Not everyone who wants to enhance the sound of their home cinema has the space to accommodate six speakers. Others simply don't want to disturb their interior decoration with an assortment of boxes. This has led to the introduction of compact single systems like Philips' HTS6600, available for around £370. It's an all-in-one home cinema system with an upscaling DVD player, integrated amplifier, RDS tuner and 2.1 speakers that use the company's Ambisound technology to create the illusion of surround sound.
What's immediately eye-catching about the HTS6600 is the stunning compact design constructed from glass and aluminum. The main unit is vertically mounted on a circular stand with a sliding disc drawer on one side and minimalist teardrop controls on the other, which give the system an attractive, futuristic appearance. The accompanying vertical stereo speakers also arrive on small stands but can be wall mounted. All units including the separate powered subwoofer are finished in glossed black with silver edging, which has been designed to complement the latest flat screens.
Like Philips' HTS8100, this system uses the company's Ambisound technology, albeit from two separate speakers. The technology relies on a series of independent drivers positioned at precise angles that attempt to trick the listener into believing there are more speakers.
The system is incredibly easy to install using colour-coded connections between the speakers and subwoofer, which supplies the power to the main unit using a single cable. The subwoofer also includes a pair of analogue stereo inputs and a digital coaxial input that be used with devices like a Sky+ receiver.
The remaining connections are arranged behind the main unit and include single RGB Scart, component and HDMI video inputs. There is also a USB port that will retrieve digital music files from a USB flash drive, a mini-jack input for portable MP3 players and separate port that lets you connect the optional HTD7001 dock for iPods and GoGear devices.
There's integrated decoding for surround formats including Dolby Digital, DTS and Dolby Pro Logic II, while integrated upscaling will convert standard definition images close to high-definition quality via HDMI. A rich colour balance translates to impressive image quality that enhances vibrant films like Talladega Nights. You'll find decent detail and depth with very little disturbing noise, but the sound performance is more restricted.
Although the HTS6600 is one of the better models in its class, these pseudo-surround systems do not compare to the surround sound quality of traditional 5.1 setups. What Ambisound technology does is effectively broaden the sound from the front two speakers, which gives the impression of a more expansive sound stage. It fails to convince you, however, that there are speakers to your side or behind you.
This can confuse the presentation of ambient effects while the absence of a centre speaker weakens dialogue. The surprisingly authoritative sound is still impressively detailed with enough impact to enliven film scenes like the many gunfights during The Kingdom. It's not surround sound as we know it but it's ultimately better than what your TV can offer.
While video upscaling is a welcome feature, the system will only convert standard-definition images as far as 1080i, which might sway users with 1080p screens. We also noticed that upscaled 1080i images left jagged lines around edges while slow-panned movement appears slightly stuttered.
As a convenient integrated system that improves the picture and sound quality of your film watching beyond your TV's capabilities, the HTS6600 is a stylish success. If you want real surround sound, you'll have to introduce more speakers, which can be afforded for a similar price.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday