At a petite 8.1 inches wide, 5.8 inches high, and 13.8 inches deep, the CS-V720's sleek and stylish combo receiver/DVD player is less than half the width of a standard A/V receiver. The small size didn't stop Onkyo's engineers from squeezing in a 30-watt-per-channel stereo amplifier with Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS surround processing for music and movies.
This leads us to the Onkyo CS-V720's generous connectivity suite. You can hook up a power amplifier and a powered subwoofer to the receiver's preout jacks to get full 5.1-channel sound from DVDs, DVD-As, and SACDs. You also get two sets of analog audio inputs and one out, so you can simultaneously hook up a digital audio player (an iPod, for example) and another external device. A full complement of video outputs (composite, S-Video, and component) and an optical digital audio input round out the rear panel.
The Onkyo CS-V720's DVD transport plays DVD-Audio and DVD-Video discs; CDs; SACDs; and discs encoded with MP3, WMA, and JPEG files. In addition to AM/FM radio, the CS-V720 is XM Satellite Radio ready. Just plug in an XM Connect-and-Play antenna (such as the $50 Audiovox CNP1000) and subscribe (for $13 a month) to receive dozens of channels of music, news, talk, sports, and entertainment over the CS-V720. We found XM's sound quality to be comparable with FM's but totally noise-free. The full-size remote is well laid out and a pleasure to use.
The Onkyo CS-V720 can take full advantage of Onkyo's recently introduced iPod dock, the DS-A1 ($99). The CS-V720's remote will then control all of your iPod's functions, such as play, pause, stop, skip, and shuffle/repeat, while the dock recharges the iPod's batteries. But even though the DS-A1 will pass iPod video output, you'll need to connect the dock directly to your TV, since the CS-V720 lacks video inputs. Moreover, the CS-V720 doesn't provide a nifty onscreen display like the one on Denon's much more expensive S-301.
The stereo bookshelf speakers' solidly constructed medium-density fiberboard (MDF) cabinets have a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter and a 5.2-inch Micro Fiber woofer. The speakers are finished in a black wood veneer and measure 9.5 inches tall, 6 inches wide, and 10.5 inches deep.
The CS-V720's CD sound had a presence and fullness that surpassed those of the better tabletop radio/CD players from Bose and Cambridge SoundWorks. And since the Onkyo CS-V720 has separate speakers, stereo imaging was excellent. Bass was surprisingly deep but far from the room-shaking low-end response we associate with subwoofers. SACDs and DVD-Audio discs were also satisfying, though they sounded no better than CDs. We didn't really expect full-size sound from this microsystem, so we weren't disappointed when it failed to deliver the fury of a full-size home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) system. While our Woody Allen and Sopranos DVDs sounded awfully good, Flight of the Phoenix caused audible distortion when played at anything louder than moderate volume. On a more positive note, we liked the virtual-surround mode; Onkyo's Theater Dimensional Circuit opened up the sound beyond stereo imaging.
It's not fair to judge the $400 Onkyo CS-V720 as an alternative to the amazing--but four times as expensive--Denon S-301 two-channel HTIB. But if you're looking to get more features and better sound quality than you'll find in the more modestly priced DVD shelf systems we've tested, the Onkyo CS-V720 is one hell of a deal.