The big upgrade in home-in-a-box systems for 2009 is a built-in Blu-ray player. But those models start at $500. If you don't want to spend that much--and you're not ready for Blu-ray--there are still plenty of home theater systems with "just" DVD. Sony has three such models, each of which sport five-disc DVD changers and have the same functional capabilities, but are bundled with different speakers or accessories.
The HAV-HDX589W ($429 list), which we'll review here, comes with the S-Air wireless rear speaker assembly kit. The identically priced DAV-HDX587WC includes a secondary listening station (also based on Sony's S-Air technology) for listening to the system in another room. The entry-level DAV-HDX285 ($300) misses out on the tallboy speakers and wireless accessories, but is upgradeable to either additional function by purchasing those items separately. All the HTIBs in the series include a dock for use with iPods with dock connections (fourth generation and higher).
The HAV-HDX589W is a 5.1 system that includes two "tallboy" left and right front speakers, a center channel, and left and right surround-satellite speakers. All of the speakers are made of molded plastic with irremovable grilles. The front tallboys rest on adjustable stands that require a bit of assembly out of the box. Each speaker can be wall-mounted as well.
Up front, the center channel is a bit bulky, perhaps to complement the flanking tallboys on either side. The surround speakers are small, only going about 3 inches deep.
All of the satellites, along with the subwoofer, use proprietary connection wires that are color-coded for easy setup. The subwoofer and its 6-inch driver are neither powered nor do they have adjustable volume.
The receiver is a bit thinner compared with devices we've seen in the series in years past. An LCD screen rests above a set of quick access buttons that correspond to all five discs as well as some basic playback control functionality. Outfitted in a slick, black covering, the unit should have no problem blending in with most modern electronics.
The included remote control can be overwhelming at times. It's a bit cluttered and some buttons have too many commands assigned to them. We did like how it felt in our hands and we'd imagine the controls simply take some time getting used to.
Prior to performing the auto calibration setup, the DAV-HDX589W's sound was acceptable, but the subwoofer volume was too loud for our tastes. That said, if you're a fan of a lot of bass, you might be satisfied with the sound and forgo the auto or manual speaker setup routines.
The manual setup is simple enough to do, but after we completed it, the balance between the satellite speakers and subwoofer was less than ideal. The subwoofer had a big, boomy sound and the satellites provided us with very little bass on their own. In other words, most of the bass came from the subwoofer, way over on the right side of our listening room.
Next, we put the DCAC (Digital Cinema Auto Calibration) auto speaker calibration system through its paces. DCAC adjusts the volume level of each speaker and the subwoofer and measures the distance between each speaker.
Digital Cinema Auto Calibration is simple. Plug in the supplied A.CAL microphone and navigate the onscreen display menus to initiate the autosetup program. The whole process takes less than 5 minutes and all of the measurements are taken from just one microphone position.
After autosetup, the subwoofer volume was raised once again, which was much too loud for us. It would be nice if Sony included a subwoofer volume adjustment on the remote like many other HTIBs do, such as the Samsung HT-AS730. This makes life much easier when going from disc.
The DAV-HDX589W lacks bass and treble controls, so it doesn't offer much opportunity to adjust tonal balance. The one "tone" control, the "Dynamic Bass" button on the remote, boosts bass. But since the DAV-HDX589W has plenty of that, we never really needed to use that feature.
In addition to DVDs and audio CDs, the HAV-HDX589W can play MP3 music and JPEG photo files off a recordable CD or DVD. The unit can also play the increasingly rare SACD format. The five disc-changer is surprisingly fast, although the noise when swapping discs borders on distracting.
The HAV-HDX589W provides you with three connection options for hooking the system up to your TV. There are ports for composite, component, and an HDMI connections, but you'll only be able to control the resolution output settings when using HDMI. The HAV-HDX589W can output DVD video at 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p.
You cannot bring your own video source into the HAV-HDX589W--only a third-party audio source. There's room for an analog RCA connection or, if you're looking to add a digital source, there are optical and coaxial inputs available. The front panel also offers an audio-in jack for connecting devices that accommodate a 3.5-millimeter line-in.
