We've reviewed a few of these so-called virtual surround-sound systems, which eschew extra speakers for a more compact design and provide stylish solutions if space is at a premium in your living room.
While the performance of these 2.1 systems has improved and useful features and connectivity have been enhanced, you'll need to accept some sonic compromises compared to traditional 5.1 setups. With an affordable £300 price tag, will the JVC NX-F3 make these concessions easier to bear?
The NX-F3 claims an impressive list of features for a compact all-in-one system. You can play practically any disc format, including high-resolution DVD-Audio and encoded formats carrying a variety of digital music and movie files, while there is integrated decoding for vanilla Dolby and DTS surround soundtracks.
Integrated video processing also means owners of high-definition flatscreens can upscale standard DVDs to 720p, 1080i and the exalted 1080p formats, which improves the image quality of your existing film collection without investing in Blu-ray. Upscaled images are immaculately clean and free from digital artefacts, while densely-defined black levels expose decent detail and contrast augmented by evenly balanced, natural colours.
Playing The Kingdom offers an insight into advantages of the system's upscaling technology, with distinctly more detail and cohesive movement during the gun fights, especially using 1080p.
The absence of extra speakers means that installing the system is incredibly simple, especially as cables are hard-wired into the two main speakers and only need connecting to the main unit using colour-coded cables. The menu system appears prosaic, but is clearly presented and easy to navigate using the intelligently arranged remote.
Connectivity deserves a mention, with a choice of Scart or component outputs for old school analogue users, while upscaled images are supported by a single HDMI digital output. There's also a versatile USB port that allows you to retrieve music, film and photo files from a variety of devices, as well as letting you burn tracks directly from a CD onto a USB memory stick without using your computer.
While some rival 2.1 systems, such as Philips' HTS6600, offer state-of-the-art designs including touchscreen technology and vertically standing units, JVC's NX-F3 appears somewhat outdated.
The system comprises a boxy main unit, finished in two-tone silver and black that appears unobtrusive but isn't particularly eye-catching. The accompanying two speakers and subwoofer are equally modest without the same build quality that we've seen from some similarly-priced systems.
The speaker design is crucial as it attempts to create the 'illusion' of surround sound by using separate drivers for the main channel and surround effects. They also feature newly developed Anisotropic diaphragms, which claim to produce a wider sound stage than conventional designs.
It works to a certain extent, as the sound delivery is undoubtedly more expansive and involving than listening to typical stereo audio, but it struggles to accurately replicate the presence of additional speakers.
Average integration between the speakers and sub can leave challenging soundtracks, such as the opening terrorist attack in The Kingdom, sounding slightly muddled, while the absence of a dedicated centre channel loses focus with dialogue. There is a Clear Voice function to combat this, but it comes at the cost of subduing ambient effects elsewhere. That said, the speakers do produce a warm, natural sound that carries plenty of detail and expression, which adapts well to playing music -- but it's still a Jack of all trades and master of none.
As long as you're not expecting all the benefits of surround sound despite sacrificing speakers, then JVC's NX-F3 is a versatile means of enhancing a cinematic experience at home, without spending too much or cluttering up your front room.
Edited by Jon Squire