Most helpful positive review
70 of 71 people found the following review helpful
Easy to install, easy to use. A winner.
on July 6, 2013
For years, Bose has been making an all-in-one amplifier/receiver/media player package with an array of the iconic cube speakers. Now Sony has a similar model. Everything you need (minus the TV and an HDMI cable) is in the box, all the way down to the speaker cables. I can see the appeal of such a system to those who are not technologically proficient. Since that is the intended consumer, I will attempt to make this review as free from jargon as possible.
The installation was quite simple. All the cables are labeled and color-coded so that virtually anyone can install this without hassle. The front channels, center speaker, and subwoofer plug into the back while the "wireless" rear channels plug into an external amplifier that you position in the back of your room.
Once the proper connections are made, you just follow the on-screen directions to configure everything else. This amounts to making a network connection through either the built-in wifi or through an ethernet connection and calibrating the speaker levels. Interestingly, Sony includes a microphone with a long cable that plugs into the back of the unit and stretches to wherever your optimum listening position happens to be. In my case, my room layout doesn't allow me to sit in a position equidistant from the two surround channels, so the Sony unit automatically detected this and attenuated the volume on one of the rear channels to compensate for me sitting closer to it. It's actually pretty cool.
Once I went through the basic setup, there were a few software and firmware updates to install. These took about ten minutes to run, all in all. After that, I tested out the system with a Blu-ray disc and discovered that the dialogue emerging from the center channel was a bit low. Happily, this was an easy thing to adjust. Sony includes a nice menu system with good graphics to help you pick the speaker that is too quiet and change its output level. Overall, I am very pleased with the menu system. It's about as good as you'll find for a company that isn't necessarily in the business of designing stunning graphical user interfaces.
A word about the "wireless" speakers. I have no idea why companies describe speakers as "wireless." Unless you have a battery-powered speaker, it WILL need power and that means speaker cable. The only benefit here is that you don't have to run long strands of speaker cable from the front of your room to the back. Otherwise, both rear channels are 100% wired, plus you have the external amplifier that needs to be near a wall outlet. If I seem to be harping on this point, it's because people like my mother (a confirmed cable hater) always see systems advertised as having "wireless" speakers and she always thinks that, somehow, there are no cables at all.
2) The Receiver/Blu-ray Player
I must give Sony recognition for designing a nice looking unit. The touch screen is cool and the solid top slides across the top to reveal a top-loading Blu-ray spindle. It looks cool, but how does it function?
In a word, flawlessly. I read that the Blu-ray player allows you to "begin watching your movies in seconds," and I was skeptical. Any Blu-ray player I've ever encountered takes anywhere from five to ten minutes to go from disc startup to main menu. It's so annoying. There are FBI warnings, anti-piracy warnings, trailers that you can't chapter-skip, advertisements, and all sorts of other crap. It's infuriating and makes me hate the Blu-ray format. HOWEVER, this unit allows you to skip all that! It's amazing; utterly amazing. I tried six different Blu-ray discs and all but one allowed me to skip everything--even the FBI warning. "Inception" wouldn't let me skip right to the main menu, but I could chapter-skip through the previews and warnings. This is reason enough to justify a five-star review.
The various network functions worked flawlessly as well. Bluetooth allowed me to stream music through the system via my smartphone, Amazon's video service worked well, YouTube was fine, and I even tried the Internet browser. It's idiotic to try to navigate the web through your TV using a conventional remote, but hey - you can do it. Netflix was great. The Sony interface for Netflix is very nice and provides a good mix of information with a clean layout. It's essentially the same as the second generation Roku box, but a bit sleeker. I still prefer the way my AppleTV handles Netflix, but this is a close second.
The YouTube interface isn't quite as good as the Netflix interface. It's a bit clunky and it uses a keyboard layout that is nonsensical. If you have to use a standard remote to enter in words, it makes a lot more sense to have the letters in a grid rather than a long horizontal line. It's not horrible, but it could be better. On that same note, every interface has a different keyboard layout. It's not a huge deal, but it would be nice if the onscreen keyboard always looked the same.
Finally, my one complaint. Yes, this system is designed to be simple and fool-proof, but the only available inputs are HDMI inputs. That means if you have some sort of archaic device like a Wii, you have no way to use it with this system. Sony does provide a couple of HDMI inputs, but some devices still need to make an RCA connection.
3) The Speakers
The speakers are decent. They have plastic bodies, so they feel a bit like over-sized computer speakers. Build quality aside, they do sound bigger than one would imagine. The system can play quite loud, and when you're watching certain kinds of movies, loudness is actually a pretty important factor.
The sound is more suited for movies than music, as one would expect. There is a lot of treble and a lot of bass so that everything sounds very bright and loud. This makes movie soundtracks pop, but when listening to music (especially acoustic music like jazz and Classical/Romantic/Baroque/whatever), the midrange is underwhelming and makes the music sound cheap. There are some built-in EQ functions so that you can get use a flatter frequency response curve, which sounds much better for music.
You can get a much more balanced sound using the Energy 5.1 Take Classic. That speaker system is superior in every category (e.g., build quality, neutrality of sound, size, usability for music) and it typically costs about half what the Sony system costs (although you'll need your own receiver and Blu-ray player, which will ultimately make it slightly more expensive). The downside is that if you're uncomfortable around technology, the Sony system is slightly easier to manage when you consider set up and the purchase of a separate receiver and Blu-ray player. Basically, if you're okay making a few simple speaker connections, I highly recommend the Energy Take Classic. Otherwise, the Sony is a reasonable substitute, provided you're using the system mainly for movies instead of music.
4) Ease of Use
As I mentioned above, the system is very easy to set up, and the onscreen menus are well organized and easy to navigate. Because you only need to make a few cable connections (most of which are color coded), installation ought to be approachable to virtually anyone who can handle a minimal amount of reading and follow the largely pictorial setup instructions.
The real test though was having my mother navigate the menu system and try out the various functions. My parents stream Netflix through their Blu-ray player and the menu system is confusing enough that she can't really get from the startup screen to the Netflix menu on her own. Yeah, it's not that hard, but she's utterly befuddled by technology. Interestingly, Sony includes a special "Netflix" button on the remote that allows you to jump straight there. With that helpful feature, I watched my own mother power up the Sony unit, open up Netflix, select a title, and start watching. I'm sure some of you will identify with this either as technophobes or as children of technophobes. It really is a well-designed system. In fact, my parents ended up liking it so much, they bought one for themselves, which allowed them to remove a big stack of audio equipment and a tangled mess of cables.
I highly recommend the Sony BDV-N7100W system. It's simple, but not simplistic. It works well, it has a nice array of useful features, the speakers are decent, and it's easy to set up and use. And most of all, the fact that the Blu-ray player allows you to skip to the main menu (or at least chapter skip) really lessens the usual aggravation that accompanies Blu-ray discs. This is an excellent product all around.