The big upgrade in home-in-a-box systems for 2009 is a built-in Blu-ray player. But those models start at $500. If you don't want to spend that much--and you're not ready for Blu-ray--there are still plenty of home theater systems with "just" DVD. Sony has three such models, each of which sport five-disc DVD changers and have the same functional capabilities, but are bundled with different speakers or accessories.
The HAV-HDX589W ($429 list), which we'll review here, comes with the S-Air wireless rear speaker assembly kit. The identically priced DAV-HDX587WC includes a secondary listening station (also based on Sony's S-Air technology) for listening to the system in another room. The entry-level DAV-HDX285 ($300) misses out on the tallboy speakers and wireless accessories, but is upgradeable to either additional function by purchasing those items separately. All the HTIBs in the series include a dock for use with iPods with dock connections (fourth generation and higher).
The HAV-HDX589W is a 5.1 system that includes two "tallboy" left and right front speakers, a center channel, and left and right surround-satellite speakers. All of the speakers are made of molded plastic with irremovable grilles. The front tallboys rest on adjustable stands that require a bit of assembly out of the box. Each speaker can be wall-mounted as well.
Up front, the center channel is a bit bulky, perhaps to complement the flanking tallboys on either side. The surround speakers are small, only going about 3 inches deep.
All of the satellites, along with the subwoofer, use proprietary connection wires that are color-coded for easy setup. The subwoofer and its 6-inch driver are neither powered nor do they have adjustable volume.
The receiver is a bit thinner compared with devices we've seen in the series in years past. An LCD screen rests above a set of quick access buttons that correspond to all five discs as well as some basic playback control functionality. Outfitted in a slick, black covering, the unit should have no problem blending in with most modern electronics.
The included remote control can be overwhelming at times. It's a bit cluttered and some buttons have too many commands assigned to them. We did like how it felt in our hands and we'd imagine the controls simply take some time getting used to.
Prior to performing the auto calibration setup, the DAV-HDX589W's sound was acceptable, but the subwoofer volume was too loud for our tastes. That said, if you're a fan of a lot of bass, you might be satisfied with the sound and forgo the auto or manual speaker setup routines.
The manual setup is simple enough to do, but after we completed it, the balance between the satellite speakers and subwoofer was less than ideal. The subwoofer had a big, boomy sound and the satellites provided us with very little bass on their own. In other words, most of the bass came from the subwoofer, way over on the right side of our listening room.
Next, we put the DCAC (Digital Cinema Auto Calibration) auto speaker calibration system through its paces. DCAC adjusts the volume level of each speaker and the subwoofer and measures the distance between each speaker.
Digital Cinema Auto Calibration is simple. Plug in the supplied A.CAL microphone and navigate the onscreen display menus to initiate the autosetup program. The whole process takes less than 5 minutes and all of the measurements are taken from just one microphone position.
After autosetup, the subwoofer volume was raised once again, which was much too loud for us. It would be nice if Sony included a subwoofer volume adjustment on the remote like many other HTIBs do, such as the Samsung HT-AS730. This makes life much easier when going from disc.
The DAV-HDX589W lacks bass and treble controls, so it doesn't offer much opportunity to adjust tonal balance. The one "tone" control, the "Dynamic Bass" button on the remote, boosts bass. But since the DAV-HDX589W has plenty of that, we never really needed to use that feature.
In addition to DVDs and audio CDs, the HAV-HDX589W can play MP3 music and JPEG photo files off a recordable CD or DVD. The unit can also play the increasingly rare SACD format. The five disc-changer is surprisingly fast, although the noise when swapping discs borders on distracting.
The HAV-HDX589W provides you with three connection options for hooking the system up to your TV. There are ports for composite, component, and an HDMI connections, but you'll only be able to control the resolution output settings when using HDMI. The HAV-HDX589W can output DVD video at 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p.
You cannot bring your own video source into the HAV-HDX589W--only a third-party audio source. There's room for an analog RCA connection or, if you're looking to add a digital source, there are optical and coaxial inputs available. The front panel also offers an audio-in jack for connecting devices that accommodate a 3.5-millimeter line-in.