Home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs) are a great choice for anyone looking for an easy, all-in-one audio/video solution. Of course, that simplicity and convenience often comes with a price: poor sound quality and fewer features than you'd get with a do-it-yourself home theater of handpicked receivers and components. That's why the JVC TH-C6 is worthy of distinction. It's one of the very few HTIBs with sound quality that transcends the otherwise middling sonics that are customary for this category. Considering its eminently affordable $530 list price, it sounds awfully good--in fact, it's a serious contender for the best-sounding midpriced HTIB we've heard this year. Combine the affordable price tag and superior performance with a solid feature set--a compact five-disc DVD changer/receiver, four ultrathin satellite tower speakers, a compact center speaker, and a slender subwoofer--and a stylish design, and the JVC TH-C6 delivers the budget home-theater equivalent of a grand slam. In addition to a compact head unit that houses the five-disc DVD changer and receiver/amplifier, the JVC TH-C6 includes four floor-standing/wall-mountable speakers, a 12.5-inch-wide center speaker, and a slim, 6.75-inch-wide subwoofer. The system's silver plastic construction won't make any of your audiophile pals jealous, but the TH-C6's build quality is par for the HTIB course. You can't expect Porsche build quality at Hyundai prices.
While most non-carousel-style DVD changers take forever to load and unload discs, the JVC TH-C6 goes about its business as speedily as most single-play models. The front panel's deep-blue LEDs not only look neat, the ones around the disc tray serve to illuminate DVDs and CDs at night--nice.
The JVC TH-C6's autosetup system is the easiest we've seen. You don't even have to bother plugging in a microphone--just clap your hands and the system calibrates speaker levels and the listener-to-speaker distances. The remote's button layout is above par and provides easy access to the volume level of each individual speaker and subwoofer, plus bass and treble controls.
Assembling the satellites' floor stands is a time-consuming chore, mostly because you have to thread a pair of skinny wires first through the circular bases, then thread another set from the satellite into the vertical portion of the stand. That was a five- or six-minute exercise per stand, and there are four stands. The assembled towers stand more than 40 inches tall. Then again, we bet a lot of you will wall-mount the satellites and the center speaker. JVC claims the TH-C6 belts out 1,002 watts of "total system power," which works out to 167 watts per channel for each of the five satellites and the subwoofer. Those numbers are hard to swallow--we'd be hard-pressed to find a $1,500, 40-pound A/V receiver that could pump out 167 watts per. That said, we felt the JVC TH-C6's loudness capabilities are more than up to snuff.
The five-disc changer plays standard DVD videos, DVD-Audio, home-burned DVD-R/RW and DVD-RAM discs, SVCD/VCD, CD, and CD-R/RW, as well as MP3, WMA, and JPEG photo CDs. Connectivity is downright skimpy: the JVC TH-C6 scrapes by with just one optical digital input, one A/V input (with S-Video), and the usual set of video outputs: composite, S-Video, and component/progressive.
The front and center speakers feature a pair of 2.25-inch woofers and a 0.5-inch tweeter; the surround speakers utilize the same drivers but arrange them differently. The surround speaker aims the 2.25-inch woofers firing straight up into a cone-shaped reflector. The reflector disperses the sound to create a diffuse surround sound that lets the speaker disappear as a source of sound. As for the subwoofer, it sports a 6.25-inch woofer. The JVC TH-C6 acquitted itself with gusto during our initial home-theater trials with the House of Flying Daggers DVD. The sequence early in the film where Ziyi Zhang dances within a circle of oversize drums was truly visceral in its impact--the TH-C6 was a force to be reckoned with. The satellites and subwoofer were seamlessly integrated, rendering the taut drum hits and the thundering boom in perfect proportion. The quieter bamboo forest scenes with subtle whooshing of leaves sounded very realistic to us. The TH-C6's center speaker deserves special mention: its natural, full-bodied balance belies its modest dimensions.
CDs were just as impressive. JVC's willowy HTIB speakers handled everything we threw at them without strain. Wynton Marsalis's big brass band shone as the JVC TH-C6 effortless conveyed the trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and clarinets' distinctive tonality, each coming through loud and clear. Bob Dylan's early all-acoustic CDs, such as Freewheelin', displayed the TH-C6's refined way with vocals and guitars. Even Larry Coryell's fierce electric fretwork lit up the speakers as Victor Bailey's rippling bass lines perfectly meshed with Lenny White's drum kit. Bass definition was especially clear and precise. Whether we listened in stereo or surround, the sound was consistently well balanced.
High-resolution formats such as DVD-Audio never sound remotely good to us on HTIBs, but the JVC TH-C6 once again proved it was no ordinary HTIB. The Grateful Dead's DVD-Audio album, Workingman's Dead, with its spectacular harmonies and natural-sounding acoustic guitars, demonstrated the TH-C6 is in a class by itself. Yes, we've heard HTIBs that bettered this overachieving JVC, but they were always a lot larger and usually more expensive.