Building a home theater from scratch takes a lot of work, patience -- and sometimes, money. It can be fun picking out the equipment, hooking the whole thing up and tweaking it. But we realize not everyone shares our fetishistic love of gear and gadgets. And many lack the space and/or budget for a whole room full of massive equipment.
For those people, there are plenty of manufacturers out there willing to piece together a whole home theater system for you at an affordable price.
Right now, you can walk into almost any store that sells AV (or surf websites) and score a home theater in a box system that's cheap. And by "cheap," I don't just mean "inexpensive." Many of these packaged systems don't sound particularly good, and they're usually far from full-featured. If you're looking for a simple home theater system to add to a new or existing TV, you can't get much easier or more complete than Pioneer's HTZ-BD32 Blu-ray Disc Home Theater System.
The HTZ-BD32 pretty much has all of the goodies you'd want in a home theater setup. The centerpiece of the system is a combo receiver/Blu-ray 3D player, which can play 2D and 3D Blu-rays, as well as DVD, AVC, SACD and CD formats. It can also do a little 1080p upscaling and has support for Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and Virtual 3D sound. That component also claims to crank 1100 watts of amplification to the set's five speakers and subwoofer with 250 Watts each to the center channel and subwoofer.
Unboxing a Boxed Theater
Pioneer has packed almost everything you'll need neatly inside one box. At the very top of the box is the XV-BD122W Blu-ray Disc Receiver. It looks a lot like any other Blu-ray player. It also acts like one, able to play pretty much any type of disc, including SACD. It's also important to note that this thing has built-in WiFi, as well as access to Netflix, Pandora, YouTube and Picasa, all right out of the box. (Just remember that some subscriptions and/or fees may be required.)
Right underneath that is the S-BD122 Speaker System. The package includes five teeny-tiny speakers that you'll want to cradle in your arms -- or at least one of your hands. At 3.75-by-3.12-by-3.56 inches, the two fronts and two surrounds are small! Each one is a little bigger than a baseball, making the system easy to install in a smaller room or bedroom.
The subwoofer is a little larger, at 7.88-by-13.38-by-10.62 inches. It doesn't have the same type of solid build that I've seen in a lot of Pioneer's other products. However, it's pretty average for a home theater in a box system, especially one at this price point ($499 list, but available for less online).
Speaker Wiring For Dummies?
Now here comes the awesome part -- depending on how involved you like to get in the AV setup. Pioneer has included all of the wires needed to connect the speakers. To be more specific, all of the wires are actually embedded into the speakers. From there, everything is color-coded, which makes it easy to hook each speaker into its respective spot on the Blu-ray receiver. It's virtually impossible to screw up unless you try to do it with your eyes closed (and even then, you might get it right). It also makes it nearly impossible to replace one of the speakers should something bad happen. Drop one of the speakers? Have the dog use one as a chew toy? Did one of your kids cut one of the wires with a new pair of scissors? Unless you like splicing wire, you may be out of luck when it comes to replacing part of this package.
The one wire you do need to supply is an HDMI cable. Actually, you may need more than one, since the system has both an HDMI output for connection to your TV plus two HDMI inputs, for connection of a cable or satellite box and/or game console. I'm getting ahead of myself, though.
The front of the XV-BD122W Blu-ray receiver has a disc tray that's concealed by a flip-down panel, as well as a volume knob and a combo button for playing and pausing discs. Right around that button is another flip-down area, which hides two USB ports, a mic input (Karaoke!) and an auxiliary analog input. On top of the unit, there's a whole host of manual controls, including a standby/on button and separate buttons to eject, fast-forward, rewind and stop discs.
The back of the Blu-ray receiver is neat and tidy, with all of the color-coded connectors to hook up the speaker ensemble. There's also one additional USB port, a hook up for the included iPod/iPhone dock, two optical inputs, an Ethernet jack, a connector for the included FM antenna, an aux analog audio input and a composite video output. There's also the aforementioned HDMI inputs (2) and output.
All Together Now
Since the Blu-ray player doubles as a receiver, I cut my current Onkyo receiver out of this equation. For testing purposes, the setup included the DISH Network Hopper DVR and the new Roku 3 media streamer. Both were connected via HDMI to Pioneer's Blu-ray receiver, which was then outputted directly to my Panasonic 1080p plasma also via HDMI.
