Many people don’t bother contemplating installing a home theater in their bedroom because they don’t have the room for an amplifier, let alone all the speakers and wiring required. But Philips’ $799 USD HTS8100 might just prove the solution that changes their mind, because it doesn’t just combine a DVD player, amplifier with radio and a set of speakers into a single, compact shape. Even more impressively, the already attractive package goes a step further, adding multi-channel audio technology for a true surround sound experience.
Features and Design
The main unit’s “soundbar” design hides speakers behind the grill, with an LCD display and motorized sliding glass panel on the front that moves aside when inserting a disc. A set of basic controls are placed along the system’s top, out of sight, so you’ll mostly be using the remote, which just happens to be one of the nicest we’ve seen in a long time, with buttons well spaced out for controlling DVD playback and toggling between sources, surround modes and audio adjustments. (Although having a few glow-in-the-dark buttons would have been nice for low-light situations.) A back panel conceals the A/V connections, and there’s also inputs on the left side for a USB flash drive/memory card, an MP3 Line-in and a socket for the included iPod dock.
The main unit is really designed to be placed beneath a wall-mounted flat panel TV (bracket included for this purpose), but is svelte enough to fit on a stand in front of a TV without covering up the screen at the bottom. Which, go figure, is exactly what we did in an 18×18 foot bedroom with our Samsung HLS-5679W LED 1080p HDTV that rests on a TV stand. An HDMI cable can be connected from the main unit to the TV, but we also attached a pair of RCA stereo audio outputs from the TV to the inputs on the device. The last step is to plug in the two wires that come from the included subwoofer and which provide both amplification as well as power to the Main Unit. It’s quite attractive due to its black and glass-reflecting construction, and the subwoofer has a similar styling to the main unit with a glassed top as well – still it should be stuck in a corner out of the way since it’s fairly large and heavy.
Turning the Main Unit on, we select 1) whether the room has “hard” (i.e., concrete or wood) or “soft” walls (an open area with curtains, for example), 2) if the main unit is in the center of the room or a corner and 3) whether it’s above or below the listening level. In our case that’s “hard”, “center” and “low.” A few more basic settings are required, such as selecting 16:9 widescreen, upconversion to 1080p and leaving en-hancements such as the Picture Setting and others at their normal position (since we prefer adjusting for them at the TV). But we do leave the DCDi video processor on for optimizing video quality.
Image Courtesy of Philips
Evaluation – Video
We expected the Faroudja-based DCDI processing to improve DVD playback. Running through a battery of tests found on the benchmark HQV DVD, the player handles “jaggies” as well as it does fine detail. Noise reduction is also quite good as is the player’s ability to display motion without image blur. So playing the live-action movie Transformers lets us review all of these factors – we can see a well balanced, nicely detailed image as Optimus Prime beats the bejeebers out of those bad old Decepti-cons. Analysis complete: the DVD player needn’t make any apologies for being part of an all-in-one unit. But it’s fair to note that having a motorized door can increase the chance of mechanical failure and you definitely shouldn’t grab at it while it’s moving. Also it takes a bit of getting used to since you’ll be pushing the disc on sideways as opposed to the conventional way of dropping it onto a tray – it might be necessary to hold onto the unit so it doesn’t move when inserting/removing a disc (this assumes you don’t have it wall-mounted).
The player also handles a wide assortment of video formats, including home-brewed DVDs, Video CDs and DivX files, along with JPEG photos. There is also USB input for attaching a flash drive or memory card – USB hard drives don’t work – and once the USB device is recognized, playback is indistinguishable from it being on a disc. But it’s not surprising that copy-protected video or music files will not play.
Evaluation – Audio
The Philips can play CDs as well as discs with MP3 and Windows Media Audio files. CDs have the best audio compared to digital audio formats recorded at low bit rates of course, but nothing we played sounded bad, which is a credit to the quality of the speakers.
An iPod docking station is also included, with adaptors for dockable models such as the iPod with color displays, the Nano and Mini (we didn’t have one of the new Nanos or iPod Classic to try). A connector attaches the dock to the Main Unit and once the iPod is placed in the dock the Philips remote can be used as a controller – however it is only with music-only playback that you can control all of the iPods functions, view playlists, etc. We had no problems using our iPod in this way and the music certainly sounds more impressive coming through the speakers than it does our earbuds.
Evaluation – Surround Sound
Returning to the Transformers DVD, we played the scene where the robots are fighting it out on a high-way. Seated directly in front of the main unit, we can hear sounds of the battle coming from in front of us but also there’s the sensation of sounds coming from our left and right. And the effect increases when we turn up the level of the audio – there’s plenty of power. There’s also 8 presets (Philips calls them “digital effect”) which alter the “color” of the audio – some will favor dialogue while others go for big ex-plosions, but trial and error will decide which preset you prefer when listening to an action movie or one that is heavier on dialogue (for example, A Mighty Heart which carries well through the speakers). And since the surround also works with Dolby ProLogic II, we go to the TV and cycle through a few movie channels. While the surround effect is not quite as impressive as it was off of a DVD, the overall wider sound field continues to be there and enhances the viewing. Bass, by the way, gives out an impressive kick that adds to the overall experience nicely, but we’d rather have an independent knob on it for controlling the volume directly than toggling between treble/bass and then raising or lowering the volume according to taste.
The HTS8100 is a solid performer and the surround technology does its job in a straightforward fashion that doesn’t require any learning curve in order to get it to work. This unit makes for a welcome addition where all the accouterments of a home theater are desired, but the room for including all the conventional components is not.
• DVD player provides a quality image
• Very short learning curve
• Low power standby mode
• No direct control bass
• DVD insertion/removal requires some care to do correctly
• Isn’t suitable for placing inside a shelf or rack