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The ever decreasing prices of all-in-one home cinema systems means that even people on a tight budget can have full-on 5.1 surround sound in their living room. But the best part is that despite the price falls feature counts are also going up, making the latest generation of one-box systems feel like even better value for money.
LG is one of those companies with a canny knack of marrying generous feature lists with peanuts price tags. Its latest range of systems caters for all tastes, shapes and sizes, and among them is the HT902TB, a 1000W system with tallboy speakers and a vast array of sound modes, connections and playable formats.
You get a sleek-looking main DVD player/receiver unit, which handles the amplification for the speakers and subwoofer (rated at 5 x 155W plus 225W for the subwoofer). The unit features a basic but smart black finish with a silver stripe across the front, a minimal row of buttons and a volume dial that illuminates red.
Opening the flap on the fascia reveals the first pleasant surprise - a USB port that allows you to play music, photo and DivX video files from flash memory devices. It lines up alongside a 3.5mm audio input for plugging in MP3 players and a microphone input for the system's karaoke features.
On the rear panel is an HDMI output, which offers upscaled DVD pictures at 720p and 1080i, but not 1080p - a definite sign of cost-cutting. The HDMI port also offers the over-hyped but useful CEC functionality (which LG has christened Simplink), which lets you control this system and a TV using just one remote. Alongside HDMI is a set of component video outputs, an RGB-capable SCART, composite video output, stereo audio input and optical digital audio input, which lets you feed in bitstreams from external equipment. Inside is an FM/AM radio tuner, which explains the presence of an aerial input.
The speakers are imposing and plasticky, but from a distance they look rather classy. Each speaker slots onto a gloss black base, with a circular foot that conceals spring-clip terminals underneath. The passive subwoofer is an unremarkable black box, with rubberised feet to minimise performance-impairing vibrations.
LG has equipped the unit with some impressive audio modes. Taking centre stage is LG's exclusive Virtual Sound Matrix (VSM), which creates five virtual speakers to generate 10.1-channel sound, filling in the gaps between the real speakers. It's joined by XTS Pro, which balances the high and low tones and boosts the overall sound.
The main unit decodes Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, while the Pro Logic II mode spruces up sound from stereo sources. Disc compatibility includes DVD-R/-RW and DVD+R/+RW, and the system will play MP3, WMA, JPEG and DivX files stored on any of these platters.
Supplied with the system is a large remote with a tidy arrangement of buttons and comfortable positioning of the main menu controls, all of which makes it very easy to use. It packs in a lot of functions but the buttons are well spaced out so it doesn't feel cluttered. The onscreen displays feature tasteful icons and legible text, while the main setup menu is logically structured and responsive, enabling you to alter the 5.1 speaker settings quickly and easily.