We weren't expecting miracles from a system with such a bargain basement price tag, but the HT902TB surpasses our expectations with a rich and powerful sound. Perennial demo disc classic Gladiator provides the perfect fodder to show off the system's range, with its mixture of heart-racing action scenes and quiet dialogue-driven moments. The HT902TB succeeds on both counts - with action scenes like the opening battle between the Roman and Barbarian armies, the stirring score, clanking swords and battle cries from the front and centre speakers all sounding crisp, strident and smoothly steered, while the clear reproduction of surround effects really draws you into the action.
The Roman coliseum battle scenes take this superb surround performance to another level, with the cheering crowds completely enveloping you and ramping up the excitement levels. And usually we're fairly indifferent toward virtual sound processing, but VSM is one of those rare modes that actually adds a great deal to the overall sound quality. When activated, the sound suddenly becomes even more forceful and immersive, convincingly linking up the space between the rear and front speakers.
What's also pleasing is how all six speakers gel together into one cohesive whole, with none of the channels overpowering the others. Even the subwoofer exercises remarkable restraint, lending the soundstage a fierce and punchy bottom end without ever sounding ‘boomy' or hollow.
But before we get too carried away, it's worth putting the HT902TB's sonic performance into context - it's very impressive when compared with other budget systems, but the sound quality still lacks the sophistication and transparency needed to rival a decent separates system or pricier home cinema systems from the likes of Pioneer and Philips.
As for pictures, there's very little to grumble about. It makes Gladiator's tricky colour palette look solid and natural, while detail and edge definition are consistently sharp. Also, the lack of MPEG decoding or upscaling noise helps maintain the overall sense of clarity, and with 1080i pictures this strong, we're not sure that 1080p upscaling would have offered a great deal of improvement.
The system plays the full gamut of supported video, music and photo files smoothly from disc or USB, making them look and sound superb.
The HT902TB punches above its weight with an assured performance that usually has no place on a system at this price, and surprisingly the virtual 10.1 sound mode actually works, adding an extra dimension to the surround sound quality. We're also impressed by the inclusion of a USB port, support for a wide array of formats and attractive design, while its ease of use will be welcomed by home cinema beginners. On the downside, frills like 1080p upscaling and DVD-Audio playback are missing, but these could be sacrifices worth making for a bargain as good as this.