Upon turning on the receiver, the HTZ-BD32's volume button illuminated with a nice purpley glow. Seconds later, I was directed to five pages of on-screen setup. Now, don't let that number of pages frighten you; it couldn't be easier. Basically, you pick your language, your TV's resolution, your aspect ratio, and that's it. From there, you'll be taken to the very familiar Pioneer home menu. It's nothing fancy, offering access to the Home Media Gallery, Web Content, Initial Setup (a.k.a. settings), and something you don't see often on home-theater-in-a-box setups, the Source Menu.
Like many of Pioneer's Blu-ray products, the Home Media Gallery is where you can access any DLNA-enabled devices on the network, as well as whatever disc is lodged in the player's tray. Web Content whisks users off to a menu of all of the included streaming services, with the remote adding in one-button access to Netflix.
The Source Menu feature is where things get interesting -- and slightly overwhelming at times. To access anything hooked into either of the player's two HDMI inputs, you're going to have to toggle through all of the Source Menu options. That means every time I went to watch live TV, I had to toggle. It was annoying to everyone in my house. I found my family just leaving the whole setup on and shutting off the TV so it would stay on the right input. This little quirk was one of my pet peeves.
Of the many buttons on the remote (there are a lot of them and I'll get to that), it's confusing as to why there wouldn't be buttons dedicated to HDMI IN-1 and HDMI IN-2. There is a Function button, which will take you directly to where you can toggle through the Source Menu options -- and even that took me a few days to figure out. Why wouldn't they just name that button "Source" or "Input" instead?
Also, there's no option to name any of these sources, so we had to remember that HDMI IN-1 was DISH Network and HDMI IN-2 was the Roku box. This certainly isn't a dealbreaker given the number of inputs, but it's worth mentioning. Also, many TVs (and some receivers) allow you to disable any inputs you're not using. This feature would be great on the Pioneer as I find it unlikely that most users will need access to the full complement of inputs. And the fewer inputs displayed on the source menu and the fewer on the menu, the less toggling would be required.
Other options in the Source Menu include an FM Tuner, the iPod dock, Bluetooth (via the add-on AS-BT200 adapter), the AUX jack, Portable In, Optical IN-1, Optical IN-2, and the aforementioned HDMI connections.
Don't Forget the Blu-ray!
The receiver does so many things, it's important to remember that it's also a Blu-ray 3D player, which means you won't have to worry about buying that as an add-on. It also meant we had to put the player through a few paces normally reserved for standalone Blu-ray players. I kicked that off with load times, which included my usual crop of discs.
With my go-to standard-def DVD (Old School) in the tray, I hit play and the player took 20 seconds to get to the DreamWorks logo. A standard Blu-ray (Hitch) took 28 seconds to load, while a BD-Java title (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) loaded to the Disney logo in about 35 seconds. The super-slow BD-Live and BD Java-heavy title, Inglourious Basterds, took a surprisingly fast 43 seconds to load with the web connected. The last of the lot was the Blu-ray 3D disc of Avatar, which loaded to the Fox logo in 75 seconds. Despite that speedy return for Inglourious Basterds, these times were pretty average, but respectable for a system at this price.
Next came the HQV Benchmark test DVD. In the second "jaggies" test, those three little lines were a little more jaggy than I typically like to see. Also, the detail test could have been a bit sharper, especially when you consider that this player has upscaling capabilites. However, these items didn't bother me too much, given the player's performance on the rest of the disc. Especially impressive were the results during the Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction test and the section that features text scrawling across the screen. These produced very clean results.
Another reason that you don't see me ranting too much about the HQV results here is because I spent a lot of time watching DVDs, Blu-rays and Blu-ray 3D discs with this player, with no complaints -- about the video, anyway. Audio is a whole different story.
Speaking of Speakers
For the price, Pioneer has put together a decent set of speakers for the HTZ-BD32. However, "decent" is about as generous as I can be in describing the sound. I have yet to experience a mind-blowing experience with anything that's color-coded, and that's pretty much the case with this setup. That said, consumers interested in a color-coded setup probably aren't expecting to have their minds (or ears) blown. However, they should know that to achieve even decent audio, you're going to have to make some adjustments.
