When Sony launched its 2.1-channel DAV-X1 in 2005, it was clear that the company was gunning straight for the Bose 3-2-1 system. A year on, as the market for "lifestyle-friendly" virtual surround systems continues to grow, Sony has upgraded the X1 to handle the increased competition. An assortment of key improvements includes a slot-loading multidisc changer and automated speaker calibration. Like pretty much all virtual surround rigs, the admittedly huge sound of the DAV-X1V ($1,000 list) won't fool you into thinking you're hearing a multichannel system. That said, the X1V's impressive combination of a superstylish design and capable feature set (including HDMI video output) will satisfy DVD fans who prefer minimalist aesthetics to the room full of speakers and wires that more discriminating surround requires.
Design of Sony DAV-X1V
The Sony DAV-X1V is a 2.1-channel home theater system (two satellite speakers plus a subwoofer) anchored by a single compact "head unit" that houses the receiver and the disc player. That section's brushed-aluminum skin and high-gloss black side panels make for a striking design. The sensually curved front panel has just a few buttons: volume up/down and the usual assortment of disc player controls. Filling out at just 3.63 x 16.38 x 12.88 inches (HWD), the combined unit is also a lot smaller than your average A/V receiver and DVD changer. We really like the remote, a departure from the traditional Sony control wands, with its well-conceived button layout that hides lesser-used controls under a slip-down cover.
The rounded plastic satellite speakers come with cast metal table stands; the speakers are really small, just 3 inches high and 7.25 wide. They're attractively styled, but for this much money, we expect more impressively built, cast-metal or medium-density fiberboard speakers. Sony also offers an optional floor stand, the WS-FVX1, for buyers who would like to place the speakers further into the room. The medium-density-fiberboard-and-plastic subwoofer mirrors the satellites' style, and is also pretty compact: 17.2 x 8.2 x15.25 inches (HWD). It weighs 20.6 pounds.
Hookup chores couldn't be easier or more foolproof. The usual tangle of speaker wires gets consolidated into one three-pronged cable (16.4 feet total length to each of the satellite speakers, 9.8 feet to the subwoofer) that's fitted with special plugs. Each plug is clearly labeled for its intended destination, and you can't insert it the wrong way. The only catch is you're stuck with that cable--you can't put the receiver/changer at one end of your room and the speakers and subwoofer on the other side. Sony does offer the RK-SX1 extension cable, but you'd need one of those for each extended run.
Sony added its DCAC (Digital Cinema Auto Calibration) to the DAV-X1V's feature set. It's the same auto calibration system used on its A/V receivers, where the DCAC determines speaker sizes, balances the volume levels of all the speakers, and measures the relative distances of the speakers to the main listening position.
Autocalibration makes less of a difference on the DAV-X1V, where the included speakers limit the sonic variance you'd get from the combination of a receiver plus a third-party surround speaker package. That said, it's still important to optimize the placement of the two speakers. For best results, the two speakers should be placed the same distance apart as they are from the listening position, forming an equilateral triangle. Also, they should be placed at or close to the height of the seated listeners' ears. The DAV-X1V comes with a setup DVD that includes test tones, a helicopter flying in a circle, and sound effects of a baseball being hit that bounces around your home theater. The sounds aren't terribly realistic, but they can be of some help when placing the speakers to achieve the best surround effect. Moving the speakers even just a few inches can improve their sound.
Features of Sony DAV-X1V
The DAV-X1V uses Sony's S-Force Pro 2.1 digital signal processing to synthesize a surround sound field from two speakers. The receiver's S-Master Digital Amplifier delivers 38 watts to each speaker and the subwoofer (that's the much more conservative--and realistic--FTC rating, vs. the more "optimistic" 70-watt-per-channel rating you might see advertised). The A/V Sync is intended to compensate for video displays that lag behind the DAV-X1V's audio; unfortunately, the control isn't adjustable, which renders it almost useless. On the bright side, the DAV-X1V has bass and treble controls, making a welcome appearance following years of absence from the Dream System line.
Unlike its single-disc predecessor, the X1V boasts a five-disc changer; discs are inserted via a slot loader that gently slurps them into the housing. In addition to standard DVDs and audio CDs, the X1V also plays a wide set of recordable media, including home-burned DVDs and CDs (everything except DVD-RAM discs). Moreover, data discs with MP3 audio, DivX video, and JPEG photos are fair game, as are SACD audio discs.
The highlight of the DAV-X1V's connectivity options is its HDMI output, which upscales DVDs to 720p or 1080i resolution, making the images more potentially friendly for various HDTVs. For older TVs, composite, S-Video, and progressive/component outputs are still present. On the surface, meanwhile, the A/V inputs look promising. There are two A/V inputs, both of which offer a choice between composite or S-Video jacks and analog stereo or digital audio inputs. On the digital side, the Video 1 input lets you choose between optical or coaxial ins, while Video 2 is limited to coaxial only. Additionally, a third audio-only input dubbed TV is also available--your choice of analog or optical digital in. Rounding things out is the front minijack input, perfect for quick connections to portable audio players such as the iPod.
That's a pretty good connectivity suite for a home-theater-in-a-box system (HTIB), which is to be expected at the $1,000 price point. It means you can ostensibly use the X1V to switch between two other A/V devices--say, a cable/satellite box and a game console--plus an audio device or two. But there are two caveats. The composite/S-Video limitation means that you can't connect HD video sources. And, unlike the better HDMI-equipped A/V receivers, the DAV-X1V can't convert those video sources to any other format--composite video sources only output to composite video, and S-Video to S-Video. That means you'll have to run more cables to your TV (in addition to HDMI or component), and switch the TV's inputs accordingly. In other words, there's little advantage to using the X1V as a video switcher.