and playback controls. There's even a little wrist-strap to stop it flying out of your grasp. The remote is used to navigate the tile-based UI, as well as the odd bit of text entry in search fields. It can also be used for motion-based gaming, which we'll get onto in a minute.
r_Roku XS 16.jpg
The first, home screen of the Roku 2 XS box has the settings and Channel Store tabs, and also houses the channels you download from the store, scrolling left to right. With hundreds of channels available and more on the way, this area may quickly fill up and become a little unwieldy, but for now works well enough.

Heading over to the Channel Store tile brings up the wide-range of content available to be streamed through the Roku 2 XS box, some available for free, others requiring a subscription to access.. As well as big name providers like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Flixster and Vimeo, there are tons of niche channels whose content ranges from everything from religious sermons to retro public announcement videos. There are a few notable omissions however, and we'd have loved to have seen for instance a YouTube channel, as well as some other UK broadcaster's catch-up offerings, such as Channel 4's 4oD and the ITV Player. Having said that, there are also some excellent, rarely seen VOD offerings, such as the inspirational lectures from the TED channel, as well as plenty of web radio options.

Though not officially supported by Roku, you can also use the Roku website to access a large number of "private" channels, which are downloaded to your Roku 2 XS player by inputting a code on the website. These range from international video content streams to adults-only movies. Some really useful channels, like a third-party build, are available, and if you do fancy putting a bit of blue on your Roku, there are password protection options to keep young eyes from stumbling on what they shouldn't. As "private" channels are often beta builds or made by enthusiasts, there is however no guarantee they will forever be available on the streaming box.
Roku XS 22.jpg
For the most part, the channels make use of a tile-scrolling navigation set up, barring a few exceptions, such as the iPlayer's bespoke UI (familiar to anyone who has browsed the platform on any number of other devices). It's easy to browse with the directional pad, but not so easy to search; few channels allow you to look for specific content by keyword, and when you do, it's a painstaking task of scrolling around a virtual keyboard, press by press. As such, it's mostly a curated experience. With such a vast array of video content to browse through, we'd have loved the chance to favourite videos for later viewing, but the functionality is missing. On one isolated occasion we found that the UI inexplicably slowed down to a crawl making it impossible to use, but a hard reset achieved by disconnecting the XS from the mains solved the problem, and it hasn't happened again since.

The quality of the streams however are uniformly excellent. Thanks to an adaptive streaming system, you'll rarely, if ever see a buffering sign on the Roku 2 XS, with the stream's visual quality adapting to match that of your web connections capabilities. Even with a modest connection however you should be able to view stutter-free 1080p HD streaming. Using the Netflix app as an example, its 1080p high resolution output was pretty much a match to that found on the PS3, with clear, sharp images that just fall short of Blu-ray quality.
Roku XS 23.jpg
Also available from the Channel Store are a dozen or so gaming apps. Though most are premium, paid for downloads, Angry Birds is included for free. Thanks to the Roku 2 XS's motion capabilities, it controls much like a Wii game, with a wave of the hand translating to a yank of the in-game catapult. While admittedly basic stuff, it worked surprisingly well for what is first and foremost a TV streaming box, and we look forward to more big-screen gaming on the Roku XS. Also, thanks to the Bluetooth nature of the controller, playing games doesn't require line-of-sight with the Roku box, meaning it can be tucked away behind a TV without disrupting play.

If there's one real disappointment with the Roku 2 XS, it's with its lack of robust media playback options from a local USB storage device. The only formats supported are MP4 (H.264) video, AAC and MP3 audio and JPG and PNG image files. Pair this with a lack of DLNA functionality and the Roku 2 XS falls short of being a comprehensive multimedia experience.


The Roku 2 XS streaming box is a great bit of kit. With access to so much online TV content, much of it of a high quality nature thanks to the likes of Netflix, TED and the BBC iPlayer channels, it's more than a match for its Apple TV rival. Of course, you're going to have to have a paid subscription with a few of the channels to get the most out of the box, but that's no different than with the Roku 2 XS's competitors. The visual quality of the streams, particularly where HD content is available, is superb, and navigating all the features is fairly simple.

Where the Roku 2 XS is found lacking is in its poor file support over USB storage and lack of DLNA features. For a UK audience, there are also a few notable catch-up providers missing but there's every chance these will be added in due course.

The real question is whether or not you need the Roku box. If you've got a HD games console or a Smart TV, you've probably already got access to many of the Roku's features. If you don't already have access to these services, the Roku 2 XS does however come highly recommended.



REVIEW: Samsung UE60D8000 3D TV

No Comments

Samsung UE60D8000.jpgreview-line.JPGName: Samsung UE60D8000

Type: 3D LCD TV

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: Around £3,350review-line.JPG
When it comes to 3D TV, bigger is always better. At 60 inches, Samsung's UE60D8000 is one of the largest screens you can get in your house before going into 3D projector territory, and is backed by an impressive array of connected TV features. However, it's also one of the most expensive sets we've ever tried, nearly £1,000 more than its 5-inch smaller stable-mate at around a whopping £3,350. Does the TV perform well enough to justify the price tag?



A 60 inch beast, the UE60D8000 manages to offer a gigantic screen while remaining catwalk-slim in profile. Measuring just 30.45mm deep and weighing 24.8kg with its slick, four-pronged silver foot base attached, it's as pretty to look at as it is svelte and (for its size) lightweight. A thin silver bezel sits around the edge of the screen, rounding off a space aged look, with a glowing Samsung logo (which can be turned off) sitting at the centre of the lower edge. Volume, power and channel buttons sit on the TV's left hand side, while a wealth of rear-mounted connections, angled in-line with the screen, make it perfect for wall mounting.

A premium set deserves a premium remote control, and the UE60D8000's weighty, metallic zapper fits the bill nicely. Backlit, with a brushed metal feel to the buttons and slightly raised lines to guide your fingers in low lighting, it sits comfortably in the hand and, when paired with the clear and intuitive UI on show here, makes navigating the set an absolute breeze. One-button access to web connected Smart TV apps and 3D features are appreciated, but as as with the Samsung UE55D8000 and the rest of the 8000 Series, the remote really needs a dedicated button for motion processing settings, as these are the ones that we found we most regularly tweaked, and yet are among the most deeply hidden options on the set.


Samsung don't scrimp on the connectivity option with the UE60D8000. 4 HDMI ports (one ARC enabled) are supplemented by 3 USB ports, a component port, Optical Digital Audio Out, DVI Audio In, PC Audio In, PC In (D-Sub) and a headphone socket too for good measure. RF connectors and F-connectors for Freeview HD aerials and Freesat HD satellites respectively both also feature. As well as an Ethernet port for wired web connectivity, the TV also comes with built-in Wi-Fi if running the extra cable up to your screen isn't convenient. Setting up the Wi-Fi connection was simple using the onscreen menu and it maintained a consistent connection when browsing the Smart Hub platform and performing DLNA streaming, which we'll discuss in more detail in a second.

Samsung UE60D8000 2.jpg

Picture Quality

Both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners come built in with the UE60D8000. Paired with one of the slickest EPGs we've seen this side of a Sky+ HD set top box, you're straight into the HD party more or less right out of the box as a result.

For the most part, the UE60D8000 looks a treat when it comes to 2D picture quality, with Samsung cramming in edge-mounted LED backlighting with dimming for deep blacks, as well as their 800Hz Clear Motion system for smooth action, which pairs 200Hz processing with frame interpolation and backlight scanning to hit the claimed 800Hz mark.

As is usually the case with flatscreen HD TVs, the picture needs a fair bit of tweaking before it looks its most natural, pin-sharp best with high-definition content. While there are a handful of decent presets to stick with if you're not the most confident picture tweaker, thankfully Samsung have filled the set with all manner of imaging controls if you want to really make the set shine, including gamma and white balance controls, HDMI black level response and plenty of digital noise reduction settings.

Once you've got it up to scratch, it's an often stunning HD set. Incredibly bright for a panel this size, colours are punchy and vivid, making our Toy Story 3 Blu-ray test footage really come alive. It's also a fantastically sharp image too. Viewing our Blu-ray copy of Batman Begins and watching the early training scenes in the snow between Christian Bale and Liam Neeson, the epic mountainside surroundings of the icy scenes shimmered with detail.

Motion processing techniques are always a little bit iffy, but for once, merely sticking to the pre-set Clear Motion Rate "Clear" setting on the UE60D8000 managed to subtly smooth over fast moving scenes without ever leading to that strange floaty effect overusing the technology usually results in. Largely detailed action scenes, like those found in the Lord of the Rings trilogy Blu-rays, looked a treat as a result.

That's not to say it's always a perfect image however, and the extra screen real-estate has caused a few problems of its own. The strong backlight can be a little inconsistent in its dimming timing, particularly in darker scenes where it's presence can intermittently prove unwelcome as it bleeds into both the corners and lower central area of the screen. It's not an uncommon problem for edge-lit LED displays, but at around the £3,350 mark you'd expect a little better than what's made the cut here in this set.

