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The spec sheet makes for good reading, and perhaps the most important thing on it is the 450W power output generated by three digital power amps. It boasts on-board decoding for Dolby Digital and DTS, while Dolby Virtual Speaker is on hand to generate virtual rear channels from two speakers using ‘psychoacoustic room modelling procedures', a feat that it hasn't convincingly achieved on other systems. You'll also find a selection of EQ modes with exciting names like Rock, Pop and Jazz.
You shouldn't have trouble playing your media library as it supports a healthy range of formats, including most recordable DVDs and CDs, DivX, MP3, WMA and hi-res JPEGs. MP3 and WMA files can also be played back from a memory device connected to the USB port.
When connected to your TV's HDMI input, you can upscale the video signals to 1080i and 720p, as well as the more unusual output resolutions of 1024 x 768 and 1366 x 768, which might come in handy for owners of older HD Ready displays, but it doesn't make up for the fact that a system at this price really should offer 1080p upscaling.
In operation the Impaq 500 is generally agreeable but it's hardly the cutting-edge experience you may be expecting for the money. The onscreen menu architecture is clear and the displays are colourful, but it all looks a bit dated. And although the remote's button arrangement is fine, it looks tawdry and the buttons themselves are sticky, failing to register a press on a few occasions.
Onto performance and the first thing we noticed after loading up Gladiator is how effortlessly powerful the system is. At just over half its maximum setting it delivers a seriously meaty movie experience that easily fills a reasonably-sized room, giving you a bit of leeway should you wish to crank it up further and really wake the neighbours.
The sound quality is breathtaking throughout, best summed up by the movie's opening battle between the Romans and the Germanic hordes. Excellent treble reproduction makes arrows fizz loudly as they fly through the air, clanking weapons sound realistic and resonant but not tinny or bright, and Russell Crowe's barked orders cut though the melee with ease. The system also blasts out punchy, muscular bass that lends a solid foundation to the frenetic action, plus the perfectly judged crossovers make the bottom end fuse seamlessly with the midrange.
Naturally our next port of call was the coliseum, and the Impaq 500 handles the fierce combat scenes with the sort of authority and drive that makes for a thrilling listen. But also remarkable is its ability to tease out subtleties in the soundtrack and reproduce them with almost surgical precision.
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