Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
You'll find the HT-1700D smack-dab in the middle of Sony's extensive home-theater-in-a-box lineup. Features run the gamut from a robust AV receiver and a separate DVD player to a compact yet potent speaker package. Its sonic shortfalls won't please keen-eared music fans, but home-theater buffs should be pleasantly surprised by the tiny speakers.
The 1700D's look isn't nearly as gorgeous as that of Sony's mode du jour Dream systems; the STR-K740P receiver's busy faceplate is a jumble of buttons and controls.
The five silver plastic satellites are awfully small. These single-driver, tweeterless speakers stand just 5.5 inches tall, and the slim one-way center is absolutely adorable. The compact sub boasts a 100-watt amp and an 8-inch woofer. Sony claims you can place the sub anywhere, but we achieved the best sound only when the little guy was in close proximity of the front sats. Separate them by more than a few feet, and the sats' midrange thins out.
The low-slung DVP-NS315S DVD player looks a touch more contemporary than the receiver, but it has one setup quirk: if you neglect to bring up the player's menu and fiddle with its audio settings, you'll never hear the Dolby Digital soundtracks on your DVDs. You'll only hear lower-fidelity Pro Logic surround sound. We couldn't quite master the player's menu system without consulting the owner's manual, but once we got the hang of Sony's logic, we sailed through the setup chores.
The 80-watt-per-channel receiver's surround-processing abilities are limited to Dolby Digital, DTS, and standard Dolby Pro Logic decoding. Sony had the nerve to leave off Pro Logic II, which produces far better synthesized surround for CDs and the radio than the 1700D's Pro Logic system.
The DVD player sports component-video outputs, which is why we were surprised to note that the receiver's video-switching capabilities are limited to its lower-quality composite connections. That won't be a concern if your only source is the 1700D's DVD player. You can hook up its S-Video or component outputs directly to your TV. But the receiver's connectivity shortfall will be a hassle if your VCR or satellite receiver has S-Video connections. Yes, you can link up their video outputs directly to your TV, but whenever you switch from watching DVD to satellite, you'll have to switch inputs on the TV and on the STR-K740P receiver.
Sony also nixed 5.1-channel analog inputs, so you won't be able to upgrade to SACD or DVD-Audio. Otherwise, the analog and digital audio connectivity options will be more than adequate for use with small systems.
Chapter 9 in The Sum of All Fears DVD put the 1700D through rather brutal paces and demonstrated that movies are this system's forte. The kit summoned up a reasonable facsimile of the roaring crowd at the stadium. And when the nuke blew, the little system that could belted out scenes of devastation and sonic mayhem with aplomb.
We credit the little sub with a big part of the system's poise and dynamic life. Its agile 8-inch woofer has the speed and detail to reach and blend with the bass-limited sats. But if you want to revel in full-tilt Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails, you'll need to move up to a full-sized component system.
The 1700D's sound is surprisingly well balanced but not smooth enough to satisfy classical music lovers. We sampled a new reissue of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Jascha Heifetz, but the master's tone was strident and the orchestra sounded anemic. Pop and rock CDs fared better.
Summing up, the 1700D sounds wonderful with movies and somewhat less satisfying with music. This system's minimalist connectivity quotient will limit its appeal to buyers with a rack of VCRs, SACD players, or digital satellite receivers. We found the 1700D for $399 online, which puts it in the same price class as Panasonic's slightly more capable SC-HT95.