Standard definition content is upscaled nicely on the UE60D8000 though, which usually proves to be a challenge on a screen this size. Instead, images are never stretched uncomfortably, and clever smoothing techniques make even the lowest bitrate footage perfectly watchable.

3D visuals

Samsung throw in two pairs of their newest 3D glasses with the UE60D8000. These use Bluetooth rather than infra-red to sync with any 3D content onscreen. On one hand, it's frustrating that any older Samsung specs you may have lying around are made redundant by the new standard, but on the other the new specs are far lighter than many rival's pairs, and don't suffer nearly as badly from flickering and ambient light interference as the preceding pairs from Samsung. They're still expensive at £100 a pair, but, again, at least you're getting two sets here.

3D visuals really knock you out on a screen this size. It's hard to explain the importance of a big screen when it comes to immersing yourself in 3D visuals, but with so much of your peripheral vision dominated by the screen itself, it's easy to get lost in the eye-popping action. Using our test copy of Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams through a PS3 console, we were totally enveloped in the subterranean, stalactite filled adventure. Thanks to the strong backlight on show here even the movies moodier, darker cave-bound scenes retained great detail.

It's a pity though that the screen suffers from the same crosstalk issues that many 3D sets we've tried also fall foul of. Ghosting is a regular annoyance when watching 3D content, and while it's not a deal-breaker, it's a nasty side effect that's arguably even more prominent with a screen this size.

Samsung UE60D8000 3.jpg

Sound Quality

Surprisingly good for a flatscreen, the UE60D8000 offers a fair amount of boom and bite from its stereo speakers. Thanks to the sheer size of the screen there is fairly decent stereo separation on offer, with a comprehensive set of equaliser settings making dialogue sit cleanly at the fore of the soundscape.

Samsung also throw in a few pseudo surround-sound settings too, including SRS TruSurround HD adding to the width of the image. As ever, bass response is lacking in a screen this thin. You're never going to match the audio quality of a dedicated home cinema set-up (it would be a ridiculous oversight were you not planning on pairing this premium set up with at least a soundbar), but the UE60D8000 offers audio quality as good as you're likely to receive from a flatscreen telly.

Smart Hub and Media Playback

Once you're connected to the internet with the UE60D8000, heading over to the Smart TV apps hub shows off a welcoming, intuitive web-connected set up. As well as being the area from which you access networked media files or those stored locally on a plugged in USB drive, it also features well over 30 apps, from VOD services like LoveFilm, iPlayer, YouTube and Vimeo to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook and Skype messaging. There's even a fully open web browser based on the WebKit engine.

Since the last time we had a Samsung smart TV in our office for testing the company have also added a dedicated 3D on demand channel called 3D Explore. Much of the content is free and a perfect way to showcase your set's 3D abilities while you grow your catalogue of 3D Blu-ray titles. As it's mostly trailers and documentaries on show here it's not full of Hollywood blockbusters, but we were happy to see a number of familiar IMAX-like historical titles making an appearance, free of charge.

Media playback, via a USB stick or DNLA networking, remains as comprehensive as you'd like. Be it SD or HD file types, lossless audio or dirty CD rips, the screen had no issues whatsoever handling whichever format or codec we threw at it.

We've been impressed with the Smart Hub before, and that feeling remains with the UE60D8000. Consolidating media playback and web connectivity into one place is a sensible choice, and as the Smart TV platform is growing, Samsung appear to have mastered the art of fitting all the new apps in seamlessly. Where it does suffer though is at pulling off onscreen text-entry, needed quite regularly to scan and search the platform. It's fine to click through individual letters to put in the odd Wi-Fi password, but if you're leaving messages on Facebook or searching YouTube regularly it's a bit of a chore. An input method similar to that which Sony use on their PS3 (similar to the text/dial lettering and numbers seen on a home landline phone) would be a simple way to alleviate this problem.


Without question, the UE60D8000 is a fine TV. Apart from a few backlighting issues its 2D and 3D visuals are up there with the best of them, and in Samsung's ever more powerful Smart TV app hub, it's got one of the best web-connected feature sets to boot too. Text entry is a chore, and audio quality is still mediocre at best, but these are problems not unique to Samsung's 8000 series, but the flatscreen market as a whole. While these few foibles are admittedly minor, when you consider the fact they're in a £3,350 set they get a little harder to stomach. Contrary to the constant stream of junk emails I receive, an extra 5 inches is not worth hundreds of pounds, and here it's one of the only clear advantages over Samsung's own smaller, cheaper offerings. An impressive set then, but unless that extra screen real estate is a must have, you'd save yourself a pretty penny by opting for the marginally smaller UE55D8000



REVIEW: Orbitsound T12 v3 soundbar

No Comments

t12-v3-top2.jpgName: T12v3 Soundbar (Orbitsound)

Type: Stereo soundbar with subwoofer

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £299 direct from Orbitsound

review-line.JPGUK audio specialists Orbitsound return with their latest re-vamped T12 Soundbar, the T12 v3. Have they perfected the "spatial stereo" wizadry to kill off audio sweet-spots for good? Read on to find out.

We know what you're thinking; "V3? It seems like yesterday that the the v2 launched!" It's a little under a year since Orbitsound's last T12 soundbar launched, but the smaller, dynamic nature of the UK audio upstarts means that they can churn out updates to their gear far faster than rivals. But far from being a mere incremental update, the v3 is a marked improvement over its predecessor.

The T12 v3 set includes a gloss black soundbar (600 x 100 x 100mm) and similarly styled subwoofer (230mm x 460mm x 200mm) connected via cable as opposed to a wireless connection, which may limit its placement in more spacious AV set-ups. As well as an iPod connector on the top of the dock, connectivity on the rear of the soundbar includes optical, coaxial and analogue ports as well as a 3.5mm connection for those with mp3 players or phones from stables other than Apple's. Leads for all these connections are included inside the box, while a volume dial also sits on the back.

It's worth noting at this point that we've had our hands on a pre-production model rather than the final retail build. It's almost identical to what's headed to stores, barring a few quirks. Firstly, there's a rear switch for changing the intensity of the stereo effect that wont be present in retail models as it's more a feature to demonstrate Orbitsound's "spatial stereo" tech to reviewers and journalists, which we'll speak about in a second. Also, the volume steps on the remote control will be a little more refined, giving you more precise control over volume levels in the final product.

What makes the Orbitsound soundbar unique from its rivals is how it uses a proprietary "spatial stereo" system. Designed by Orbitsound founder Ted Fletcher (whose CV includes working alongside musical luminaries The Eagles, Elton John and mad-cap producer and sonic-scientist Joe Meek), it is able to deliver stereo sound from a single central unit. In other words, it does away with the concept of a "sweet-spot", giving anyone standing at any position in a room with a T12 v3 soundbar the same left and right stereo fields as if they were standing between two separate left and right speaker channels.

In practice, it's not quite as clearly defined as that, but there's certainly a separation in the audio delivery no matter where you're standing in relation to the T12 v3, making it the perfect choice for those who indulge in busy movie nights with a gang of pals. What's arguably more important is the overall sound quality of the unit, and that thankfully is very good indeed, thanks to improved drivers and a new metal grille across the soundbar that allows for a greater spread for the audio image.

Though a little muddy at first (which again may be tweaked slightly in the final product) dialling back the bass a tad and pushing the treble settings up a little via the lightweight remote offered a full, warm stereo sound that's incredibly detailed. The T12 v3 soundbar is billed as primarily a partner for your flatscreen TV, and it certainly does a great job of bringing dialogue to the fore in movies, without scrimping on explosive booms and tinkling details. We spent quite a few hours playing games through the soundbar, and was incredibly impressed with the incidental detail it managed to pick up whilst we played through the classic Half Life 2. The crackling flames of a ruined city, being bombarded by sci-fi shells have rarely sounded so crisp.

Our main bug bear was the way that the T12 v3 soundbar doesn't retain your audio tweaks if you switch it off from the mains, a problem considering it's initially a little flabby sounding. It has a standby mode in which it does remember your changes, but if like me your green-conscious worries mean you have to switch everything off from the wall at night, you're going to have to keep re-configuring the soundbar. This wouldn't be so bad if HDMI support was included to allow for an onscreen menu, but as it isn't you're going to have to keep your ears finally tuned to re-balance the sound each time.

Keep in mind too that you're not getting support for 5.1 or 7.1 surround channels here, with everything being scaled back to stereo instead. It's not a fault for a soundbar clearly billed as doing some pretty special stuff with its stereo tech, but with similarly priced bars offering the feature, it's worth considering.



Orbitsound's T12 v3 is a worthy update to the brand's popular soundbar range. There remain a few niggles (namely HDMI support and surround features) for this price point, but it's hard to argue with the overall aural quality of the product. If you're looking for a no-fuss system with which to boost your flat screen's sound capabilities, you can't ask for much more than the T12 v3.



