While quite possibly the smallest speakers we have ever seen, the Sony DAV-IS10 is actually a very effective parlour trick. What you get in the box is a set of five speakers measuring at just 4cm square, with a small, Apple Mac Mini-sized head unit. In addition to these svelte components you also get a rather large, but unassuming-looking bass unit. Yes, the five satellites do pump out some information, but most of the work is done by the subwoofer.
In our First Take video (on the right) we mentioned you could put the sub behind the couch, but this is apparently a no-no. The manual is very specific about its placement -- "do not place the subwoofer under a desk", for example -- and for a very good reason: there is actually a mid-range speaker in the top of it. While this solves a lot of problems associated with tiny drivers and the limited frequencies they can produce, it also causes all sorts of new ones as you'll soon see.
The DAV-IS10 is based around an upscaling DVD player and includes other audio inputs for your TV, optional iPod dock and consoles. For this, there is one each of optical and coaxial digital inputs, an analog input, and a connection for an external FM antenna.
The player will upscale to 1080i via HDMI and plays many of the expected formats including DivX, MP3 and JPEG files. However, as the TDMIP1 iPod dock (AU$249) doesn't come with the system, the only way to replay them is if they're burnt onto a disk. There's no mention in the manual if it's possible to read JPEGs from an iPod, but your music library will certainly be navigable and playable.
As we explored in our Ask US video, lip-synch can be a problem with the amount of post-processing done with modern home cinema systems, and Sony's AV Synch feature aims to help you correct this.
Unfortunately, the DAV-IS10 lacks any form of video input, including HDMI, and means you'll need to do video switching through your television. However, video outputs consist of S-Video, composite, component, and the aforementioned HDMI.
Our only other gripe about the system is that, with the lack of included stands, it's quite difficult to install properly. Though the satellites are weighty they can be dragged around or off their perch by weight of the cable that connects them.
You'll also come across the problem of hiding the speaker wire -- as it's physically connected at the back of each speaker. Plus, it's bright silver! For a system that's designed to be "heard and not seen" the lack of a wireless option is a pity.
Despite our misgivings about "directionality", in use the Sony DAV-IS10 simply sounds good. Playing a DVD like King Kong, surround effects are handled quite well, while dialogue is clear and concise. Of course, our initial fears proved true when at several times during our testing the voices seemed to come from the subwoofer and not the screen. This improved when we moved the sub from beside the TV to behind it, but this was naturally at the expense of some mid-range definition. All in all, though, the Sony communicated a good sense of surround sound. However, due to the system's size, if it's bass energy you want or ear-splitting volume, then this isn't the system for you.
It was only in video reproduction that the Sony really faltered. While detail, black levels and colour were sharp and well defined, it was in the unit's handling of motion where the problems actually arose. We've seen aliasing artefacts in Sony's TVs before -- the KFE-42A10 and the KLV-26S200 come to mind -- but this is the first time we've seen them on one of their DVD players. Scenes featuring movement, and particularly ones with high contrast, were subject to horizontal lines across the screen. This proved to be very distracting, and certainly not what we'd expect from a simple system worth one-and-a-half grand.
Music, however, was quite well served, and certainly better than the single speaker options we've seen from Yamaha and Philips. Neutral Milk Hotel's King of Carrot Flowers from the excellent In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was a little reticent but incredibly natural sounding. Only the bass threatened to become a little boomy once it kicked in after the second verse. Stereo imaging depended on the music though, with rock in particular sounding a little all over the shop.
Lastly, external sources were reasonably well served, on the other hand, and feeding a Monster optical cable to an external tuner demonstrated that dialogue from digital TV was intelligible, but perhaps a little thin.