"True" home theater fans may look down on home-theater-in-a-box systems, but sometimes that elitist attitude is unwarranted. The Onkyo HT-S7200 may technically be an HTIB, but that's just because it comes in a giant box; the system is composed of two separate components, the SKS-HT870 7.1 speaker package and HT-RC160 AV receiver; both devices are also sold separately. The result is a powerful-sounding home theater system that can deliver on both movies and music--most HTIBs don't cut it with music. The receiver is packed with five HDMI inputs, plus an iPod dock for easy access to your digital music. The HT-S7200's weakness is aesthetics and bulky size. The included speakers are boxy, relatively big (at least compared with other HTIBs) and the black wood finish won't suit everyone's taste. If you're looking for an unobtrusive home theater system, this isn't it. On the other hand, if your priorities are performance, features, and value, you can't go wrong with the HT-S7200. Our only note is that you might save money by purchasing the HT-S7200 like a true component-based system; we've seen the SKS-HT870 and HT-RC160 offered for less online than the all-in-one HT-S7200 system.
The Onkyo HT-S7200 includes a 7.1 speaker package, which Onkyo sells separately as the SKS-HT870. The SKS-HT870 features a pair of slender tower speakers, a dedicated center channel speaker, four surround channel speakers, and a powered subwoofer.
All eight pieces are encased in medium-density fiberboard cabinets that are nicely finished in wood-grain black, and the speakers have irremovable black cloth grilles. The towers and center speaker's come with gloss black panels fitted to their tops and sides (respectively). The towers' circular metal bases are packed separately; you attach them with four screws each, and while you're assembling the speakers take a peek inside the rear-mounted, bass-enhancing port. You'll see Onkyo's engineers used the speakers' full internal volume to maximize the bass-producing potential of the speakers (few HTIB towers do the same). The towers and center speaker are two-way designs outfitted with twin 3.25-inch woofers and a 1-inch dome tweeter. The surround speakers each have one 3.25-inch woofer, but don't have tweeters.
Speaker connectors are spring-clip types that only work with stripped bare wire ends or cables terminated with pin connectors. In either case, spring clips don't provide that secure of a grip on the wires, so they can fall out with a slight tug. We prefer banana connectors, but they're probably too expensive to be used in this budget priced system.
The matching subwoofer's glossy black front baffle makes for an upscale look; a large port on the baffle augments the bass supplied by the 10-inch down-firing woofer. A 290-watt amplifier drives the woofer and the sub's rear panel has a single RCA, line-level input, and a volume control. Measuring 10.8 inches by 19.9 inches by 16.2 inches, the sub qualifies as a full-size model and weighs 25.6 pounds. The cabinet is well built, but when we rapped our knuckles against the sides or top of the cabinet, it didn't feel as well braced as more expensive subs do.
The HT-S7200 also includes the Onkyo HT-RC160 AV receiver; it's available separately, and worth considering if you already have a worthwhile set of speakers. For more information on its design, read our full review.
Even before we tackled the HT-S7200's automatic speaker calibration, the sound was pretty good; so if you'd rather not bother attempting calibration you'll still hear decent sound. That said, it was even better post setup.
Like all of Onkyo's HTIBs of recent memory, the HT-S7200 features Audyssey's 2EQ automatic calibration system. The comprehensive system confirms the wiring polarity for each speaker is '+' to '+' and '-' to '-', adjusts each channel's volume level and time delay/distance setting, and determines the speaker "sizes" and the speaker/subwoofer crossover settings. The Audyssey 2EQ also provides equalization corrections to the speakers, which may improve the sound. The system uses a microphone to analyze the speakers and subwoofer's sound from three listening positions.
The setup process took about 14 minutes to complete. While running the test tones, we noted the seven speakers were unusually well matched, even before the 2EQ applied equalization corrections to the speakers. The sound balance of the tone/noise heard from each speaker was very consistent. That's a good thing because when a movie mixes pan sound from speaker to speaker, the transitions will be smooth.