Name: Griffin Beacon

Type: Universal remote control with iOS app

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £57 from Amazon

review-line.JPGOne device to rule them all? That's the idea behind the Griffin Beacon, a universal remote control kit that works in tandem with your iOS device to control all the gadgets in your house that use a remote control. But is the Beacon a shining light in a murky sea of universal remotes, or is your best bet to dig under the sofa for that dusty lost zapper? Read on to find out.

The Griffin Beacon is quite the looker. Best described as a similar size to a black Apple TV box with a shiny black pebble placed on top, it'll sit comfortably and stylishly alongside most AV set-ups. Powered by four AA batteries, it syncs with your iOS device via a Bluetooth connection and, when used alongside the Dijit controller app, lets you control as many as 200,000 home entertainment devices from your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch straight out of the box.

Set up was incredibly simple. Once the batteries are placed in the bottom of the Beacon, you push down on its curved top till you hear a "Frustration" style click, which sends out a Bluetooth signal. It's then just a case of syncing the device with your iOS gadget through the Bluetooth device menu of your Apple phone, mp3 player or tablet. Rather than an actual remote control, the Beacon actually works to convert Bluetooth signals from your iOS device into infra-red ones that your entertainment devices can understand. Therefore line of sight thankfully isn't needed to control the Beacon's many functions (though you'll still have to carry it around if you want to use it in multiple rooms). There are no control buttons on the Beacon; this is left up to the free Dijit app, which is very good indeed.

Upon firing up the Dijit app (which syncs and recognises the Beacon very simply) you'll be presented with a quick set-up screen which lets you select all manner of AV gear, from TVs to home cinema receivers, games consoles to stereos. Everyone from the big name brands like Samsung and Sony right down to the sort of budget brands you'd find in a supermarket bargain bin are supported, which is a great achievement. There are inevitably gaps in the device list (Roberts DAB radios weren't supported for instance) but the majority of gear is there. App software updates will continually update the device list, so it's worth checking back later, and the Beacon can also be "taught" other unsupported devices too, though that's not worth the complicated set-up it needs.

The Dijit app is simple to navigate and select different units to control, but perhaps its best feature is the level of customisation it offers. You can add tens of buttons for each device you want to control through the app, resizing buttons to fit what's comfortable for you, add custom buttons to run controls not found on your regular remote, or even remove buttons that you find no use for. The days of squinting at remote controls for a hard to find tiny button are long gone, and you can even use it to invent touchscreen gesture controls, like a two-finger swipe to adjust TV volume for instance.
Another great touch is the Activities feature. This lets you program the Beacon to perform numerous buttons at the press of a single button. For instance, you might set up an activity that turns on your TV, Digital TV box and home cinema speaker system all at once. It's a great time saver, and one that once set up would suit to a tee a technophobe who finds multiple controllers confusing.

As you can probably guess, we were very impressed by the Beacon. But it's not without its faults.

Firstly, the decision to run off of regular batteries rather than a rechargeable built-in one seems an archaic one. Two months worth of battery life is considerably less than I squeeze out of my remote controls. Though the wire-free set up is handy, it would have been nice to have had the option of using an AC adapter for those not planning on moving the Beacon about.

The lack of Android support is understandable for a device that's launching as "Made for Apple", and though there is an app in the works, it's disappointing not to see it ready at launch. Even more disappointing is the lack of native iPad app support; using that big screen to house multiple remotes at once would have been a superb addition over a blown up, stretched iPhone one.

Lastly, the Beacon lacks some functionality in the UK that its US versions have. In the US, users can check TV listings and share them via social networking sites with their pals; in the UK you cant. Likewise Netflix accounts can be browsed and managed in the US with the Beacon and Dijit app, and while Netflix may not be available in the UK, no suitable alternative (like Lovefilm) has been added to fill the gap.



Despite some quibbles, the Beacon remains a superb solution to having tens of chunky remote controls laying around your living room. iPad support and a rechargeable battery are the main issues holding it back from top marks, but the amount of customisation easily lets us see past the Beacon's few faults.



REVIEW: BenQ W1000+ HD projector

No Comments

review-line.JPGName: EH-TW5500 (Epson)

Type: Full HD DLP Projector

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £749.99


BenQ surprised everyone with the quality of their W1000 projector when it launched in the back end of 2009. Offering superb picture quality for under a grand, it practically single-handedly redefined the the word "value" when it came to home cinema projectors. The BenQ W1000+ is something of a sequel then, refining the features of the first model and slashing the price to an even more attractive low. Is it another bargain offering?


First things first; the BenQ W1000+ isn't much of a looker. Though the "white with silver accents" design in theory should look good, in practice it's a very cheap-looking box, with ugly ventilation strips on the side and sticky control buttons on the top. Focus and horizontal picture-shift dials sit just behind the square lens housing, with this deep recess doing little to help the projector's already messy stylings. It's much better served by its connectivity options however, packing in two HDMIs, D-Sub PC port, component video port, and USB/RS-232 control ports; far more than you'd expect at this price range.

Thankfully, the looks department is one of the only places where the W1000+ betrays its budget price bracket. Capable of throwing full 1080p images out at a maximum size of 300 inches, the W1000+ is capable of superb images despite its bargain labelling.

That's mostly thanks to the refined colour wheel used here. Though the original W1000 projector was a fine offering, it did suffer greatly from the dreaded "rainbow effect" (causing solid stripes of red, green and blue to appear) that many cheaper projectors fall foul of. With a significant speed boost and freshly optimised waveform software in the colour wheel employed here, the BenQ W1000+ has all but eliminated this unsightly problem.

The image improvements over the W1000 model don't stop with the reduced "rainbow effect" either. Colour temperature is markedly better, while the contrast ratio jumps from 3,000:1 to 3,500:1. Upon initially firing up the projector things can look a bit of a mess, but the W1000+ offers fairly robust image tweaking options. Though you're only able to tweak three preset settings (Cinema, Dynamic and Standard) before delving into the advanced menus, doing so gives you full control over minute colour detail, colour temperature, gamma and white balance controls.


Black levels are strong, with the W1000+ retaining great detail even in murkier scenes, with white levels equally vibrant. Black and white images were the worst perpetrators of the "rainbow effect", though in no way as severely noticeable as with similarly priced projectors. Colours, once fine-tuned, can be reassuringly realistic too, though red levels remained stubbornly dominant. For once, we'd encourage using the Brilliant Colour mode: though it can initially be overwhelmingly vibrant to the point of being unrealistic, use the menu screens to tone it down and you'll get a surprisingly punchy image. Fast-paced action scenes do little to rock the projectors motion capabilities too remaining relatively judder-free through a Blu-ray screening of The Watchmen. Overall, full HD images retained a clarity and sharpness rarely seen in projectors that break the £1,000 mark, let alone one that sits some £250 below it.

The projector even comes with a 3W built-in speaker. Now, a 3W speaker is of course in no way a fitting match for an epic movie screening. But in keeping with the projector's budget charms, it does make the W1000+ a far more portable prospect, allowing for modest audio playback if you're to bring this unit around to a pal's house, without the need to lug an audio system around with you too.

Our main quibble come with the auto-keystone functionality. The projector failed to find the natural oblong shape of our 16:9 source material on a flat wall perfectly parallel to the lens. It took an age to reposition the projector and manually tweak the keystone settings before the image was taper-free. Likewise, the 1.2x optical zoom and a lack of an optical vertical lens shift meant positioning the image was far more difficult than it should have been.



At a penny shy of £750, the BenQ W1000+ is an absolute steal. Building significantly upon its already-rather-good W1000 predecessor, the W1000+ offers full HD cinema thrills at a price so competitive it's likely to get the more expensive projector manufacturers quaking in their overpriced boots. While the keystone function and optical zoom range leave a little to be desired, the picture quality is far better than the value-price tag would lead you to believe. An excellent purchase then for the budding home theatre enthusiast.



IMAG0233.jpgName: AVerTV Volar HD A835(Aver Media)

Type: Digital TV tuner for PC and Mac

System Requirements: Click here

Price: £18.99 from Amazon

With most of the functionality of a fully-fledged set-top box, the AVerTV Volar HD A835 digital TV tuner for PC and Mac has a lot going for it. But is it relevant in this age of catch-up TV and high-definition television?


The AVerTV Volar HD A835 unit consists of a set-up software CD and a USB drive, which a supplied TV antenna can be plugged into. Considering the USB stick has to accommodate a chunky aerial connection, it manages to stay fairly slim, though you may have trouble squeezing in other USB devices should your ports be closely bunched together. The aerial itself is little bigger than a thumb drive too, housing two telescopic, rotatable antenna and comes with two mounts; a suction pad and a clip for sticking the unit to the top of your monitor.

Once the quick software installation is complete and the AVerTV Volar HD A835 USB unit is plugged in, a surprisingly fast and accurate channel scan will have you watching Freeview channels and listening to digital radio within minutes. Though image quality will depend somewhat on the quality of your monitor, we were pleased to find our viewing session to be clear and free of noise. However, despite the HD suffix, you wont be able to get any high-definition Freeview channels; though it supports H.264 transmissions, which are widespread in Europe for high-def shows, it isn't compatible with the DVB-T2 transmission system Freeview HD is based on. An update has been promised for some time, but we were unable to access the channels during our review.


