Judged on looks alone, Aiwa's HT-DV90 home theater in a box (HTIB) probably won't wow too many passersby on the showroom floor. It's a pretty standard package: a slim combo A/V receiver and DVD player teamed up with a fairly compact 5.1-speaker ensemble. Ah, but once we auditioned the DV90, we discovered that its sound quality, plentiful features, and easygoing ergonomics put it ahead of the competition. Judged on looks alone, Aiwa's HT-DV90 home theater in a box (HTIB) probably won't wow too many passersby on the showroom floor. It's a pretty standard package: a slim combo A/V receiver and DVD player teamed up with a fairly compact 5.1-speaker ensemble. Ah, but once we auditioned the DV90, we discovered that its sound quality, plentiful features, and easygoing ergonomics put it ahead of the competition.
Speaking of speakers
This kit's five satellites are armed with 4-inch drivers, which are definitely a step up from the more typical 2- to 3-inch woofers that we usually see. The silver, plastic sats' cabinets are a tad larger than those of more space-efficient speakers, but you can hang 'em high with their integral key-holed wall mounts. We're also happy to note that the DV90's sub jumps out of the pack of me-too designs. It has a wood cabinet, and it's endowed with a largish woofer (nearly 8 inches in diameter) so it can deliver more and better bass than a run-of-the-mill 6-inch subwoofer. However, while this nonpowered sub is impressive, you can further improve the sound by adding a powered sub.
The DV90's sleek, metal front panel and controls feel more substantial than those of all-plastic kits, making the overall vibe closer to that of a regular component system. Another nice touch: The receiver's front-panel controls duplicate the remote's menu, cursor, and Enter buttons, so you can play and navigate DVDs even when you misplace the remote. The receiver/DVD player doles out the standard Dolby Digital/DTS surround sounds and delivers 38 watts to each of the six speakers.
On another positive note, Aiwa didn't skimp on the connectivity options, which include component-video, S-Video, and standard composite-video outputs, plus two digital-audio inputs and one digital out. Typically, such a setup is seen only on more expensive kits.
The remote is also worth a mention because it's unusually flexible; it lets you individually adjust the relative levels of the subwoofer and the front and center speakers without bringing up setup menus. The remote also keys into other functions such as tone controls and many surround-mode options.
We cruised through the Speed DVD and watched Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock having lots of fun on a bus. The picture was crisp and the colors were rich and vibrant. Dialogue from the center speaker was pretty natural. When the cacophonous soundtrack delivered the sounds of screeching rubber, roaring engines, swooping helicopters, and things blowing up, the DV90 mimicked the sound of a larger system.
The sub was no slouch either; it rumbled with abandon, but only to a point. When we pumped up the volume to annoy-the-neighbors levels, we managed to trip the amplifier's protection circuits, and the unit shut down. OK, we learned that we could push the DV90 only so far, but that's par for the HTIB course.
Movies are one thing, but music can be an even tougher test for compact systems. That's no problem here, though--we listened to everything from Beethoven string quartets to raunchy blues to sophisticated jazz, and the DV90 was always musical. The player spins CD-Rs and CD-RWs and, yes, it can play MP3 CDs.
The $575 DV90 is a winner, though we preferred Pioneer's $620 five-disc-changer kit. True, the Pioneer's speakers take up more precious living space, but they can fill even larger rooms and play louder than the DV90.