The Good, The Better, & the Best You Better, You Bet part 2
The math here was a little tricky; I needed not only to bring the complete system in for under $1,400 but to create a balanced system that played well together. I eventually settled on the compact, wall-mountable RT35i two-way bookshelf speaker ($350/pair) for the front channels, the smaller-but-similar RT15i ($200/pair) for the rears, the ample CS245i center ($200) with a tweeter identical to the RT35i's, and the reasonably sized, sufficiently powerful PSW350 sub ($350), which has a 10-inch direct-radiating driver and a 100-watt amplifier. The RT35i and RT15i feature Polk's Power Port vent on the rear, which simulates the benefit of a long flared port to reduce audible turbulence.
Yes, it's true: I snagged everything on my shopping list and would still receive change from my $3,000 bill! The system's grand total: $2,699. Outside the parameters of this challenge but true to its spirit, I hooked up the system using medium-tier Monster Cable products (their large-gauge speaker wire, Monster Super Video 3 S-video cable, and MonsterBass 400 subwoofer cable), since the Monster brand is indeed sold at the Wiz. I used simple bare-wire terminations to connect the speakers to the back of the TX-DS595.
The TV and receiver turned out to be surprisingly well-teamed, as both offer only S-video input quality. Configuring both units was a breeze. The TX-DS595's front-panel knob and corresponding LED readouts guided me, and I only needed to hit about three buttons on the Sharp 36R-S400's face (the remote had temporarily grown legs) to make it speak English and lock out the few porn channels that are still scrambled. The TV's default picture settings were adequate, except for the color temperature (I prefer the low setting) and sharpness. When I turned it down about 20 percent, the sharpness helped hide the DVD player's digital artifacting, creating a more-filmlike look.
My relationship with the Panasonic DVD-RV31 got off to a slow start, as I searched in vain for a setup key on its remote. Once I read the darn manual and pressed the action button, the secrets of the universe were mine via a clear and readily adjustable onscreen interface. In order to yield the kickass bass I expect from my home theater, I had to fiddle with the sub's volume and low-pass filter more than I'm used to. Once I had it calibrated, though, it performed beautifully—with especially tight, accurate lows on music, which I consider a major bonus from a home theater sub. Even when my experimentation with the speakers' placement put them right up against the TV, I saw no evidence of magnetic interference.
The complete system worked seamlessly to deliver movies in all their big, colorful, engrossing glory. Each time I switched demo discs, I marveled that I had assembled not just a home theater but a no-excuses one in a single store visit—for less than my annual coffee budget. Geoffrey and Darryl can only imagine the satisfaction I now feel.—Chris Chiarella