Review Date: March 9, 2009
Wireless Home Theater Systems Review
Sony BRAVIA DAV-HDX576WF vs. Panasonic SC-PT960
Wireless HTiB Solutions
Both Sony and Panasonic offer some of the best wireless home theater systems presently available on the market. Way back in March 2009, we reviewed Sony BRAVIA DAV-HDX576WF and the Panasonic SC-PT960. Despite that these systems are now discontinued, these systems represented new concepts in wireless home audio that included innovative building blocks designed to make delivery of multi-room music simple and easy. In particular, Sony's S-AIR technology is still in use on some of the latest Sony's home theater wireless home theater systems.
Though as stated, these wireless HTiBs are now discontinued, some of the wireless expansion modules detailed in this review are still readily available. For this purpose, we are re-publishing our original review of the Sony BRAVIA DAV-HDX576WF vs. Panasonic SC-PT960 hereunder to serve as reference for those who would like to expand an existing compatible system with the relevant wireless modules described in this article.
Comes complete with LG Smart TV for unlimited TV content, silk -dome speaker technology for clearer sound, built-in Wi-Fi and integrated 2-channel wireless rear speakers
Despite the lack of choice when it comes to home theater wireless systems, it is still not easy to choose among the few really good products available on the market. Even from a brand perspective, there are only a few top brands in the industry to choose from, namely Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony.
Often, systems falling within the same price bracket carry similar audio and video features irrespective of brand. Cases in point are the two wireless home theater systems under review here, the Sony DAV-HDX576WF and the Panasonic SC-PT960.
Both HTiBs support at least 1000W of total audio power, come with an HDMI output, an iPod port, and support similar 'enhanced' wireless functionality.
In particular, the Sony comes complete with all that is necessary for a wireless rear speaker set-up and a multi-room audio link covering a single room; this can be further expanded to cover up to three additional rooms via optional modules. The Panasonic wireless home theater system also supports similar wireless multi-room audio for up to three rooms via optional kits; and this is apart from the wireless rear speaker functionality built-in within the system. Furthermore, both HTiBs are capable of doing a great job in delivering solid sound performance for the price. So it is no surprise that selecting between these two wireless home theater systems is far from being a simple straightforward process; many would simply end up base their choice on brand alone, but...
At a time when most premium line products from top brands are capable overall performers, simply going for the brand as your only reason for choosing a product is not always the best way forward. The only reason that would justify such a move is when you are after a more effective overall integration with the rest of your system components from a specific brand.
You see, despite the many similarities, the Sony DAV-HDX576WF and the Panasonic SC-PT960 wireless home theater systems carry a few differences worth exploring before any final decision. We therefore hope that this wireless home theater systems review article will help you get a better insight of what these two popular 'box-type' home theater wireless systems have to offer.
The DAV-HDX576WF is Sony's high-end model from within its premium line of BRAVIA DAV-HDX series of home theater systems.
It is an affordable yet feature-rich home theater wireless system from one of the top manufacturers in home electronics.
The DAV-HDX576WF is characterized by a simple setup, high-quality five CD/DVD changer with 720p/1080p upscaling support of 480p DVD content, an HDMI output, and a digital media docking port - termed DMP - supporting IPod and MP3s. This is further complemented by Sony Bravia Sync technology to control selected BRAVIA televisions with a single remote and auto surround calibration for optimum channel levels and delay settings for your listening position and preferred speaker placement.
The Sony BRAVIA wireless home theater system comes with speaker pedestal stands for the fronts but which can equally serve you for the rears should you prefer. Total system power is 1000W of music at 10% TDH. System audio is supported by an enhanced form of wireless connectivity - termed S-AIR technology - that caters for both wireless rear speakers and multi-room audio listening.
At 1000W maximum total audio power, the Sony delivers more than enough sound to fill a medium size home theater room. Note that as with the competition, these 1000W come at a 10% total harmonic distortion. If you are more of an audiophile and would like to experience lower distortion levels for a cleaner sound, the DAV-HDX576WF can deliver 428W of total audio power at 0.7% THD.
Notwithstanding such an extended feature list for the price, it is Sony S-AIR wireless technology that is the real key characteristic of this wireless home theater system. In fact, all remaining models within the same DAV-HDX series require additional optional wireless accessories. Instead, the 576WF comes fully equipped with everything you need to go wireless - both within your home theater through the included WAHT-SA1 wireless rear speaker kit, and also at a multi-room environment through the supplied AIR-SA10 multi-room wireless speaker system.
Sony's S-AIR technology promises a lot in terms of convenience and ease of installation. It is a form of wireless plug-and-play technology operating over the 2.4GHz band supporting both a wireless rear speaker setup and 'enhanced' multi-room audio listening.
We say 'enhanced' because unlike most add-on wireless speaker kits, the Sony's S-AIRTM Speaker System makes it possible for the user to control the audio source - radio, CD/DVD, digital media port for iPod/MP3, or auxiliary input. Furthermore, it also allows you to control the content to listen to once you select the source through FF/RW/Play/Stop functions.