Once the Audyssey 2EQ setup was complete, it was easy to confirm the results, which were accurate, overall. Its speaker and subwoofer measured distances were spot-on and the volume levels, including the subwoofer, were perfect. We were less happy with the subwoofer to speaker crossover settings: Audyssey 2EQ selected 50Hz for the tower and center channel speakers, which we think is too low (a low setting would result in a lack of midbass).
So we changed the crossover for the towers and center speaker to 80Hz in the manual setup after listening with the 50Hz setting. The 50Hz sound was fine, but we preferred the sound with the 80Hz setting. Audyssey 2EQ properly determined the four surround speaker channels crossover settings as 150Hz, so we left those alone.
We definitely liked the Audyssey 2EQ setup results, overall, and recommend taking the time to perform the auto setup.
|Dolby TrueHD + DTS-HD MA||Yes||Onscreen display||Text-based|
|Analog upconversion||1080i||Source renaming||Yes|
|Selectable output resolution||Yes||Satellite radio||No|
The included HT-RC160 AV receiver has onboard decoding for both of the new high-resolution soundtrack formats, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as Dolby Pro Logic IIz. (For more information on Pro Logic IIz, read our hands-on experience with the new surround format.) The Onkyo can upconvert analog sources up to a 1080i resolution, although we really weren't satisfied with the image quality--we'll get to the details in the video performance section. The onscreen display for the HT-RC160 is primarily text-based, although there are some basic graphics accompanying the menus. Unlike the similar TX-SR607, the HT-RC160 lacks built-in Sirius support, although you can add it with a standalone tuner (or a streaming-audio unit that uses the online XM Sirius stream).
|HDMI inputs||5||Optical audio inputs||2|
|Component video inputs||2||Coaxial audio inputs||2|
|Max connected HD devices||8||Stereo analog audio inputs||2|
|Composite AV inputs||5||Analog multichannel inputs||No|
|Max connected video devices||8||Phono input||No|
The HT-RC160's five HDMI inputs are excellent at the price range, bested only by its sister product, the TX-SR607. We were also impressed that it's possible to connect eight simultaneous HD sources, which means there are enough input "slots" to cover all five HDMI inputs and the two component video inputs. The rest of the connectivity options are standard at this price range, although there are some notable omissions. There are no S-Video inputs on the HT-RC160--which is becoming common--but there also isn't a 7.1 multichannel analog input, which may disappoint some buyers with older gear. Like most receivers in this price range, the HT-RC160 also lacks a phono jack.
It's also worth pointing out the HT-S7200 includes the Onkyo UP-A1 iPod dock--a feature not included in the more expensive Onkyo HT-S9100THX system. When you add the price of the iPod dock to the HT-S9100THX, it's significantly more expensive.
|Line level 2nd zone outputs||Yes||Line level 3rd zone outputs||No|
|Speaker-level 2nd zone outputs||Yes||Speaker-level 3rd zone outputs||No|
|Second zone video output||No||Second zone remote||No|
Multiroom functionality is standard on the HT-RC160, with second-zone functionality offered using line-level or speaker-level outputs. Note that using the second zone speaker-level outputs require you to use the would-be surround back channels of a 7.1 configuration; you can't have a 7.1 setup and a second zone.
We've favorably reviewed many Onkyo HTIBs over the years, but even so, we were surprised by the HT-S7200's sound. Maybe that's because it was so "right" we had to work to find things to complain about. In other words, the HT-S7200 didn't sound like a HTIB, more like a budget-priced component home theater system. That's high praise indeed.
The HT-S7200's speakers and subwoofer played well together and created a totally coherent, room-filling sound. The speakers have the sort of "open," unboxy sound we associate with pricier models. The subwoofer's deep bass extension is good, but its real talent was providing a perfect blend with all seven speakers. Maybe that's why we didn't think about the sub when watching movies or listening to music; the bass seemed to be coming from the speakers (even when it wasn't). Few HTIB subs do that as well as the HT-S7200's sub.
