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A Review of the Sony DAV-HDX576WF Home Theater System

Good surround sound and wireless capability all in one package

The DAV-HDX576WF is the top-of-the-line home theater system in Sony's HDX series. It boasts powerful surround sound, iPod® connectivity, and a very simple multi-room audio setup. It even gives you a wireless connection to the rear speakers for room-filling music and surround effects.

But I wanted to know, can this compact system really deliver on all those fronts? I'm used to my home theater system at home — which is made up of separate components that I've paired together — and I was interested to see how an "all-in-one" system like this compares. I also wanted to check out how easy the '576WF is to set up, and see how well Sony's wireless connectivity works.

Sony DAV-HDX576WF
The Sony DAV-HDX576WF offers extras you don't see with a lot of other surround sound systems, like wireless rear speakers and an iPod dock.

The speaker setup was incredibly easy since all of the wires were conveniently color coded. The wireless rear speakers saved me from having to run speaker wire to the back of the room, but they weren't completely wireless. Both speakers connected to a small separate receiver/amplifier that plugged into the wall — it provided power, as well as the audio signal from the main unit. The package also came with a transceiver card for both the receiver and for the main unit that needed to be inserted into each device in order to transmit wireless audio signals.

The unit came with a standard composite video cable, but I used an HDMI cable to make sure I got the best video quality. Since I was testing out the system on a nice LCD HDTV, I wanted to get the benefit of the '576WF's upconverted 1080p picture.

On-screen setup
The first thing I did was use the system's automatic speaker calibration to properly set all of the speaker levels. It took a lot of the time and guesswork out of the process. I just plugged in the included mic, selected "auto calibration" from the menu during setup, and the system did the rest in less than two minutes. While the receiver sent test tones to the speakers, I got to see which speakers it was testing on the screen. Later on, I found I wanted to boost the surround sound speakers a bit — just personal taste — but this got me most of the way there.

Next, I made some simple video adjustments to specify my TV's aspect ratio and picture resolution. I also adjusted the audio settings, so that the system would always play in surround sound if it was available. All in all, total set-up time was only about an hour. I followed the tips found in Dave's article on setting up a home theater system to get things right. So if you're interested in putting together your own system, or if you've just recently put one together, you might want to check it out.

A couple of hang-ups
While programming the right A/V settings wasn't that tricky, it took me a while to get used to the '576WF's menu system and remote. Both were clunky and hard to navigate. Tiny buttons closely packed together, hard-to-read labels, and no backlighting made the remote less than ideal. It took some flipping back and forth to get to the main menu to change the settings — there was no single 'main menu' button. I had to refer to the owner's manual quite a bit at first to get the hang of it.

Fortunately, the on-screen menus weren't something I had to use very often after this initial setup. But I'd definitely recommend getting a nice universal remote. I've got a Harmony remote at home, and I missed the convenience of large, contoured buttons with easy-to-read labels and backlighting.

My only other gripe was that I had to turn the rear speakers on and off manually using a large push-in button on the front of the rear amplifier. There was no "stand-by" mode, so I had to get used to turning the rear amplifier on and off whenever I wanted to use the surround system. As a personal preference, I decided not to leave it on all the time so that it wouldn't eat up an unnecessary, albeit small, amount of power.

Rumbling cave trolls and punchy martial arts fights
The first movie I tried was Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I started with the scene where the Ringwraiths chase Frodo and Arwen as they race to Rivendell. The system handled the fast motion well, and I never lost a frame as the group dashed in and out of the trees.

Next up was the scene in which the fellowship enters the Mines of Moria. The player handled the deep blacks of the caves well, although it struggled a bit when it had to display those blacks contrasted with light colors. I really loved when the orks attacked the fellowship. I could distinctly hear arrows fly past my head, and it was as if the orks were surrounding me too, not just the characters onscreen. The sub also provided an appropriate rumble when the cave troll emerged, and when the fire demon appeared. Overall, the sound was clearly defined, and had a nice sense of spaciousness.

