The high-end home cinema system market has thinned out in recent times but there are still great bargains to be found at the budget end of the price spectrum. Affordable systems not only offer all-in-one convenience but also now include an extensive range of advanced features.
LG's LHT7601A offers a generous speaker setup, convergent USB connectivity and integrated video scaling that's designed to compliment the latest flat screens. With a compatible display you can upconvert standard DVDs to near high-definition quality and enjoy full 5.1 surround sound without spending a fortune.
Image quality is slightly flawed compared to dedicated players but excellent sound performance for the price means this system is great value if separates are out of your reach.
The first thing that strikes you about this system is the overwhelming size of the speakers. The front and rear channels are assembled on towering stands that rise 1.4m from the floor. The tall structures, which are stylishly curved inwards at the weighted base, give the system more presence than typical budget designs but demand more space.
The four large speakers are accompanied by a smaller centre channel mounted on a pedestal stand, and an attractive, asymmetrical subwoofer. All the speakers are beautifully styled in a black and silver finish that matches most flat-screen designs.
The broad main unit is similarly styled with a clean front panel and an assortment of primary controls arranged across the top, which allow easy access from above. A flip-down panel on the right conceals a convergent USB port that lets you access digital music, video and photo files from a variety of storage devices or portable media players -- but not digital cameras.
All connections are housed across the rear panel as the main unit is responsible for playing discs, surround-sound processing and amplification. If you want to play upscaled images, the most important video output is HDMI. Provided you have a compatible HD Ready screen you can use this direct digital connection to upconvert standard DVDs to close to high-definition quality -- LG has graciously supplied a low quality cable.
There's an alternative selection of analogue video outputs, including an RGB Scart terminal and progressive scan supporting component connections, which need to be selected using a switch at the rear. You can use the component outputs to display upscaled images but not with copy-protected discs.
A set of analogue phono inputs let you induce surround-sound effects from stereo sources like a set-top box or recording device. Otherwise, there are aerial inputs for both AM and FM antennas and a series of spring-clip speaker terminals that have been colour coded to ease installation.
As with most home cinema systems, the remote is overcrowded with controls but an intelligent arrangement means it is easy to use once accustomed to, and numerous shortcut keys will save you from always accessing the menu system.
Integrated video scaling was once reserved for high-end DVD players, but the influx of high-definition screens with digital connectivity has filtered this feature down to the budget market -- it offers an affordable way of enhancing your existing DVD collection.