Digging deeper into the system’s features, we find that it offers excellent value for money. Audio format support includes Dolby Digital, DTS and Pro Logic II, but the real bonus is LG’s own Virtual Sound Matrix (VSM) technology, which adds five virtual speakers in between the real ones to offer a 10.1-channel sound effect. And with 2.1-channel sources, it can add virtual centre and rears to create a 5.1 effect.
Format support is wide-ranging, taking in disc types like DVD, DVD-R/+R, DVD-RW/+RW and CD, plus DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG. You can play any of these compressed formats from a CD, DVD or a device connected to the USB port.
The USB port also boasts the unique USB Direct Recording feature, where the system rips CD audio tracks as MP3 and stores them directly on a connected USB memory device (but not a card reader). It rips them at 96 or 128kbps (selectable in the setup menu) and you can rip an entire CD or a selection of your choosing. It’s a nice feature that lets you rip songs without cranking up your PC and the sound quality is terrific, but on the downside each song takes an awfully long time to copy, and as there’s no built-in song database you’ll have to use a PC to tag your songs.
Elsewhere there’s a bunch of EQ sound modes designed for music playback (Natural, Pop, Classic, Rock, Jazz) including an Auto EQ mode for USB playback, and there’s a decent range of audio settings, including individual volume and distance settings for each channel, a test tone and HD AV Sync, which tidies up lip sync problems.
The system is exceptionally easy to use. Colour-coded speaker cables are as welcome as ever, and the deceptively basic-looking remote is in fact very intuitive thanks to the well-placed buttons - apart from the ‘Return’ key which is located nowhere near the other menu controls.
The onscreen design is clearly catered towards those who hate hassle - the menu layout and presentation is blissfully uncomplicated, using cartoon-like icons and clear text, while the DVD and CD playback displays convey all the relevant info in a clear, if unsophisticated way.
The HT503TH delivers very strong picture quality, particularly when boosted to 1080p via HDMI. The tricky mixture of finely-detailed CGI and live action in Star Wars Episode II is reproduced with a pleasing level of clarity. Edges are razor-sharp and artefacts are kept at bay, while the strength and authenticity of colours is dazzling, particularly during the scene in which Anakin and Obi-Wan chase a bounty hunter through the neon-lit city.