As a new technology progresses, quality goes up, and cost goes down. The Home Theater In a Box (HTIB) category has seen the benefits of this trend as much as any other. The JVC TH-M65 system is a perfect example. For an MSRP of $880, you get a complete package right down to the wires.
It includes a thin form-factored five-disc progressive scan DVD changer integrated with a fairly powerful 110 watt/channel receiver, five speakers (four of them integrated into attractive stands, while the center speaker is a dual-driver model with no stand attached), a powered subwoofer, and the speaker wires which are labeled for easy connections (albeit they are very thin gauge wires). All the components are a metallic silver finish, further adding to the aesthetics of the system.
Setup was very straightforward, and took me about an hour. The first thing you notice when you unpack the TH-M65 system is that it is VERY well packaged. There is little chance this system will incur any damage in shipping unless it was treated like a drum set at a Who concert. The speakers need minor assembly, requiring you to attach the base plates. There is a thick, S-Video-like cable that connects from the receiver unit to the powered sub, and then the speakers connect to the subwoofer with standard clip-type connectors (sorry, no five-way binding posts here). The manual is fairly well written, and just about anyone will be able to follow the setup instructions.
I found the receiver portion of this system to perform quite well. I set the system up in a medium-sized, somewhat open room. There was no point at which the system struggled to fill it with sound. The receiver decodes all major formats, including Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Digital, and DTS. It also has four DSP surround modes (Hall, Dance Club, Live Club, and Pavilion), and an all-channel stereo mode. The on-screen display (OSD) is well laid out, and easy to navigate and use.
Connectivity is adequate, but you will not be able to hook in all your game systems, VCRs, DBS, or cable boxes at the same time. You CAN connect a full auxiliary source such as a VCR while also connecting another component's optical digital output, such as a DBS receiver. However, there is no video input for the digital audio source (which is permanently labeled ‘DBS'). In that scenario, you must connect that source's video directly to your display device. The other thing to note is that composite video input is only output through the composite video out jack; there is no up-conversion of composite video signals to S-Video.
Other connections include an AM Loop antenna input, an FM 75-ohm coax connection, a digital audio
output, component video output, and JVC's proprietary AV COMPU-Link II connections.
The speakers in this system must be run directly off the powered subwoofer, meaning that the crossover is handled within the subwoofer itself. The default setting for the crossover is 150 Hz. The satellites are rated to go down to 90 Hz, so I set the crossover to 100 Hz. Regardless, the subwoofer handles its upper range quite well. It is not unnatural sounding or harsh, rather, it blends well with the satellites.
For a system such as this, I was also impressed with the ability of the subwoofer to play loudly yet cleanly. However, as the frequencies edged towards the lower end of the audible spectrum, some distortion kicks in. This is not something to worry about too much, though, because in order for it to become bothersome, I had to have the volume up pretty high. In addition, we are really talking about LFE when discussing the distortion, as I didn't notice it as much with the music. All in all, I would not have expected the subwoofer in this system to kick out totally clean bass at 20 Hz anyway!
The satellites performed marvelously, sounding clean and natural. I started out listening to Van Morrison's album "Moondance". The jazzy sounds of the piano bass, and cymbals in the title track sounded excellent in both stereo and Pro Logic II Music mode.
I am not a fan of the DSP effect modes on any receiver, but for what it's worth, the ones found on the M65 system are subtle enough that they are not distracting. I do, however, like the all-channel stereo mode. This allows you to play the stereo signals through both the main and surround speakers. It really helps fill the room with more sound without changing the music's characteristics.
Next, I switched genres and put in Ween's newest album, "Quebec". Ween mixes all sorts of styles, which allowed me to hear a wide variety of sounds. In their track entitled "Happy Colored Marbles", there is a staccato xylophone sound that also furnishes the rhythm, and the JVC M65 system conveyed the sound with a lot of detail. The layers of voices and synthesized sound in the background blended very well. Next, I put in the new hybrid disc of The Who's "Tommy". Balance was excellent, and the midrange sounds did not seem to fall away as sometimes happens with satellite/sub combinations. The music sounded forward and had very little noise. Even the hiss associated with the original master recording was barely audible (also a product of a well engineered disc).
Of course, I also played several movies, starting with Stephen Spielberg's
"Artificial Intelligence". The dialogue sounded clean and natural, and the entire front soundstage imaging was excellent as well. The Dolby Digital
(DD) soundtrack was nearly seamless, with the surround effects enveloping me from behind. At one point, I even glanced back when a localized effect played through the back left channel (I am not used to that as my normal system uses
dipoles that are placed further away from the listening area than I had set up the M65 system). The bass was fairly good, but again, I could tell it couldn't quite keep up with the soundtrack at its lowest points. Next I put in the suspense/mystery film
"Identity" with John Cusack and Ray Liotta. It seemed to rain the whole time, and the sound of it coming down sounded very genuine and lifelike. Imaging remained superb across the left, center, and right channels. The bass sounded better during this film, but again, several big booms caused audible distortion.
I purposefully saved the review of the DVD changer portion of this system for last. Why you ask? Because I was totally surprised by the picture quality of this unit. I used a Samsung 30” widescreen HDTV for viewing, so I was able to use the progressive component output of the DVD player to feed the TV. The DVD player also performs 2:3 pulldown processing for film-sourced material. You can set it for film, auto, video (normal), and video (active). I am not sure what the actual difference between the two video modes is, although the manual says that the latter is for content with more motion, and the former for more static content. I set the display type to 16:9 normal, which is for a fixed 16:9 display. There is also a 16:9 auto mode that lets the display device do the aspect ratio manipulation instead of the player.
In any case, once I had the player set properly, the pictures were nothing short of stunning. I played my newly purchased copy of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". The deep blue sky juxtaposed with the desert setting at the beginning of the film was gorgeous. Later, when Indy arrives at the castle on the German-Austrian border, the dark tones and shaded scenes were conveyed beautifully as well. I had to keep watching Indy, so I also put in "Raiders of the Lost Ark". The film is 8 years older, and thus is not as clean, but still looked incredible on the M65 system. The scene in the map room when Indy locates the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant looked wonderful, with the beam of light penetrating the screen.
I always like to test color with the film "Moulin Rouge". The M65 passed with flying colors, so to speak. Reds were deep and rich without being oversaturated. The green fairy was vibrant and accurate even when clashing with those reds. When they first enter the Moulin Rouge club and you are bombarded with colors and fast movement, the picture didn't buckle for one moment. There were no visible artifacts, and again, the color was rich and beautiful.
There were really no negatives with regard to video performance, and overall, there are only a few nit-picky things I can say about the DVD portion of the M65 system. Layer changes are a touch slow, taking about ¾ of a second. Changing from one disc to another is also slow. This goes for both changing discs already in the unit as well as those that are being loaded. Also, the main door to the disc trays must close and reopen for each disc you load, making it take more time than necessary to fully load the unit. From an overall perspective, however, these are trivial things and should play no significant part of your decision making process.
There are some additional points of interest. First, this system will play CD-R/CD-RW discs that contain MP3s and jpeg files. I did not have the opportunity to try the pictures, but the MP3 playback is a great feature. You can store a ton of music in MP3 format on a single CD, and the M65 will allow you to sort through the contents of your disc on-screen so you can easily find the tracks you are looking for (assuming you have organized the files logically when you burned the disc). Second, included is an AM/FM tuner with antenna inputs. While it seems strange to categorize this under extras, this is probably not an essential feature to the market this product is aimed at, so it is somewhat of a bonus that it is included. Standard AM and FM antenna inputs can be found the back side.