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Sony BDV-E770W review: Sony BDV-E770W

OVR
8.0

Sony BDV-E770W

The Good

A 5.1 home theater system with built-in Blu-ray player; excellent sound quality for a home-theater-in-a-box system; Netflix, Amazon VOD, YouTube, Pandora, and Slacker media streaming; DLNA streaming of PC-based media; wireless rear speakers; Wi-Fi with included USB dongle; can connect iPod through USB port; 3D compatible; relatively speedy Blu-ray load times.

The Bad

No HDMI inputs; required USB dongle for Wi-Fi is a hassle compared with other units; only three external devices can be connected at once.

The Bottom Line

The Sony BDV-E770W is one of the best Blu-ray home theater systems we've tested, with excellent sound quality, tons of streaming-media options, 3D compatibility, and wireless rear speakers. The lack of HDMI inputs is the only big omission.

The Sony BDV-E770W is the company's flagship Blu-ray home theater for 2010 and it's outfitted with just about every feature you could think of. It can stream media for a ton of online sources (including Netflix, Amazon VOD, Pandora, and Slacker) and it comes with a USB Wi-Fi dongle so you don't need Ethernet in the living room. A wireless rear-speaker package is also included, which is a welcome plus now that many manufacturers don't include this even on high-end systems. You can connect an iPod directly to the BDV-E770W's USB port, and browse your music using the onscreen display. The built-in Blu-ray player is even 3D-compatible.

With all that functionality, it's surprising that the BDV-E770W lacks a major feature available on competing systems like the Samsung HT-C6500, and even much cheaper systems like the LG LHB535: HDMI inputs. That's a shame, because the BDV-E770W combines the rest of its functionality with excellent sound quality, stylish design, and fast disc-loading speeds (for an HTIB). If you can get around the lack of HDMI inputs, the BDV-E770W is an impressive Blu-ray home theater system even at $600. Still, buyers should definitely check out the competing Samsung HT-C6500, which offers slightly better sound, two HDMI inputs, and a lower price tag.

Design
Sony's home theater systems find the sweet spot between the overly glossy look of Samsung's and the ho-hum drab of Panasonic's systems. The overall aesthetic is a muted, matte-gray finish, with some gloss added to the AV receiver/Blu-ray main unit for a refined feel. All of the speakers are small enough so that they don't intrude on your living room, coming in at 3 inches wide by 8.88 inches high by 2.88 inches deep. The subwoofer is on the large size (10.88 inches wide by 16 inches high by 10.88 inches deep) and needs to be wired to the AV receiver/Blu-ray main unit. The front panel buttons on the main unit are just tiny nubs that run along the crevice on the bottom; think of them as a happy medium between touch-sensitive controls and physical buttons. Looks are subjective, but we like the Sony's style the most out of systems we've seen this year.

The BDV-E770W's subwoofer
The BDV-E770W's subwoofer is relatively large for a Blu-ray home theater system.

The included remote is cluttered, as is the case with many all-in-one systems. We liked the inclusion of button rockers for volume control, although they're placed too far down for such important controls. The directional pad is centrally placed, and we appreciated it being surrounded by important Blu-ray buttons like "top menu" and "pop-up menu." Playback controls are well-placed, but the buttons are small. If it was up to us, we'd dump the number pad to focus the remote on the more-important functions.

User Interface
Like nearly all Sony products these days, the BDV-E770W uses a version of the XMB interface. We're fans of the design, although there's a slight learning curve up front to get the logic of the layout. Different media types (music, photos, videos) are laid out horizontally, along with the setup menu. The most important thing is that navigation feels zippy (although not as quick as on a PS3), so you can quickly get around the menu.

The video icon in the BDV-E770W's menu
The video icon includes both Blu-ray playback, streaming-media services, and streaming video from a DLNA-connected PC.

Other streaming media services in the BDV-E770W's menu
Though the most important streaming-media services are listed at the top, there are a lot of nonessential services cluttering up the menu.

