Philips MCD515: affordable A/V minisystem
When most consumer electronics news is devoted to iPods and HDTVs, sometimes it's easy to forget that technology like A/V minisystems even exist. That's too bad, because even though it's old technology, sometimes it's just the right component for a bedroom or den. Take the Philips MCD515: It isn't the most attractive unit, but its DVD/CD player is more than adequate for late-night bedroom movie watching. It's also got a few extras--DivX playback, MP3/WMA support, and a tape deck--that are useful add-ons, even if you don't use them all the time. You can get better-sounding (LG LF-D7150), more fully featured (JVC UX-G70), or better-looking (Philips MCD702) A/V minisystems, but the MCD515 is a well-rounded unit that does everything pretty well--and sounds pretty good--for a very reasonable price.
The MCD515 is a standard three-part shelf system: a center receiver/head unit with two detachable stereo speakers. The predominately silver/gray receiver unit isn't exactly eye-catching, but it's far from an eyesore. Toward the bottom of the unit is a vertically mounted cassette tape deck. Above that are a couple of simple disc and tape transport controls for playback, as well as a prominent volume wheel. Further up is an LCD screen that's easily readable from a reasonable distance. The single-disc DVD/CD drive is on the unit's top side.
The remote is slightly cluttered for our taste. While important buttons like Play, Stop, and Volume control are slightly larger than less important buttons, they aren't differentiated enough to be able to navigate by touch easily. There are also some serious button-placement issues. For example, the Mute button is small and placed in an array of many other lesser used buttons--not the place for a button you often want to get to in a hurry. It's not a terrible remote, but we have slightly higher standards considering that it doesn't really make sense to replace it with a universal remote costing a third of the price of the minisystem.
The two speakers are each 6.7 inches wide, 9.9 inches high, and 8.4 inches deep, and are made of particle board with an imitation rosewood finish. Each features a piezo tweeter and a 4-inch woofer. Speaker wire is included, and because the receiver unit and speakers use standard spring-loaded connectors, you can substitute your own if you need longer runs.
The two main media-playing devices are the DVD/CD player and the tape deck. The disc player is also capable of handling MP3, WMA, and DivX files on home-burned CDs and DVDs. Of course, there's also an AM/FM tuner, along with included antennas. The tape deck is capable of recording from the CD player, the radio tuner, or the auxiliary input.
Connectivity is pretty average for a minisystem. For video, you get the same component video, S-Video, and composite video outputs you'd find on a standard DVD player, so you can connect the MCD515 to virtually any television. And while the all-in-one system is designed to play through its connected stereo speakers, there is some flexibility available: optical and digital coaxial outputs let you connect to an outboard receiver if you'd like to get true surround from your DVDs. There's also a set of analog RCA outputs, as well as matching input--perfect for connecting an iPod or a video game console (or any other external device) to listen to with the MCD515's speakers. The only front panel connection is a standard 1/8-inch headphone jack.
An important note regarding the component video output is that you must change the "Component" setting in the Video portion of the System menu from "S-Video" to "Component" for it to work properly. We expect component video to work out of the box without any tweaking, and we imagine plenty of people are going to be confused about this. See our note in the Tips and Tricks section for more information.