HOME THEATER SYSTEM REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 20, 2007 Published: Apr 20, 2007 0 comments
High-end sensibility in a box.

There are two ways to look at compact home theater—a.k.a. in-a-box—systems. The dominant, mass-market HTIBs are a step down in cost and performance for those who are content to pay less and get less. If the system comes with fewer distracting bells and whistles, so much the better. But there is another, less explored, higher-end vision for compact home theater. It uses compactness to pursue a vigorous uncluttering of the home theater experience while maintaining high performance. The aim is a kind of sleek austerity, not deprivation, and people who want it are willing to pay for it. They might even influence people around them—suggesting by example that a home theater system can be simple, elegant, and a treat for the ears. Perhaps that's what Naim Audio was thinking when they named this system the n-Vi. I'll spare you the puns.

Kevin Hunt Posted: Aug 19, 2004 Published: Aug 01, 2004 0 comments
Is that all there is? The one-speaker HTIB.

Throw Niro Nakamichi's name at the iPod generation, and you'll stump the panel. To an older generation, however, Nakamichi's three-head cassette deck, the Nakamichi 1000, elevated the lowly cassette to the world of the best recording medium of the day, the cumbersome reel-to-reel tape deck. In a way, the Nakamichi 1000 was an iPod forebear in the miniaturization and portability of recorded sound. After the Nakamichi family sold the company name in 1998, Niro Nakamichi started Mechanical Research to develop big-ticket electronics like the awe-inspiring $22,000 Niro 1000 Power Engine monoblock amplifier.

Kevin Hunt Posted: May 12, 2003 Published: May 13, 2003 0 comments
Divide or unconquerable? Onkyo's speakers-optional HTIB.

Instant home theater—speakers, a receiver, and a DVD player packaged tidily in a single box—is the hottest thing since the bare midriff. So why does it bug me so much? Maybe because so many sub-$1,000 systems bundle generic speakers that are about as flashy as the cardboard box they came in. Onkyo's response to this HTIB speaker crisis? With the Envision LS-V500C, you can take the speakers or leave 'em.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 23, 2009 0 comments
Price: $1,099 At A Glance: THX Loudness Plus enhances sonic impact at low volumes • Audyssey 2EQ offers better than average auto setup and EQ • Faroudja DCDi video processing

Say Hello to THX I/S Plus

Why are home theater products littered with logos? Because manufacturers don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Rather than design its own loudness enhancement, auto-setup program, or video-processing chip, a company like Onkyo will license one of these goodies from THX, Audyssey, or Faroudja. Or in the case of the HT-S9100THX integrated system, it will use all three.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 13, 2010 0 comments
Price: $1,099 At A Glance: World’s first 3D THX I/S Plus–certified integrated system • Audyssey 2EQ, Dynamic EQ, Dynamic Volume

Certified to the Max

Once a year, I pack several Gucci suitcases with cash and FedEx them to the folks who develop licensed technologies for surround systems. Without these fine people, products would be festooned with fewer logos, toy critics like myself would have less to write about, and that in turn would hasten my journey down the slippery slope toward obsolescence, incontinence, and death. Each new licensed technology is a further stay of execution. It is in this spirit, much like a dog whose owner has been out all day, that I greet the Onkyo HT-S9300THX compact home theater system with THX I/S Plus, as well as auto setup, room correction, and low-volume listening modes licensed from Audyssey. This isn’t the first THX I/S Plus system, but it is the first one to combine I/S Plus and 3D capability.

Kim Wilson Posted: Jan 26, 2012 4 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $1,099 At A Glance: THX I/S Plus Certified • 3D compatible • Audyssey 2EQ auto calibration and room EQ • Network capable • Qdeo 4K upscaling

Home Theater in a Box (HTiB) systems generally cater to the extreme low end of the market, offering complete multichannel speaker and electronics packages (often including a DVD player) for as little as $300. The Onkyo HT-S9400THX is a cut above, offering a highly competent HTiB that is far beyond the all-in-one packages you can drop into a shopping cart at your local Target, though it does not include a disc player.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 04, 2006 Published: Nov 13, 2006 0 comments
THX certification in a box.

A recent story on Salon.com discussed the chocolate craze. Apparently, there's a new category of high-end chocolate, writes Oliver Broudy in "The Sweet Smell of Snobbery." It comes complete with its own specs—the higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the better. There's jargon, of course, including terroir, which refers to the cocoa-growing region. And there are postprandial rituals in which celebrants are encouraged to taste 400 different flavors in one little bite. While I may ridicule this phenomenon, I would never condemn it, as long as people have a good time. Also, I happen to love dark chocolate.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jun 30, 2007 0 comments
Multiple sweet spots from one sweet system.