Though here you negate the need for an internet connection in order to watch shows, it's also worth noting that in this age of streamed catch-up TV on computers, we've forgotten how frustrating trying to pick up a good TV signal is. The AVerTV Volar HD A835 had us standing with the aerial over our heads in order to maintain a decent image. A quirk of our tuner or simply the fact we're in something of a coverage blackspot, it's worth remembering before committing your cash.

The software accompanying the drive is full of functionality, including a full EPG, timeshift modes and a number of recording and scheduled recording options. We particularly liked the fact you're able to record in iOS compatible formats, meaning getting your favourite shows direct from the telly onto your Apple mobile media devices won't be a problem. It's a shame though that visually the software is very bland, with a design more like shareware rather than a retail product.


With most of the major Freeview destinations now having robust video-on-demand services backing them up online, TV tuners for PCs are beginning to feel a little redundant. The AVerTV Volar HD stick makes itself more useful than some by offering video recording modes directly compatible with iOS devices, but a bare-bones software interface and lack of Freeview HD channels, paired with the frustrations of picking up a decent signal, ultimately let it down. Having said that, it's a cheap and small solution for those watching the pennies our with little space to play about with, so it may find an audience with students or backpackers. review-line.JPG



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

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?


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.
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.


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



REVIEW: Onyx Digital Stream DPS-1000

No Comments

Name: Digital Stream DPS-1000 (Onyx)

Type: Web connected media streamer

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £89.99 from Amazon

Looking for web-connected features from your ageing flatscreen TV? Then the Digital Stream DPS-1000 from Onyx (recently refreshed to add LoveFilm support), may suit your needs for a bargain price, providing you can put up with a few glaring omissions.


Though its heavily vented black chassis wont win it any style awards, the Onyx DPS-1000 is attractively small. Measuring up at roughly 16cm x 12cm x 3.5 cm, it'll sit discretely alongside most AV set ups. On the rear you'll find one HDMI port, a scart connection, two USB ports and an Ethernet port. That Ethernet port will be of the utmost importance here, as the DPS-1000 lacks a Wi-Fi connection. It seems a remarkable oversight considering the device is used primarily for web and network connected media streaming; you'll have to make sure your TV is placed near your router in order to wire it up tidily, or else hunt around for a compatible third-party Wi-Fi dongle.

It's a shame that this may put off potential buyers, as the interface and content portals on offer in the DPS-1000 are very good indeed. Built around UK-based Oregan's web platform first seen in last year's Cello TV range, it does away with many of the international fluff found in many larger brands web-connected TV portals. Instead, you're treated to a line up that includes the afore-mentioned LoveFilm, BBC iPlayer, BlinkBox, YouTube and a host of other Web TV offerings.

A mainscreen features a series of widgets, including Twitter, Facebook and news and weather feeds down the right hand side, which while welcome, likely wont get much use as they can be fiddly to navigate, particularly the social networks. The rest of the screen is made of a carousel-like series of icons leading to each content provider.

First up is the iPlayer portal, almost identical to that seen in Cello's iPlayer TV range. It's a slick and fast interface, with the usual "Just In", "Highlights" and "Last Played" tabs. Normal, high and HD quality video, where available, can be toggled through, while a serviceable search function lets you browse the current BBC catalogue.


LoveFilm offers information on all 70,000-odd movies it has in its catalogue, though only a fraction of those can be streamed via the DPS-1000, and none of those in HD. That's not a problem unique to this device though; it's the same with the LoveFilm desktop portal and the one found in the PS3 games console. Regardless, it's again a tidy and well organised interface, giving the option also for subscribers to order Blu-ray or DVD rental versions of those films not available for streaming. Dynamic searching of the LoveFilm library, throwing up new results every time you input each letter, is a little unnecessary in this format however, often annoyingly slowing down search speeds. £5.99 will give 2 hours of online viewing time, while those who opt for the £15.99 subscription will get unlimited access, as well as the ability to order physical disc rentals from LoveFilm.

BlinkBox, while offering a slightly more clunky interface than LoveFilm, is just as well stocked, with US shows such as the West Wing sitting alongside The Inbetweeners, as well as a fair few movies too. Blinkbox's value rentals (starting at £1) gives it a slight edge over LoveFilm in regards to pricing, and there are nice options to nab full TV show boxsets from between £12.99 and £15.99.

Of more questionable quality is the WebTV portal, pulling in video content from myriad sources. Here's where you'll find the likes of YouTube and Flickr, alongside more unusual sources such as Disney Channel Movie Previews, Larry King, the Discovery Channel, and Sesame Street. Presented in a list with thumbnails, it's a motley crew of feeds and video sources, though they're disparate enough to offer at least a few gems to most viewers.

Once connected to a networked PC or media server, or by plugging in a USB drive loaded with media content, you'll also be able to access various image, music and video files through the box. In a nice touch, a search feature will scan both your networked content and the web portals available here, pulling results into one compiled list. In terms of file playback, BMP and JPEG images and MP3 and WMA files work fine, but things get a little more complex on the video front. AVI (DivX), WMV, VOB, MP4 HD, MKV (DivX HD), and WMV HD files worked from a USB stick (but not H.264 MOV or QuickTime) while network searches only recognised MOV, DivX, MP4 and AVCHD files.


It's worth noting that anyone with a Wii or PS3 console will already have access to most of what is on offer here. While the lack of built in Wi-Fi support may keep the price of this diminutive media streamer down, it could prove a deal breaker for all but those with a router very nearby their television sets. If you fall into that likely very small bracket, you'll come away impressed with the DPS-1000, whose many features and content portals gives even the most recent web connected TV offerings from major brands a run for their money. It's well polished on the software front, even if its hardware leaves a little to be



REVIEW: Onkyo TX-NR609 AV receiver

No Comments

Name: TX-NR609 (Onkyo)

Type: 7.2 channel AV Receiver

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £499

Onkyo have built a solid reputation for themselves by offering affordable AV kits that consistently perform as well as their more expensive rivals. Their latest effort, the TX-NR609, may be their best mid-range AV receiver yet, packing in a a range of web-connected audio features, including Spotify.


More-or-less maintaining the chunky black look of last year's range (though silver models are available too) the Onkyo TX-NR609 is a satisfyingly sturdy affair. Source and Mode controls are placed along a thin groove within the flat face of the receiver, with a chunky master volume dial to the right and an easy-to-read screen sitting near the top edge.

Six HDMI v1.4 input ports can be found on the receiver (including one sensibly on the front), suitable for full HD 3D signals, 1 output HDMI, as well as twin optical and twin coaxial digital inputs, a USB port for media playback and iPods, Zone 2 output, PC IN, component, composite, a Universal Port for Onkyo peripherals and of course the myriad connections for hooking up your surround speakers. An Ethernet port is included for accessing the many web features included here, and though Onkyo have an adapter planned in the pipeline, it's a shame the TX-NR609 doesn't ship with a wireless internet solution.

Set up is an incredibly simple affair thanks to the Audyssey 2EQ wizard. Plugging a supplied mic into the front of the unit that monitors a series of test tones, it intelligently weighs the volume and width of the sound image sent out from each speaker. You can of course tweak all manner of speaker distance, volume and panorama settings manually should you so desire, and a clean onscreen interface makes it a breeze to do so.


The connected capabilities here are incredible given the price tag. Chief among these is Spotify playback; those with a Premium account for the music streaming service will be able to check out all their playlists in a nicely presented user interface that includes artwork alongside "What's New" and "Starred track" tabs. If you've yet to sign up to the 10 million-strong song streaming catalogue, it should be your top priority if you purchase this receiver. Equally well presented are vTuner internet radio, Napster, and DLNA-certified music streaming across your network, all accessible from a dedicated "Net" remote button.

If the range of web connected features wasn't enough to tickle your fancy, then audio quality certainly should. The TX-NR609 again performs marvellously here. THX Select2 Plus-certified, it has no problem decoding all manner of HD audio formats, also offering Dolby Pro Logic IIz and Audyssey DSX processing. Twin subwoofer outputs (hence the 7.2 categorisation) allow for a surprisingly sharp bass response, backed by a healthy 120 watts available to each speaker. In practice, it lead to truly dynamic sound reproduction from our Star Trek test Blu-ray; thunderous explosions resonated ground shakingly in the opening battle scene, while the sounds of sparking circuitry and tinkering glass scattered around the room with great fidelity at all but the highest of volumes. That then would be our one concern; that signal/noise ratings don't quite seem to match those quoted in the specs by Onkyo, distorting noticeably along higher volume levels.

Though it doesn't have much of a practical application at this point, the receiver also supports Marvell Qdeo 4K video upscaling, four times the pixel pushing power of 1080p upscaling to a whopping 3840 x 2160. 4K displays currently cost a bomb and are specialist items, but it's nice to know this receiver is future-proofed, particularly considering that the likes of Toshiba have glasses-free 3D sets supporting the feature waiting in the wings.


