Samsung's HT-DS610 home theater in a box answers the age-old question, "How low can you go?" For just $249 (list), it delivers a surprisingly robust set of features, including a built-in five-disc DVD changer and plenty of connection options, as well as tiny satellite speakers, a narrow-profile subwoofer, progressive-video output, and even DVD-Audio compatibility. No, its sound quality isn't comparable to that of high-end component systems, but considering its budget price tag, it delivers decent if somewhat underpowered surround sound for DVD movies.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.The Samsung HT-DS610's sleek, five-disc DVD changer/receiver stands just 3.3 inches tall, but its 17.5-inch depth might pose placement problems for some buyers. The simplified button arrangement on the faceplate and the illuminated blue circle of light surrounding the volume control make the receiver easy to use in a dark room.
The silver-plastic satellites are among the cutest we've seen, a mere 5.3 inches tall, and the 7.9-inch-wide center speaker comes with a table stand that should easily fit into even the most cramped home theaters. The matching subwoofer is big enough to belt out substantial bass, but since it's just 7.1 inches wide (as compared to 16.1 inches high and 15 inches deep), it's less obtrusive than cube-style subs.
The subwoofer comes factory-set at much too high a level, and even in our large home theater, we heard way too much bass. Some folks might go for that sort of bass-heavy sound, but we prefer a flatter, more naturally balanced subwoofer level. And Samsung doesn't make it easy to lower the sub level; you have to slog through the setup menu to make that correction. On the upside, the other channels' levels didn't need any adjustment. The Samsung HT-DS610 handles the standard Dolby Digital, Pro Logic II, and DTS surround-processing modes. The receiver is rated at 100 watts for each of the five satellite channels and 100 watts for the subwoofer channel as well. The carousel-style five-disc changer plays standard DVD and CD discs, as well as DVD-Audio. Home-burned DVDs and CDs of all stripes are also accepted, including WMA- and MP3-encoded CD-R/RWs and JPEG photo discs.
In addition to the requisite composite, S-Video, and progressive-scan component-video outputs, the DS610 has a single component-video input, which would be useful for connecting a DVD recorder or a DVR, for instance. There are also two composite-video A/V inputs, good for, say, a VCR or an iPod Photo dock, and two optical digital inputs, one each on the front and back panels. Samsung also provides a set of "Anynet" jacks that allow the DS610 to be controlled from a Samsung Anynet-enabled TV. That's a pretty impressive connectivity selection for a budget-priced HTIB. Another geeky little feature we liked: you can customize the DS610's background wallpaper screen with one of your own JPEGs.
Samsung doesn't provide specifics about the satellites' or subwoofer's driver sizes, but we can see that the sats are tweeterless and have just one small woofer. That's par for the course for budget HTIBs and some midline models as well.
If $249 is still too rich for your blood, note that the step-down model, Samsung's entry-level HT-DS100, sells for $50 less. The DS100 substitutes a single-play DVD player for the DS610's changer, and it includes even smaller satellite speakers. Given the Samsung HT-DS610's low, low price and the satellites' wee dimensions, we were pleasantly surprised by the sound when we played the Troy DVD. The sats' rich tonal balance flattered dialogue, and the subwoofer fleshed out the bottom octaves of the big battle scenes. The most obvious limitation was loudness. Even with the volume turned up to maximum levels, the DS610 never got close to annoying our neighbors, leading us to conclude that the 100-watt-per-channel rating seems a tad optimistic. Dynamic range was also extremely limited, so the sound lacked punch. In smaller rooms and at more modest volume levels, the DS610's sound should be reasonably satisfying.
CD sound was warm and slightly muffled, and we wished for a little extra treble sparkle and detail. Obviously, the culprit was the sats' lack of tweeters, which softened the sound to a significant degree. Elvis Costello's new CD, The Delivery Man, wasn't delivering the goods; the hard-rocking tunes felt tired, but the acoustic numbers fared better. DVD-A discs, meanwhile, sounded a tiny bit better than CDs. And while the DS610 won't satisfy audiophiles, at least we didn't have to endure the harsh screech we experienced from other pint-size satellite systems. At background-music volume levels, the DS610 sounds fine, though at those reduced levels, we were aware of the constant whoosh of the amplifier's cooling fan.
Some of Panasonic's comparably priced HTIBs, such as the , offer superior sound quality but lack the DS610's DVD changer feature. If you already own a DVD player and don't mind paying a bit more, Onkyo's superb offers even better sound for just $299.