The 3900's space-efficient main unit measures a trim 17 inches wide and 12.5 inches deep. Although it looks exactly like an ordinary DVD player, it also contains a 5.1-channel receiver. The box's build quality and uncluttered face don't hint at the system's oh-so-reasonable price.
Incredibly, the five 4-inch-tall sats and the solidly constructed subwoofer bear a striking resemblance to the models in the 2002 Sony Dream systems, such as the DAV-C450. The sub is a fairly large beast at 15.5 inches tall, 14 inches deep, and 8.75 inches wide. Polaroid didn't specify the driver sizes.
You can start using the 3900 without delving into the menus or the user manual. In our tests, the kit sounded fine straight out of the box. And thanks to the well-designed onscreen displays, advanced setup was easy, too.
The tidy little remote was also above average. It felt right, and aside from the volume control, all the buttons were well positioned.
The 3900's minimalist feature set at least includes progressive-scan video output. The passive sub gets its juice from the receiver, whose 500-watt power rating seems wildly optimistic.
With three stereo hookups (two inputs, one output), one coaxial and one optical digital-audio in, and a headphone jack with its own volume control, the 3900 gets a passing grade on audio connectivity. Video is more problematic, however. The unit sports component, composite, and S-Video outputs, but because it lacks inputs, you can't use it to toggle between your VCR, DVR, DVD recorder, and cable box. That burden falls to your TV.
The 3900 spins CDs, DVD-Video discs, and the other standard formats, along with all the recordable DVD variations except DVD-RWs. Also welcome are CD-R/RWs and MP3-encoded CDs.
Dolby Digital 5.1 is the only type of surround processing available for DVDs. Despite the DTS logo on the 3900's front panel, that standard is missing in action; the machine refused to play the soundtracks on our DTS-encoded discs. The system will output DTS on its digital connection, but that approach requires an A/V receiver--huh? Fortunately, virtually every DVD has a Dolby soundtrack, so the absent format isn't a total downer. You don't get even Dolby Pro Logic for CD surround; it's limited to four channels.
We started our DVD evaluation with the hit musical Chicago. The sound of the big production numbers was commendably brassy, and the straight dramatic scenes were lively and detailed. The 3900's loudness and bass capabilities proved only fair, but they're probably more than adequate for the cozy bedrooms and the relatively close spaces (smaller than 200 square feet) where this little HTIB will work best.
We next watched the Frailty DVD, a truly creepy thriller about a psycho murderer who brings his two young sons along for the kill whenever the mood strikes. During the executions, the film's mostly atmospheric soundtrack strikes terror in the audience, and the 3900 delivered the goods. Dialogue came across surprisingly well balanced, though the center speaker tended to emphasize sibilants.
The 3900's CD performance wasn't as satisfying. Bass-heavy albums such as Moby's Play didn't overload the sub, but the satellites strained a bit at moderate and loud volumes. With more-acoustic music from Bob Dylan, the sats betrayed their wee stature and sounded lightweight. Samsung's HT-DB600 offers a big step up in sound quality, especially on CDs.
A shoot-out between the 3900 and the Sony DAV-FC7 put the Polaroid's talents in perspective. The Sony, listed at $600, has a cooler swooping design, a five-disc changer, more oomph on DVDs, and sats that generate bigger and warmer (maybe too warm) audio on music. But the FC7 certainly didn't sound more than twice as expensive as the 3900.