Now that Blu-ray players are officially a $100 commodity, it's no surprise that manufacturers are trying to cram the technology into home theater systems at the lowest price possible. Sony's BDV-E500W ($800) takes a decidedly more high-end approach, offering Blu-ray playback in a 5.1 home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) system, with step-ups like tall-boy front speakers and wireless rear speakers. Like many Sony products, the BDV-E500W exudes style, from the glossy black speakers to the glass-like front panel of the main receiver unit.
On the other hand, we were surprised by some of the BDV-E500W's shortcomings, especially the lack of any streaming media services, such as Netflix or Pandora--both of which are found on cheaper LG and Samsung Blu-ray home theater systems. We'd be willing to look past some of the missing features if it delivered better-than-average sound, but to us the BDV-E500W sounded just plain average. On its own, we had few complaints with the Sony BDV-E500W and it's one of the more stylish systems we've seen. It's recommendable for those who put a high priority on style and looks, and are willing to pay for it. Just be aware that competing systems offer more features for your home theater dollar.
Sony's big differentiating feature on the BDV-E500W is the inclusion of wireless rear speakers, via Sony's S-Air wireless audio protocol. The BDV-E500W comes with a Sony WAHT-SA10 S-Air receiver; plug the WHAT-SA10 into a power outlet at the back of your home theater, run speaker wires to your surround speakers, and you'll have a "wireless" rear speaker solution that doesn't require you to run speaker wire from the front of your home theater to the back. Other manufacturers, such as Panasonic and Samsung, offer wireless systems, but it's an optional accessory that usually costs more than $100 extra. If you choose not to wirelessly connect the BDV-E500W's rear speakers, it can also be used with Sony's other S-Air speakers for multiroom playback.
The main unit is larger than you might expect, coming in at 17 inches wide by 3.8 inches high by 16.9 inches deep. Despite its large size, it definitely outdoes most of the competing HTIB receivers we've seen in terms of looks; the glass-like reflective faceplate is attractive and the light gray bevel toward the bottom is a nice touch.
Like most Blu-ray HTIBs, the BDV-E500W's connectivity is limited to audio inputs; there are no video inputs. That means with additional components, like a cable box or game console, you'll need to make separate connections to the BDV-E500W and your TV, plus you'll have to fumble with several remotes to get it all working. (Alternatively, you can avoid some of the hassle with a quality universal remote.) While most HTIBs don't have video inputs, it's worth mentioning that LG's LHB977 (street price of less than $600) includes two HDMI inputs (but no analog audio inputs), so it might be a better choice if you have other HDMI gear.
The BDV-E500W has two analog inputs and two digital inputs (one optical, one coaxial), which compares favorably with other available systems. However, note that you're limited to the three available source labels (TV, sat/cable, and audio), so realistically only three separate components can be connected.
The BDV-E500W also features Sony's proprietary DM port, which can be used with the included TDM-IP20
iPod dock. (Alternatively, you can swap in one of Sony's other DM port accessories.) The included iPod dock is great, but the competing Panasonic SC-BT300 and LG LHB977 have the dock built-in, offering a somewhat sleeker setup.
Automatic speaker calibration is simply a matter of plugging in the supplied microphone into the receiver/Blu-ray player's rear panel mic jack. Initiating autosetup runs a series of test tones through all the speakers and subwoofer. A minute or so later the BDV-E500W will have adjusted the volume levels of the speakers and sub; and adjusted the delays for all the speakers and subwoofer. The delay settings were extremely accurate; that's a rare accomplishment for an HTIB.
The included remote features a solid button layout and is easy to use, if you're able to overlook its one bothersome flaw: there's no eject button for the Blu-ray player. That's not a unique flaw of the BDV-E500W, as all 2009 Sony home theater products we've seen have lacked a simple eject button. We found it to be an annoyance during our testing period, as we like to hit the eject button before we get off the couch to change a disc, instead of pressing the eject button on the actual unit and waiting for it to open.