Home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs) are all about style, and Sony's DAV-FX100W has it to burn. But this entry in the company's so-called Dream system line is not solely about looks: the FX100W also comes loaded with key features such as wireless surround speakers, a five-disc changer, tower speakers, and a powerful subwoofer, as well as an HDMI output that upscales DVD video to look crisper on HDTV displays. The Sony DAV-FX100W's $900 price tag skews toward the high end of the all-in-one home-theater market, but those looking for a combination of stylish design, impressive features, and better-than-average sound quality may find the premium worth paying. The Sony DAV-FX100W replaces last year's DAV-FR10W, which also featured tallboy speakers and a wireless rear speaker configuration. The new version trumps its predecessor's already good looks. The solid aluminum top plate adds a luxurious aura to the FX100W's head unit, which houses the system's receiver/amplifier and five-disc changer. Measuring 2.75 inches high by 17.5 wide by 16 deep, it's also considerably larger than earlier generations of Sony Dream systems. The changer's slot-loading disc mechanism eliminates the loading tray; you simply feed each disc into the slot on the front panel--the skinny slot even accepts the thicker DualDiscs without a problem. The front panel's row of 15 tiny control buttons looks impressive, but trying to figure out which one is the Eject button in a darkened room is next to impossible.
The slim remote reflects the receiver's crisp styling, and its minimalist button count simplifies everyday use. For advanced operations, an additional set of buttons resides under a slip-down cover.
While the tower speakers of the Sony DAV-FX100W are more angular than those of the FR10W, their plastic construction quickly dispels any illusion of actual quality. The four 43-inch-tall tower speakers require assembly, and we found the exercise of threading the speaker wires up through the stands a bit of a chore. The operation consumed 30 minutes to get all four speakers done. You could avoid that hassle if you mount the speakers on the wall instead. The towers and center speaker all feature the same oval-shaped 2-by-4-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter.
The subwoofer, meanwhile, sports solid MDF (medium-density fiberboard) construction and measures 8.2 inches wide, 15 high, and 15 deep. Its silver finish and sculptured front panel visually complement the receiver/changer and towers. The sub has a 7-inch woofer on its right side. The Sony DAV-FX100W's digital amplifier delivers 143 watts per channel to the front left/center/right speakers and 285 watts to the subwoofer. A separate surround amp (see below) supplies 143 watts per channel to the left and right surround speakers. The system offers the usual selection of Dolby Digital, Pro Logic II, and DTS surround-sound processing modes, along with a handful of proprietary Sony options. The five-disc changer plays all manner of DVDs and CDs, including home-burned formats, as well as MP3 CDs, JPEG picture discs, and SACDs.
The FX100W offers an A/V Sync feature to reestablish lip sync with TV displays that lag behind audio. That's great, but since you can't fine-tune the delay to match your TV, the feature is practically useless.
HDMI output is the highlight of the system's output bay. The connector enables DVDs to be upscaled to 720p and 1080i resolutions, which may provide a cleaner image on compatible HDTVs. Of course, the standard component, composite, and S-Video outputs are also available. Two sets of A/V inputs are onboard for connecting, say, a VCR or a video game system, but it's worth noting that the video from any connected sources can be passed through only the system's composite video output--there's no upconversion to the S-Video, component, or HDMI-out, which are strictly reserved for the internal DVD. One optical and one coaxial digital audio input round out the connectivity options.
In addition to the HDMI out, the Sony DAV-FX100W's big selling point is its wireless rear speakers. Of course, as we've seen with other "wireless" systems, this one actually uses a lot of wires as well as three pieces of extra hardware: a 10-inch-diameter round surround amplifier, along with a 4.5-inch-tall infrared transmitter and a matching receiver. We placed the surround amplifier in the back of our home theater, plugged it into an AC outlet, and hooked up the infrared receiver, while over in the front of the room, we plugged the transmitter's cable into the receiver/DVD changer. We next ran speaker wires between the surround amplifier and the surround speakers. You will need a direct line of sight between the IR transmitter and receiver for the wireless system to work. In other words, the wireless system eliminates only the wires that would normally run between the receiver/DVD changer and the surround speakers. Still, that can save quite a bit of tripping and tangling for many room configurations. The Flight of the Phoenix DVD soared high on the Sony DAV-FX100W. The plane crash early in the film has embarrassed many a HTIB, but the FX100W sailed through without a scratch. Dialogue was consistently clear and full-bodied. Surround effects were vividly presented, a distinct improvement over competitors' wireless speaker system's performance. This Sony's surround speakers' fidelity fully matched that of the front speakers, and we heard neither dropouts nor extraneous noise from the wireless electronics.
The subwoofer rocked the room, but even with its level set to Flat, the sound had too much bass. We have no doubt the sub's thundering low end will please many buyers, but we felt it crossed the line over to bloated and muddy. Those who agree will need to explore the mysteries of the FX100W's setup menus to smooth out the bass. We read the user manual again and again and eventually figured it out--gee, maybe next time the folks at Sony will build a Dream system with a subwoofer-level control on the remote. While they're at it, it would be great if they included bass and treble controls as well.
Switching to music, Neil Young's new Prairie Wind DVD video sounded luscious. Neil's vocals were beautifully balanced on the acoustic numbers, but the harder-rockin' tunes lacked gusto. CDs had a tendency to sound slightly muffled on some discs, which was a little strange because the satellites' treble range can sound harsh. Super Audio CDs, such as David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, offered no discernable sound-quality advantages over CD, but SACD's 5.1 surround effects were audible.
The FX100W's sure-footed home-theater prowess is impressive, to be sure, but there are alternatives. Those looking for wireless options should consider the , which--when paired with the wireless accessory--still clocks in at $250 less than the Sony. If you don't need wireless surround speakers but are looking for better sound quality, consider instead the smart-looking , which is widely available for half the price of the Sony.