What do you do to make your mid-range home theatre system stand out in today's market? In Pioneer's case, they've gone to Microsoft, presumably thrown some money at them, and the end result is the Pioneer HTP-GS1, a home theatre system with specific Xbox 360 integration features and more than a dollop of Xbox 360 style in its design.
All of the components of the system utilise the familiar rounded lines and soft white style of the Xbox 360 console itself. If we were feeling snarky, we'd point out that the rather large subwoofer also mimics the Xbox 360's size as well, although to be fair that's because, like many mid-range home theatre systems, the subwoofer also houses the HTP-GS1's reciever, which requires that bit more extra space. Beyond the subwoofer, you'll also be hefting out four small speakers and a larger central speaker from the HTP-GS1's box, as well as a calibration microphone, wired remote display and the HTP-GS1's remote control. The smaller speakers are essentially unremarkable from a design perspective, save for the fact that they're stackable, as the system has been cleverly designed to work with all the speakers in the front of the room. We can certainly see households that don't want speaker cables trailing all over the place when you settle down for a game of Dead Rising, so it's a good compromise. The extended remote display houses a single-line LCD display within a panel that fairly closely mimics the front panel of an Xbox 360, although there's no facility for clipping or otherwise attaching it to your 360.
The HTP-GS1's remote mirrors those of most other home theatre systems, save for the addition of Xbox 360-specific buttons, namely the Y, X, A and B buttons, a dedicated Xbox Guide button and Media Center button. The main cursor control will work within the 360 dashboard as if it were a controller as well. The remote front panel slides down to reveal more granular controls for selecting audio input, surround sound modes and TV control.
It's definitely important to clarify that the HTP-GS1 isn't just an Xbox 360 sound system; as it uses standard optical audio inputs any compatible bit of gear can be connected for audio output. The HTP-GS1 itself is a 600W 5.1-channel surround sound system with three digital audio inputs. Two of these are optical, with one labelled specifically for the Xbox 360, although again that's just a labelling convenience -- as well as a coaxial optical and standard analogue stereo input.
The HTP-GS1 uses Pioneer's Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System (MCACC) system to easily let you calibrate the speakers depending on your room setup; this uses a small provided calibration microphone to adjust the exact position of each speaker for optimal sound. With an eye to the fact that not everybody in your living room may want cables snaking all around the room, the HTP-GS1 also offers a front "virtual" surround sound setting where you stack the rear speakers on top of the front ones. It's very simple to set this up and/or knock it down when you want to return to full surround sound glory.
We tested the HTP-GS1 with a variety of sound inputs, including naturally enough the Xbox 360 itself. Sound quality was generally very clear and certainly loud enough for gaming purposes, although we found that the preset game mode tended to be a touch on the tinny side for our taste. This wasn't a major problem, however, as the other presets handled our gaming needs nicely. We were particularly impressed with the quality of the front surround option, where you stack the rear speakers at the front. It wasn't groundbreaking, and we could pick the difference between it and true surround sound, but as a compromise position to keep cables from becoming tripwires and gaming sessions becoming grounds for divorce, it worked acceptably well.
The HTP-GS1's remote control is in theory meant to work as something of a remote control for your entire home entertainment experience, with the inclusion of the Xbox 360 specific buttons and DVD/TV remote control buttons to boot, although our testing of these was somewhat uneven. On the plus side, the majority of the Xbox 360 controls worked very well, and we were impressed that we could even run some Xbox Live Arcade titles purely through the remote. In fact, we found that Lady Luck tended to smile on us rather more in games of Texas Hold'Em Poker with the remote than with a normal controller, although that's possibly just coincidence.
On the minus side for the remote, although it features an Xbox 360 guide button, it only works in the quick press mode, meaning you can use it to bring up the Xbox 360 guide, but not power down the console itself; you'll still have to have a controller handy, or even worse, get up off the couch to power down the 360 after a hefty session of game playing or DVD watching. Likewise we had middling results with the DVD/TV integration, with a test Acer LCD TV refusing to take any inputs from the HTP-GS1 at all.
There's a specific but probably relatively small market for the HTP-GS1. It does emulate the visual style of the Xbox 360 well, and we had no complaints against its audio reproduction given the asking price. At the same time, you've got to actually want to have a living room with a distinctive Xbox 360 look and feel to it, and outside of, say David McLean (he's the Regional Director for Xbox in Australia and New Zealand), we can't see that many consumers, or the significant others of consumers rushing out to buy one specifically for its looks. The Xbox 360 integration is a neat addition, but at this price point there are plenty of options open to consumers looking for a good home theatre/gaming audio experience.