Blu-ray playback is lumped in with all streaming-media services under the Video icon. Our biggest gripe with the video section is that Sony didn't use a lot of discretion when picking services; there are a lot of nonessential streaming-video services that would be better grouped into a folder like "more services." On the upside, main services like Netflix, Amazon VOD, and YouTube are grouped at the top for easy access. Sony also has an icon for Qriocity, which is Sony's own on-demand video service. Sony includes a cross-platform video search function, but it doesn't work with Netflix, Amazon, or YouTube, which dilutes most of its utility.

Features

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Audio features
# of speakers 5.1 "Tall boy" speakers No
Wireless rear speakers Yes iPod dock USB
Auto speaker calibration Yes

The BDV-E770W is well-appointed with features. It includes the TA-SA200WR wireless surround amplifier, enabling you to use the rear speakers without running wires from the front of your home theater to the back; that's a feature that missing from the competing Samsung HT-C6500. The BDV-E770W doesn't have an iPod dock, but you can connect an iPod directly to the USB port using the standard USB dock connector cable included with iPods.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key Blu-ray features
3D Blu-ray Yes Onboard memory 1GB
Wi-Fi 802.11n Blu-ray profile 2.0

Blu-ray features are a strong point for the BDV-E770W as well. The big advantage is 3D compatibility, which means your HTIB will be future-proofed if you ever decide to get into the new format. Wi-Fi is included, although note that you'll need to use the included dongle. The need for a Wi-Fi dongle is a hassle, when competing systems offer Wi-Fi built-in.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Streaming-media features
Netflix Yes YouTube Yes
Amazon VOD Yes Pandora Yes
Vudu No Slacker Yes
CinemaNow No Picasa/Flickr No
DLNA compliant Yes Weather No

The suite of streaming-media services offered by the BDV-E770W is one of the most complete packages offered on the market. Netflix and Amazon VOD are excellent choices for streaming movies, and Pandora and Slacker nicely cover free streaming music. With the most recent firmware update, the BDV-E770W is also DLNA-compliant, so you can stream music, photos, and videos from a connected PC. Overall, we slightly prefer Samsung's expandable Apps platform, but it really depends on which services you care about.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Audio-decoding capabilities
Dolby TrueHD Yes DTS-HD Master Audio Yes
Dolby Digital Plus Yes DTS-HD HR Yes
Bit stream output Yes SACD/DVD-Audio SACD

Like all Blu-ray HTIBs this year, the BDV-E770W has onboard decoding for both high-resolution Dolby and DTS soundtrack formats. There's also support for SACDs, which is a step up compared with every other Blu-ray HTIB we've seen this year. If you're looking for both DVD-Audio and SACD playback, you'll have to go with a standalone Blu-ray player from Oppo.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">AV connectivity
HDMI inputs 0 Analog audio inputs 1
Optical inputs 1 Coaxial inputs 1
Minijack input No Max. connected ext. devices 3

The major knock against the BDV-E770W is the lack of any HDMI input connectivity. Competing systems such as the Samsung HT-C6500 and the LG LHB975 both offer two HDMI inputs, plus optical and analog audio inputs. Even Sony's $300 HT-CT150 sound bar has three HDMI inputs, so it's a bit puzzling why the BDV-E770W doesn't have any. If you can live without HDMI, the BDV-E770W has a decent selection of audio-only connections, including two digital audio inputs and two analog audio inputs. You can connect three external devices overall, which is about one less than most other systems.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Other connectivity
Ethernet Yes SD card slot No
USB ports 2 Headphone jack No
AM/FM FM

The rest of the BDV-E770W's connectivity is standard. Though the two USB inputs may seem like a step up over other systems, keep in mind that one of them will be occupied by the USB Wi-Fi dongle.

Audio setup
The BDV-E770W's wireless S-Air rear-speaker setup is a plug-and-play affair. Insert the small wireless S-Air transceiver into a clearly marked receptacle on the BDV-E770W's receiver/Blu-ray player and another S-Air transceiver into the surround amplifier. Then it's simply a matter of hooking up wires to the "wireless" surround speakers. You'll need two wires running from the surround amplifier to each speaker; at least it's better than running wires from the front of the home theater. The wireless system performed flawlessly during all of our listening sessions, without dropouts or added noise.

