DVDs are great, but most folks still have a sizable collection of movies on tape. That's why we're so excited by the Rio HT2030, Sonicblue's first entry into the home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) market. This one-box solution features a smartly styled receiver/DVD player/hi-fi VCR, as well as a fine-sounding speaker package. Considering that the Rio HT2030 is priced near the low end of the HTIB market at $499 (list), its bounty of truly useful features and above-average sonics should attract a fair share of buyers. The 2030's all-in-one, compact design combines a cable-ready hi-fi VCR, a progressive-scan DVD/CD player, an AM/FM tuner, and a 5.1-channel amplifier into a nicely styled component. We feel that the 6-inch-tall sats' perforated-metal grilles look a darn sight cooler than the cloth covers found on most HTIB speakers.
The remote features a selection of differently shaped buttons on a white background, so it's easy to use in a dimly lit room. But the remote sluggishly ramps volume up and down; it takes more than a few seconds to achieve the desired level. Also, since the remote lacks fast-forward/reverse-search keys, you have to hold down the track-skip button to move quickly through a track or a chapter. It's a rather inelegant approach, and we frequently jumped ahead DVD chapters by accident when attempting to fast-forward.
The 2030's VCR/DVD player/receiver combo unit saves space but carries a potential service headache. If, for instance, the VCR fails, you'll lose your entire system while the VCR is being repaired. The 2030 features Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro Logic II surround-processing modes. You also get five 50-watt channels for the sats and a 100-watt amp for the sub.
Speakers obviously play a big part in determining a system's sound quality, and the 2030's snazzy, two-way satellites are miles ahead of the single-driver, tweeterless sats that we regularly see in major manufacturers' kits. This Rio's nonpowered sub is less distinctive and looks pretty much like other HTIB models that we've seen.
The 2030's connectivity suite is adequate for use with small systems. The HTIB offers progressive component video outputs with progressive-scan (for the DVD player only), S-Video and composite-video outputs, a set of A/V inputs, a digital-audio input, and TV-antenna (RF) inputs and outputs for the VCR. Front-panel-mounted A/V inputs ease hookup chores for gamers and video-camera buffs. Ry Cooder's rootsy Cuban foray Buena Vista Social Club came across with a clarity and poise that are all too rare for kits in the HT2030's price class. Acoustic jazz and classical music sounded spacious and natural, and while the bass didn't have the grunt that we expect from powered subwoofers, it was fairly supple and tight. The 2030 flexed its muscles to good effect on the White Stripes' White Blood Cells CD; the wee sats can definitely kick out the jams in small rooms. We much preferred the Rio's vibrant sonics over those of Sony's comparatively muddy-sounding DAV-C450.
We auditioned a couple of special-effects-driven DVDs--Star Wars--Episode II, Attack of the Clones and Men in Black II--and they sounded detailed and present but lacked impact and low-end power. The 2030's sub was the culprit. Its sound is reasonably well defined, which explains why it clicked on CDs, but it didn't reach into the lowest octaves with any sort of authority.
Since Rio produces a line of best-selling portable MP3 players, we expected the 2030's MP3-playback skills to be above average, and its sound quality was indeed noticeably cleaner than that of most HTIBs. Our collection of DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs, and DVD+RWs all played fine, but the 2030 didn't like our DVD-RWs. We recorded a few shows on the VCR, and the picture quality was fine.