"True" home theater fans may look down on home-theater-in-a-box systems, but sometimes that elitist attitude is unwarranted. The Onkyo HT-S7200 may technically be an HTIB, but that's just because it comes in a giant box; the system is composed of two separate components, the SKS-HT870 7.1 speaker package and HT-RC160 AV receiver; both devices are also sold separately.
The result is a powerful-sounding home theater system that can deliver on both movies and music--most HTIBs don't cut it with music. The receiver is packed with five HDMI inputs, plus an iPod dock for easy access your digital music.
The HT-S7200's weakness is aesthetics and bulky size. The included speakers are boxy, relatively big (at least compared with other HTIBs) and the black wood finish won't suit everyone's taste. If you're looking for an unobtrusive home theater system, this isn't it.
On the other hand, if your priorities are performance, features, and value, you can't go wrong with the HT-S7200. Our only note is that you might save money by purchasing the HT-S7200 like a true component-based system; we've seen the SKS-HT870 (which includes the iPod dock and speaker cables) and HT-RC160 offered for less online than the all-in-one HT-S7200 system.
All eight pieces are encased in medium-density fiberboard cabinets that are nicely finished in wood-grain black, and the speakers have irremovable black cloth grilles. The towers and center speakers come with gloss-black panels fitted to their tops and sides (respectively). The towers' circular metal bases are packed separately; you attach them with four screws each, and while you're assembling the speakers, take a peek inside the rear-mounted, bass-enhancing port. You'll see Onkyo's engineers used the speakers' full internal volume to maximize the bass producing potential of the speakers (few HTIB towers do the same).
The matching subwoofer's gloss-black front baffle makes for an upscale look; a large port on the baffle augments the bass supplied by the 10-inch down-firing woofer. A 290-watt amplifier drives the woofer, and the sub's rear panel has a single RCA, line-level input and a volume control. Measuring 10.8 inches by 19.9 inches by 16.2 inches, the sub qualifies as a full-size model and weighs 25.6 pounds. The cabinet is well built, but when we wrapped our knuckles against the sides or top of the cabinet, it didn't feel as well-braced as subs that are more expensive do.
The HT-S7200 includes the Onkyo UP-A1 iPod dock--a feature not included in the more expensive Onkyo HT-S9100THX system. When you add the price of the iPod dock to the HT-S9100THX, it's significantly more expensive.
The trend in home audio is to make gear smaller and sleeker, but Onkyo receivers are unapologetically big and bulky, coming in at 17.13 inches wide by 6.94 inches high by 12.94 inches deep. You'll want to leave plenty of space in your home theater rack to fit the receiver, especially since it tends to run hot. The front panel offers the standard assortment of buttons and knobs; the focus is definitely on function over form.
Analog upconversion is provided up to 1080i, although we really weren't satisfied with the image quality--we'll get to the details in the performance section. The onscreen display for the HT-RC160 is primarily text-based, although there are some basic graphics accompanying the menus. Unlike the TX-SR607, the HT-RC160 lacks Sirius support, although you can add it with a standalone tuner (or a streaming-audio unit that utilizes the online XM Sirius stream).
The HT-RC160's five HDMI inputs are excellent at the price range, bested only by its sister product, the TX-SR607. We were also impressed that it's possible to connect eight simultaneous HD sources, which means there are enough input "slots" to cover all five HDMI inputs and the two component video inputs. The rest of the connectivity options are standard at this price range, although there are some notable omissions. There are no S-Video inputs on the HT-RC160--which is becoming common--but there also isn't a 7.1 multichannel analog input, which may disappoint some buyers with older gear. Like most receivers in this price range, the HT-RC160 also lacks a phono jack.
Multiroom functionality is standard on the HT-RC160, with second-zone functionality offered using line-level or speaker-level outputs. Note that using the second zone speaker-level outputs requires you to use the would-be surround-back channels of a 7.1 configuration; you can't have a 7.1 setup and a second zone.
The included remote control is the same as last year's and we generally like its simple design. Instead of offering all the functions directly on the remote, the HT-RC160's clicker uses a simpler design that relies more on navigating onscreen menus. While some old-school home theater fans may prefer having all the buttons at their fingertips, we felt like this design was much less intimidating for the average user.