Our opinion of el cheapo home-theater systems went up a couple of notches after we spent a little quality time with Onkyo's 2005 budget model, the HT-S580. The HTIB retails for a mere $299, but its shapely satellites, its full-size subwoofer, and its component-grade 5.1 A/V receiver look like they collectively go for at least $100 more. And the sound quality for both home theater and music is more upscale than that of most HTIBs in this price class.
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The Onkyo HT-S580 system features four satellites, a dedicated center-channel speaker, a substantial subwoofer, and a fully appointed A/V receiver. The plastic-bodied satellites are almost completely covered by shapely rounded grilles, an elegant styling touch that distinguishes the 8-inch-tall satellites from the more typical pint-size, cheap-looking competition. The curvy 4.25-inch-wide center speaker carries over the same look, and the speakers' backsides are fitted with keyhole slots and threaded inserts to simplify wall mounting.
The dark gray subwoofer is constructed from medium-density fiberboard, a major improvement over plastic cabinet posers we see packed with other econo systems. It weighs 17.2 pounds and measures 9.1 inches wide, 17.1 high, and 15.5 deep.
The S580's speaker package is pretty darn impressive for a $299 HTIB, and the A/V receiver's look and feel is comparable to standalone models' costing that much. Its substantial weight (19.4 pounds) speaks to its robust build quality. Setup chores are pretty straightforward--we had the S580 up and running in less than 20 minutes. No complaints about the remote, either; its buttons are nicely organized and partially backlit, so it's easy to use in dimly lit rooms.
The S580 doesn't include a DVD player, but you probably have one anyway.
The receiver boasts six 100-watt channels and a full complement of Dolby and DTS surround modes, and their processing is expedited with a set of 192kHz/24-bit digital converters--pretty upscale for a $299 HTIB! Another bonus: if you ever want to upgrade to better speakers, the receiver's versatile crossover options--60Hz/80Hz/100Hz/120Hz or 150Hz--will aid in optimizing their sound quality.
Connectivity is adequate for small home theaters, but don't expect to wire up too many components for digital surround sound beyond a DVD player and a gaming system. You get four inputs and two outputs for video, two digital audio inputs (one optical, one coaxial), and two inputs and one output for stereo. A/B speaker switching is onboard for the option of multiroom audio, a rarity in budget systems.