Home Theater Systems Reviews

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Chris Chiarella  |  Jan 26, 2007  |  0 comments
Welcome to the age of Audistry.

My office—cubicle, actually—is in Manhattan, so I get it: Despite your love of movies and music, some readers either don't want or just can't deal with a full array of five loudspeakers plus a subwoofer. Rather than settle for simple stereo (and I mean no disrespect to John Atkinson and his Stereophile crew down the hall), some overachieving sub/sat systems add often proprietary processing techniques to simulate sprawling surround sound. But what if newly released signal-processing algorithms offered so much control over the listening experience that they could turn a budget home-theater-in-a-box into a sound lab of sorts, allowing you to experiment with a previously impossible milieu of realistic audio illusions?

John Higgins  |  Dec 22, 2006  |  0 comments
  • $400
  • XM ready
  • Optional module available for wireless surround channels
The HT-Q70 is a step up from the HT-Q45 that convergence editor Chris Chiarella reviewed in our September 2006 issue. While the looks of the ensemble are virtually identical, there are significant upgrades behind the scenes. The total power output has gone up to 1,000 watts (from 800 watts in the HT-Q45). More importantly, at least for the home theater aspect, the player is a five-disc-carousel DVD changer and sports upconversion and an HDMI output (up to 1080i). The player can read CD, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD, DVD-R, and DVD-RW. On the front of the player is a USB port for utilizing Samsung's USB Host Play. This allows you to plug a portable digital device into the port and play back MPEG video, as well as MP3, DivX, WMA, JPEG, and photo files.
John Higgins  |  Dec 22, 2006  |  0 comments
  • $500
  • XM ready with included XM Connect & Play antenna
  • Component setup, so upgrading is easy
  • Adjust the setup with Digital Cinema Auto Calibration and the included microphone
Sony's HT-7000DH is a component-style 5.1-channel home-theater-in-a-box. It includes a receiver (STR-K7000), a five-disc carousel DVD player (DVP-NC85H), four satellites, a center-channel speaker, and a subwoofer. The speakers have a black faux-wood finish. Aesthetically, there's nothing about them that stands out, so they should blend in easily among bookcases and shelving units. The DVD player upconverts over the HDMI connection to 720p or 1080i. It can read all DVD video formats, as well as VCD and JPEG. Being a Sony, it can also play SACDs. As for other audio formats, it is limited to CD, CD-R, CD-RW, and MP3 playback.
John Higgins  |  Dec 22, 2006  |  0 comments
  • $350
  • Attractive speakers and player have distinctive look
  • Wireless-surround-speaker ready with wireless adapter (sold separately)
The LG LH-T9654S does its best to differentiate itself aesthetically from a menagerie of cookie-cutter HTIBs. The attractively shaped speakers are glossy black soft-cornered triangles with silver linings. The subwoofer, as well, is very distinctive, with a cut-corner design. It's also glossy black with silver accents. The player continues the sleek design with its relatively bare front panel—it's limited to the disc tray, the LCD, and a headphone jack. The navigational CD buttons are located along the top of the player.
John Higgins  |  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.
John Higgins  |  Dec 18, 2006  |  0 comments
  • $300
  • Portable audio-player input
  • Five-disc DVD/CD player
Sony's entry-level home-theater-in-a-box, the DAV-DX255, manages to fit a couple of surprises into its relatively low price point of $300. For one, it can hold five discs at a time that are slot loading instead of carousel loading. It can also play SACs. Yes, you read that right. This $300 system can play that beloved Sony-backed audiophile format—Super Audio Compact Disc. We could talk about the pluses and minuses of using a $300 system to listen to SACDs, but, no matter what, SACDs will sound better than regular CDs. To complement its ability to read SACDs, the player will also recognize a myriad of other formats, including burned DVDs, MP3s, and VCDs.
John Higgins  |  Dec 18, 2006  |  0 comments
  • $200
  • DVD, DVD+R/+RW, DVD-R/-RW, CD, CD-R/-RW, MP3, WMA, VCD, SVCD, and JPEG; HDMI with HD upconversion
  • Includes two front speakers, two surround speakers, one center-channel speaker, and one subwoofer
  • DVD/CD changer
RCA's RTD258 is full of surprises. There's a front-panel USB connection that you can use for most MP3 players, thumb drives, or digital cameras to play music or display pictures. There's also an included HDMI cable. What could this cable possibly be for, you might ask? Why, it's for the upconverting DVD player that has an HDMI output. If your television isn't as new as this system, you can connect the two with a component cable, although that is not included.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Dec 04, 2006  |  First 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.

