This is my first surround sound set up and I am by no means any sort of authority on audio visual equipment. I know enough to get by but you won't find me darkening the doors of What Hifi?. So this review is very much from the stand point of someone who has got their first surround sound piece of kit and my impressions of it.
First of all, the kit came in a neat and reasonably sized box. Not overly heavy but still hefty enough to not want to cart it very far. After opening it the reason for the weight was obvious in the shape of the fairly meaty subwoofer in the box. The other pieces of kit you get in there are one centre speaker (designed to sit directly underneath/in front of/on top of your tv), two front side speakers and two rear sattelite speakers. And of course the control unit/DVD player. The remote is also in there along with the leads for all the speakers. But no optical lead, which was my biggest gripe. I know that like HDMI leads not many pieces of electrical kit come with an optical lead but it would have been nice to have one of each included, especially given how cheap they are. You might argue if they are that cheap you should buy them yourself, and that is what I did (very cheaply off Amazon). My argument is that it would be great to have everything I needed to get set up straight away out of the box. I was desparate to hear the surround sound from my SKY HD kit but it had to wait for the optical lead. That is my only gripe on the kit as it comes, other than that everything is well packed and easy to get out and inspect.
Actual set up is a reasonable doddle too. All the wires are colour coded to help out, and as long as you can tell left from right you should be fairly home free with this. There are a lot of wires but if you have 5 speakers plus a subwoofer the sound has to get around somehow! Once everything was wired up the big switch on could happen. At this stage the set-up process gets another big thumbs up. You hook the control unit into the TV via HDMI and plug in the provided testing microphone. Then the on-screen menus take you very simply through setting up the speakers. In fact it does it all for you really. White noise is played from the speakers in turn and the microphone picks them up and sets up the surround sound for you. You just sit back and let it do its thing. Took about 5 minutes and all was ready to go. So good instructions, easy to follow wiring etc and a very simple piece of equipment to get up and running.
Now the big part, actually watching and listening to some output. I tested 3 films and a football match to look at the different aspects of the system. 'Saving Private Ryan' on DVD to check the surround sound and the upscaling on the DVD. 'Iron Man' on SKY HD movies to see how the HD and the optical output performed. 'Jeeves and Wooster' to see how a non-action tv series was handled through the speakers. And the opening game of the World Cup on BBC HD to see how that sounded too.
Saving Private Ryan on DVD - Picture quality was very good. Better than standard DVD which I guess is the upscaling kicking in, but not as sharp as Blu-ray obviously. I think upscaling tends to get a bit oversold sometimes but I have watched a couple of other films with it now and it is good but not quite as good as the hype given. Audio quality was really good. Having never experienced surround sound at home I was really impressed. The whistle and crack of bullets coming from behind and past you is very atmospheric. Good bass quality in the speakers too, the thud and rumble of battle sounds really was picked up well. The only slight complaint I have is that in some scenes the speech gets drowned by the battle noise. Perhaps more realistic but not ideal for watching a film! All in all the equipment really impressed me on this film, gave it a new dimension.
Iron Man on Sky HD - Again, a good action film that seemed to me suited to surround sound. And it delivered in spades. The quality of sound was sharp and range was good. Actually better than the DVD in terms of picking up the speech in amongst the action. Really performed well on this film.
Jeeves and Wooster on DVD - Not a natural choice for surround sound but obviously you want to have the speakers on for normal tv too (or at least I do). Picture looked good again, sound was very good and actually the reproduction when there aren't bombs and bullets flying is pretty good. Perhaps not quite as nice as my amp and speakers was but definitely much better than any tv standard speakers.
Football on BBC HD - Very good quality sound, the droning of the vuvuzelas really started to fill the room. I have yet to decide if this is a good or bad thing....
Features I haven't used yet include the USB input. This looks like a really useful feature and I really must try and get some use out of it. Certainly the instructions on it are clear and it looks like it would open up quite a few more options for my home media.
In summary I highly recommend this as a good starter/economy kit for surround sound. Obviously the drawbacks are lack of Blu-ray and it would be nice to have more than one optical input (but that can be solved cheaply with a splitter box and a few cables from on here). The overall sound and picture quality of the kit is very good and I would only probably add a bit more control over the sound balance as there are only two choices set up, movie or music. Other than the lack of optical cable that would have been nice to start with I have to give this 4 stars.