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Our growing obsession with design and aesthetics has created a huge demand for 2.1-channel systems, because they offer you high-quality home cinema sound without having to clutter up your living room with speakers and cables. Such is their allure that people are willing to sacrifice the thrill of true 5.1-channel surround sound for the sake of minimalism and domestic harmony.
And freed from the shackles of the traditional 5.1-system approach, most manufacturers take it as a green light to let their creative juices flow freely and come up with some of the most gorgeous-looking home cinema kit on the market.
A perfect example of this is Sony's latest 2.1-channel system, the DAV-F200. The main unit, which houses a DVD player, radio tuner and audio processing electronics, oozes 21st century chic with a vertical stand-mounted arrangement (it's also wall-mountable with an optional bracket) and a sleek black finish that takes up most of the front panel. A very cool white light illuminates the playback controls on the silver section underneath, while the discreet disc slot is located on the right hand side. Pure class.
The black finished front speakers are slim, compact and fit in nicely with the overall look, while the bulky subwoofer is attractive by usual subwoofer standards despite being bigger than the other components put together.
On the back of the main unit is a removable panel that conceals a very useful array of connections. The HDMI port offers 576p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p output thanks to the unit's video upscaling capabilities, but for non-HDMI equipped displays you'll also find component and composite outputs.
On the audio side, it's very pleasing to see that Sony has provided an optical digital audio input, enabling you to feed in a signal from your Sky + box and enjoy Dolby Digital sound (albeit in 2.1). Also on board are coaxial input and output, plus a pair of analogue phonos for other external audio gear.
The unit's connectivity expands further with a USB port that lets you connect memory devices, mobile phones or audio players and play MP3, WMA or AAC audio files, as well as JPEG photos. You'll also find Bluetooth and Wi-Fi adapters as well as Sony's DMPORT on the rear for connecting modular adapters for external devices like Walkman, iPod and Sony Ericsson mobile phones.