My only significant complaint about the HTS8140’s movie audio performance is that at no point did I feel really convinced that there was any proper sound coming from behind me. Maybe I occasionally sensed something vaguely ambient over my shoulder, but specific surround effects never really happened, renewing my conviction that no 2.1 system of any sort – soundbar or separate speakers – will ever replace a proper 5.1 speaker system.
Leaving the films alone for a moment, I turned my attention to CD and MP3 with mixed results. The compressed nature of MP3 tracks seems to suit the system quite well, as it produces them with decent clarity and ‘punch’. But the extra precision and range of CDs causes one or two problems, with bass sounding slightly forced and the soundstage not sounding quite as cohesive as it does with film soundtracks – even if you do the sensible thing and stick with the system’s stereo mode. Still, while the HTS8140 is perhaps not going to appease hi-fi enthusiasts, its musical performance is actually more than adequate as a ‘back up’ talent to its main film-viewing raison d’etre.
Although inevitably the HTS8140’s audio talents are the things we’re most interested in, I’m happy to say that its picture quality is also unexpectedly outstanding. Philips has long made very respectable DVD players, so I wasn’t expecting anything disastrous. But I certainly wasn’t prepared for just how superbly well the deck’s upscaling systems work.
Both of our test DVDs commonly look blocky, grainy and fuzzy through upscaling decks, but they emerged from the HTS8140 onto our test screens – even our 140in projection screen – with a combination of purity and pseudo high-def sharpness that pushed dreams of a future Blu-ray soundbar right back into the darkest recesses of our fevered brains. Outstanding.
As a die-hard home cinema fan, I always approach systems like the Philips HTS8140 with a healthy dose of scepticism, knowing full well that they won’t really be able to deliver the ‘proper’ surround sound performance I crave. But I have to say that despite certainly not being a replacement for the full 5.1-speaker Monty, the HTS8140’s supremely chic design, effortlessly cool concept, great visuals and really clever audio implementation has won me over. In other words, if the ‘front surround’ concept suits you, then you owe it to yourself to make sure the HTS8140 definitely finds a place on your shortlist. Especially if you’ve also got one of Philips’ matching tellies.