With a $900 list price, the Sony DAV-FX900W is poised at the high end of the company's 2006 home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) lineup; only the $2,000 DAV-LF1H is more expensive. To be sure, the DAV-FX900W has an impressive list of desirable features: a sleek front head unit with a combined A/V receiver and five-disc DVD changer that provides HDMI output with 720p/1080i video upscaling; the ability to receive XM Satellite Radio (with an add-on antenna accessory and a subscription); and automatic speaker calibration. Moreover, the system boasts front and rear tower speakers, with the option to connect the rear ones wirelessly, obviating the need for running speaker cables from the front to the back of your room. The only problem was the Sony's sound--it certainly wasn't bad, but considering the hefty $900 price tag, we weren't altogether wowed by its sonic quality on DVD or CD. Notably, there are three less expensive all-in-one HTIBs you can buy from Sony. While they're not quite as slick-looking as the FX900W, they offer the same basic multidisc changer and HDMI capabilities. For a lot of consumers, any one of them may well be the better buy. For this new generation of so-called DVD Dream Systems, Sony moved away from the all-silver finish to a brushed black-and-silver look that we found quite handsome. The Sony DAV-FX900W's slot-loading disc mechanism eliminates the loading tray; you simply feed each disc into the slot on the front panel. But the changer takes its time loading and unloading discs, requiring almost 20 seconds to start playing a CD, 30 seconds to change discs, and 8 seconds to eject one. The low-profile receiver stands 2.75 inches high, 17.5 wide, and 16 deep. Build quality is unusually solid.
The elegant main front and surround speakers are 23.25 inches tall and can be wall mounted as is, used with the short table stands, or mounted on the floor stands--both types are provided. When stand mounted, the speakers are 47.25 inches tall. Speaker-stand assembly is labor intensive and involves threading wires through the stand/bases; screwing together bases, columns, and brackets; and attaching the wireless electronics to the left surround speaker's base. The whole routine for all four speakers consumed 45 minutes but, thankfully, needs to be done only once. The circular wireless receiver/amplifier that fits under the left surround speaker's pedestal base needs to be plugged into an AC outlet, and you have to run a speaker wire across the back of the room to the other "wireless" surround speaker.
The superslim center speaker is a shade under 2 inches tall and 15 wide. The speakers are all dark gray-and-silver plastic with black metal grilles, but the subwoofer's medium-density-fiberboard construction feels pretty solid. It's 6.75 inches wide, 15.6 high, and 17.5 deep.
The A/V receiver's autosetup and speaker calibration routine was quick and painless. That said, once it was done, we thought the subwoofer was too loud, and since the remote doesn't offer direct control over the sub's volume--as most Panasonic HTIBs do--we had to read and reread the owner's manual to learn how to adjust the subwoofer volume to our liking. We eventually found the subwoofer volume buried in a Speaker Setup menu, but getting there requires far too many button pushes and an excess of obtuse menu navigation. It's not something you'd want to tackle every time you play a DVD or CD. While we're complaining, we'll also point out the slick Sony lacks some extremely basic features such as bass and treble controls.
The remote's layout was pretty good overall, but we didn't appreciate the placement of the volume and function (input selector) controls right next to each other. If we accidentally hit the function control in the middle of watching a DVD, the Sony DAV-FX900W would change inputs and stop the movie; that must have happened five times over the few days we used the FX900W. Resuming DVD playback took 25 seconds--far too long for our liking. The Sony DAV-FX900W's receiver/changer digital amplifier delivers 84 watts per channel (including the surrounds, whether they're wired or wireless) and 162 watts to the subwoofer. The unit offers the requisite surround-processing modes, including Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, and proprietary Sony surround options. The five-disc changer plays DVDs, DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW discs, Super Audio CDs, standard CDs, and MP3 and JPEG discs.
Connectivity is better than average for an all-in-one home-theater system. The head unit includes all the video outputs you'd find on a good DVD player--S-Video, as well as component- and composite-video outputs--along with an HDMI output that can scale DVDs to as high as 720p and 1080i resolution when connected to compatible HDTVs. There are two sets of A/V inputs: one offers just composite-video in, while the other set features composite- or component-video ins. Most HTIBs have just a couple of audio-only inputs, so two video inputs--one with an ultrarare component input--would normally be worth trumpeting. Unfortunately, Sony didn't follow through with the final convenience of video conversion. That means those are pass-through inputs only--composite to composite, component to component--rather than converting those incoming video signals to any and all of the DVD outputs: composite, S-Video, component, and HDMI. As a result, using the inputs for other A/V sources--say, a VCR, a DVD recorder, a cable/satellite box, or a game console--gives you little advantage to running the wires straight to your TV; you'll need to flip to the TV's corresponding video input anyway.
Rounding out the rear-panel connections are two digital audio inputs: one optical and one coaxial. There's also a connector for an XM Connect-and-Play antenna. To receive XM's 160-plus music, talk, and entertainment channels you'll need to buy a compatible antenna (such as the Audiovox CNP1000) and subscribe to the XM service, which charges a monthly fee. On the front panel, you'll find a 1/8-inch input for quick connections to a portable audio player, such as an iPod--handy for listening to your MP3s on the big speakers when you're at home. The Sony DAV-FX900W offers an A/V Sync feature to reestablish lip sync with TV displays that lag behind audio, but because it's not adjustable--you can only turn it on or off--it's not terribly useful.