Automatic speaker calibration was painless as well. We plugged the included calibration microphone into the receiver/Blu-ray player's rear panel and initiated the setup sequence of tones, which ran a wee bit longer than usual at around 4 minutes. We can't say the setup radically changed the sound, but we didn't have any complaints before running it.

Audio performance
The BDV-E770W is an accomplished performer. We heard that as soon as we played the awesome-sounding "AIX Records Audio Calibration Disc/HD Music Sampler" Blu-ray. The mix of acoustic and electric music sounded extremely natural--bass was bloat-free, nimble, and reached surprisingly deep--but it was the sound of the acoustic guitars that best demonstrated the BDV-E770W's accuracy. This HTIB is at least on par with Yamaha's three-times-as-expensive YSP-4100 sound bar on that score.

We next watched the "Avatar" Blu-ray and the BDV-E770W's resolution of fine detail was evident during the Pandora biosphere scenes. The range of buzzes, chirps, grunts, and groans from the critters scurrying about seemed to come from all around the CNET listening room. When one of the larger Hammerhead Titanothere beasts charged into a scene, the BDV-E770W's subwoofer made its presence known. The low rumble of the mighty helicopter-like SA-2 Samson, twin-ducted, utility aircraft sounded awesome. Human dialogue lacked natural warmth, but it was clear and clean.

Next, we did a shoot out with the Samsung HT-C6500, and overall the Samsung came out ahead. That being said, the BDV-E770W was tonally leaner and therefore sounded more detailed during the intense battle sequences of "Black Hawk Down." The Sony's subwoofer didn't have as much of a tendency to get muddy when played loud; it's an all around better and much larger sub. Even so, the HT-C6500's richer overall balance and fatigue-free listening won us over. They're both above-average-sounding HTIBs.

The BDV-E770W's lean tonal balance was more problematic with CDs. The clarity was still there, but we were more aware of the satellite speakers' small size, and that the blend with the subwoofer was less than ideal. K.d. Lang's luscious "Ingenue" CD didn't sound as luscious as we've heard it on some of the better HTIBs, like Onkyo's stellar HT-S9100THX. The BDV-E770W's forte is movies, thanks largely to its superb subwoofer.

Blu-ray and DVD image quality
The BDV-E770W's Blu-ray and DVD image quality is perfectly acceptable for a Blu-ray home theater system, with only some minor issues holding it back. It passed all of our film-based program material tests, which means that the BDV-E770W should have no problem with the vast majority of Blu-ray releases. We did notice some issues on the video-based "Tony Bennett: American Classic," specifically jaggies on the clapperboard at the beginning of the Diana Krall segment. Because video-based Blu-rays are relatively rare, we wouldn't put much stock in the BDV-E770W's slightly worse Blu-ray performance compared with the Samsung HT-C6500 and the LG LHB535. For DVDs, the BDV-E770W passed our program material tests, and looked comparable to the other systems we've tested.

It's also worth pointing out that we didn't encounter the same Netflix image quality issues that we noticed during our review of the BDP-S570. The image quality of streaming Netflix content was essentially equal to what we've seen on other devices.

Though the BDV-E770's operational speed wasn't quite as quick as the blazingly fast BDP-S570 standalone player, it was still respectable and significantly better than other Blu-ray HTIBs we've tested. It has an overall CNET speed rating of 89, which is better than both the Samsung HT-C6500 and LG LHB535. It did especially well with movies with complex BD-Java menus, such as "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Spider-Man 3," as it loaded those discs more than 15 seconds faster than the Samsung. It also features a quick start mode, enabling it to load a movie from the off position in just 16 seconds. Our only caveat would be that the BDV-E770W was a little sluggish on our basic disc-loading test with the player on; it actually takes longer to load a disc when the player is on than when the player is off with quick start engaged.

OVR
8.0

Sony BDV-E770W

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8