Next, I switched gears to the first Kill Bill movie. I started with one of the animated scenes that tells the back story of how Lucy Liu's character, Cottonmouth, made her first kill. There was a nice contrast between the scene's vibrant colors without much tweaking to the TV. Next was the final fight scene when The Bride battles Gogo and the Crazy 88 to get to Cottonmouth. Once again, the player handled the fast-paced action scenes well, and there was clear separation and depth to the sound that helped me get into the movie. The power of the system also seemed to push out at me, giving each kick and each cross of swords a great punch.

Powerful music and spacious sound
My first CD selection was an instrumental track from Miyazaki's Spirited Away by Joe Hisaishi — one of my favorite anime movies and one of the most dynamic movie soundtracks that I've listened to. I've heard this track on a high-end speaker system, and I'm used to listening to it on my nice Klipsch headphones, so I'm accustomed to what it should and shouldn't sound like.

I was actually quite impressed by the system's accuracy — when the track relaxed to the soft interludes, none of the detail was lost. I was also pleased by the power that I heard during the pinnacles of each song, especially for such a compact system. And the sub provided a nice, deep complement to the tracks that wasn't overpowering.

Then I switched to Princess Mononoke, another Miyazaki film with music by Hisaishi. This album relies on the raw sound of drums, combined with modern electronic sounds, to reinforce the movie's theme of man against nature. In a couple of the tracks that are all drums, I was struck by the system's imaging. I could clearly hear the separation between the different drums and almost pinpoint their locations in front of me.

Next, I played a few mellow Coldplay tracks from their first album Parachutes. Once again, the sub provided a nice complement to the mix. I could also hear a good amount of detail, like the pick of each string and the hit of the high-hat. Finally, I popped in a couple of Weezer and Incubus tracks to see if the system could rock out. The speakers pumped out some heavy guitar riffs and drum beats that gave great energy to the music.

iPod playback and multi-room expansion
Next, I decided to check out the iPod dock and the wireless powered speaker. The dock plugged into its own jack in the back of the receiver. It charged my iPod while it was connected, and I had basic control of my iPod with the system's remote. I really liked being able to listen to my music through this system's speakers, including songs I'd purchased from iTunes.

Sony S-Air powered speaker
The included wireless powered speaker let me listen to music in another room while a movie played on the main system.

The wireless powered speaker really was as simple as "plug and play." I simply set the main system to either "party" or "separate" mode in the main menu. Party mode automatically synced the powered speaker with the system. Separate mode allowed me to listen to a different source on the wireless speaker — including my iPod or other MP3 player through the auxiliary input, the radio, or the DVD or CD playing on the main system. I was able to listen to my iPod on the powered speaker in the next room over, while my DVD kept playing on the main system. Like most Wi-Fi® devices, the powered speaker can receive transmissions up to 164 feet away from the main unit, but it varies depending on location and what other wireless devices are in the area.

My kitchen and living room are connected at home, but none of my home theater speakers are angled towards the kitchen. So even though I can see the picture on the TV, I'm not always able to hear the sound when I get up to get a drink of water or while I'm cooking. I could definitely see myself using the powered speaker in my kitchen to extend the sound of my home theater system, or to play music from my iPod while my boyfriend plays video games.

The powered speaker also has a clock, alarm, and sleep timer, making it a cool potential bedroom alarm clock. And the '576WF can work with up to four of these separate Sony S-Air powered speakers, so you can enjoy a single source or four different music sources wirelessly all over your house.

My recommendations
As much as I liked the convenience of an all-in-one package, the nice overall look of the system, and the idea of having a separate powered speaker as an extension of my main home theater system, I don't think this system would work for someone like me. I have three video game consoles and a cable box at home, and the '576WF's receiver doesn't have enough inputs for me to hook them all up.

However, I think this system would make an excellent choice for someone who's looking to upgrade their sound system, but who doesn't need to hook up more than one or two extra components. It's a simple home theater solution that can provide a much bigger, more engaging experience than the flat sound you typically get from a TV's built-in speakers. Plus, the wireless rear speakers make it very décor-friendly. People who want more options in the box — like DVD and CD playback, iPod connectivity, and simple multi-room audio — will definitely find it with the '576WF.

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