The BDV-E880’s performance is OK by all-in-one system standards, and if you’re a newcomer to the home cinema game or you’re upgrading from a TV, the initial jump-up in quality is likely to keep you enthralled for some time. But it lacks the clarity, subtlety and separation of a separates system.
But let’s start with the good stuff. The Sony is a powerful, boisterous performer, instantly communicating a sense of excitement with its loud output and feisty effects handling. We loaded up Transformers: Dark of the Moon on Blu-ray and the Dolby True HD track is a riot, particularly the ending which sees loads of robots going hell for leather on the city streets.
Machine gun fire is fast and punchy, explosions and robot footsteps are all-encompassing and the sound is homogenous across the front, centre and rear speakers. Dialogue is audible too, although we’re not sure that’s a good thing given some of this movie’s shockingly wooden acting. It lends richness to the robotic voices too.
But see past all the gusto and you’ll discover the BDV-E880’s sound is actually quite messy. High frequencies are ripe and harsh, especially when metal hits metal, which means it all gets a bit fatiguing after a while.
There’s no real subtlety or variation in the sub’s bass output either, it’s more of a constant, overpowering rumble that goes up and down in intensity. Its boomy output means you’re too aware of its presence, when it should be more subtle and seamless.
Oddly, we were much more impressed by the BDV-E880 with music. Amy Winehouse’s Lioness CD has pleasingly warm and chunky sound, with the subwoofer’s bass seeming better integrated. It gets even better with SACD, with its higher resolution making it sound detailed and expansive.
It is, however, a brilliant video performer. Transformers’ 1080p CG-heavy visuals are stunningly crisp, colours blaze from the screen and the fast-moving action is handled with pleasing fluidity on our 24p screen. 3D pictures look equally dazzling, nailing the immersion, depth and clarity we’ve come to expect from 3D pictures.
And we can’t fault its network performance either. BRAVIA Internet Video works beautifully, streaming the HD version of EastEnders from BBC iPlayer without any major hitches, and the picture quality is crisp thanks to the on-board web video enhancer, although it’s still a little gauzy.
The BDV-E880’s story is a familiar one – an all-in-one system from a big name brand that looks great and packs in loads of cutting-edge features but offers flawed sound quality, no doubt brought about by the inevitable cost comprises.
It’s loud and dynamic, but the uneasy highs and boomy bass make it pale in comparison to even the simplest of separates systems. It’s also a shame there’s no Wi-Fi on board.
But when you consider that you’re getting a full home cinema system for £450 that boasts 3D support, a wealth of online entertainment, USB playback and other goodies to boot, you might just be willing to tolerate a few sonic shortcomings.