The Philips HTS6500's compact design makes it a decent choice for small apartments and bedrooms, or any environment where you don't want to mount rear speakers and run the associated wires. The relatively small (4.8 by 12 by 3.8 inches each), magnetically shielded front speakers have integrated tabletop stands and are also supplied with wall-mounting brackets. Each satellite speaker incorporates three 3-inch drivers angled to help create the virtual surround-sound effect. The curvy, silver-and-black gloss passive subwoofer (14.6 by 8.6 by 18.5 inches) incorporates an 8-inch direct-firing driver and has a modern appearance that matches the other components. The speakers' and subwoofer's 16-foot, hard-wired proprietary cables are long enough to provide adequate installation flexibility.
Measuring in at 2.8 by 13.4 by 13 inches, the main head unit has a wedge-shaped, silver-and-black gloss front panel with a slick, slot-loading disc player. The integrated amplifier is said to deliver roughly 200 watts to each of the satellite speakers and 100 watts to the sub, enabling the system to play pretty loud. In addition to a basic backlit text display, the front panel hosts a large volume wheel and a full selection of playback controls. The HTS6500's onscreen menu system is well designed and makes it easy to navigate digital content. We like the remote control for its iPod-like white-and-gray styling and uncluttered button layout, but we wish it were backlit and could be programmed to operate other devices.
The Philips HTS6500 supports a decent assortment of digital file formats including MP3 and WMA audio files; MPEG-1, -2, and -4 and DivX video files; and JPEG image files. The disc player is compatible with DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW and CD-R/RW media, so it should play back just about any home-burned movies, music, and photos. Of course, the system offers the requisite Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS surround decoding capabilities.
If you own a fairly new HDTV set, you'll appreciate the HTS6500's inclusion of an HDMI digital output. The device also has component, S-Video, and composite video outputs, so it will connect to any older TV as well. Unfortunately, it's completely devoid of video inputs. As a result, you'll have to separately connect any of your other A/V devices--VCR, cable/satellite box, video game console--directly to the TV, then switch the TV's input to change sources. That said, all-in-one home-theater systems that offer video inputs tend to be either larger, bulkier component-based systems, such as the Onkyo's HT-S580, or much more expensive than the Philips, such as the Bose Lifestyle 3-2-1 Series II, the Sony DAV-X1, or the Denon S-301. The HTS6500 does have a passable selection of audio-only inputs, including two stereo analog RCA ins and a coaxial digital audio jack. So if you can't use the Philips as a video switcher, you can at least use it to amplify the audio from any of the aforementioned devices.
The HTS6500 offers a couple of nice front-panel extras, including a USB port for connecting a flash drive or a memory card reader, and also a minijack audio input. We were easily able to view JPEGs and play video and audio files stored on a connected USB flash drive. The only snag we ran into was with large MPEG-2 files, which didn't play smoothly from the device. The minijack audio input worked as advertised--it'll stream audio from any iPod, MP3 player, or anything else with a standard headphone jack. Rounding out the HTS6500's feature list is an AM/FM tuner with 40 programmable presets.