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Given Blu-ray's ability to deliver immersive hi-res 7.1-channel soundtracks, you might question the sense of pairing a Blu-ray player with a 2.1-channel sound system, which is exactly what Sony has done with the BDV-FS350. The argument is, of course, that not everyone has the space, budget or desire to incorporate a 7.1 or even a 5.1-channel system into their home, and a three-channel system is a great way of upgrading from tinny TV speakers without encroaching on precious living room space.
The FS350 attempts to compensate for its depleted speaker count with the inclusion of S-Force PRO Front Surround wizardry, Sony's method of delivering a surround sound experience without rear speakers, an area of audio technology that has garnered mixed results over the years.
Like the impressive HTP-B350IS system we reviewed recently, the BDV-FS350 isn't your classic 'all-in-one' system - it bungs two separate products into one box, and the kit hand-picked to make up the BDV-FS350 package are the BDP-S350 Blu-ray player - a regular in Sony's Blu-ray bundles which is also found with the HTP-B350IS - and the HT-FS1 front speakers/subwoofer combo. Bought individually you can find this pairing online for around £100 more, so you save money as well as enjoying the added convenience of getting everything you need in one hit.
The system works like this: the BDP-S350 connects to the HT-FS1's subwoofer via HDMI, which extracts and decodes the digital audio soundtrack and passes the hi-def pictures on to your TV from its HDMI output. The audio processing and amplification is handled by the sub, and as a result you need to connect the front speakers into the back using the chunky colour-coded plugs.
These bookshelf-style speakers are finely crafted and look attractive without being showy. The gloss black finish surrounding the speaker mesh is eye-catching enough, and the cables are pre-attached to each one so you don't have to faff around with fiddly springclips or binding posts.
The subwoofer meanwhile is admirably slim, measuring just 95mm wide and 215mm tall, which makes it far from imposing. It's also surprisingly sturdy for a system sub and is finished in fetching shades of black, with ports on the front and side. Buttons are sparse, with just volume, input select and power buttons found on top, and there's a simple display panel that shows the current input and houses the system's setup menu.
The sub's rear panel doesn't just cater for the Blu-ray player - there are plenty of connections for your other kit too. Most significantly there are three 1080/24p-capable HDMI inputs, so you can channel the BDP-S350, a Sky+ HD and perhaps an upscaling DVD player through this system, although one more input wouldn't have gone amiss for future expansion.
There are three optical digital inputs too, plus coaxial digital and analogue stereo ports for good measure. Completing the socket selection is the DM Port, into which you can plug an optional Bluetooth adapter and stream music to the system from MP3 players, laptops and mobile phones, or connect an iPod.