Life--especially in the electronics fast lane--can be awfully complicated. That's why more and more folks are buying single-box home-theater solutions such as Yamaha's DVX-S100. Yes, this home theater in a box (HTIB) scores well with its plentiful features lineup and sleek styling, but its relatively low power makes it a better choice for smaller rooms.
The S100 consists of a Cinema Station receiver-cum-DVD player and a six-piece subwoofer/satellite package. The distinctively styled Cinema Station's top-right side ramps down to the front panel, and the component has large, easy-to-use buttons for volume, surround mode, and input. The small, silver-plastic sats are all multidriver units, and the extraslender center speaker sports three 3-inch woofers and one tweeter. To help slim down the main unit, Yamaha packed the system's power amplifiers into the subwoofer; you get a 25-watt amp for each of the five sats and a 40-watt amp for the sub's 6.5-inch woofer.
We weren't too happy with the remote, which has a cramped button layout that will frustrate fumble-fingered users. The remote also forces you to constantly switch between its amplifier and DVD controls. The S100's list of features goes further than that of most competing HTIBs. Surround-sound modes reach beyond the everyday Dolby and DTS to include Dolby Pro Logic II and a synthesized 6.1 Matrix option that promises to mimic the phantom rear-speaker image heard with 6.1-channel systems. Faroudja's DCDi video processing with 3:2 pull-down enhances DVD picture quality when the Yamaha is connected to a progressive-scan TV or an HDTV. The DVD player also decodes and plays back MP3 CDs.
Connectivity choices are unusually complete: You get a component-video output, two digital inputs (one coaxial and one optical), and one optical output. The S100 also packs a generous selection of A/V inputs and outputs with composite-video and S-Video switching. This is also one of the few kits that we've seen to feature preamp outs, allowing S100 owners to upgrade their system by adding a separate multichannel amplifier or a beefier powered subwoofer. We started our evaluations with the K-19 DVD, a fascinating Russian-submarine drama starring Harrison Ford. The S100 sounded swell at moderate levels and had a very nice sense of envelopment. The submarine's thunderous bass was clean though not terribly powerful or extended. This Yamaha doesn't have bass or treble controls, just a lonely bass-boost button that adds a muddy boom to the sound.
The S100's various Matrix 6.1 processing modes don't quite mimic the sound of a center-rear speaker, but they do enhance the system's wide-open spatiality. Pumping up the volume strained and squashed the sound, so we'd recommend the S100 for use in moderately sized rooms of less than 250 square feet.
We next sampled Neil Young's Harvest DVD-Audio (DVD-A) disc, and we were surprised to note that the S100's DVD-A player automatically defaulted to the lower-quality Dolby Digital tunes. In order to listen to the DVD-A tracks, you first have to hit the Disc Direct button on the receiver. Once that problem was solved, we discovered that the Young disc's easy-rolling sound was sweet--better than a normal CD. However, the hard-rocking Queens of the Stone Age disc Songs for the Deaf was too dynamically challenged to be much fun. The S100's power limitations may frustrate some folks, but its radio was unusually adept at pulling in tough-to-receive college stations.
All of our MP3 CDs played without a problem, but the S100 refused to display any file titles onscreen. On the plus side, the machine accommodated every type of recordable DVD, including DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs, DVD+RWs, and DVD-RWs.