Denon DHT-487DV Home Theater in a Box

An HTIB you can grow to love.

Denon has a long and venerable history in the audio/video industry, including much of the pioneering work in the field of digital audio. Fitting of that tradition, Denon was, for many years, a brand reserved solely for the audiophile (later followed by the videophile) who frequented the high-end shops. This was a no-nonsense era for Denon, and its designers and engineers eschewed flashy features and other niceties, such as easy-to-use menus.

Much has changed in recent history. While you can still find plenty of Denon products at independent specialty stores, you'll also find Denon on the shelves of Circuit City and at the Magnolia Home Theater departments popping up in Best Buy stores all over the country. In order to appeal to these new market segments, the Denon folks have had to make their gear a bit friendlier to the average consumer. Fortunately, along the way Denon has resisted the temptation to skimp on quality in the death march that is the chase for the ever lower price point.

One thing a Denon devotee of days passed would never have expected to see is a Denon HTIB, but with home theater's popularity this was inevitable. In the case of the $699 DHT-487DV, it's more like HTCiB (Home Theater Components in a Box) than the typical HTIB because what you'll find inside the outer box are two separately boxed components – the AVR-487 A/V receiver and DVD-557 DVD player – along with another box containing the system's speakers.

Denon doesn't sell speakers separately in the U.S., so the speaker package is unique to the DHT-487DV (and the DVD-less DHT-487XP system). The DVD-557, however, is the entry-level $169 single-DVD player taken straight out of Denon's regular line. The AVR-487 AV receiver isn't in the current receiver line, but it's a near spitting-image of the $299 AVR-587, with the main difference being fewer 75-watt amplifier channels (five versus seven).

When you look at the price and start opening the boxes, it's immediately apparent what a bargain this more-than-the-minimum HTIB is- the receiver alone weighs more than some HTIBs on the market (okay, that's an exaggeration – but not by much). The list of features is pretty impressive, too. The AVR-487 has component video switching for two sources, a set of 5.1-channel analog audio inputs, A/B speaker switching, dual coaxial and optical digital audio inputs (each is assignable to a different input, too), an input for an optional Denon iPod dock, plus XM satellite capability (with an optional XM mini-tuner and home dock). While the available processing modes are pretty standard for a receiver in this class, the range of parameter adjustments within each mode is impressive. Basically, although it's packaged as part of an HTIB, this receiver can slide into most living rooms and keep its head held high.

The receiver's video mate, the DVD-557, is a single-disc progressive-scan DVD player with an HDMI (1.1) output that can upconvert to 720p or 1080i. It'll also play MP3 and WMA discs. While it's not as impressive a find as the receiver, it's a well-built, excellent performing piece of gear that most of us would be quite content to own.

That brings us to the speakers. True to form for almost every HTIB made by human hands, it's here that the system begins to show some weaknesses.

The DHT-AVR487DV includes four small satellites (each with a 3.6-inch mid-bass driver and a 0.75-inch tweeter), a slightly larger center channel (dual mid-bass drivers and a tweeter), plus a separate subwoofer with a 100-watt, built-in amplifier. The sub uses an eight-inch down-firing driver with a large forward-firing port. Interestingly, there are no speaker-level inputs on the subwoofer; it only accepts a low-level signal from the receiver's subwoofer output. The adjustable volume and crossover controls can be bypassed when the sub is set up as LFE only.

The speakers, subwoofer included, are all very pedestrian looking with flat-black vinyl-wrapped cabinets. The satellites have black-cloth grilles. The subwoofer, however, does not have a grille, leaving the large port plainly visible – and possibly the receptacle for small toys and other items donated by toddlers in the family.

Listening to two-channel music on the front satellites for an extended period of time can be a bit fatiguing, as the high frequency from those 0.75-inch dome tweeters is a little strident. Because of the thin-wall construction of the speaker cabinets, there's quite a bit of resonant vibration that tends to give the midrange a hollowness that masks fine sonic details. Kathy Kosins, who normally would be described as sultry chanteuse on her Go Slow CD, comes across more like a nasal, chain-smoking singer in some run down honky-tonk bar.

The deficiencies are less noticeable with movies, although the overall performance is a little thin. Bond's exploits in Casino Royale are still exciting, but they don't seem as big or as bold as they would with a more robust speaker system. Although, the subwoofer won't win any awards for its ability to produce the lowest bass frequencies, I did find it difficult to cause the sub to bottom out or distort noticeably, even during the intense depth charge scene in U-571 – a segment that's caused problems for much more expensive subs.

One of the things I like most about the DHT-487DV overall is the fact that it's a package with electronics put together from individual off-the-shelf components. That's great from a performance standpoint. The downside, however, is it makes for a system that's more difficult to operate than it should be.

The most egregious example is the receiver's remote control. It could well be the most complicated, most unintuitive, most annoying universal remote control ever to find its way into a receiver box. Main functions are on the front of the remote, but there's a hinged cover on the back that hides other important function buttons, including a number pad and buttons for switching DSP modes. There are also buttons on the front and back for Zone 2 use despite the fact that this system doesn't support multizone operation. Plan on buying something like a basic Harmony remote, and you'll be much happier in the long run.

Surprising too is the factory default for speaker size, which is set to "Large" for the front mains, despite the quite evident fact that the speakers included with the system are definitely "Small". The crossover point for the subwoofer will need to be increased from the preset 80Hz, too.

In spite of the painful remote control and a few other oddities, this is one of the better HTIB systems you can buy for under $700. True, the speakers are a compromise, but they're better than most you'll find with an HTIB. The core parts of the system, the receiver and DVD player, on the other hand, are true components that can – and do – compete on the shelves next to other components in their category. Each is good enough to build a home theater system around – and you can certainly use the AVR-487 as the basis for a much more elaborate system in the future.

AVR-487 excellent AVR to build on
Terrific upconverting DVD player with HDMI
Inputs for iPod dock and XM compatibility

Denon Electronics USA, LLC
(973) 396 0810