Philips may be pulling out of the television market, but its AV systems are here to stay. The Philips HTS8140 is an upgrade to last year's 8100 and boasts a more streamlined look and some additional features.
The Philips HTS8140 shares the Flare design of the company's latest, and last, Australian range and features a flared plastic bezel. The effect is quite attractive, and even subtler here in miniature. Of course, you get lots of piano black finish on both the main unit and the subwoofer, though it's not too distracting. The device's most distinctive feature is an iPod-like ring, which is actually the volume control. It is surrounded by pictograms depicting the various inputs, and an LED display.
As with last year's model, there's a bunch of cables snaking in and out of the main unit and sub. In theory, the head unit carries all of the video-out cables (as it will be close to the TV, if not wall mounted) while the sub will be somewhere else in the room, and so acts as the audio hub. You'll need to plug all your audio inputs into the sub and any corresponding video outputs directly into the TV, as the unit won't do video switching. Where this strategy falls down is that the iPod dock and USB input are situated on the main unit. If you're looking for a system which forgoes all of this cable tangle-iatelle then try the wireless Samsung HT-X810T instead.
The remote control is functional, piano-black, and relatively friendly. The multi-purpose "Disc" button is a little confusing at first as it functions as a DVD input selector, Top Menu and Menu button all at once.
The main idea behind the HTS8140 is that it offers the sound of a 5.1 system in the convenience of a single unit (plus subwoofer). Philips calls the technology behind this "Ambisound", and like Yamaha's systems, the SoundBar uses angled speakers to simulate surround effects.
The unit comes with a wealth of inputs including the on-board DVD player with touch-sensitive controls, an iPod dock, USB input, plus HDMI-CEC for controlling compatible devices via the HDMI output.
The HTS8140 also brings with it a full complement of video features including DCDi deinterlacing, 1080p upscaling, and DivX playback.
Setting up the Philips was a straightforward affair, but also a little frustratingly spartan. While it has a "wizard" that guides you through the process, it only asks vague questions like "is it in the corner of a room?" and "what sort of room is it?" which can't hope to compete with the automated microphone set-up of a Yamaha unit. Regardless, we found the sound did change after set-up, and for the better.
Like the 8100 before it, the 8140 excels as an all-in-one DVD system. Visuals are fantastic for a unit at this price, and the Faroudja DCDi chipset does a great job of cleaning up a disc as noisy as the King Kong DVD. "Surround" sound also stands out, with the best envelopment you'll get from a 2.1 system at the price.
If you have a PlayStation 3 (or another Blu-ray player which can decode on-board), then the Philips will fold in seamlessly and provide you with high-quality PCM soundtracks -- though not the HD stream as the Philips only accepts an optical input. We sat enthralled through the opening sequence of the Casino Royale Blu-ray, and while we could tell we weren't hearing true surround sound, the movie was nonetheless immersive and every bit as thrilling as it should be.
What we weren't expecting from the Philips is how confident it was as a music player. Whether playing a CD, an iPod, or an external Creative Zen X-Fi player via Aux-in we were greeted by one of the best performances we've seen by any home theatre system for the price, much less any other sound bar. Our only complaint is that the subwoofer came on a little too strong for music listening, but after backing the bass control off a couple of notches the results were excellent. This makes the system a great option for parties though, as it can go plenty loud without distortion.
We were impressed by the latest Philips SoundBar, it boasts improved cosmetics, a tauter performance with music and a great home-theatre experience.
The retail price has recently dropped from AU$1,199 to AU$999, and we've seen it in catalogues for AU$899 — at that price it's a bargain. No-one is ever going to confuse this with a 5.1 system, but if you need a quick and easy set-up that looks good and sounds great then this is one we'd get.