Onkyo's Envision Theater LS-V950 is pretty special, but we're used to that, as the company somehow consistently manages to crank out a line of exceptional products. This midpriced package offers upscale sound quality along with a host of top-tier features, including progressive-scan video outputs, connectivity options as complete as most budget component receivers, spunky satellite speakers, and a full-sized, powered subwoofer.
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The V950's low-slung DVD player/receiver has a gently curved, metal front panel, which adds a touch of class. We found the 40-watt-per-channel DVD/receiver quite handsome, though it does grab 16.8 inches of shelf-space depth. The front panel's blue LED keeps tabs on the built-in Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS-surround decoders. The player is compatible with all standard formats including DVDs, CDs, CD-Rs, CD-RWs, and MP3 CDs.
Connectivity options are as good as they get for home-theater kits. Beyond the aforementioned progressive-scan component-video outputs, the V950 lets you hook up a second set of main stereo speakers in another room. In addition, you get a pair of digital outputs, one digital input, and a generous selection of analog inputs and outputs.
The V950's six-speaker surround package includes four identical satellites for front-left and -right and surround duties, a dedicated center channel, and a powered subwoofer. The V950's 5.5-inch-tall, all-metal speakers aren't too shabby--they're finished in a lovely matte-aluminum and employ 3-inch woofers and ceramic tweeters. At 19.50 by 19.25 by 9.25 inches, the 31.5-pound subwoofer might be a tight squeeze in small rooms, but it does deliver full-sized deep-bass performance.
The comfortably large preprogrammed learning remote is partially backlit, and we found its oversized buttons and controls easy to use in the dark.
A kit with a rock-and-roll heart
The V950 kicked out the jams on the Almost Famous DVD. The scenes where the band Stillwater plays are particularly well recorded, and the V950--unlike some kits--didn't inhibit the music's visceral energy. Sure, that hefty sub aided and abetted the V950's swagger as the decibels climbed, but the miniature sats can play louder than you'd think. We did notice on this and other DVDs that the tweeter lacked finesse and sounded slightly brash, but at least it's not dull or mushy. The all-important center speaker managed to generate a bit more gravitas than its smaller siblings; dialogue was richly balanced and had a fair amount of presence. Even the full-tilt battle sequences on the Saving Private Ryan DVD didn't faze the V950. Surround effects were amply deployed so that we felt as if we were in the midst of the action. Oh, and the Moulin Rouge DVD's deep, saturated color palate looked especially luscious. This Onkyo also has 3:2 pull-down in progressive-scan mode, which reduces video artifacts on DVD material that was originally shot on film.
The V950's CD sound dampened our enthusiasm a bit--that tweeter irritated us and rendered Neil Young's Sleeps With Angels CD lightweight in stereo. The little left and right sats weren't terribly convincing on their own, either. Undeterred, we selected Dolby Pro Logic II surround for the rest of our CD sessions, and it fattened and warmed up the sound.
With a suggested retail price of $900, the Envision Theater LS-V950 is a good value, especially if you're searching for a kit with very small speakers that can fill medium to large home theaters. But if you split your time listening to music and movies, we recommend checking out Pioneer's $1,150 kit.