Flat-panel TVs are all the rage, and we've seen quite a few flat-panel speakers entering the marketplace as well. It was inevitable, then, that a manufacturer would complete the trio with a flat, wall-mountable A/V receiver. Sharp's two-piece SD-HX500 receiver/DVD player combo ($1,199 list) is the midlevel model in the company's three-product lineup of skinny receivers. These components aren't just thin; the sleek, brushed-aluminum faces are among the most elegant designs we've seen. Aside from the steep price, there are a couple of hang-ups: connectivity options are in short supply, and we were underwhelmed by the HX500's sonics. The Sharp SD-HX500 comprises two separate flat-panel components: the receiver/DVD player and the dedicated amplifier. The matching rectangular slabs are a shade less than 14 inches wide and 5 inches thick. Clear plastic frames surround each component with a blue-lit halo, illuminating the controls' labeling and side-mounted buttons. We're a little surprised Sharp isn't marketing the HX500 as half of a home theater in a box: just add speakers, and you're done.
The matching SD-HX500 amp and receiver/DVD player will look snazzy flanking your flat-screen TV. To that end, Sharp includes a pair of all-metal wall-mount brackets. Thankfully, the company throws in table stands as well. Another key cosmetic detail for you (or your home integrator) to keep in mind: only the power amplifier is fitted with an AC power plug; the DVD player receives power via a dedicated cable that runs between the two units.
Loading discs is a bit out of the ordinary. The entire front panel of the HX500's DVD player unit swings forward, and you lay the disc vertically on the inside front lip. Press Play, and the disc lowers as the front panel returns to the closed position. Even if you fail to position the disc perfectly--which we did any number of times--the jam-proof loading mechanism either realigns the disc or reopens the door so that you can try again.
The large curvy remote is illogically laid out, and we never got the hang of its nonstandard button positions. Even finding the Volume Up/Down or Menu buttons was a chore. For $1,199, the lack of any sort of backlighting was a little hard to swallow.The SD-HX500's five 70-watt 1-bit (all-digital) amplifiers sample audio signals at 5.6MHz--that's 128 times faster than a CD. Sharp claims this über-sampling rate produces accurate sound. The HX500 plays CDs, DVDs, Super Audio CDs, and DVD-Audio, as well as home-burned DVDs. Despite all the bells and whistles, however, the engineers neglected something as basic as bass and treble controls. Surround processing is also bare-bones (albeit completely adequate for 5.1-channel surround): just Dolby Digital/Pro Logic II and DTS.
The receiver/DVD player's cramped backside offers few connectivity options. In addition to the usual set of component-video, S-Video, and composite-video outputs, you'll find three stereo audio inputs, three digital audio inputs (two optical, one coaxial), and one optical output. Happily, the amplifier features burly speaker-wire binding posts. The HX500 lacks provisions for switching external video sources such as game consoles or satellite boxes, so you'll have to hook those directly to your TV.