Editors' note: The rating of the Onkyo HT-S9100THX has been changed since publication to better reflect its value compared to competing home theater systems.
Most of the home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems that we review provide the convenience of an all-in-one package, but come up short on features and flexibility. Leave it to Onkyo to offer up the HT-S9100THX--a highly customizable HTIB that offers countless features and the kind of sound quality that is usually reserved for component-based systems. The HT-S9100THX is a 7.1 system, including full-size speakers and a 290-watt subwoofer. The package also features a full-blown AV receiver (it's very similar to the TX-SR606), which offers up four HDMI inputs and onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Our nitpicks are minor; its upconverting video performance is mediocre, and the sheer size of the total system means it's not an option for smaller rooms. But if you've got the space and demand outstanding sound quality, the Onkyo HT-S9100THX is about as good as it gets for an HTIB.
The HT-S9100THX's receiver looks exactly like a standard component-style Onkyo AV receiver. The 25-pound unit is somewhat of a beast for a home-theater-in-a-box unit, measuring 6 inches high, 17 inches wide, and 15 inches deep. The majority of the device is covered in black plastic except for the unit's display that runs along the middle of the receiver. There's also some connectivity available right on the front of the HT-S9100THX, consisting of a composite video AV input and a headphone jack.
The included speakers are as bulky as the receiver. The front left, center, and right speakers take up a bit of real estate--each measuring 17 inches high by 6 inches wide by 8 inches deep--so we really can't recommend the system for small rooms. Ideally, you'll want this system in a larger home theater room, where you can comfortably lay out the system.
We really liked the included remote, which is the same as the one bundled in with the TX-SR606. Instead of offering all the functions directly on the remote, the HT-S9100THX's clicker uses a simpler design that relies more on navigating onscreen menus. While some old-school home theater fans may prefer having all the buttons at their fingertips, we felt like this design was much less intimidating for the average user.
Like most midrange AV receivers, the HT-S9100THX features a text-based onscreen display in order to change various settings for the system, such as assigning inputs. While some standalone receivers like the Sony STR-DG920 offer a true graphical user interface (GUI), Onkyo's menus feature blocky white text that looks a bit out of place on an HDTV. That being said, it's easy to navigate and is laid out logically.
The HT-S9100THX receiver features Audyssey's 2EQ automatic speaker calibration system that determines speaker sizes, volume levels, and sets the subwoofer to satellite crossover frequency. The system is also able to measure the distance from the speakers to the listener, confirms that all of the speaker cables are correctly hooked up, and uses equalization to balance the frequency response of all the entire system.
The HT-S9100THX owner's manual and onscreen display remind the user to place the included calibration microphone at the seated listener's ear height to ensure more accurate results. We also noted the instructions in the owner's manual specify the subwoofer's exact volume control setting to ensure more accurate setup. The Audyssey 2EQ system runs the test tones three times, and our entire automated setup was completed in less than 15 minutes.
|Dolby TrueHD + DTS-HD MA||Yes||Onscreen display||Text|
|Analog upconversion||1080p||Source renaming||No|
|Selectable output resolution||Yes||Satellite radio||No|
For an HTIB, the HT-S9100THX is fully featured. Onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio is rare in such systems, as is upconversion for analog video signals. Unlike some competing HTIBs, you'll have no problem upgrading your home theater at a later date, as it's easy to swap out the speaker or receiver for updated components.
|HDMI inputs||4||Optical audio inputs||2|
|Component video inputs||2||Coaxial audio inputs||2|
|Max connected HD devices||6||Stereo analog audio inputs||2|
|Composite AV inputs||4||Analog multichannel inputs||7.1|
|Max connected video devices||6||Phono input||No|
The HT-S9100THX's connectivity is generous. You can hook up four HDMI-based sources, and there are two component video inputs for high-def video as well. If you've got a ton of video components, you'll be happy to note that you can hook up six HD sources (four HDMI and two component video) simultaneously, thanks to plentiful input "slots." There are also four standard composite AV inputs, three of which can also be used with S-Video; those can be assigned to the same six input slots.