The DTS Master Audio soundtrack on the "Sunshine" Blu-ray Disc has overwhelmed some of the punier HTIBs we've tested, and its low frequency effects can beat up small subwoofers. With the HT-S7200, the thundering rumble of massive spacecraft flyovers from the rear of the CNET listening room over to the front three speakers were as smooth as can be. We listened with and without Audyssey EQ (equalization) and preferred the sound with it on because it improved the speakers' detail and resolution.
Pushing the HT-S7200 to play "Sunshine" really loud revealed the limits of the system's performance. Beyond certain, fairly loud volume the sound grew strained and bass definition went south. Still, the HT-S7200 will handily outgun all of the more compact HTIBs from Panasonic, Samsung, or Sony in the loud wars.
Yamaha's stellar YHT-791 is a possible contender for best HTIB sound, so we directly compared the two systems while watching the "Quantum of Solace" Blu-ray Disc. The two HTIBs performed similarly. However, we'd give the nod to the HT-S7200 since it sounded like a larger, more capable system that makes for a more effortless home theater experience. Some of that can be attributed to the Onkyo's more substantial subwoofer. Overall, the YHT-791 is right up there, but the HT-S7200 is better. Also, since both HTIBs come with component grade receivers, their sound can be upgraded with better speakers or a better subwoofer.
Then again, Onkyo's top-of-the-line HT-S9100THX is still the best sounding HTIB we've heard to date, it outclasses the HT-S7200, mostly thanks to its bigger, more powerful subwoofer and greater overall volume potential.
The HT-S7200 shined with all types of two-channel music: Rock, jazz, and classical. We listened, mostly in stereo, with just the towers and the subwoofer. The skinny towers didn't sound the least bit anemic, and the soundstage of Leonard Cohen's "Live In London" CD was big and deep. Listening to Cohen's weighty baritone voice, it was hard to believe it was coming out of a HTIB. The HT-S7200's musicality makes it a safe bet for buyers who intend to listen to as much or more music than watch movies.
The included Onkyo HT-RC160 AV receiver is capable of upconverting analog signals to its HDMI output, so we put it through our video testing suite. We connected the Oppo BDP-83 via component video to the HT-RC160, with the BDP-83 set to 480i output. The HT-RC160 was set to output at 1080i over its HDMI output and connected to the Samsung PN50B650.
We've complained about Onkyo's upconverted image quality on previous models, and the HT-RC160 suffers from the exact same issues. First we looked at test patterns from Silicon Optix's "HQV" test disc. The initial resolution pattern told the whole story, as the HT-RC160 was clearly not depicting the full resolution of DVD. On every image we saw, there appeared to be comblike artifacts on nearly everything, indicating how much resolution was actually missing. The HT-RC160 failed the other jaggies and 2:3 pull-down tests we looked at as well, but the limited resolution was almost always the more obvious deficiency.
We switched over to program material, and the HT-RC160 continued to struggle. Generally we look at titles like "Star Trek: Insurrection" and "Seabiscuit" for issues like excessive jaggies or faulty 2:3 pull-down processing, but again the loss of resolution was visible in every scene and for many it would be considered unwatchable.
To be clear, the problems we saw were only on analog video signals upconverted to the other resolutions listed above over the HDMI output. If you're only planning on using the HT-RC160 for HDMI sources, you won't run into these issues at all.
Additionally, these issues only occur if you're trying to upconvert analog signals to 1080i. You can set the HT-RC160 to "through" mode, which means the HT-RC160 will convert the analog signals to HDMI, but leave it at 480i for your HDTV to do the upconversion. In nearly all cases, this will result in better image quality, as long your HDTV can accept a 480i signal over HDMI.
The main takeaway is that you shouldn't buy the HT-RC160 if you're looking for an AV receiver with excellent upconversion video quality. However, with almost all new gadgets (except the Nintendo Wii) featuring HDMI, we expect fewer people actually need that capability.