Expanding your TV beyond the default screen and connected player or console can be a daunting task. Moving over to a one-box home cinema/theatre system is one option, with many of the major manufacturers offering up systems based around a Blu-ray player. Alternatively, if you've already invested in your Blu-ray player and are looking to bring that immersive surround sound experience to your front room, then an AV receiver is probably the way to go.
Onyko are looking to simplify things by combining one of their AV receivers - the HT-R380 - with the speakers in a single box and at a price that won't break the bank. For those looking to make that first tentative step, the £330 price tag (or £299 at Richer Sounds) should appeal, as will the out-of-the-box experience. Literally.
AV receivers are great because they provide plenty of options for your home cinema setup. For many this means a dizzying array of settings and connections. Onkyo has colour coded the speakers, the cables and the connections on the back of the receiver so it is simply a case of connecting by colours. Hook up the 5.1 speakers and all you are left to do is hook-up all your devices.
If you are buying a system like this, there is a chance that you'll only ever use the three HDMI connections, which are all v1.4 compliant, meaning you get support for all the latest features, including 3D, so this is a future-proof choice to a degree. There is one HDMI output for connecting to your TV. As it is v1.4 compliant you also get support for ARC, the audio return channel, which will let your TV pass the sound to the receiver via the HDMI, doing away with the need to connect an additional optical (typically) lead to get the sound from your TV's tuner.
We tested the ARC with the Toshiba Regza 37RV753B and found it worked seamlessly, letting you control the volume from your TV's remote control, a welcome feature.
For those with older equipment you get those two optical inputs along with a digital coaxial connection and stereo inputs. There are also two Component inputs and one Component out and four Composite with stereo audio inputs with outputs, although in this HD world, these latter connections may not get a look in, unless you have a Nintendo Wii.
All the connections are labelled clearly, identifying what type of device you should connect where, although you can change these properties in the menus after the matter to get the control that you want, for example if your satellite box feeds video via HDMI but audio via optical.
There are also FM and AM aerial connections if you don't fancy using the digital radio channels from your TV tuner and we found the tuner to work well in our tests. DAB is available with an accessory module and whilst we'd like it all built-in, that would mean a UK-specific model, which not all companies want to do. You can get an accessory iPod dock (£60) which gives you control of your music and video using your receiver remote, as well as an on-screen display for navigation.
The HT-R380 receiver offers an on-screen display which makes it really easy to change the settings without having to rely on the LCD display on the front of the unit (which can be dimmed so as to not prove a distraction in your darkened home cinema); there are settings to cover just about everything you can think of, including speaker positioning and options should you upgrade the speakers in the future.
The receiver looks smart with a similar design as models higher up the range and it measures 435 x 151.5 x 328.5mm. Controls ranging across the front offer easy selection of your different inputs as well as control over listening modes and so on. A large volume knob has a quality feel letting you accurately adjust the volume to preferred levels.
The receiver comes decked out with support for Dolby True HD and DTS-HD to get the very best out of your connected Blu-ray player, although 7.1 sources are played through the 5.1 speakers and there are no additional connections to expand to 7.1 in the future. A full list of the decoding capabilities can be found on Onkyo's website.
The supplied HTP-338 speakers are minimalist in their design, glossy black speaker boxes fronted with mesh for the satellite speakers. On the rear of the speakers is a mounting slot so they could be attached to the wall. As well as being colour coded, the speakers are also labelled for easy placement.
The passive subwoofer has a glossy front on a wood cabinet and it looks good, something that some bundled subwoofers sometimes struggle with. You can set the levels for speakers individually and this provides some scope for adjustment of the subwoofer, although out of the box we found the level to be acceptable, and not overpowering which some one-box solutions often are.
The system provides plenty of detail and adds real punch no matter what source you feed it, performing excellently with Blu-rays, giving you "what the director intended" audio and adding that full 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound experience to your DVDs. Thanks to Dolby Pro Logic II you'll be able to enjoy that 5.1 experience from stereo sources too.
But the Onyko system isn't just about movies. It also handles your games, squeezing all that quality out of your PS3 or Xbox 360 as well as your music. Throw a CD at it and you get a choice of enhancements like Dolby Pro Logic II Music and Neo:6 Music, as well as Onkyo's own offerings like Orchestra, Unplugged and Studio-Mix.
When listening to music we thought the system lacked a little sparkle, most likely down to the speakers, although if you are an audiophile, you'll probably be looking at a separates anyway. But for the primary movie watching role, we found the speakers delivered surround sound effects with plenty of skill. With 600W on offer, there are more powerful packages out there, but for most domestic users, that should be adequate.
If anything you'll need to make sure you give it plenty of ventilation, as we found the receiver did get a little warm. Some may criticise the lack of an active subwoofer, and the lack of direct control, although we found the bass performance to be good overall.
Overall there is little to fault with the Onkyo system. There are heaps of functions on offer, with the potential to expand the system further by adding DAB and the iPod dock. Offering the latest version of HDMI, it will also be a valued companion should you be looking to upgrade your existing kit to 3D in the future.
As an entry point to surround sound, it offers performance and excellent value for money and should you decide you want to upgrade the speakers in the future you'll have the freedom to do so. There are systems out there that offer 7.1 support and more HDMI inputs, but for your average household, the Onkyo HT-3305 system should serve you very well indeed.