Home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs) are all about delivering home-theater surround sound in a single lifestyle-friendly package. In general, we've found the recent incarnations of Sony's Dream system line of HTIBs to be an effective mixture of stylish design and decent sound quality, albeit with a premium price tag. Thus, the interest in Sony's most affordable Dream system, the DAV-FX10: it includes a smart-looking receiver/five-disc CD/DVD changer with Super Audio CD (SACD) capability, devilishly small satellite speakers, and a potent subwoofer--all for $450. The DAV-FX10 is "dreamy" enough, but the competition in the same price range--such as the , the , and the Samsung HT-HDP40--makes the FX10 less of a clear-cut choice than its more expensive siblings. The Sony DAV-FX10's sleek main component combines a receiver/amplifier and a five-disc DVD/CD/SACD changer. It measures 17 inches wide and 14.5 deep; that's considerably larger than earlier generations of Dream systems' head units. The changer's slot-loading disc mechanism eliminates the loading tray; you simply feed each disc into the opening on the front panel (the skinny slot accepts the thicker DualDiscs without problem). The front panel's row of 15 tiny control buttons looks cool, as long as you're not trying to figure out which one is Eject in a darkened room.
The Sony DAV-FX10 sounded nicely balanced even before we tackled the grueling task of sorting through Sony's less-than-intuitive menus. Even so, you're probably not off the hook; most of you will still have to navigate some menus to match the FX10's video output to your TV.
The slim-line remote mimics the receiver's crisp styling, and its minimalist button count simplifies everyday use (more buttons reside under a slip-down cover). The catch is that the remote doesn't offer basic amenities such as bass and treble controls or direct access to subwoofer volume--and those functions aren't available via the receiver either. If you like to fiddle with the sound, this isn't the HTIB for you--you're stuck with plain vanilla.
The front and rear silver-plastic satellites have a generic HTIB look, but they're nice and small at just 6.5 inches high and have keyhole slots for fuss-free wall mounting. The 11.6-inch-wide center speaker's threaded insert eases mounting chores. Sony offers matching floor stands--the adjustable-height WS-FV11 model goes for $100 a pair and the WS-WV10D/S wall brackets run $40 a pair.
The subwoofer's silver finish and sculptured front panel visually complement the receiver/changer and speakers--the solidly built medium-density fiberboard sub measures 8.2 inches wide and 15 inches high and deep. The receiver/changer head unit of the Sony DAV-FX10 includes a digital amplifier that claims to deliver 143 watts per channel to each speaker and 285 watts to the subwoofer--a dubious promise if there ever was one. The receiver/DVD changer's surround processing covers the usual Dolby Digital, Pro Logic II, DTS, and proprietary Sony surround options. The five-disc changer plays DVDs, Super Audio CDs, CDs, and MP3 and JPEG discs.
Connectivity options are limited to the bare essentials: two A/V inputs and two digital audio inputs (one coaxial, one optical), as well as the standard set of component, S-Video, and composite outputs that go to your TV. That'll do for small bedroom or den systems but not much beyond that. At first, we thought the penny-pinching designers even left off the headphone jack, but a 3.5mm jack is tucked away on the front-right side of the unit.
The Sony DAV-FX10 offers an A/V Sync feature to reestablish lip-sync with TV displays that lag behind audio. While that sounds great, since you can't fine-tune the delay to match your TV, the feature is practically useless.
The speakers all feature the same oval-shaped 2.75-by-4-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter. The subwoofer has an 8-inch woofer on its right flank.
The Sony DAV-FX10 is currently Sony's most affordable Dream system. The problem is that the competition in this price range--including the , , and HDMI-enabled Samsung HT-HDP40--is fierce. For instance, the Samsung offers HDMI output for $100 less than the Sony. You might not expect a HTIB with such small satellites to summon up the power to do the latest installment in the Star Wars saga justice, but Revenge of the Sith sounded great. The opening salvos of John Williams's score rumbled with impressive authority over the Sony DAV-FX10's spunky subwoofer, and the satellite speakers kicked the opening space battle into high gear. Even the Pixies Sell Out thrash-'n'-bash concert DVD couldn't overtax the FX10.
While a lot of HTIBs that pass muster on DVD sound pretty lame in stereo, the Sony DAV-FX10 was just as accomplished on CD. The sound was still nicely balanced, thanks in large part the satellites and subwoofer's synergy. The sats sounded like much larger speakers and played loudly without strain. Bass is warm and full, but if we had to pick on one thing, it would be the treble, as there isn't much of it. Not that the balance is overtly dull, but detail isn't a strong suit of the FX10. SACDs' sound quality was about the same as that of CDs, but we enjoyed the seamless wraparound surround effects on Beck's Sea Change SACD.
In the final analysis, the Sony DAV-FX10 delivers the goods as an affordable and attractive home-theater solution. But there are plenty of alternatives in the same price range that offer better sound. For instance, we still prefer the , which delivers superior treble detail, tauter bass, and tower speakers for roughly the same price.