Audio connections are plentiful as well; you have the option of using up to four digital connections (two coaxial and two optical) along with two analog RCA audio inputs. There's also a 7.1 multichannel analog input, which is good news if you have some older components in your home theater. Satellite and HD radio fans are out of luck, as the unit does not offer compatibility with either.
|Line level 2nd zone outputs||No||Line level 3rd zone outputs||No|
|Powered 2nd zone outputs||No||Powered 3rd zone outputs||No|
|2nd zone video||No||2nd zone HD video||No|
Considering that the HT-S9100THX is sold as an all-in-one package, it's not surprising that it doesn't offer any multiroom functionality. If you're looking for a more elaborate home audio setup, you'll want to look at a separates-based system.
While we haven't always been happy with the "improvements" rendered by auto EQ systems, the Audyssey 2EQ significantly enhanced the HT-S9100THX's sound. The big Onkyo was in fact, hands down, the best-sounding HTIB we've ever heard.
The "Pride and Glory" Blu-ray quickly established the HT-S9100THX's home theater prowess. Edward Norton stars as Ray Tierney, a New York City police detective investigating the murder of four officers. It's a gritty urban drama, but the very first scene at a football game features a heavy surround mix that put us inside the game. The seven speakers together projected a huge sound field, creating an amazingly realistic crowd atmosphere filled with cheers and screams. Later, when Norton's back on the street, the sirens and traffic coming from all around added to the urgency of the film's story.
The "Vantage Point" Blu-ray gave the HT-S9100THX's subwoofer a chance to strut its stuff. In the film, the President of the United States is giving a speech in Spain to gain support for a new counterterrorism campaign when he's shot by an assassin. At that point, all hell breaks loose as a series of explosions rock the public square. The system's dynamic slam was impressive as the big 12-inch subwoofer pummeled us with the impact of the bombs. The speakers' resolution delineated every piece in the shower of debris as it rained down on the panicked crowd.
The receiver features THX's new Loudness Plus technology that promises to counteract the tonal and spatial shifts that occur when the volume level is reduced for late night listening. It sounds great in theory, but it didn't seem to make much difference when we switched the setting on and off (with the volume turned down low). If anything, we preferred the sound from the system with THX Loudness Plus turned off.
The HT-S9100THX's CD sound was also way above par. The orchestral score for the film "Perfume" was downright lush. The clarity of the strings was exceptional, and when the cellos and basses dig in, you can truly feel it. Rock albums demonstrated the system's ability to play loud without strain, and the subwoofer's powerful performance was state-of-the-art.
As much as we loved HT-S9100THX's sound, it's possible to put together a competitive system using separate components at the same price point. For example, if you paired the Editors'-Choice-winning Energy Take Classic ($400) speaker system with the Onkyo TX-SR606 ($450 street price), you'd have a great sounding system, and a more stylish design. Sure, the Energy Take Classic is a 5.1 system, but fewer speakers may be a benefit for those who are looking for less clutter. Regardless, the HT-S9100THX offers outstanding performance for an HTIB, especially for those who want the convenience of getting everything in single (giant) box.
As we mentioned earlier, the HT-S9100THX can upconvert analog source material up to 1080i via its HDMI output. The included receiver is very similar to the TX-SR606, and we encountered many of the same issues on upconverted material. We conducted our tests using the Panasonic DMP-BD35 connected to the HT-S9100THX's receiver using component video. The receiver upconverted the signal to 1080i over its HDMI output to the Sony KDL-52XBR7.
We started off with Silicon Optix's HQV test suite on DVD. Right off the bat, the HT-S9100THX failed the first resolution test pattern, as it was unable to depict all the detail of DVD. While some image softness can be tolerable, this was very noticeable, and it cropped up in every test pattern. For example, one test pattern features marble stairs, and instead of being able to see each step, what we saw was closer to a mass of white. We looked at other test patterns, too, but the resolution issues dominated other shortcomings.
We switched over to program material and we could see jaggies all over "Star Trek: Insurrection" and "Seabiscuit" because of the resolution issue. The fault was clearly with the HT-S9100THX's video processing, as when we put the receiver in "through" mode (which leaves the HDTV responsible for scaling) the issues mostly went away. The main takeaway is that you probably shouldn't rely on the HT-S9100THX for scaling your video to 1080i. Instead, just set it in through mode--so your analog signals still get converted to HDMI--and let your HDTV do the appropriate scaling. And if you're mostly planning on using the HT-S9100THX on HDMI sources, these issues won't apply, as they only affect upconverted analog video.