The features-to-pricing ratio on the TX-NR609 could easily lead you to believe that Onkyo would had to have had cut corners somewhere on this receiver, but that's plainly not the case. From the rich, detailed sound of the 7 channel amp to the painless mic set-up and slick Spotify interface, it's a real winner. You'll be hard pressed to find a better receiver in the sub-£500 price bracket than this



Name: DTR-Z500HD (TVonics)

Type: Freeview+ HD Digital TV recorder

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £224.99 direct from TVonics

HDMI switching is a rare feature for a digital TV recorder, but the TVonics DTR-Z500HD packs it in. Does the rest of its features live up to the relatively hefty price tag attached to this PVR?

Sleek black curves and its stout boxy frame aside, the DTR-Z500HD is a rather unassuming Freeview HD set top box, completely bereft of buttons, that houses a rather unique feature. On its rear is not only a HDMI Output port, but also two HDMI inputs, allowing for pass-through switching of two further HD sources, such as a Blu-ray player or games console. Switching between the two via dedicated "HDMI 1" and "HDMI 2" buttons on the remote control, it'll be a godsend for those with a TV packing only the one HDMI port, or those looking to tidily wall-mount a TV with the minimum amount of input cables on show. With Freeview HD broadcast in 1080i, it also reveals why the need for 1080p support is included here, as so many Blu-ray players and games consoles using the sharper picture format could potentially pass through the box.

Cramming in a 500GB hard disk, the DTR-Z500HD has all the Freeview+ HD features you'd expect from a premium digital TV recorder, including series link options, one-button recording and Live TV pause, allowing you to fence off a portion of the hard drive for as many as 4 hours of live TV to be rewound through. Dual tuners allow two channels to be recorded whilst a third is being viewed. Around 70 hours of HD footage can be stored, or 220 hours of standard definition programming. There's even a recommendation service which, depending on whether or not broadcasters include the relevant information with their shows, will suggest programs you may enjoy based on those you've already recorded.

In use, the EPG and menu system is punchy and fast, skirting around the layers of programme information and channel listings briskly. Text is crisp and easy to read, and there's even some light customisation options when it comes to the skin of the EPG and its colours.

Sharp, smear-free Freeview HD images are delivered from the box, while even standard definition channels are upscaled to a high standard. Those using larger screen TVs upwards of 40 inches may see a little softening to SD images, but only minimally. Though few shows are broadcast with 5.1 sound on Freeview HD, the DTR-Z500HD supports it regardless, converting the compressed HE-AAC format into Dolby Digital 5.1, compatible with all AV amps. There's even a Dolby Surround option, converting stereo sources into 5.1 through an AV with Dolby Pro Logic codecs.

The remote control is very comfortable, if a little lightweight. Along with the afore-mentioned HDMI switching buttons, there's a central click wheel, surrounded by "Guide", "Text", "Info" and "Back" buttons. A button dedicated for switching between TV and radio EPG listings will suit those who listen to the wireless a lot too. However there's one pretty glaring issue with the remote set-up here. Though leaving the DTR-Z500HD without buttons makes a fairly sleek design for the box itself, losing the remote down the side of a sofa or, even worse, breaking it, will lead to you being unable to control the box at all.

If we had any other major complaints with the box, it's how underused both the dual USB ports and Ethernet port found on the device are. The USB ports can only display photos stored on a memory stick rather than music or movie files, with their purpose predominately for updating the system software. Likewise, the Ethernet port is incapable of grabbing content from a networked PC or other DLNA compliant device, though it will be future-proofed for eventual Freeview+ HD web features.


Delivering class-leading Freeview HD images and offering a genuinely useful feature in the shape of its HDMI switching function, there's a lot to love in this latest TVonics box. However, it's got quite a steep price tag, and those looking for a little more storage space or a more robust feature list may be better served


hd-theater-500.jpgName: HD Theater 500 (Klipsch)

Type: 5.1 speaker set

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £499.99 from Klipsch

No matter what the brand or size, buyers of a flatscreen TV have to be ready for pretty woeful audio quality from nearly every set. This isn't necessarily a problem however, as ever-more-affordable home cinema speaker packages hit the market, making 5.1 surround sound far more accessible than it ever was. Klipsch's HD Theater 500 package sits at the top end of mid-priced speaker packages. As veterans of the silver screen cinema speaker scene, can Klipsch bring the Hollywood magic into living rooms too?

Comprised of four satellite speakers, a centre speaker and an active subwoofer, you've got nearly all you need to get a home cinema system set up straight out of the box, barring an AV receiver of course. For the most part, build quality on Klipsch's HD Theater 500 is very good; aimed at smaller rooms, the speakers are sensibly discrete. The surround satellites measure up at 6" x 3.6" x 3.85". the centre channel 3.6" x 9" x 3.85" and the subwoofer 13.9" x 12.5" x 12.5", each finished with a gloss matte finish and with removable grilles on the satellites that reveal the woofers and tweeters. Each had a solid weight to them, with smooth, well-finished casing. However, we were disappointed to find spring-clip wiring connections on the speakers, usually the reserve of cheaper all-in-one box 5.1 systems. They're fiddily and not as reliable as binding posts.

Wall-mounting the speakers shouldn't pose much of a problem, helped along by a collection of brackets in the box. In a nice touch, the speakers can be angled within a 40-degree cone, allowing you to fine tune the arc of the sound image.

On the rear of the 100-watt subwoofer you'll find a range of dials to tweak volume and crossover settings. Crossover range can be put between 80 and 160Hz, with something around the top end of that range best suited to the included satellites. A 150Hz subwoofer-to-satellite crossover seemed to be optimal during our testing. Line inputs, and switches to control flipping the phase 180 degrees are also housed on the back of the subwoofer.


Moving onto the satellites, each house a horn-loaded 0.75-inch aluminium tweeter and a 2.5-inch woofer, with the larger centre speaker using two 2.5-inch woofers either side of the tweeter.

We popped on the Star Trek Blu-ray to try out the Klispch HD Theater 500's movie performance in the film's particularly-testing opening scene, and came away very impressed. As explosions and alarms fire off all over the show, the speakers managed natural separation, with little notable join between the audio sources. Shattering glass and booming explosions felt measured and appropriate, with particular praise going to the subwoofer. While the satellites distorted slightly with the highest frequencies at louder volumes, the subwoofer massaged bass tones to a warm and satisfying degree, giving full-bodied sound that remained clear rather than grumbling. Also worht noting is the centre channel, which admirably pushed dialogue to the fore.

Playing back a range of CDs of many musical styles, covering everything from Lady Gaga to Metallica through to classical works by Verdi, all showed the Klipsch kit performing well, though we often again found the satellites making higher frequencies sound a little harsh.


They're not the cheapest speaker option, but you could do a lot worse than the Klipsch HD Theater 500 set. They'll easily provide smaller rooms with a significant cinematic audio upgrade over flatscreen TVs, pushing blockbuster sounds to your sofa. The spring clips may seem a little cheap, and there's the odd minor niggle with the satellites, but that subwoofer is a joy to listen to, with literally earth-shaking performance without compromising clarity.


Name: EH-TW5500 (Epson)

Type: LCD Full HD Projector

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £3,573.44 from Epson

LCD projectors have in the past had a notoriously poor black level response, but continued improvements to Epson's DeepBlack system have consistently impressed. However, the EH-TW5500 projector comes with a premium price tag, significantly higher than comparative LCD projectors. Can it justify it?

A sturdy, no-nonsense build, the curved black chassis of the EH-TW5500 is an intimidating 360 x 450 x 136 mm. It's not frilly, but will comfortable sit among most cinema set-ups, be it floor or ceiling mounted thanks to its non-reflective matte finish. Inputs are sensibly rear mounted, with two 1.3a HDMI ports, a component video input, and an RGB PC input among the connections. The long, black remote control was again sturdy and simple, but a nice back-light feature beneath the buttons made it easy to use in a darkened room.

Set up, via a manual 2.1 optical zoom and manual focus and lens shift dials was simple, allowing images from as little as 30 inches to as large as 300 inches to be produced. While we found the manual horizontal and vertical lens shift dials preferable to the sometimes shoddy results motorised units deliver, we were a little disappointed with the way that turning one dial often knocked out the positioning of the other, making it sometimes difficult to fine-tune the projection placement. Two retractable legs below the projector are also offered, should the lens shift not be sufficient.

Menus are again workmanlike, overlayed onto whatever you're watching on screen, but clear and concise, offering colour temperature controls, calibration tests and frame interpolation intensity settings.

If it all sounds a little safe-but-prosaic right now, you'd be mostly right. But fire the projector up and you'll be totally blown away.


