Two of the most common questions I’m asked is “how do I start up a home theater without a lot of money” and “I don’t know a lot about hooking up equipment, what do I do”. After reviewing the home theater in a box Onkyo DR-C500, the Envision, I have a new answer for these people. For a price of around $700 Onkyo has a simple, technically sound solution for the novice home theater enthusiast. The Envision provides above average performance combined with one of the best planned units for a simple and easy setup. It features built-in Dolby Digital, Dolby ProLogic II, DTS and even MP3 decoders. The Envision is capable of hooking up to either a standard interlaced television or the newer progressive scan sets. Even details such as a remote control that can learn the signals of other remotes and color coded stickers for the speaker wires make this unit ideal for the beginner or a more advanced user who just wants a complication free installation. With 100 watts per channel for the front and rear speakers and a 150 watt powered sub woofer this set will give more than enough power for most homes.
Home theater has become a staple in the American home. With the addition of new media formats such as DVD, DVD-RW, DVD-R, and MPEG3 most people want to be able to enjoy these shiny new discs, but cost and technical proficiency hold them back. While you can spend almost any given sum on a home theater setup with a product, Onkyo’s LS-V500C Envision makes having a full home theater system a few dollars and a few hours away. The Envision provides all the current video and audio formats such as Dolby 5.1, DTS, Prologic II and MPEG3 along with the ability to connect to both interlaced and progressive scan video monitors. There is plenty of power to the amplifier, a five disc changer and a remote that is actually useful throughout your entire system all in one box. Even the manual demonstrates the attention to detail that sets this unit above the pack. This unit was obviously tested with people that know little about setting up a system but it was designed by people that know and love all the technical details of home entertainment.
There is a reason many electronic retail sites only show the front of a piece of equipment. The back can be very intimidating for the typical user. With the myriad of connections, jacks and plugs awaiting the correct cable, many units seem to require an advanced degree to understand. The connectors are separated into four groupings; speakers, audio, antenna and video. Each is fully color coded and easy to get to. The only problem I found is the audio and video jacks are a bit far a part which may require you to slice the typical combined three part AV cables where the right audio (red), left audio (white) and video RCA cables are bound together. If you have to do this be sure you do not cut into the actual cable’s insulation. For the speakers there are two sets of twisted pair connectors for the front speakers. This gives you the option of running a second set of front speakers to another room. Below these, are the connectors for the rear and center speakers. Oddly, the sub woofer connector resides with the audio section of the connectors. The reason for this seems to be since the sub woofer connection is a pre-amp geared towards a powered sub woofer it was considered a component connection rather than a speaker connection. The internal DVD requires no connections so the provided AV connectors can go to other parts of your home theater. This is the type of unit that permits almost everything to be controlled through it. There are jacks for a VCR, AV1 and AV2. There are also component video input and output jacks as well as two S-Video connectors for input and one for output. AV1 is paired with one fiber optic video jack and two digital coaxial cable inputs. AV2 has a digital coaxial for use with a MD recorder, CD recorder or a TiVo type device.
While reviewing this unit I had to approach it as three separate systems. There is the DVD player, the receiver and the speaker system. While they work in near perfect unison they each have features distinct to their function.
The DVD player exceeds many popular stand alone models. The player is a 5 disc carasoul and can support a mixture of formats including: DVD-Video discs, CDs, VCD, audio CD-RW/R, and MP3 CDs. The player has the ability to play Pro Logic II, Dolby 5.1 and DTS discs. Only six channel formats are supported for the later two formats. This blue lit digital display on the DVD player is easy to read, clear and for the most part informative. There are the usual extras for the DVD player as required by the DVD standard. Among these are freeze frame, slow motion, fast forward and reverse frame advance. For the fast forward mode you can choose from three speeds, 2x, 4x, 8x and 16x. For reverse there are 2x, 4x and 8x. I did notice that the picture resumes at the exact frame you are on when you return to normal play mode. In many players I have tested there was a little skip not present here. The repeat mode offers the whole disc, chapter, title, track or even all five discs. There is also an A-B repeat where you can specify the portion of the current disc to repeat. Up to nine bookmarks can be specified. Unfortunately, the bookmarks are specific to the current disc and are erased when you move to another disc in the tray. For fans of Quentin Tarantino that want to watch the movie Pulp Fiction in chorological order you can specify the order each track is played. One nice little touch is the ability to pop a graphic menu on the screen. This way instead of hunting for the button on the remote control you can use the left, right and enter buttons to choose most common functions. When a function changes there is a little dialogue box that opens on the screen to keep you informed. For playing MPG3 files your disc’s directory structure is shown permitting you to build a play list for listening. Again, turning off the machine or going to another disc erases it. Of course other DVD functions such as parental control, password and aspect ratio (4:3, 4:3 letterbox and 16:9) are all present. If you are playing a recordable disc, DVD or CD, the disc must be finalized before play. Basically, this means you have to close the record session and write a standard table of contents before the player will recognize the disc.