It's hard to get too excited about most inexpensive HTiBs. That's not to say a system has to cost a lot to be a great value. In fact, there are plenty of one-box-fits-all systems that pack a lot of punch for what you pay. But there's usually so much emphasis on quantity of features that the quality often suffers. In some cases, the system is a hodgepodge of gear thrown together by a manufacturer that sees how popular HTiBs are with the general public and doesn't want to miss out on grabbing its share of the pie.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 27, 2008 0 comments
Price: $1,000 Highlights: HTIB with Blu-ray drive • Wireless surround speakers • Bamboo fiber speaker cones

Lady Sings the Blus

How do you define high end? Is it the gear that delivers the highest performance, sells for the highest price, or represents the most agile and innovative thinking? If that last criterion means anything, the Panasonic SC-BT100 is the very definition of a high-end home theater system—in a box. It includes a Blu-ray drive, makes daring use of bamboo fiber speaker diaphragms, and employs wireless technology to deliver signals to those two lonely surround speakers in the back of the room. Moving backward to the second criterion, price, the system sells for $1,000, on the moderate to high side by HTIB standards. And what about the first criterion, performance? Sorry, but you’ll have to read the review. Throw me a bone here—this is how I earn my living.

Kevin Hunt Posted: Sep 09, 2003 Published: Aug 01, 2003 0 comments
Panasonic's striking—and strikingly similar—HTIBs.

Another case of separated at birth? If you close your eyes during a movie, it's difficult to distinguish Panasonic's top-of-the-line SC-ST1 from the middle-of-the-pack SC-HT900. Open your eyes, and it doesn't get any easier to tell these two home-theaters-in-a-box apart. Aside from the Penn-and-Teller, tall-versus-small DVD receivers and slightly different center-channel speakers, the two systems are dead ringers.

John Higgins Posted: Dec 18, 2006 0 comments
  • $250
  • 12-bit/108-MHz video processing
  • DVD, (S)VCD, MP3, WMA, CD(RW), and Picture CD
  • 200 watts RMS total power
Very often, home-theater-in-a-box speakers are something to be hidden on the shelves or, at the very least, put by a work of art that takes the visual emphasis away from the silver plastic box. With the Philips MCD735/37 Micro Theater, that work of art will have some fierce competition. All of the speakers—four satellites, a center, and a subwoofer—have a wood finish that adds a warm feel to the unit and might blend into a room more easily than the usual silver found with most systems. Adding to the distinctive look is the two-module component setup. The system comes with a top-loading DVD player that is designed to sit on a separate power amp. Included is a stand meant to minimize vibration and overheating from the player and the amp. When a disc is playing, a blue light illuminates the disc. While it's elegant looking, the extra light could be a distraction while you're watching a movie, so you'll need to take system placement into consideration. Another reason placement is an important consideration is due to the top-loading DVD player. The player's clear lid stylishly swings up to allow access to the disc but requires space above the unit for the lid to open.
Chris Chiarella Posted: May 01, 2005 Published: May 17, 2005 0 comments
HTIB goes Wi-Fi.

In case you're just joining us, there's a whole new world of entertainment material to be enjoyed in your living room, beyond what you'll find in your DVD rack or emanating from your cable/satellite feed. Many folks like me are amassing quite a large collection of music, videos, and photos on the PC, and that there Internet has a lot to offer, too. The convergence of PC and home theater is certainly nothing new, but, until now, this union has been attainable only through a series of clever add-ons (not the first marriage to benefit from the use of electric appliances). What if the connection to the computer—and its many perks—was an integral part of your home theater gear, and it was wireless to boot?

Shane Buettner Posted: Sep 13, 2006 0 comments
  • $499
  • L/R/LS/RS: magnetically shielded monitor with one 3-1/16" cone
  • Center: magnetically shielded monitor with one 3-1/16" cone
  • Subwoofer/receiver: 100-Watt powered sub with one 6-5/16" woofer
Features We Like: Six channels of digital amplification rated at 100-Watts per, built-in Dolby and DTS decoding, MCACC auto calibration and room EQ, Sound Retriever for improving audio quality of compressed sound formats, Xbox 360 compatible remote
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 22, 2007 Published: Feb 22, 2007 0 comments
Multinational speakers meet American amps.

On the battlefield of speaker design, I am the triage nurse. I walk into speaker demo rooms at trade shows, my badge sometimes inadvertently turned inward, listen for a moment, and quietly mutter to myself, "This one's a keeper," or, "He's dead, Jim." Or occasionally just, "Hmmm," because good speakers may sound iffy under bad conditions, and I respect the potential buried within an ambiguous first take. But, if my instincts tell me to pursue a review, I whip out a business card and start making arrangements on the spot.

Chris Lewis Posted: Apr 09, 2002 Published: Apr 10, 2002 0 comments
Who says HTIBs have to sound bad?

I can still remember the first time I heard the phrase "high-end home-theater-in-a-box" uttered in public and the reaction it brought at a press conference. Half of the crowd simply laughed off the idea, and the other half began muttering about the demise of civilization, openly pondering the oxymoronic nature of what they had just heard. Admittedly, I counted myself in the former group. While I didn't take the announcement as confirmation that the apocalypse was upon us, I did chuckle, make a few sarcastic remarks to those around me, and begin setting an over/under in my mind for how long it would take for this piece of marketing magic to expire. After all, who was going to pay thousands of dollars for a system that came in a single package?

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