The Sony DAV-HDX576WF comes with one S-AIR SA10 wireless speaker but Sony's S-AIR wireless technology supports up to four separate S-AIR receiver/speaker systems - each of which can select a different audio source.
Unfortunately, you would not be able to use the S-AIR link to control the playlist, nor will you be able to navigate an iPod menu from the S-AIR wireless speaker unit.
As detailed earlier on, an integral part of Sony's S-AIR technology is the WAHT-SA1 wireless rear speaker kit. This is basically a surround sound amplifier that takes the plug-in wireless receiver and comes included as part of the DAV-HDX576WF Sony wireless home theater system.
It is a rather bulky and oddly shaped unit at 13.5" x 3.5" x 4" (LxWxH). But it incorporates a relatively robust amplifier that can deliver up to 80W RMS per channel at 1% THD, or up to 143W RMS per channel at 10% THD. Without any doubt, this is one of the most powerful wireless surround amplifiers we have ever come across.
As with majority of wireless speaker systems, Sony S-AIR technology operates over one of the most congested wireless bands designed for home use - 2.4GHz. This means that care should be taken how you position the respective S-AIR components to avoid interference with other 2.4GHz devices in the home. Though many claim interference-free operation, yet this is no guarantee in itself that you would not have to shift other 2.4GHz wireless equipment operating in the vicinity. In other words, it is always advisable to be cautious when it comes to wireless equipment placement.
Sony's S-AIR wireless technology is a great product but do not base your decision on just the nice wireless features found on this Sony wireless home theater system alone. It surely offers a lot in terms of an integrated wireless sound solution in home entertainment with respect to the competition.
But it has its limitations as well - it comes with a rather limited supported wireless range. There is nothing on Sony's documentation on the range limitations for both the wireless surround amplifier (WAHT-SA1) and also for the S-AIR SA10 wireless speaker kit; however this is what we have found:
1] The system manual advises to place a second system at least 26.5 feet away to avoid interference. It appears that Sony S-Air surround amplifier can only synch with the main unit at up to a maximum of 27 feet. Just move a little bit further and it will fail to lock with the wireless signal from the sender unit especially if there are people or objects in between.
While this should not be an issue in a medium size home theater, yet it is important to keep this range limitation in mind prior to any decision to ensure that it would not impose any restrictions for your use.
2] Similarly, the S-AIR SA10 wireless receiver unit - while designed for multi-room audio listening - appears to be suitable for use in a small apartment only. We have come across a few users that could not get their S-AIR receiver synch with the main unit when moving to a different level from the DAV-HDX576WF main unit in a multi-storey house.
But apart from these range limitations, Sony S-AIR technology is surely worth looking at especially in the home theater where the auto surround calibration feature would take into account the delays introduced by the wireless link when setting the different channel delays for optimum sound experience. Furthermore... Sony S-AIR SA10 represents a great attempt at multi-room wireless audio made easy!
A feature-rich system but...
The only few complaints we have about the Sony Bravia DAV-HDX576WF wireless home theater system are typical of most HTiB solutions.
Despite the presence of an HDMI output, there are no HDMI inputs on this Sony wireless HTiB. In a world where everything is moving towards HDMI connectivity - from TV set-top-boxes to game consoles, hooking up multiple HDMI devices can therefore turn out to be a serious nuisance. In addition, the inputs associated with the four external sources - Aux, Sat/Cable, TV, and DMPort (except for the DMPort MP3 dock), support audio only.
This means that in reality, you will not find any video input what-so-ever on this Sony wireless home theater system. As we have stated, this is typical of many HTiBs - and to a certain extent, this is acceptable at this price bracket. In these cases, you will have to depend on your TV to switch over to other video sources.
Another issue related to connectivity is that while you have a digital audio in, yet this is hard-wired with the TV input. This is another nuisance since there is no valid reason why the digital audio source cannot be any other component besides the TV.
Similarly, you would not be able to control the bass and treble level settings. Like most home-theater-in-a-box system, the DAV-HDX576WF wireless home theater system comes with a set of pre-defined equalization modes which you can cycle through - auto, music, or movie. Rather, the Sony lacks even the many EQ modes found on similar HTiBs and apart from a simple push button bass boost, you would not find EQ modes such as Rock, Theater, Classical, etc. Definitely, the DAV-HDX576WF sound is generally very good but by giving the user a little bit more of EQ control, Sony would have gone a long way towards making an already very good system even better.
The bottom line
The Sony DAV-HDX576WF is definitely an inexpensive feature-rich wireless home theater system worth considering if what you are after is an easy-to use wireless solution for your home entertainment that is still capable of delivering solid sound performance. True that it has the typical limitations associated with HTiB systems - in particular with respect to connectivity and EQ control, but other than this, it is surely a great system for the price.
