What's wrong with the average TV? Picture? Well, picture quality does vary considerably but few modern TVs would be considered to present a bad quality picture, even the cheap, small ones.
So, it has to be the sound. It seems clear to me from considerable experience that the sound quality come a very definite second or maybe even third when manufacturers design a new TV. The speakers are often tiny and tinny. The sound would be more appropriate coming out of a bedside tranny than a TV, especially one intended for use in the main room of the house.
So, what to do about it?
Well, you could pay out a fortune for a top-of-the-range model, with built-in cinema surround sound. If you've already got a perfectly adequate TV, at least as far as the picture is concerned, this is hardly a cost-effective solution. A better choice is to buy a Home Cinema amplifier and connect it in place of the TV sound.
These units are not common, it's true. More common is a version with built-in DVD player. However, if, like me, you already have a DVD player, just like replacing the TV, replacing a perfectly serviceable DVD player is also not exactly cost-effective.
However, I was in Currys and spotted what looked like exactly what I was after, at a very reasonable price, £100. The Hitachi SR-10 is described as a Digital Home Theater Audio System, note the American spelling! It is a 5.1 amplifier and speaker set intended to provide surround sound for TV and DVD systems. It is rated at 180 watts total.
The corner speaker are all quite small, as is the trend with these systems. The centre (center?) speaker is a little larger and intended to be used in its side. The subwoofer is large but not too large to be able to be hidden away behind the TV. All are made of plastic but with a quite solid feel. The little units can be mounted on suitable stands if required.
The whole set comes with remote control and connecting cables although no optical connection is provided. The speaker cables are perfectly adequate to connect to the rear speakers in a reasonably large room.
Unlike some home cinema units, all the power amps are situated in the main control box. With some, the amp is in the subwoofer and all speaker connections are to that. Here, all the speaker cables go to the control unit.
The front of the control unit sports the usual volume and source selection buttons plus a set of video/audio sockets so that temporary connections for the likes of video camcorders can be made. To the rear, along with the speaker terminals, are stereo inputs for a tuner, TV/VCR and an auxiliary input. There is also a digital coax input for 5.1 audio sources such as DVD players. There is also a DVD video input socket plus a video output socket.
The SR-10 contains decoders for both Dolby Digital (AC-3) and DTS audio sources. Dolby Pro Logic sources are automatically identified and the Surround or Stereo buttons enable the sound to be produced as desired.
The system is very easy to set up, the most difficult part being hiding the speaker wires down the edge of the carpet. The remote control enables fine adjustment to individual speaker sound levels. I initially started with the factory setting and didnt feel a need to change them.
The sound quality is good, a definite improvement on that of the TV itself, also a Hitachi, a 28 wide-screen unit. The TV sounds tinny and lacks depth. The most noticeable improvement is in the bass level. The TV simply has none.
In use the difference in quality of the recorded sound of many if not most ordinary TV programmes is immediately obvious. It is clear that, if money is being spent on TV programmes by most producers, it certainly doesnt go into recording high quality sound. Consequently, for the most part, the SR-10 makes no significant improvement, other than making the sound, such as it is, quite a bit clearer and unmuddled.
Its strange but this also seems to apply for the most part to films shown on the Sky Films channels. Maybe its NTL thats the problem? Possibly not as some films do demonstrate good sound range and depth although none, as far as I can tell, are broadcast in DTS or Dolby sound, just stereo.
The biggest improvement is with DVDs. Here, given a well-recorded film track, the benefits of the SR-10 show through. The only problem is that, if anything, the range of volume can sometimes almost too much. There is a Night button on the remote control that reduces the dynamic range of the sound so that the loud bits dont get too loud but also the quiet bits dont get too quiet. However, I could never find out how to reset it other than setting everything back to factory defaults! The User Manual doesnt say!!!!
So, for £100, the SR-10 is good value for money for the general improvement it makes but especially for the dramatic improvement in DVD sound. If thats so then why only three stars? Well, that is unfortunately for build quality.
Everything was just fine for 6 months. Then, one night, watching a DVD, right in the middle of the film a loud buzzing booming noise started up. It was clear that the sound was coming from the subwoofer. I stopped the DVD, the sound was still there. Changed the source to the TV. Still there. Disconnected the subwoofer. Sound stopped.
This had to be a replacement/repair job. I took it back to Currys. No replacement available and no idea at all if/when they would be getting any more in! What this says about the SR-10 Im not sure. Maybe I was the only person to buy one so they didnt get any more in? Maybe they all broke so they didnt get any more in?
What is for certain is that no modern electronic goods such as this should develop problems like this, certainly not within the first six months. Maybe this is just an exception. Hitachi equipment generally seems to be good, in my experience. However, with the experience I have had of this particular product, I cant give it a whole-hearted approval.