Though the claimed contrast ratio of 200,000:1 is probably a little bit generous, there's no denying the quality of black level response on the EH-TW5500. It's astonishingly deep, retaining texture and detail in the Predators Blu-ray we watched, with no wash-out in dark scenes thanks to the dual-layer notched iris design, which adapts intelligently to jumps in light output. Colours were equally well catered for with natural skin tones, and bold, solid bursts when watching Avatar. Extensive scene mode options, including everything from "Vibrant" to "Cinema Night" modes, made the projector usable even in strong ambient lighting. Of course it was quite washed out, but with the brightness setting pushed high we could quite comfortably manage plenty of daytime viewing. It's worth noting that the projector does get reasonably hot at times though; an Eco Mode does well however to counteract this at the expense of brightness, also managing to make the fan system nearly silent at the same time.

Of equal merit to the black response levels is the afore-mentioned frame interpolation settings. Whereas previous Epson projectors have struggled with terrible artefacting when interpolation is switched on the EH-TW5500's system performs admirably, even on the highest settings. Movement is smooth and clean, and scaling it back made for a significantly smoother experience when gaming, with little notable drop in response time.


The Epson EH-TW5500 is one of the finest, if not the finest LCD projector we've ever seen. Superb HD clarity, vibrant colours and black response levels usually unheard of in an LCD projector, it goes a long way to justifying its premium price tag. It lacks the 3D capabilities that the latest wave of LCD projectors are touting, but for a unit capable of almost industrial-level performance, it can't come recommended more highly.


Philips 21X9  Platinum Angle.JPGName: 58PFL9955H Cinema 21:9 Platinum 3D TV (Philips)

Type: True cinema ratio 3D TV

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £3,674.99 from Amazon

For the true movie-nut there's nothing quite like a trip to the cinema; the smell of the popcorn machine, the sticky carpeting underfoot, the awkward teenage fumblings on the back seats, and, most importantly, the gigantic widescreen vision of your favourite directors in all their epic Hollywood glory. It's an effect that, even with a decent projector, has been one difficult to replicate at home, but Philips have come closest to realising it in the living room through their Cinema 21:9 range. This latest model, the Platinum 58PFL9955H, attempts to improve upon the superb work of the previous versions by throwing in built-in active-shutter 3D tech.

The 58PFL9955H is terrifically wide. Whereas traditional widescreen TVs come in a 16:9 ratio, this Philips set sports a 21:9 ratio at a 58-inch diagonal size instead. In effect, this means you get a match for the super-wide cinema style format, minus the distracting black bars at the top and bottom of a DVD or Blu-ray movie. It comes in at around 2.39:1 in terms of width, as close as any TV has come before to 2.35:1 cinema film transfers. While purists will bemoan the fact that no Blu-rays truly take advantage of the size (due to the black bars being added at the mastering stage to fit more traditionally sized screens), the Philips set masterfully processes the source signal, cleverly adapting it to the 21:9 screen. It is truly cinematic and a joy to watch movies on.

Likewise, the screen cleverly handles 4:3 and 16:9 signals. You can force the screen to keep each source signal to scale within the confines of the 58-inch display, putting the black bars left and right of 16:9 or 4:3 sources, distort the images to fill the entire screen, or choose completely unscaled images from the original source. The wealth of options is both necessary and pleasing, though it can become a little fiddly if you're quickly jumping from movies to something shot in anything other than the 21:9 format. The screen can also be set to automatically recognise the screen size, and adjust it appropriately, though we found it sometimes erratically changed scale mid-film, which could be jarring.

Philips 21X9 Platinum - Lifestyle 3.jpg

All of this would be for naught were the picture quality poor, but the 58PFL9955H truly shines in this department. Complete with 1,500 LEDs behind the display panel, the screen manages breathtaking contrast levels. We watched The Wolfman on Blu-ray with the set, and marvelled at the maintained level of detail surrounding light sources during the film's many dark scenes. Colour reproduction is also superbly vibrant, with superb definition between shades. Of course, the screen fares significantly less well with SD broadcasts as opposed to 1080p Full HD signals, but no worse than other large HDTVs. The lack of a Freeview HD tuner is a significant omission however at this price range.

Like most top-end TV screens, the 58PFL9955H is packed to the rafters with motion-processing and screen smoothing features in the shape of the Perfect Pixel HD engine. 400Hz processing does well to remove the blur of fast moving imagery, though we were less keen on the the Natural Motion feature. Designed primarily to even out the 24fps setting of Blu-rays (less than half the speed of regular TV broadcasts), we found it made playback look unnatural if anything, doing too much to remove the actually-kind-of-enjoyable film "grain" look. It is, of course, an optional effect, and everything looks much better with it set to a "minimum" strength level. And though the viewing angle is a claimed 176 degrees, we found colours to wash-out and lose their strength considerably at tight angles. Regardless, give the set a reasonable amount of tweaking and 2D movies look an absolute dream.

The main jump for the 58PFL9955H over previous Philips 21:9 models is the inclusion of 3D technology. This is built-in rather than an optional add-on, favouring the active rather than passive standard. On the whole, it does a good job; removing the black bars from 3D Blu-ray playback of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs instantly made the effect feel more involving. All 3D sources however, be they PS3 gaming, Blu-ray or Sky 3D, suffered from echoes and ghosting. Rarely was it bad enough to be a deal-breaker, but in terms of 3D performance, we've viewed better sets. Two sets of 3D glasses are thrown in though, which softens that glancing blow a tad.

Philips 21X9 Platinum - Lifestyle 4 med.jpg

On the other hand, sound quality from the 30W speakers in the set was far, far better than any other flatscreen we've tried. Two rear-housed woofers gave a strong bass response, whilst a pair of forward-firing drivers offered clear voices and middle ranges with a pseudo-surround effect. It's no match for a dedicated 5.1 system, but other manufacturers should take note of the flatscreen-sound improvements made here by Philips.

In terms of build, the Philips set isn't the most svelte screen we've reviewed, measuring in at 71mm, but it's hardly chubby either. The superb Ambilight function likely adds somewhat to this extra bulk, but it's worth it; three bars of LED-lights sit on the top, left and right edges of the TV, which colourfully glow to match whatever is happening on-screen. It's another immersive feature, making movie action seem to seep into your surroundings. Other than that it's a solid build, with a thick grey bezel around the screens edge, accented by a small silver lip in the bezel's lower-centre.

Connection options are generous with 4 x HDMI, 2 x USB, 2 x SCART, 1 x Ethernet and integrated Wi-Fi among others. DLNA networking was a breeze to set up, while we found USB video playback handled a satisfying amount of codecs (including H264/MPEG-4 AVC, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WMV9/VC1). Those looking to take their set online will be pleased by the Net TV service too. Not only does it include widgets for YouTube and Cartoon Network among others, but also access to a fully-blown Opera browser, releasing you from the Philips walled-garden of platform content.

If you're a movie-buff, owning the Philips 21:9 is a no-brainer. It's a luscious set that, while having specialist leanings due to its screen ratio, will blow away absolutely anyone who gives it a try. Detailed 2D images, admirable connectivity and strong sound make for a superbly cinematic experience. A few niggling processing problems and middling 3D performance prevent us from awarding a perfect score, but for regular Blu-ray viewers you just wont find a better set.


REVIEW: Veebeam HD wireless media streamer

No Comments


Name: Veebeam HD

Type: Wireless PC/Mac-to-TV high definition media streamer

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £139 from Amazon

More and more we're using our PCs and Macs to watch TV and movies. Whether we're downloading HD films from iTunes or streaming last night's episode of EastEnders over the BBC iPlayer, we're relying increasingly on our computers and web connections to entertain ourselves. Being restricted to a titchy laptop screen or office-tied desktop PC however isn't always the most comfortable of viewing experiences, while hooking a computer up to a big-screen TV with an array of cables isn't always the tidiest way to get around the problem either. The Veebeam HD wireless media streamer is a relatively inexpensive solution that'll push your computer's media content to a big screen without cluttering up your living room with a tangle of leads in the process.

The Veebeam HD kit is comprised of two main components; the Veebeam HD box itself and a wireless USB dongle that is used to sync the Veebeam HD with your laptop. Both black and rather discrete in size, the Veebeam HD itself features a strange two-pronged design that makes it look a little like a Highwayman's cap. In a neat touch, the dongle can be stored in a small hole on the front of the Veebeam HD which automatically switches on the box when the dongle is removed from the dock, and turns it off when returned. It's a design that puts the Veebeam HD in stark contrast to the unit's nearest rival, the white Apple TV box.


After downloading the Veebeam HD software to your PC or Mac and connecting the Veebeam HD box up to your TV with a HDMI cable (composite, digital audio and two USB connections also sit on the rear), you're then ready to "beam" any content you're currently viewing on your desktop or stored media to your TV. Quality as high as 1080p is supported if you have such files or streams available once you've matched the Veebeam HD software settings with that of your outputting screen.

