Home-theater-in-a-box systems have been around forever, but the latest marketing angle is the "Blu-ray ready HTIB." The new phrase simply means that the system consists of a surround-sound-speaker system and an AV receiver, so you only need to add a Blu-ray player to complete your home theater. The Sony HT-SS360 is an entry-level Blu-ray-ready HTIB, complete with a decor-friendly (read: small) 5.1 speaker system and an AV receiver with three HDMI inputs. That's enough HDMI ports to handle most home theaters, but the HT-SS360 doesn't have any analog video ports, which is an annoyance for anyone with a Nintendo Wii, where you'll need to run its video output straight to your TV. In terms of sound quality, we felt like the HT-SS360 was up to the task on movies--especially considering its $350 list price--but like many HTIBs, it just didn't cut it for music. The HT-SS360 is a good value if you're looking for an all-in-one solution and you already have HDMI-compatible video devices (especially a PS3 or other Blu-ray player), but more discriminating listeners will have to spend more if they want a system that sounds good with music too.
The subwoofer is passive (unpowered; no built-in amp), and it's the only sizable speaker of the bunch with a 6.4-inch driver and a moderate footprint (8.75-inches wide; 16.6-inches high; 12.9-inches deep.)
The speakers are powered by the slimline AV receiver. At only 2.6-inches high, it's much smaller than a standalone AV receiver and has an attractive silver finish that should fit most decors. There are virtually no controls on the front panel, save for the power button, input selector button, and large volume knob on the far right.
The HT-SS360 is clearly designed to be used with newer, HDMI-friendly devices. The receiver has three HDMI inputs, which is one more than Panasonic's comparable SC-HT56 and should accommodate most home theater setups. On the other hand, there are no analog video inputs at all, so you can't use the HT-SS360 as your main video switching hub if you still have some analog video devices, like the ubiquitous Nintendo Wii.
We were at first a little confused as to where to plug-in the (supplied) AUTO CAL microphone. On most receivers the mic jack is located somewhere on the front panel, but the HT-SS360 it's located on the receiver's rear panel.
The included remote is the standard type that Sony includes with its HTIB units. It's an average remote at best, with lots of small similar-size buttons. On the upside, the directional pad and volume fall naturally under your thumb. We also appreciated that when we hooked up the HT-SS360 to the Sony BDP-S360 Blu-ray player we were able to use the one remote to control the Blu-ray player without any extra tweaks.