Editors' Note: As of November 2008, this product has been replaced by the .
Onkyo and THX get a little touchy when reviewers describe the HT-S990THX as a home theater in a box (HTIB), so we won't do that. It's an "integrated home-theater system" featuring a 7.1-channel A/V receiver and an amply proportioned satellite/subwoofer speaker system that dwarfs the models that come with most HTIBs. It's also the first such product to be certified by THX, a provider of technologies and quality-assurance standards for the professional and consumer entertainment industries. Not surprisingly, the sonic performance of the $1,100 Onkyo HT-S990THX lived up to our high expectations. Only the system's lack of HDMI connectivity tempered our enthusiasm.
Editor's note: The original version of this review incorrectly stated that the HT-S990THX does not offers component video conversion capability. The system does offer component video conversion, and the review and the rating have been corrected to reflect that. The Onkyo HT-S990THX comes packed in one large and extremely heavy box. Its 143.5-pound heft attests to the system's build-quality--it's about as far from those chintzy, plastic all-in-one systems as you can get. You might need the help of a muscular friend when it comes time to unbox this system.
The HT-S990THX features a 7.1-channel A/V receiver that bears more than a passing resemblance to Onkyo's current-generation separate receivers. It's 17 inches wide, 6 high, and 14.75 deep, and it weighs 21.2 pounds. The receiver's partially backlit remote earns high marks for its layout and ease of use. The receiver lacks onscreen menus, but we didn't have any problem negotiating system setup via the receiver's display. Onkyo packs a THX Ultimate Demo Disc with the system, which might be of some limited help during setup, but you can use its high-impact movie clips to show off the HT-S990THX's home-theater prowess to your friends.
The speakers are finished in black ash, with gently rounded, metallic-silver front baffles. The nicely finished wood cabinets feel considerably more robust than the lightweight plastic speakers that come with most HTIBs. The left-, right-, and center-front speakers are full-size bookshelf designs measuring 17.1 inches high by 6.25 wide by nearly 8 inches deep. The four wall-mountable surround speakers are 10.8 inches tall, 7.8 wide, and 6.6 deep--we think they're better built than most front speakers that you'll find on lesser HTIBs. If you don't want or need to run all four surround speakers, go ahead and stick with standard 5.1-channel surround. You could then hook up the extra speakers to the receiver's B-speaker outputs and put them in another room. The 34.2-pound subwoofer rounds out the speaker set. It's 17.1 inches tall, almost 15 wide, and 16.8 deep, and it matches the satellite speakers' cosmetics. A lot of home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) manufacturers can't resist the temptation and splash 1,000 watts in bold typeface across the side of their HTIB shipping boxes--it's just that those power boasts are almost always pure hype. In the case of the Onkyo HT-S990THX--with THX certification backing up the receiver's 110-watt-per-channel rating--we believe the numbers. The receiver uses 192 kHz/24-bit digital-to-analog converters to handle surround processing options for Dolby Digital, Dolby EX, Pro Logic IIx, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6, DTS 96/24, Neural (used to decode XM HD Surround channels), THX Cinema2, THX Music, and THX Games.
The receiver isn't sold separately, but it shares most of the features of the company's least expensive THX (Select2) receiver, the Onkyo TX-SR703 ($800). In terms of connectivity, however, the HT-S990THX's receiver was a mixed bag. There are three A/V inputs, each of which can accept composite, S-Video, or component-video connections; a fourth composite-only A/V input is located on the front panel. The HT-S990THX also offers component video conversion, which enables any analog video input (composite, S-video or component) to be transmitted via the component video outputs. That means you need to run just one set of component cables to your TV. But the HT-S990THX has no HDMI connections or switching capabilities. That's hardly a dealbreaker, but it is a disappointment given the Onkyo's cost.
On the audio front, the receiver has four digital audio inputs (one coaxial and three opticals), but, annoyingly, no digital outputs. Compatibility with Blu-ray, HD-DVD, or SACD/DVD-Audio players is assured, thanks to the inclusion of 7.1-channel analog inputs. Two analog audio-only inputs--one with a Tape Out loop for recorders--round out the standard connections. Speaker connections are high-quality binding posts for seven amplifier channels and spring-clip connectors for the B stereo speakers.
There are also a couple of specialty connections. The RI (Remote Interactive) jack can be used with the Onkyo DS-A1 ($100) iPod docking unit. XM Satellite Radio hookup is easy as can be--just plug in an XM Connect-and-Play or an XM Pass antenna--and keep your monthly XM subscription up to date, of course. The HT-S990THX even includes Neural Surround processing, which is extremely effective in providing a surround-sound experience on the two XM channels that are currently encoded with HD Surround.
The front-left, -right, and -center speakers each feature a pair of 5-inch woofers and a 1-inch dome tweeter, while the four surround speakers use a single 5.2-inch woofer and a 1-inch dome tweeter. Instead of the usual cheesy spring-clip wire connectors, the Onkyo speakers are all fitted with sturdy binding posts. The subwoofer sports a 12-inch woofer and a 230-watt amplifier. The sub's single RCA line-level input is your only connection option, but line-level is always our first choice for subwoofer hookup.