In 2006, we gave the Harman Kardon HS 100 HTIB (home theater in a box) a good review, but there was definitely room for improvement--especially considering that it originally sold for $900. For this 2007 update, the HS 300, Harman bumped the price a notch, added HDMI and USB connectivity, and pumped up the performance capabilities of the six-piece satellite/subwoofer package. The designers retained the original AV receiver/DVD player's modernist black-gloss look, and the silver mesh-covered speakers are quite attractive in their own right. Last year's model's sound quality didn't bowl us over, but this year's is a different story. The HS 300 is a distinct improvement, on par with some of the better high-style HTIBs.
The Harman Kardon HS 300 features a combo AV receiver/DVD player and a six-piece satellite/subwoofer speaker package. We think it's really gorgeous; the receiver's jet-black faceplate isn't marred with rows of buttons or controls of any kind except for the blue-backlit volume control. It resembles the iPod-style touch wheel controls we're starting to see on home components, but since it's a mechanical volume control that actually turns, it always works. The top front edge of the unit has just power on/off and open/close buttons--everything else is found on the remote control. The receiver rests on clear plastic rails that run the complete width of the component, so when you look at it straight on the receiver appears to "float" just above the shelf it's resting on.
The tapered remote's button layout felt pretty awkward. For example, the DVD player's transport buttons are squeezed together at the skinny bottom end of the remote. Operating those teensy buttons was a chore--we could only imagine what it would be like in the dark, but fortunately all of the buttons on the remote are backlit. We also noted that when changing to the AUX input (where we had our Sirius tuner plugged in), we could no longer control the volume with the remote. We eventually figured out that the remote's Mode button would restore the volume control capability. What a pain.
Wraparound mesh grilles grace all three sides of the speaker cabinets. The matching 9.5-inch-wide center has an integral base--the speaker can be set atop a TV or on a shelf under the set. The 9.5-inch-tall satellite speakers come packed with brackets to facilitate wall mounting. Harman also offers HTFS 2 slim aluminum-extrusion column floor stands designed to match the satellite speakers. An internal wire-management system keeps speaker wires out of sight.
The cube subwoofer's curved corners match the satellites' rounded style, but it's a full size design measuring 20.5 inches high by 14.5 inches wide by 14.5 inches deep. The LED on the sub's top panel changes from orange to blue when it switches over from standby to operating modes. Beautifully constructed and finished, the sub weighs a hefty 48 pounds. The complete sat/sub ensemble comes in a silver finish.
The HS 300's setup routine was fairly straightforward. It's all manual, but even straight out of the box, the sound levels of all the speakers was in the ballpark--we just needed to boost the surround channels a little. Alternatively, you have the option of adjusting one or all of the speakers in the system. Video is just as easy, and we selected the 1080i for the HDMI output we were using. As we made our way through the onscreen menus, the system would occasionally stop responding. We never really understood the logic behind Harman's navigation interface, so once setup was completed, we never dared to go back.
The HS 300 AV receiver is conservatively rated at 35 watts for each of its five channels, but in actual use, the HTIB seemed as powerful as any of the 1,000-watt systems we've tested. Numbers are just numbers, and since the Federal Trade Commission no longer keeps manufacturers on the up and up, HTIB power ratings are meaningless. If you care about power and want to play movies or music really loud, buy a powerful AV receiver (or better yet, separate components). Standard Dolby and DTS surround processing are included with the HS 300 and the DVD player can also play DVD-Audio discs.
The receiver/DVD player's connectivity is a mixed bag. You get the standard DVD video outputs--composite, S-Video, component, and HDMI (with up to 1080i upscaling)--but no video inputs. That means that you will have to hook up all of your other video sources, such as a cable box and games, directly to your TV. Audio fares better--the HS 300 has two USB ports, two sets of stereo analog inputs, one analog output, two digital inputs (one coaxial and one optical), and one coaxial digital output. That means the HS 300 can accept two surround audio sources--say, a game console and a cable/satellite box--as well as two stereo audio sources, in addition to the USB hookups. We also noted the receiver has IR remote in and out jacks, plus a "sub trigger" connection to turn the sub's power on and off. The speaker connectors accept bare wires or banana plugs, and the receiver has a side-mounted 3.5mm headphone jack next to one of the USB ports.
The satellites and center speaker are two-way designs outfitted with a pair of 3-inch woofers and a 0.75-inch tweeter. The speakers' spring type wire connectors are recessed into their bases. The subwoofer's down-firing 10-inch woofer is vented through a rear-mounted port. The subwoofer features a 200-watt amplifier; on its rear panel, you'll find stereo and dedicated LFE RCA inputs, plus stereo speaker-level inputs and outputs, and a phase switch. The sub has an external trigger input that can be used with the receiver to turn the sub on and off.