The default streaming mode for the Veebeam HD is Desktop Mode, which completely takes over your laptop. It isn't suitable for playing stored media files, nor multitasking, but is a quick and easy way of projecting your desktop or browser-based video content onto the big screen. Alternatively you can use the Play-To mode to stream locally-stored media files to the Veebeam HD box, whilst still allowing you to multi-task on the computer. In either format, the Veebeam HD projected high-quality images to the big screen that, while softer than a dedicated direct HDMI connection, didn't soften 1080p videos in any horribly jarring way. How easy it is to set-up and use the Veebeam HD will make it very popular among those who find the likes of DLNA networking a little overwhelming, while the lack of content restrictions make it a very attractive Apple TV alternative.


However, there were some problems with the Veebeam HD kit. Firstly, the wireless signal between the main unit and the dongle is quite weak, requiring a near-constant line-of-sight connection to maintain a consistent stream. While a busy room of people walking through the line only rarely affected the connection, those planning on streaming from a computer in another room will have to look for another solution.

Also, we noticed some issues with the screencasting Desktop Mode that will prevent those planning to use the kit for wireless gaming streams or presentations from getting much joy from the Veebeam HD. A noticeable lag between the action on the computer screen and what happens when sent to the Veebeam HD means it's not suitable for even offline gaming, while the mysterious lack of an on-screen cursor makes controlling your desktop from the secondary display a bit of a pain.

While very attractive both in function and form, the Veebeam HD isn't without a few quibbles that, while minor to the majority of its intended users, could well be deal-breakers to gamers and professional users. Still, if you're in the market for a reasonably priced HD media streamer that has few of the content restrictions that the likes of Apple TV imposes, the Veebeam HD is an easy-to-use, elegant solution.


REVIEW: Teufel Consono 25 5.1 speakers

No Comments

Consono-25-thumb.jpgName: Consono 25 (Teufel)

Type: 5.1 speakers

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £179 direct from Teufel

With prices of all-in-one 5.1 home cinema receiver and speaker packages falling all the time, it's easier than ever to turn your living room into a mini-Odeon cinema. However, while the receivers in these boxes are often reasonably good, the speakers are usually as cheap and weak as they come. Those looking to upgrade their entry-level speakers may want to take a look at German audio specialist Teufel's new Consono 25 5.1 speakers.

The Consono 25 is comprised of five satellite speakers (four surround CS 25 FCRs and a single centre CS 35 C) and the US 5108/1 active subwoofer.

The floor or wall-mountable CS 25 FCR speakers are of average size (12.5 x 9 x 9.8 cm), each with a removable front grille and equipped with a dual 80 mm mid-range-driver and 19 mm tweeter construction. The longer CS 35 C speaker measures up at 20 x 9 x 9.8 cm and contains a 19mm high-range dome driver alongside two 80 mm diameter mid-range drivers. The subwoofer's dimensions are 42 x 24 x 36.5 cm and it's a heavy old thing at 12.80 kg. Each has a glossy black finish that should sit nicely in most living rooms, with a blue LED glowing when the sub is on, red when inactive. This is purely a speaker set, so do make sure you have an appropriate receiver and cabling before purchasing the Consono 25.

After initially connecting the speakers to the receiver, we were unimpressed. Balancing was all over the place, with the rear speakers far too dominant. We had to tweak our receiver settings in some unexpected ways to level out the soundscape, but once we'd done so the Consono 25 speakers were actually reasonably good. The 100 watts RMS power, 200-mm active woofer boomed out Inception's ominous soundtrack, with the dampening feet doing well to counteract rattling. Crank the volume up anywhere beyond the medium volume levels however and the satellites suffered a little, with voices lost in the central speaker. Still, keep in mind that these speakers are aimed at beginner's flats and not a cavernous cinema setting and the lower volume levels, in which the speakers perform best, should be more than adequate.

Movement between the surround speakers was also nicely spread out, once we'd given the set a fair bit of tweaking of course. We ran through a handful of matches of Modern Warfare 2 on the Xbox 360 online, and were pleased to be able to pinpoint enemy fire with great accuracy, just from the speaker placement.

While it's more than capable of providing a solid step up from most speakers found with all-in-one home cinema packages, the inconsistencies at higher volumes will leave a lot to be desired for more demanding audiophiles. However, providing you've already got a decent AV receiver, the Consono 25 set will ramp up a beginner's home-cinema set-up nicely, without breaking the bank.


Name: DTR-HD500 Freeview+ HD recorder (TVonics)

Type: HD set-top box and recorder

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £255.31 direct from TVonics

Let's not beat around the bush; £250+ is a hell of a lot of money to pay for a Freeview+ HD recorder these days, considering you can get very capable set-top boxes for little over the £100 mark. While the entry price may prove a barrier for many, there is no denying however the quality of TVonics' latest flagship recorder, the DTR-HD500 Freeview+ HD recorder.

A slick, curved, black gloss design makes the 85mm x 380mm x x200mm DTR-HD500 very easy on the eye, with a small display on the front showing channel names and other info snippets. The first clue as to the reasoning behind the DTR-HD500's premium pricing can be found on the unit's rear, where you'll find a HDMI output accompanied by a pair of HDMI inputs. Though labelled for a DVD player and games console, they can in fact be used as a dual HDMI switch for any device that uses the connection, including Blu-ray players.


Two USB ports are available for viewing media files, equally useful for those looking to update the box. After listening to the requests of early testers, the DTR-HD500 can now playback Dolby Digital Surround audio, installed via a download popped onto a memory stick. An Ethernet port sits on the back too, though its purpose isn't all that clear. We'd have much rather had a Common Interface slot for Top-Up TV, sadly absent.

Housing a 500GB hard-drive, the DTR-HD500 is just about the biggest Freeview+ HD recorder we've seen, allowing you to store a veritable library of around 65 hours worth of Freeview HD programming or 250 hours worth of standard definition content. Twin DVB-T2 tuners also allow two channels to be recorded at once, as well as set up series links; very handy should the X-Factor clash with the footie.

All of the excellent features above however would be a bit pointless should the DTR-HD500 suffer from poor image quality. After a quick and simple channel scanning set-up, the box thankfully doesn't disappoint, offering vibrant, pin-sharp HD content and top-notch standard def upscaling. A clear EPG offers lists nine channels over 90 minutes per screen-filling page, while an overlaying pop-up box can be used to browse channels while watching shows. The EPG can be a little slow to refresh if you try to quickly scan far into the future though, which was a little disappointing at this price range.


Recorded shows are kept in a dedicated library area, displaying how much hard drive space has been used and is left to fill. The remote control proves a little confusing here, as as sorting and navigating through stored shows is overly complex, while an "editing" function only allows you to block minors from shows or lock a show to prevent its deletion. Both live TV and recordings can be paused, rewound and (providing you're running slightly behind broadcast time with live shows) fast-forwarded, at two different speeds.

All in, the TVonics DTR-HD500 Freeview+ HD recorder is a very capable set-top box that, while having a few quirks, does well to keep the pace with the standard-setting Sky+ HD box. Those quirks can be a little annoying considering the premium price tag, but you still get a load of quality features for the dough.


REVIEW: Sony Bravia KDL-60LX903 3D TV

No Comments

Sony Bravia KDL-60LX903 3D TV.jpeg

Name: Bravia KDL-60LX903 (Sony)

Type: 60" LCD LED Edgelit 3D TV

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £4,449 direct from Sony

Whether you buy into it or not, 3D is the future of TV viewing. Each of the major electronics manufacturers, be they Samsung, Panasonic, LG, Sony or other are investing heavily in the tech. And with all the major Hollywood movie studios buying into producing 3D content and broadcasters such as Sky and Virgin now offering modest 3D channels, there's no denying we're on the cusp of a home entertainment revolution. It doesn't come cheap, but if you've got a spare £4,500 lying about, Sony's Bravia KDL-60LX903 3D TV is one of the best with which to experience this latest high tech trend.

Measuring up at 60 inches across with dimensions of 144.0 x 93.8 x 38.0 cm including its stand, the KDL-60LX903 is a mammoth set that will dominate a living room and rival a trip to the pictures in terms of cinematic scale. 4 HDMI ports (2 side mounted and 2 rear), composite, component, Optical, scart and USB ports are among it's many connections. USB file support here wins out over the included DLNA networking, supporting a greater number of formats including AVCHD, DivX, Xvid, .mkv, JPEG, WAV and MP3 files.

Though much has been made of the "Monolithic" design of Sony's signature range, in reality it's just another black-bezel-packing, though admittedly sleek, flatscreen LCD. It's slim and glossy, but there's not much more to say than that about the design, barring a silver glowing Sony motif on the lower edge.

What it does have in abundance however is features. As you'd imagine from a flagship set, Sony have squeezed everything that they can into the KDL-60LX903, from web connected widgets to motion processing tech. But first we'll look at that headline feature; the TV's 3D abilities.

