Previously, home-theater packages had to meet only the most humble performance standards; they were acceptable for cozy bedroom or office systems but ill equipped for more demanding living-room theaters. That was then: Pioneer's HTP-720DV kit consists of a 6.1-channel, A/V component-grade receiver and a DVD player matched up with a space-saving speaker system.
Previously, home-theater packages had to meet only the most humble performance standards; they were acceptable for cozy bedroom or office systems but ill equipped for more-demanding living-room theaters. That was then: Pioneer's HTP-720DV kit consists of a 6.1-channel, A/V component-grade receiver and a DVD player matched up with a space-saving speaker system.
The real deal
The VSX-D811S receiver's feature set rivals that of Pioneer's megabuck models from just a few years ago. The D811S is equipped with the latest processing modes--6.1-channel Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES Discrete surround sound--as well as the now standard Dolby Pro Logic and Neo: 6 for music and cinema surround decoding. This 23-pound powerhouse delivers 100 watts to all 6 channels. Most of the lesser-used controls and buttons are hidden behind a flip-down door on the front panel--very classy.
Connectivity options will satisfy all but the most serious home-theater buffs. We spotted two sets of component-video inputs and one output, as well as five digital-audio inputs and one output. Handy, front-panel-mounted A/V inputs are a nice plus, and main front-speaker A/B operation is always a welcome feature.
The low-rider DV-353-K single-disc DVD player stands just a shade taller than two inches, but you won't feel shortchanged by its high-quality video. This player spins DVDs; hybrid, dual-layer Super Audio CDs; CDs; CD-Rs; CD-RWs; and MP3 CDs.
You get two remotes: one really nice, preprogrammed Smart Remote for the receiver and a more basic unit for the DVD player. You can, of course, use the receiver's remote to operate the player, but you have to remember to press its DVD button first.
The six 6.5-inch-tall sats look like the sort of generic, silver-plastic models that we see paired with lower-priced kits, but these two-way speakers feature 0.75-inch tweeters and 3-inch woofers. The matching compact subwoofer doesn't look terribly inspiring, but it's a 100-watt, powered unit with an 8-inch woofer.
A class act
We kicked off our home-theater trials with Panic Room, a high-tech, grown-up version of Home Alone where a mom and her daughter are hunkered down in an impenetrable vault while a bunch of would-be burglars try to get in. The 720DV has the muscle to make this DVD sound scarily realistic and boasts the finesse and the resolution to deliver the subtlest details, such as footsteps. And this movie has some of the most realistic footfalls that we've heard--big, thuddy ones when the bad guys are running over hardwood floors and crunchy steps when they're traipsing over plaster-strewn stairs. That level of detail is lost on many kits that we've tested. Oh, and Howard Shore's brooding score really added to the film's tension and power. Switching on the sixth EX (rear-mounted) speaker filled in the overall spaciousness of the surround effects.
When viewing The Thin Red Line, we learned that, at low to moderate levels, the sub was completely free of the sort of flabby, bloated bass that we've heard from most nonpowered subs in lesser kits. The sub is good but lacks the weighty slam of some of the better, powered kit units that we've seen.
The system's musicality surprised us: we sampled everything from acoustic jazz to classical to the amazing new Steve Earle CD Jerusalem, and the 720DV consistently sounded fine. Yes, we detected residual, lower-midrange thinness, and the tweeter's high frequencies lack refinement and air. But we'd rate these sats above the bulk of the single-driver, tweeterless speakers that we've heard.
Though the 720DV carries a list price of $865, you can find it for less than $600 online, which makes it considerably more attractive. All in all, we like this kit a lot, but if you're not interested in exploiting the 720DV's sixth, rear-surround speaker or you already have a decent DVD player, we'd steer your attention to Pioneer's slate of lower-priced kits. The company sells a few models with the same speaker package, such as the HTP-220S, so you can get close to the sound quality of the 720DV for less money.