The HAV-HDX589W system is equipped with Sony's "S-Air technology," which powers its wireless rear speakers. We've reiterated time and time again how misleading this "wireless" claim can be, and with the HAV-HDX589W there's no difference. The only thing wireless here is the audio sent from the receiver's transmitter to the rear speaker's receiver. The system uses a pair of S-Air cartridges that plug into both the receiver and the surround-speaker receiver.
The surround-speaker transmitter must have power and be hard wired to each rear-surround speaker, meaning the whole thing actually adds one more wire to deal with--the power cable. However, it is nice to eliminate long rear-surround speaker wires, as hiding the front-to-back speaker cables in a living room can be quite a chore. The rear speakers perform well and are simple to set up. We couldn't tell any difference in sound compared with a hard-wired satellite.
The HAV-HDX589W (as well as its sibling Sony DVD home theater systems) includes an outboard iPod dock that plugs into the unit's proprietary DMPORT connection. The dock works with fourth-generation iPods or later and will work with the iPhone and iPod Touch. We should note that the device puts the iPhone into airplane mode while in use. Unfortunately, there's no onscreen (TV) display for the iPod, so you're stuck manually navigating through music on the iPod itself. You can also swap in other DMPORT accessories from Sony, such as a Bluetooth receiver or network audio streamer.
Finally, the HAV-HDX589W includes an AM/FM tuner with programmable presets. There is no built-in HD Radio or satellite radio option.
Overall, picture quality was solid when we ran the HAV-HDX589W through our series of HQV benchmarking tests. While the system did not pass the 2:3 pull-down section of the HQV benchmark, jaggies and artifacts were largely absent.
More importantly, imperfections found during our benchmarking tests were almost impossible to find in every day real-world viewing. We were more than satisfied with its performance while viewing "The Two Towers" and "The Fifth Element" on DVD. Of course, true videophiles will want to skip a DVD system altogether and go for Blu-ray instead.
Thanks to the DAV-HDX589W's abundant bass, it sounds big and powerful. Even with the subwoofer turned way down, we were always aware of its contributions.
We couldn't resist pumping up the volume on the circle of drums scene from the "House of Flying Daggers" DVD to see how the DAV-HDX589W would fare. The big drums had plenty of power, but the subwoofer's soft definition muddled the drums' impact.
Surround effects of the birds and insects during the scenes in the bamboo forest sounded great. The DAV-HDX589W's wireless surround speakers behaved perfectly; we never detected any dropouts, sputtering noises, or high hiss levels that plague some wireless speakers.
Dialog was nicely balanced, as the little DAV-HDX589W center speaker had a full, natural sound.
Jeff Beck's "Live at Ronnie Scott's" concert DVD sounded less terrific. Beck's guitar wizardry was fine, but Tal Wilkenfeld's hard-hitting bass and Vinnie Colaiuta's drums sounded bloated. Turning down the subwoofer volume helped a bit, but the sub's tendency to thickness was impossible to tame. The drums' cymbals were aggressively harsh when we listened at high volume.
CD sound fared similarly, with a lot of bass, clear-sounding vocals, and less-than-smooth treble. Since the DAV-HDX589W can play SACDs, we listened to the David Hazeltine Trio's "The Jobin Songbook in New York" SACD. Hazeltine's jazz piano sounded well above average for a moderately priced HTIB, but the speaker's underlying harshness was definitely more apparent here.
All testing considered, we think the DAV-HDX589W did a better job with movies and we wouldn't recommend it to buyers who'd use it primarily for music listening.
All in all, we found the Sony HAV-HDX589W to be a capable (if unremarkable) DVD home theater system, with quick response time while changing discs, solid sound during movie playback, and good DVD video quality. The somewhat high list price of $429 gives us pause, but if you can find it for closer to $350, it's a pretty good deal.
If wireless rear speakers aren't essential, you may want to look at the step-down DAV-HDX285 model, which is $130 cheaper. If you'd prefer a multiroom listening station, there's the DAV-HDX587WC, which goes for the same price. Alternatively, Sony makes the HT-SS360, a solid 5.1 HTIB with three HDMI inputs. This model is available for about $325 and will let you bring your own video sources.