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We took it for a test drive with Fantastic Four on DVD and it delivers the film's big action sequences with sharpness and dynamism. During the fire engine rescue scene on the bridge for example, the dramatic score is delivered with pace and urgency and the effects sound lively. Trouble is, you have to crank it up to near maximum to create an impact, and when you do, everything starts to sound a bit harsh. What's more, the subwoofer's anaemic bass output leaves the bottom end sounding thin, and the lack of channel level controls means you're stuck with it. More evidence of this comes in the scene where Ben Grimm stomps into a bar and falls off a stool - the thuds lack the power needed to make them really resonate.
Dialogue is clean and life-like, plus Dolby Virtual Speaker does a good job of relocating speech between the two speakers. It also expands the surround effects across the soundstage well, but you need to sit in the narrow sweet spot to get the full benefits and the effects don't emerge from behind you as they would with a full 5.1 system.
Despite our reservations over sound quality, the system's 1080p pictures are superb. Fantastic Four's bright comic-book colour palette is handled with pleasing warmth and vibrancy without looking unnatural, while human skin tones look convincing. Crisp detail reproduction, solid blacks and smooth, tightly-contained edges give the image pleasing clarity and depth, plus it retains a healthy amount of detail during dark scenes.
A cursory check of all the supported formats reveals no problems, with DivX, WMV and XviD videos playing back smoothly and MP3/WMA tracks sounding clean and punchy. CD playback is slightly disappointing though, with plenty of treble and bass but not much to balance it out in the midrange. We're being picky though - for everyday music playback it's more than adequate.
This system's mega-stylish looks make it a gorgeous focal point for any living room, and on that basis it'll fly off the shelves no matter how good its performance is. But if you like a bit of substance behind the style then there are better sounding 2.1-channel systems out there, with the Philips lacking a bit of oomph in the bass department and sounding a bit harsh at high volumes. But if you're willing to tolerate that, then its sub-£200 online price tag, solid build quality and decent feature list (including 1080p upscaling and DivX/WMV playback) make the HTS4600 feel like very good value for money indeed.
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