The Good The Pioneer HTP-3800 is a budget-priced home-theater system comprising a component-style A/V receiver and a 5.1-speaker system that's highlighted by a pair of two-way, wood tower speakers.
The Bad The sound quality is lackluster, and the audio-only connectivity options preclude video source switching. The front speakers don't visually match the center and surround speakers. There's no DVD player included, so you'll have to supply one. And the small remote control is burdened with too many tiny buttons.
The Bottom Line The Pioneer HTP-3800's high-style speakers were designed to match pricey plasma TVs, but their sound quality is low-rent.
Pioneer's HTP-3800 home theater in a box (HTIB) lists for just $299, but its beautifully finished tower speakers were designed to visually complement Pioneer's gorgeous PureVision plasma TVs. The system includes an A/V receiver, small center and surround speakers, and a nonpowered subwoofer, but no DVD player; the system is ideal for buyers who already own a decent player. The Pioneer's sound quality is a mixed bag: it plays loud enough to fill moderately large rooms, but the subwoofer's volume level needs constant adjustment. Given that the HTP-3800's sound never rises above merely acceptable, you'd be better off with one of the better high-style or full-size alternatives available--even if it costs a bit more. The Pioneer HTP-3800's A/V receiver looks and feels very similar to the company's entry-level receiver, the VSX-516. That might be a mixed blessing for some buyers since it's bigger (it measures 6.25 inches high by 16.5 wide by 13.75 deep) and bulkier (a healthy 19 pounds) than the low-profile receiver/DVD players that come with many lifestyle home-theater systems, such as Pioneer's own HTZ-360DV. The receiver's size advantages provide for a superior layout of knobs and buttons compared to many more stylish competitors.
The HTP-3800 receiver's "user's manual" is a single sheet of paper, and its overly condensed user and setup information may make for a slightly more difficult setup for home-theater newbies. Lacking onscreen menus means you'll have to use the receiver's front-panel display for system setup. Thankfully, we found the menus' navigation mostly intuitive. But the overly small remote control was another story: it crams in far too many poorly labeled buttons, and the awkward layout didn't help things.
If you've spent big bucks on a flat-screen TV, such as one of Pioneer's sleek high-gloss black sets, the complementary styling of the HTP-3800's jet-black tower speakers will be especially welcome. The two 43.25-inch-tall wood cabinet speakers put to shame the ubiquitous sliver plastic--or, in some cases, metal--towers from Sony and Panasonic. The only catch here is that the Pioneer speakers must be mounted on the supplied circular wooden bases with the supplied wood screws; it would have been nice if Pioneer included provisions for wall-mounting the towers on either side of the TV. Since that's not an option, please be aware that the speakers' rear panels are unfinished, so you'll probably want to place them close to a wall.
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