on December 4, 2011
I purchased this kit after waiting for the price to drop a bit. I ended up getting it for around $250.
This would be what I would consider an "intermediate" system. It's better than the average off the store shelf basic system, but it's not an "advanced" or "pro" system that could blow the roof off your house.
So far, all has been great. It sounds great and was easy to set up. Granted, if you have never had a home theater setup before, all those inputs and outputs and settings can be a bit intimidating. However, if you're merely moving up from a low end "beginner" system you'd typically find at the local Walmart, you've likely already become familiar with the setup process. Further, if your devices all use HDMI (which most newer DVD players, all Blu-ray players and many DVRs do) you're pretty much all set. Where it can get tricky is when you use some of the other input options and need to start assigning functions to them. That isn't the fault of this unit - that's just the way it is with any unit of this type. The fact that it has those complications means it's really versatile.
The unit features a 5.1 surround amp along with included speakers to hear it. The amp supports all the latest High Definition audio formats and can pass through 3D signals. The speakers seem to be of good quality and are actually satisfyingly larger than most "home theater in a box" systems. While you don't need giant speakers for good sound, a certain amount of size is important for room-filling sound. Having said that, anything over about a 20'x20' room will likely need something a bit more robust than this system can offer. The subwoofer is quite large compared to lower end units (it's larger than the amp) but is not self powered, putting it firmly out of the "advanced" system category. While the sound is satisfying from it, punching bass really needs more than most AV amps can send to it.
The speaker wire is nothing special - even a bit disappointing. Not only is it about the thinnest wire you can practically use for speakers, the surround wires are likely too short for use in all but the smallest rooms. I never even bothered to use it and opted to use better quality 14 gauge jacketed cable. This also let me run the surround wires through the walls to avoid them snaking across the floor. The good? The low rent speaker wire is offset by having wire connections on both the amp and the speakers. This means you can replace the wires with something else. Many beginner level systems have the wires built into the speaker, meaning you're stuck with what they provide for you. The down side is, the connections are the simple "press the clip and poke the wire in the hole" type instead of screw posts on the amp. They're also tiny, meaning banana jacks would be a tight fit. If you're using the included wire, it's an easy enough system for connecting everything (it's all color coded) but definitely makes it hard to wire things up in the best possible way.
As noted above, the amp has a vast array of inputs and outputs. With 4 HDMI inputs, most people will likely find enough room for all their devices. People with multiple gaming systems may have to rely on one of the component HD inputs for something. In my case, I had room for a DVR, Blu-ray player, a Roku and an upconverting region free DVD player I have for movies bought from outside the US. I'm not a gamer, so I didn't need room for a Playstation or XBox.
In addition to the HDMI inputs, the amp also has multiple component, and composite connections for older analog devices or (in the case of component) for additional HD devices. In addition, there are several audio input options that can be assigned to any video input. One note, though, the unit will not convert the signals to another form. So, if you plug in your VHS VCR from 1992 using composite (RCA) cables, you'll need to run a set of the same type of cable to the TV in order to see it. The amp will not convert it to an HDMI or component signal. That is only possible on far more advanced (and pricy) units. In other words, whatever type of cable you plug into an input, you need to have an output of the same type. One notable oversight is the lack of even one S-Video input. In other words, if your DVD player doesn't have either an HDMI or component output, your stuck with composite (RCA).
Even if everything you connect is analog, you'll still need to connect the HDMI output to your TV to see the setup menu. While the panel on the front of the unit does show you what you're adjusting, it's a pain compared to the nice menu on your TV. For that reason, if you don't have an HDTV set, I wouldn't bother with this unit. It's built around HD, meaning buy something cheaper and more basic if you're still using that old tube set or something more versatile if you have an older RP HDTV set.
Using the on screen menu, setup was very easy, from setting the speaker distances and levels to assigning inputs and outputs to devices. When in doubt, read that manual they included. It's big, but handy. This unit does a lot, so if you want the most out of it, you need to put in the effort to learn about it. Otherwise, you're better off with a sound bar.
Overall, the system sounds great in my 15'x20' room. The speakers sound clear and crisp with ample low end coming out of the subwoofer. The levels are adjustable, including the crossover level for the sub. I was able to bring up the center channel to make quieter dialog stand out without being blown out of my seat by explosions. The on screen volume control bar (which can be shut off) is a nice touch that allows me to keep the on-amp display dimmer. The secondary front speaker output is handy if you want to be able to hear the TV out in the kitchen while you're cooking dinner (the extra speakers are not included).
The system does offer an audio return for those using their TV to receive TV signals over the air, but only via HDMI. Again, you'll likely want to have that connection in order to use the on-screen menu. This is only an issue with TVs that don't have an HDMI connection.
Overall, I give the unit 4 stars for the vast amount of versatility, but not 5 stars for its lack of a preamp output for a powered sub and the cheesy speaker wires and connections. While I certainly didn't expect to get a powered sub at this price point, not having the output option on the amp means I can't add one later. It's a notable missing feature on an otherwise awesome product. Most people won't miss it, but some will. Honestly, if I could give ratings in half star increments, it would be 4 1/2 stars, since the majority of the people looking at this system will be happy with the specs as given. The lack of an S-Video input would likely be the biggest sticking point for lower-end users.
In summary, for those on a budget that want a quality home theater experience, this is the system, bar none. It has 90% of what someone would need to take advantage of the latest home video offerings, with few compromises. If you're building a dedicated home theater room, you'll likely want something a bit higher on the food chain. You won't pay $250-$300 for such a system, though.
For the price, it's just about perfect.