The illustrated quick-start poster, the setup DVD (which includes chapters on setting up the speakers, the main system, and the remote control), and the thorough printed user guide make installation a breeze, but the 3-2-1 Series II's limited video-device connectivity is a letdown, especially at this price point. The DVD player/tuner unit has just one A/V input with S-Video, whereas competing units such as the and the have two. More importantly, both of those systems feature an HDMI output, whereas the Bose has only the standard analog video outs: one each of composite video, S-Video, and progressive-scan component video. Like those other two systems, the Bose 3-2-1 doesn't have video-conversion capabilities, so most users with multiple video sources will need to connect them directly to the TV instead of routing them through the 3-2-1 Series II.
Audio-input connectivity is a bit more robust. You can connect three audio sources through analog or digital jacks. The system is compatible with MP3 CDs and can decode Dolby Digital and DTS surround soundtracks from DVDs and external sources.
Although many two-speaker surround-sound simulations fail to provide any semblance of rear-channel audio, we were surprised by the Bose 3-2-1 Series II's broad, expansive sound field. Surround-channel sonic elements certainly weren't as localized as they would have been with an actual 5.1-channel speaker setup, but we experienced a few moments when sounds, such as effects in the Requiem for a Dream DVD, almost could have fooled us into thinking rear speakers were in play. When we ran the speaker-setup chapter from the Video Essentials DVD, where sound moves through the room in a 360-degree pattern, the sound convincingly traveled from the front of the soundstage to the sides of our listening position, though we noticed a hole in the sound directly behind us.
To their credit, the well-balanced satellites didn't overemphasize any part of the frequency spectrum. On the other hand, music didn't have as much texture and detail as we've heard from better speakers. The satellites and the subwoofer blended well, but the subwoofer sounded looser and less punchy than we'd like. With the system connected to our HDTV's component-video input, DVD video looked good. Discs consistently played without any snags.
The Bose's main weakness is its comparatively high price. Sony's DAV-X1 offers more features, including the aforementioned connectivity extras, for less money. Denon's more expensive S-301 offers a similar compact form factor, iPod connectivity and control, and hands-down the best sound of the three. Although the Bose 3-2-1 Series II DVD home-entertainment system is a decent option for bedroom and small home-theater installations, its middling sound quality just doesn't match its high price.
Bose also offers a pair of more expensive 3-2-1 systems. The Bose 3-2-1 GS Series II ($1,299 list, available in graphite or silver) features smaller satellite speakers that supposedly sound better than the ones on the standard 3-2-1 Series II. The Bose 3-2-1 GSX Series II ($1,699 list, available in graphite or silver) has the smaller speakers and adds a built-in hard disk that can rip and store up to 200 hours of CD music.