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The four 43.25-inch-tall tower speakers' elegance is far beyond what we've come to expect from a $550 home-theater system. Their curved high-gloss front baffles, cloth grilles, and black ash cabinets must be mounted on the supplied circular wood bases--wall mounting isn't an option. We did note that the tower speakers' rear panels are unfinished, but that won't matter a bit if the speakers are placed near walls. Pioneer's silver-plastic center speaker is 10.5 inches wide and 3.75 high but doesn't visually match the towers. The silver subwoofer is sturdily constructed from medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and measures 7.75 by 14.75 by 17.25 inches.
The reason the HTS-560DV's display unit can afford to be so tiny is that most of the system's electronics and its amplifier are housed in the subwoofer. As a result, the subwoofer--not the display unit--is where all of the connection jacks are located. Depending on the sub's placement in your room, it might be some distance away from the rest of your A/V sources, so you might have to buy long interconnect cables to make the connections.
We had everything screwed together and plugged in in about a half an hour, and were then ready to use Pioneer's Auto Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System (MCACC) with the supplied microphone. The autocalibration was pretty accurate overall, but it pushed the subwoofer volume level way up, so the sound was very bassy. To correct that, we went into the manual setup mode and lowered the sub volume to our taste. We also experimented with the HTS-560DV's BassMode control, which offers only two settings: Music or Movie. We opted to leave it turned off. The sound was still overly full, so we balanced the sound to our liking with the bass and treble controls found in the sound menu. Navigating the sound options via the display unit wasn't as intuitive as it should be--you have to use the front display, as there's no onscreen menu--but if you persevere, you'll eventually get what you need.
Because the DVD player is a detached unit, you'll need to set that up separately (it does, of course, have onscreen menus). It's pretty straightforward, but beginners may be flummoxed by the vagaries of the video and audio options. For instance, after we turned on the HDMI output, DVD sound reverted to stereo with all of our 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS-encoded DVDs. We had to manually restore 5.1 output by navigating to the correct menu option. The Pioneer HTS-560DV package includes the 6-piece speaker set including four towers), the mini display unit, and the separate single-disc DVD player. All of the HTS-560DV's power amplifiers, connection jacks, and Dolby/DTS surround decoding electronics are located in the system's subwoofer. Unusually, Pioneer submits the far more stringent than average Federal Trade Commission (FTC) power ratings for the system's six amplifier channels: the HTS-560DV delivers 25 watts for each of the five speaker channels and 30 watts for the subwoofer. Don't let the company's honesty throw you, the system sounds as powerful as your typical "1,000 watt" HTIB.
The system's audio connectivity is limited to one stereo analog input and three digital inputs (one coaxial and two optical). The coaxial digital input is destined to be paired with the DVD player, so that leaves you with three remaining spaces to connect audio sources (two optical digital, one analog)--enough for, say, a VCR, a cable/satellite box, and a game console. Since the system lacks any video switching, you'll have to hook up all of your sources' video outputs directly to your TV and switch inputs via the TV (video) and the HTS-560DV (audio) accordingly. There's one connectivity omission that might put off some potential buyers: the HTS-560DV lacks a headphone jack. Perhaps because the input/output jacks are clustered on the subwoofer's back panel, the system lacks both a headphone jack and an "iPod jack;" that is, a front-panel line-in minijack. By comparison, you'll find at least one of them on most other HTIBs.
The included DVD player is the Pioneer DV-490V-S, which can also be purchased separately for $100. The highlight of the player is its HDMI output, which can upconvert DVD movies to 720p and 1080i resolution for HDTVs. It also boasts decent disc compatibility: you can play your DVDs and CDs--including virtually all home-burned varieties--as well as discs with WMA/MP3 files, JPEG photos, and DivX videos. Unlike an integrated player, the advantage of a standalone model is that you can always swap in an upgrade, such as a multidisc changer or a DVD recorder.
The tower speakers feature two 3-inch woofers and a 1-inch dome tweeter, while the center makes do with a lone 3-inch woofer, and the subwoofer sports a 6.3-inch woofer on its rear panel.
If you like the idea of the small display unit and the subwoofer-based connectivity, Pioneer offers three other models with the same design: the HTS-260 (small speakers, no included DVD player), the HTS-GS1 (small speakers, designed to match the Xbox 360), and the HTS-950NXT (flagship system with slim "flat-panel" tower speakers).
Pioneer 2006 HTIBs compared:
|Model||Quick take||Included disk player?||Price|
|Pioneer HTP-2800||Pioneer's entry-level home-theater system bundles a basic A/V receiver with a 5.1 system comprised of miniature satellite speakers.||None|
|Pioneer HTP-3800||The step-up to the 2800 utilizes two wooden tallboy towers for the front speakers.||None|
|Pioneer HTS-260||By consolidating the amplifier and A/V jacks into the subwoofer, the HTS-260 offers a supertiny control unit--with automatic speaker calibration--to match its five small surround speakers.||None|
|Pioneer HTS-GS1||The HTS-GS1 is a retooled version of the HTS-260 that's designed to complement the Xbox 360.||None|
|Pioneer HTZ-360DV||Pioneer's smallest all-in-one home-theater offering delivers a receiver/DVD player with HDMI video output and a front-panel USB port.||Integrated single-disc CD/DVD player with HDMI output|
|Pioneer HTS-560DV||The HTS-560DV offers a small main control unit (similar to the HTS-260's), four tallboy tower speakers, and a full-size DVD player with HDMI output.||Stand-alone single-disc CD/DVD player with HDMI output|
Turning to movies, the system's rich balance fared somewhat better on the King Kong DVD. The big ape's antics weren't constrained by the system's trim dimensions, and the human actors dialog was clear. When we played the below-decks transport ship scene with Sean Penn from The Thin Red Line DVD, the deep bass hum of the ship's engines was bloated and lacking in definition, and though the battle scenes had reasonable impact, we too often felt the sub was struggling to deliver the goods. On CDs and DVDs, we could frequently localize the sound of the bass coming from the subwoofer and not the tower speakers, and that shattered the illusion of listening to a larger system. The towers sounded like small satellite speakers.
All in all, we'd rate the sonics of the Panasonic SC-HT940 ($500) package slightly ahead of the Pioneer's, but it's worth noting that the latter model also includes a receiver/amplifier with a built-in five-disc DVD changer. But if you place a higher priority on sound than trim size or a slick look, we'd recommend the Onkyo HT-S790 HTIB. The big and bulky $500 system lacks a DVD player, but its sound quality is among the best in its price class.