As the set uses active rather than passive 3D technologies, you'll have to wear a pair of powered active shutter glasses to enjoy 3D content on the KDL-60LX903. They sync up with the TV's built in 3D emitter at the push of a button, and are light and comfortable enough to wear for prolonged periods of time. However, only two pairs of the £100 specs are included out of the box, which seems rather stingy given the £4,500 price tag. Bigger families will either have to cough up for a few more pairs or take it in turns, which considering the relatively small amount of time you'll spend viewing 3D content as opposed to 2D TV on the set, perhaps isn't so painful a proposition. The glasses are bespoke too; as it stands you wont be able to use any other manufacturer's specs with the set.

3D pictures are up there with the best we've seen from rival brands. Though the slightly tinted glasses do result in muted brightness levels, there was little crosstalk and only minimal ghosting across the fairly wide variety of content we watched, be that 3D Blu-ray or Sky 3D. The Sky 3D broadcast of Monsters VS Aliens was colourful with a strong sense of depth as was BUGS!3D which makes for a very nice showcase of the subtle depth of field tricks that can be applied to 3D broadcasts and creepy crawly antenna alike. 3D Blu-ray playback of Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs likewise handled movement in 3D well, though we did notice a slight flicker when lots of meat-based foodstuffs jumped from the screen at once. All in, it was an impressive performance that made us long for a day when more content would be available in 3D.

Sony Bravia KDL-60LX903 3D TV 3.jpeg

The KDL-60LX903's solid 3D performance is obviously in a large part bolstered by the quality of the set's panel, which is perhaps even more impressive in 2D. It manages superb black levels, despite LCD sets notoriously being less adept at this than their plasma counterparts. The edge-lit LED helps achieve this, though we did notice that this led to some unnatural light spillages in scenes from the Predators Blu-ray we tested when darkened corners and bright light sources were at distant ends of the panel. It was a minor and rare complaint, and when weighed against the sharpness of the HD image and superb colour spectrum, including an excellent grey-scale range, it was more than bearable. It's also worth noting that the screen's out-of-the-box default picture settings were far easier on the eye than the usually garish show-room set up most sets flaunt upon switching on, meaning you'll only have to fine-tune rather than overhaul settings when you initially fire it up.

Despite the obvious attraction of having a quality 60 inch 1080p screen in your living room, the KDL-60LX903 is full of image boosting features that, when used in moderation, can improve the picture measurably. The BRAVIA ENGINE 3 remains one of the most detailed processing engines and did a good job of smoothing out standard def broadcasts over the large screen. There was still some noise and artefacting when watching shows from the built in Freeview HD tuner, but considering the size the low-res shows were being blown up to, it did a better job than other humongous screens we've tested before. The MotionFlow 200Hz PRO is a more mixed bag; on the more subtle settings it comfortably reduces blur effects in high speed scenes, but can lead to strange floaty movements if cranked up to the more severe settings. Apply with caution.

As with many flatscreen TVs, the KDL-60LX903 suffers from weak speakers. The sheer space between the two 10W speakers either side of the screen gives very good stereo separation. However , there's very little bass or definition between mids and trebles. Tweak the mixer too high on any setting , particularly the bass, and all you'll cause is rattling sounds from the casing itself rather than a sonic improvement. Of course, if you can afford a TV this expensive you've likely got a dedicated sound system anyway, but at this price range the sound quality just isn't acceptable.

Sony Bravia KDL-60LX903 3D TV 2.jpeg

With built-in Wi-Fi or optional Ethernet cable, the TV opens up to a wealth of web connected options, many of them very good indeed. From sports courtesy of Eurosport and FIFA to catch-up TV via Demand Five or movie rentals from LOVEFiLM, if your web connection is up to scratch these portals will provide you with hours of quality content. The YouTube app in particular should be commended, managing to take extremely low quality images and polish them up to a respectable level even when blown up to 60 inches. There is also a selection of widgets, including news and weather feeds, as well as Facebook and Flickr access. They offer basic functionality and overlay onto the screen sensibly, though any that require extensive text entry can be a bit fiddly to use with the remote control.

To be fair, the remote control isn't too. There's a dedicated button for accessing the 3D set-up options, as well as one for quick access to internet features and pre-set scene selection modes. The Xross Media Bar works well as a menu-layout system, with a four-way joypad and central clicking button for input confirmation. The directional buttons sit a little too closely to another ring of buttons however, which can lead to unintentional button presses, and it could be argued that the whole remote is just a little too long. Still, the HDMI-CEC control at least means you'll be able to control all CEC compatible devices from the one remote, which is a nice touch.

The Intelligent Presence Sensor is also a cool, if excessive feature. But hey, you're spending four and a half grand on this thing, lets live a little! It will control brightness and contrast levels depending on ambient lighting, and warn you if you're sitting too near to the screen. Most interestingly, and arguably creepily, it can also recognise which family member is sitting in front of the screen, and recommend shows based on their viewing habits accordingly. It's not intrusive, but it's unlikely you'll find much need for it.

It's not without its faults, but there's an undeniably luxurious feel to the KDL-60LX903. It's so feature rich and provides such a cinematic movie watching experience that you may never go to your local Odeon again. 3D performance is very good, and while the speakers are a let down, the many top-notch web connected apps keep its final score high.


UK Review: Toy Story 3 3D


I have to admit to being a little bit sceptical about the need for another Toy Story film when it was first announced a year or so ago. The first two films are, in my opinion, classics, capturing all the imagination of childhood, full of lovingly realised characters and friendships, not to mention some hysterical gags.

But after the beautiful and, dare I say, challenging Up and Wall-E, I couldn't believe that Pixar re-visiting our old plastic friends could lead to anything more than an enjoyable, if unnecessary nostalgia trip. Pixar had grown up, and were confidently covering some quite difficult subject matter in their more recent films. What else could be done with the Toy Story crew, other than milk the cash cow by slapping a 3D suffix to the title?

Well, forgive me Pixar, for I had too little faith; Toy Story 3 is a stunning tale, every bit the equal of both its predecessors and Wall-E and Up.

A long time has passed since the events of Toy Story 2, and Woody Buzz and co are feeling a bit neglected. As their owner Andy has become a teenager, they've been left sitting in the toy box, whilst friends like Bo Peep and Wheezy have either been donated to charity or simply thrown away. Andy's off to college, growing up, and growing out of love with his toys. He decides to take Woody along for the ride, but pack the other toys up in the attic, which they resignedly accept as a sort of retirement period.

However, a mix-up sees the gang left out as trash, a betrayal Andy would never have intended, and a quick-witted Woody thinks fast, sending his pals off to the SunnySide daycare centre instead. While Buzz and co are initially thrilled to be played with again, all is not what it seems at SunnySide, and it's soon down to Woody to help get the gang home again.

It's a rip-roaring adventure, every bit as imaginative as previous entries into the series. Again the Pixar team have mined memories of childhood to great effect, pulling together a hilarious cast of recognisable childhood toys, wonderfully animated, and playfully poking against our expectations of each character.

Toy Story 3 1.jpg

Mr Potato Head, Hamm the moneybox and Buzz Lightyear still get big laughs, but the funniest scenes are reserved for newcomers the Ken and Barbie dolls. The too-cool-yet-sickly-sweet pair have a fiery, hilarious romance in the film, and Ken's camp and oh-so-misunderstood outlook on fashion and life are superbly written.

But for all the humour on show, Toy Story 3 will be best remembered for its heart. It's truly touching, and downright sad at some points. The toys are coming to terms with the loss of their owner and best friend, moving on from relationships and dealing with the grief of losing their pals. It's never patronising, and some of the finer points may go straight other a younger audiences head, but it goes pretty deep for a children's film. A 15-minute sequence at the end of the film is one of the most suspenseful, intense and heart-wrenching scenes you are ever likely to watch. I defy you not to cry, or to at least scream "nooooooooooooooooo!" out load at one particularly magnificent moment.

This being a tech-blog after all, I'll give a quick review of the 3D tech on show during my screening of the film. We were lucky enough to catch Toy Story 3 in a 3D RealD showing on a Sony 4K screen at the Apollo Cinema on London's Regent Street. RealD screenings on 4K screens have a few significant differences compared to the technology used in other 3D cinemas. Sony's kit projects two images to both eyes simultaneously, rather than high-speed alternating left and right images for each eye used elsewhere. It makes for a far more comfortable viewing experience, and those who have suffered from 3D-induced headaches in the past should seek out a similar screening near them. The 4K display itself is also far sharper than other cinema screens I've seen, though the necessity for 3D glasses throughout still remains an issue, with brightness levels suffering once they are over your eyes.

As for the 3D effects on show in Toy Story 3, apart from a few notable scenes, it's yet another film that hasn't quite managed to capture the sense of depth and movement as well as Avatar did. I wouldn't be too upset if you can't catch a 3D screening of the film, as thankfully the story itself is excellent either way.

A masterfully told adventure, full of belly laughs and some of the most touching scenes you're likely to ever see in a film, I can't recommend Toy Story 3 highly enough. For a kids flick, this will be as emotionally resonant with adults as it will be entertaining for the starry-eyed children its aimed at.


Toy Story 3 hits cinemas nationwide on 19th July 2010.

©2015 Shiny Digital Privacy Policy