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Enter JVC's TH-C30 ($330). This feature-filled system comes with a smooth running five-disc changer/A/V receiver, five petite satellites, and a near full-size subwoofer. Those small satellites have a bit of styling pizzazz--the fronts and surrounds are all 5.5 inches tall while the center speaker is 5.5 inches wide--and their keyhole slots simplify wall-mounting chores. We also noted that the satellites come with permanently attached cables, which means there's one fewer set of connections to deal with during setup. The slim-faced subwoofer is just 6.75 inches wide, but it measures 16.25 inches high and 18 deep and weighs an ample 25.4 pounds, thanks to a set of solid internal amplifiers and its medium-density fiberboard construction. The system's otherwise silver-plastic construction is comparable with that of other HTIBs in the TH-C30's price class.
The TH-C30's onscreen audio and video setup menus are straightforward, and we had everything squared away in just a few minutes. On another positive note, while the remote isn't backlit, it does offers easy access to individual speaker volume, bass, and treble controls, and its legible labeling is a nice plus in dimly lit home theaters.
For a non-carousel-style DVD changer, the JVC TH-C30 is a smooth and nimble machine. The front panel's deep blue LEDs illuminate discs as they load, with separate eject and play buttons for each of the five discs, so you won't mix up which is which. DivX lovers will appreciate that DVD changer plays MPEG-4, DivX, MP3/WMA files, and JPEG image files from DVD-RW, DVD-R/+RW/+R, CD-R/RW, and DVD-Audio/Video discs. This machine also supports playback of the aforementioned formats from recordable media, as well as storage devices such as flash audio players, memory card readers, memory drives, and digital cameras via the handy front-panel-mounted USB 2.0 input.
In addition to the standard DVD player outputs--composite, S-Video, and progressive-scan component--you get a single A/V S-Video input, and an optical digital audio input. That means the TH-C30 can't switch between a variety of A/V sources such as a full-fledged A/V receiver, but it will accept one external video source such as a cable/satellite box, a video game system, or a VCR, and one digital audio source as well.
Most budget-priced HTIBs are saddled with one-way, tweeterless satellites that can't produce a truly detailed sound, but the JVC TH-C30's front and center speakers each feature a 3.25-inch woofer and a 0.5-inch tweeter. The surround speakers utilize the same woofer but lack the tweeter. The surround speaker mounts the 3.25-inch woofer on the top of the speaker, firing straight up into a cone-shape reflector. The reflector disperses the sound to create a diffuse surround sound that lets the speaker disappear as a source of sound. The subwoofer has a left-side-mounted 6.25-inch woofer.
The amplifiers located in the subwoofer deliver 167 watts per channel to each of the five satellites and the subwoofer. Those power specs seem wildly unrealistic to us, but the JVC TH-C30's loudness capabilities were more than up to snuff. Surround options include the standard Dolby and DTS modes.
The big and brassy musical numbers coursing through The Producers DVD suitably demonstrated the JVC TH-C30's home-theater talents; it was actually startling to hear such a big sound bounding out of such teensy satellite speakers. Dynamic range wasn't overtly constrained, and dialogue and vocals were tonally balanced and articulate. Higher-octane home-theater trials with the I, Robot DVD were almost as thrilling, as the TH-C30 proved itself capable of filling even moderately large rooms--300 to 400 square feet--with sound. While we could quibble over the subwoofer's definition and its tendency to turn muddy when pummeled by hard-hitting action scenes, the sheer guts of the TH-C30's sound at moderately high volume levels make it a serious contender in its class.
CD sound quality wasn't anywhere near what the JVC TH-C30 was capable of when playing DVDs. The wee satellites sounded as small as they really are. The sound was closer to what you'd get from a table radio, albeit one with a healthy subwoofer supplying the bass. DVD-Audio discs such as Sinatra at the Sands produced somewhat better than CD sound but not by enough margin that we could imagine anyone spending much time listening to music over this system. That said, it'll certainly sound fine for background music.
In conclusion, as far as low-end HTIBs go, the JVC TH-C30 is one of the better values. As with the Panasonic SC-HT930 and the Sony DAV-FX10, there's not much in the way of connectivity and music-playing quality, but it's a serviceable entry-level home-theater system.