Chris Chiarella  |  Sep 18, 2006  |  0 comments
A portable media player on steroids, and its secret relationship with an HTIB.

I'll admit it. I'm a fan of satellite radio. The sound quality, the variety of programming, the lack of commercials, and even the bonuses like artist and song-title info on display are all enticing to me. And yet, a compelling satellite radio product hasn't landed on my desk in some time—or perhaps one did but was lost among all the press releases, UPS receipts, and slightly used napkins. As if to make up for the lull, Samsung hooked me up with two disparate new products that work great together, converging the freedom of a portable digital audio player with the convenience and versatility of a complete home theater in a box.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Sep 18, 2006  |  2 comments
One awesome box.

To say the Geneva Lab Model XL is merely the largest of the one-piece iPod-compatible speaker systems would be unjust. It is the wildest flight of fancy the iPod has inspired. Plugging your iPod into one is like boarding a 747—you get a distinct feeling that something more powerful than yourself is about to lift you into the air. I must note, however, that the XL looks, sounds, and smells better than any commercial aircraft I've been on.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Sep 18, 2006  |  0 comments
Tune in to wood.

There's something unusual, novel, even peculiar about this compact system. But I'm not going to tell you what it is yet. Instead, I'll tell you what I think is most significant. The JVC EX-A10 takes me back in time, back to when I was a kid, before everything went digital. I used to carefully clean my records, put them on the turntable, flip sides every 20 minutes, and play music for hours upon hours. This JVC system has that old-time analog feel.

Shane Buettner  |  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
Chris Chiarella  |  Jul 24, 2006  |  0 comments
One speaker, a subwoofer, a source component . . . and you.

Virtual surround is nothing new: Some people don't have the space, the know-how, or perhaps the ideal room layout for a pair of surround speakers for true 5.1-channel audio. Wireless surrounds are an option for some. But even those need a place to live, and they still require power cables. All manner of technologies have addressed the virtual-surround challenge, but not until I tried the two-piece Binaura Sound Environment B102A (in our November 2005 issue) did I believe that such simplified gear could produce truly respectable audio. Cambridge SoundWorks of Newton, Massachusetts, is the first third-party manufacturer to license Binaura's patented technology for their own products. They have integrated it into a complete home theater system—three boxes instead of two—with the addition of a progressive-scan DVD player/receiver. Said receiver provides Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS decoding, and this signal then goes to the subwoofer, where all of the amplification and Binaura processing take place.

Chris Chiarella  |  May 20, 2006  |  0 comments
A lot of sound from a little box.

As I speed-dial my cell phone to reach my wife in the kitchen, to ask her to bring me another Dr. Pepper, it hits me: People want it easy. Too often, however, "easy" and "home theater" don't mix, unless, for example, you have the means and the know-how to hire a good custom installer to hook up your gear and configure your universal remote. ZVOX clearly understands the critical anti-work ethic of home entertainment. Their original 315 Sound Console (in our April 2005 issue) connects to a TV or audio source with a comforting "Set it, and forget it!" philosophy, previously applicable only in the realm of Ron Popeil's famous rotisseries. ZVOX's goal is to deliver spacious home theater audio with only one cable connected to a single box.

Geoffrey Morrison  |  Apr 18, 2006  |  First Published: Apr 19, 2006  |  0 comments
Excelling at being cheap.

One of the several local electronics stores within throwing distance from our studio is a chain called Fry's Electronics. It is a nerd's heaven, a kind of Best Buy, CompUSA, and a local computer repair shop all thrown in a Cuisinart. Every week, the much-heralded Fry's ad announces what loss leaders they will have on sale that week. This could be a $99 computer, a $20 hard drive, a $1,000 plasma, or really anything that they have only two of that they can sell quick and use to sucker people into coming to the store. Their regular sales can be pretty good, too. For example, this home-theater-in-a-box, complete with a subwoofer and a progressive-scan DVD player, was only $60. They also had an interlace-only model for $47, but I mean come on, this is a home-theater-in-a-box we're talking about here. Lets not be cheap.