The receiver is consistent with modern technology and can hold its own with many mid-range separate units. It provides 100 watts RMS to each of five speakers, front, rear and center. There is a pre-amplifier output for a powered sub woofer; no provisions are made for a passive sub. You can select either the main six channel speaker output or a two channel remote speaker set. Throw a couple of out door speakers on the second set and you have music for a rocking patio party. Consider the amount of music a MPEG3 disc can hold and with a five disc tray you can part for a long time without going back to insert new discs. Once you have all your home theater equipment cabled to the receiver it is rather easy to select which component you want to use. The default mode for AV1 and AV2 are the high end digital audio connections. AV1 defaults to the optical jack while the AV2 prefers to use the digital coaxial port. The VCR port and AV1 port provide both input and output so you need to place any recording equipment there with the source of the recording located on AV2. The Envision can connect to either a standard interlaced television or a newer progressive scan, component sets. The display is of course the same as used by the DVD player, again, nice and easy to read. If all these sources of music are not enough for you the Envision also has an FM and AM radio tuner. You can preset up to thirty radio stations or go into free form mode and search for the station of your choice. There is a provision for boosting weak stations but I found it only marginal in its effects. Unfortuntely there is no bass and treble tone controls. These settings are configured through the onscreen menu and is calculate by the distance between the speakers. You set the size of the room and distance yourself; the tone is factory set at “flat”.
Some cost to performance trade off has to be made with a complete home theater in a box. Usually, as is the case here, the speakers are the trade off. They are good starter speakers and provide good performance but they are on the small side and suffer a little bit with low frequency response. The front and rear speakers are satellite two way units. The enclosed mid range gave a smooth response with all but the highest frequency. The woofer held without rattle for most of the rest of the audio spectrum. There where no tweeter for the higher frequencies. The center speaker is also two way and did a passable job with the dialogue. The active sub woofer is rated at 150 watts and was the best of the provided speaker set.
There is actually four parts to this set. The remote control is great. Unlike many universal remotes provided with home theater sets this one not only accepts a manufacturer code to add functions but it is a true learning remote. Just put it into learning mode, point another remote in front of it and the function is transferred. The remote’s memory is enough to learn most of the functions you need but where possible stick with the preset functions. The remote light up with a soft green glow and is easy to read in the dark.
This unit is geared towards the newcomer to home theater. As such, the setup was remarkably easy and straight forward. One nice touch was the inclusion of colored stickers for the speaker wires. I have recommended this approach for a long time and it is gratifying to see a company finally taking my advice. When you run the wires from the speakers you mark each pair with a sticker and just match the colors to the jacks on the back of the receiver. Of course the connectors are also color coded for polarity although the documentation glosses over this important fact. The target consumer may be a little confused with all the input and put jacks provided. The manual is a bit confusing for a new comer but enough information is provided to make the installation process as painless as possible.
Naturally, the DVD requires the least installation. As part of the receiver you can play a DVD or other disc within a few minutes of opening the box. For other components a little trial by error may be needed to select the right ports for your equipment. You also may have to play with the settings a little bit to be able to record from one source to another piece of equipment.
One nice feature is the speaker setup. Not only is the standard test tones provided for six channel mode but there is a provision for inputting the distance each speaker resides from the primary listening position. You go into speaker distance mode of the setup menu, enter the approximate distance and the unit attempts to balance the volume to optimize the sound field. Distance modes are separately provided for front, center, rear and sub woofer placement. In case you get this unit without speakers you can select how many speakers are present. The choices are five (front, rear and center), two (front only), three (front and center) and four (front and rear, no center). You can also specify the type of sub woofer, small (best for the sub woofer provided), large front, large front and rear or no sub woofer. There is even a page in the manual that explains the best way to set up your speakers in your room, again, a nice, helpful little touch for the new user.
Use and Testing
The DVD portion of this unit worked very well. The change from one disc to another was smooth although each time you change a disc the disc header is read again resulting in a lot of wasted time. One rental discs the change did freeze up. There is a warning in the manual not to use any discs with a label on it and apparently for good reason. There was also a delay of about a minute when I inserted a DTS disc and select the DTS sound track from the menu. The player takes a bit of time to test the soundtrack and set up the proper audio format on the receiver side. Speaking of delays another feature provided is, IPM. Intelligent Power Management is a feature that permits you to turn on your TV and five seconds later the Envision will come on. The actual time was a little bit more than five seconds. Since the receiver will most likely always be used in conjunction with the TV this is not a bad idea at all.
The receiver provided a smooth response though all tests I could think of. Even with high energy DVDs like Star Wars Episode Two the audio and video was stunning. Anamorphic discs were decompressed without flaw or defect. The Pro Logic modes like simulated surround, orchestra and unplugged (it used to be called live) offered nice variations especially on older audio and two channel sources. The late night audio mode narrows the dynamic range of the audio making overnight DVD viewing a lot more realistic especially in apartments. There is also an acoustic control that increases the bass response for low volume listening. The player took a lot of time for a typical MPEG3 disc. The time appears to increase s the number of directories becomes more involved.
For those out there that want a reasonably low cost way to turn a television into a full blown home theater this is a viable option to consider. I have found separates that together come in at around the same cost so the deciding factor should be how much time you want to spend with installation. You save only in the DVD to receiver connection but for many that is the most difficult one to manage. The speakers are more than enough for a good size apartment but if you have a larger living room you may want to just buy the receiver/DVD combination and get larger speakers. The learning remote control is one of the better ones I have seen included with equipment. Bottom line is this is intended as a starter set for the beginner to home theater. The technical specifications will satisfy all but the most demanding users but since most of us do not live in testing laboratories it has the power to get the job done.