The Denon S-101 is a rock-solid DVD home-theater system that's easy to set up, easy to use, and easy on the eyes. But what really sets it apart from other systems in its class is its ability to bring a very big sound -- and even big pictures -- out of Apple's tiny iPod.
The attractive S-101 home-theater DVD system delivers big sound and big pictures -- even from a tiny iPod. View larger.
Shoebox-sized DVD player takes up very little room. View larger.
Back panel includes plenty of inputs and outputs for all your home-theater component needs. View larger.
Handy, well-designed remote control. View larger.
The first thing you'll see upon opening the box is Denon's language-free quick-start guide, which breaks set-up into seven easy, illustrated steps. We were able to get to a DVD menu within about 10 minutes of cracking the tape seal on our box. The system is comprised of two speaker panels (including hardware for table or wall mounting), a desktop PC-sized subwoofer, the player, a remote, and all the connections you'll need for a basic video set-up. The player itself is about the size of a shoebox (15-by-4-by-10 inches) and includes inputs and outputs for composite, S-video, component, and optical connections. Three auxiliary ports allow you to add game systems, disc writers, or other home-theater components.
To finish the set-up, the remote's help button summons an awesome on-screen guide to help with everything from switching between DVD and audio functions to positioning the speakers. The remote is well designed; the most frequently used buttons sit in uncluttered arrangement while specialty buttons and a number pad hide behind an access door underneath. Play, pause, track, search, and volume buttons glow in the dark and are easy to feel--a must-have while watching movies in a darkened home theater.
The most interesting feature of this system, however, is its connectivity to the Apple iPod. More than just playing music, the S-101 can actually control the device through the system's remote and allow you to browse music files or watch iPod photos on your TV -- all while recharging your iPod's battery. The system even includes a stereo miniplug port for connecting other digital music players.
Audio from the unit is outstanding. The system puts out a crisp sound, even at ear-splitting volume, thanks largely to the 100-watt subwoofer. Denon eschewed the myriad cords of satellite speakers in favor of Dolby's Virtual Speaker technology, which was designed to create a virtual sound field using only two front speakers. The effect is quite nice once it's fine-tuned with the on-screen audio set-up, but we found it lacking the fine spatial details of 5.1 surround-sound systems. Note that it also lacks the complicated set-up and wiring of those systems, which makes for a more even trade off.
The S-101 has at its heart a progressive-scan DVD player that loads commercial DVDs in about 19 seconds and recordable DVDs in about 21 seconds. A little bit of DVD spin noise leaks out of the top air vent, but placing the unit in a cabinet or a bookshelf could easily baffle the sound. The unit's ability to tune radio and play Kodak picture CDs makes the S-101 a bit like the Swiss Army knife of digital entertainment.
It's not without some faults, however. We were able to play MP3 and Windows Media (WMA) files from a data CD-R that was burned through Windows Media 9, but another data CD-R burned with Roxio software was unrecognizable to the system--even though the disc had been verified in Windows XP, Macintosh OS X, and an older, low-end KLH disc player. We were pleased to see the system's FM tuner supports Radio Data System (RDS)--a way of sending station identification and other snippets of information over standard FM waves--in its front panel display, but it neglects to use that same display to convey song IDs from digital music files being played. To see song titles, you must turn on the TV. --Porter B. Hall
What's in the Box
Player, left and right front speakers, subwoofer, remote control unit, iPod cable, AM and FM radio antennae, speaker stands, speaker wall brackets, instructions, warranty, system cables, RCA-type component video cable.
Life may seem difficult but Home-Theater is easy with the Denon S-101 Virtual-Surround Sound System. All you have to do is connect the speakers to the subwoofer, connect the subwoofer to the control center, connect the control center to the TV, and plug the subwoofer into a power outlet. No wires to run all over your room, no complicated connections. The speakers come with table stands, or you can wall-mount them for an elegant, space-saving setup a perfect complement to today's flat-panel TVs. This streamlined system offers crisp DVD playback and uses Dolby Virtual Speaker technology to create room-filling sound with just two speakers and a subwoofer. You get remarkably simple setup and operation, along with some special conveniences like a front-panel connection that lets you play and control your iPod or an MP3 or other Digital Media Player. iPod compatibility can control and charge iPod (connect using supplied cable) / Compatible with docking iPods (not compatible with iPod Shuffle) Analog miniplug for MP3 and DigitalMedia player connectivity Connections - 1 optical and 1 coaxial digital audio input / 1 optical digital audio output / 2 audio/video inputs (composite and S-video) / Video output for TV (composite, S-video, 480i/480p component video) / Selectable progressive-scan mode for smoother video with HD-compatible TVs (via the component video output) / Composite-to-S-video, S-video-to-composite, composite-to-component, and S-video-to-component video conversion 2 Video shielded 2-way speakers Subwoofer with 8 Driver 50 Watts RMS per channel x 2 Channels 100 Watts dedicated to subwoofer iPod and USB Docking Port