The SC-PT960 represents Panasonic premium home theater wireless system. It is the typical HTiB surround sound system with a 5-disc CD/DVD changer, 1080p upscaling support, 1250W of total audio power with two full tower speakers for the fronts and wireless rears, built-in iPod dock, and HDMI output.
It is capable of delivering similar performance as other 'box-type' wireless home theater systems within the same price bracket.
As with the competition, total power is specified at 10% THD; at 1% THD, total power of this Panasonic wireless home theater system is 483W - just a little bit more than the Sony wireless HTiB featured here. However, this difference in the total wattage between the two systems at these THD levels would not result in any noticeable difference in the effective sound levels.
Sound quality would not satisfy audiophiles, yet it is capable of solid performance with deep clear bass, detailed rich surround, and clean overall sound, making it one of the best surround sound systems at under $500.
Similarly, picture quality from up-converted 480p DVD content is good for the price - producing sharp detailed 1080p images from standard definition video. At the same time, do not expect to enjoy the same picture quality you get from true, native 1080p HD sources - otherwise you will be disappointed.
System set-up is simple. In addition, the new Panasonic Viera Link 'HDAVI Control' further simplifies system use as it makes it possible to control your Panasonic wireless home theater system via a series of on-screen menus that displays on a compatible Panasonic Viera HDTV. Viera Link will also enable you to control your Panasonic Viera HDTV and other connected Panasonic Viera Link devices via a single remote control.
Note that despite Viera Link is based on the HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) standard, yet there is no guarantee that it will operate with equipment supporting HDMI CEC from other brands.
The iPod docking station for compatible iPods is a great way to enjoy digital music and video content. It also charges your iPod while allowing you to use the Panasonic SC-PT960 wireless home theater system remote to control the iPod via an on-screen menu on your TV. In particular, you can scroll through and select music and videos stored on your iPod using the system remote for a truly integrated solution.
As with similar wireless home theater systems, the Panasonic SC-PT960 key characteristic is its wireless support - which operates over the 2.4GHz band. The system comes complete with a wireless rear speakers kit in the form of a wireless surround sound amplifier that sits at the back of the room and to which you connect the two rear speakers. Some may argue that this is not a true wireless solution. However, as explained elsewhere under this section, the main scope of a wireless home theater system is mainly the elimination of wires crossing the room from the front to reach the rears.
When combined with the optional Stereo SH-FX85 wireless kit, this Panasonic wireless home theater system may be used as part of an extensive multi-room wireless audio setup. This add-on unit delivers up to 90W per channel for a total of 180W, and has a host of interesting features.
It supports wireless audio for up to three rooms and comes with a convenient music port for MP3 players. Wireless setup is as simple as switching it on!
In addition, the remote speaker unit is no ordinary wireless speaker unit; its functionality is fully integrated with that of the main unit.
Panasonic SH-FX85 Wireless add-on unit for multi-room wireless audio; supported max. wireless range: 98 ft
In particular, it supports similar features found on the Sony S-AIR SA10 in that it enables the user to wirelessly select the source to listen to as well as control the content via play, stop, and skip functions - from multiple rooms.
Cons: On the negative side, this wireless home theater system is hampered by the typical limitations associated with box-type audio solutions. This means that like the Sony, you will only get an HDMI output; there are no HDMI inputs, nor you will get any form of video inputs.
In addition, while the user enjoys greater control over the audio output than the featured Sony system, yet it still lacks the much-desired equalization control. Instead, you do get three pre-set settings - heavy, clear, soft, and an 'off' setting called flat. You would not be able to adjust the individual levels of say the treble and bass to better suit your room acoustics.
Equally important for those on a limited budget is the fact that multi-room wireless audio on the Panasonic comes at the expense of the extra SH-FX85 wireless add-on kit. In comparison, Sony - through its bundled wireless home theater system, provide all necessary hardware to let you enjoy wireless audio in another room.
Finally, though this Panasonic wireless HTiB comes in a rather stylish pack, yet some users may consider the front tower speakers a bit bulky - especially when taking into account that the lower half of the tower is effectively an empty speaker stand.
Pros: System limitations apart, the Panasonic SC-PT960 Home Theater Wireless System still represent a great home-theater-in-a-box solution selling at under $450. The SC-PT960 is designed with ease of use in mind thanks to a simple user interface and equally easy-to-follow system manual.
It delivers relatively very good sound characterized by solid bass; music audio in particular is very good with clear highs, mids and lows. Furthermore, audio over wireless is clean and free from noise, and comes with extensive features such as the automatic deactivation of the rear speakers when the main system is turned off, and support for multi-room audio.
We have just complained about the lack of EQ user settings, but within the HTiB domain, this Panasonic wireless home theater system gives the user more control over the audio output than most box-type solutions within the same price bracket. In particular, the Panasonic SC-PT960 user-selectable sub-woofer levels and surround settings contrasts heavily with the lack of user audio control found on the Sony DAV-HDX576WF featured in this article.