Out of the box, this set was a serious drop down from my stand-alone receiver/speaker setup. It should be noted that you're going to need to go in and tweak the trim level on these speakers. To do that, go into Intial Setup from the home menu. From there, scroll down to Audio Output, then Speaker Setup. I bumped the speakers up to about +3dB and dropped the sub the same amount of notches. Even with the adjustments, the set just seemed to be lacking a certain amount of balance and coherence. They were also lacking in dynamics. These speakers just don't have great range. They could have been a lot fuller and the subwoofer -- well, that should probably be left out on a curb somewhere. This was definitely the weakest piece of the puzzle. It's hard to expect too much, given the quality and price of the rest of this setup. However, it sort of ruined any bass-heavy music and movies for me. Your mileage may vary, depending on your room, but it didn't work well in mine.
iPod, uPod, We All Scream for iPod
In case you want to squeeze a portable into this setup, know that it comes with its own iPod dock, which hooks into the back of the receiver. The dock is compatible with most iOS devices with the 30-pin connector (sorry no Lightning plug so iPhone 5 users will need an adapter). As long as the iOS device is docked, and the unit is powered on, it will also charge up your compatible portable device.
That dock also includes a video-out dongle and the setup comes with a cable to connect it to your television. If you needed this cable to connect the main system to your TV (because your TV doesn't have an HDMI input), you'll need to get another one of those cables to view content from the iPod or iPhone on your TV screen. You might not want to bother though, as I really didn't like what was being outputted to my TV when I tested the dock. I tried several videos from iTunes and many personal photos and all were displayed with horizontal lines on the screen, which sort of ruins the whole experience. Pony up $99 and get an AppleTV instead if iTunes video is important to you.
The audio playback from a connected device was fine -- or as fine as the speakers would allow. And while I am ranting, I just couldn't figure out how to display my iPhone's music menu on-screen. The manual made it seem like a given, but it wasn't with the iPhone 4. Sure, I could squint from across the room and see The Black Keys album cover art on my iPhone and know what was playing. Otherwise, I needed to flip through songs to find anything specific. [editor's note: Pioneer confirmed that the iPod menu actually does not show up via the dock output]
Remote Rants & Raves
Pioneer has packed the HTZ-BD32 with a remote that's very typical for the company. It's thin, it's lightweight and it has more buttons than you'll know what to do with. It probably has more than the typical Pioneer remote, but hey -- this package has more functions than the typical product. For that reason (and others), it stinks that there's still no backlighting. A girl can dream, though...
My biggest complaint with the remote is that you can't access any audio modes while the system is switched to either HDMI input. That's unbelievably lame. To do that, you'll have to go into the menu, choose any other input, and click the Sound button. If you don't want to do any tweaking, this shouldn't be a big deal, but I found it sort of annoying.
Also annoying is something I mentioned before, about how you access the sources. In the UI, the sources are listed under the Source Menu. On the remote, you access them through the Function button. Those don't even sound close to each other! Also, you're going to need to toggle through the sources every time you want to access a different component. There's a quick button for Netflix, but nothing for HDMI IN-1 or HDMI IN-2. And since the system has no input memory, that means every single time you turn on the system to watch TV, you're going to have to toggle over to the TV input.
Sorry if I've gotten a bit off track, but considering how many buttons this thing has, it just seems like there were a few wasted opportunities. After all, I'd rather toggle to get through the sound modes or even to get to the karaoke function versus everyday TV watching -- which I'm assuming you'll do more than the karaoke (and yes, there's a direct button for that!).
The rest is pretty self-explanatory and well laid out. I could have done without having the Mic Volume buttons right next to the regular volume buttons. I can't even count how many times I got those confused.
Last, but certainly not least, it's really surprising that the HTZ-BD32 doesn't work with any of Pioneer's control apps. Maybe there are just too many features for one app.
Pioneer may have had home theater in mind with the HTZ-BD32, but if you're going to bother, it's probably better suited for those smaller spaces in the home. The build and the quality of the components just don't lend themselves to a larger space that you'll call your main home theater. However, who wouldn't appreciate having a full set of speakers, a Blu-ray 3D player and streaming services in spot like the bedroom or playroom? At $499, it may seem a little pricey, but Amazon is currently selling this set for much less (link below). If you need something simple to beef up your TV sound and provide some nice HD disc and streaming sources (and you don't need to rock the house), this set may fit the bill.
Company Contact Information:
Pioneer Electronics (USA)
2265 E. 220th Street
Long Beach, CA 90810
On the web: www.pioneerelectronics.com