Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
While the 630DV's technology is impressive, the gear itself is not particularly stylish. In fact, it's generically bland and big. The curvy, silver-plastic receiver/DVD changer weighs 21.5 pounds and measures 16.5 inches wide, 5 inches high, and--gulp--17.5 inches deep, grabbing a substantial amount of shelf space. On the upside, the face's bold display imparts easy-to-read information about the surround modes, and the receiver's controls are likewise simple to use. Another plus is the unusually smooth and quiet disc-changing mechanism. However, like Pioneer's DV-563A universal player, the 630DV lacks SACD and DVD-A indicators on its front panel, so it's sometimes hard to be sure what you're hearing.
The wireless speaker, which resembles a small boombox with a stubby antenna, sits directly behind the listening position, where it covers the left and right surround channels. In truth, the unit does require one wire: an AC power cord that you plug into an outlet. You also run a pair of stereo cables between the receiver/DVD changer and a 6.5-by-4.3-inch transmitter, which sends signals to the surround speaker. The transmitter is powered by a little wall wart.
The 630DV's front box speakers are 9 inches tall and oh so ordinary-looking, but the slightly curved, 12.25-inch-wide center has a bit of style. At only 7.25 inches wide, the wood subwoofer rates as petite.
We loved the midsize remote. All of the frequently used buttons are logically placed, and you can control the various functions without constantly pressing different mode keys.
The 630DV's front-left and front-right speakers are two-way designs with 4-inch woofers and 2-inch cone tweeters. The center employs a single 3-inch driver, and the subwoofer sports a rear-firing 6.25-inch woofer. The 2.4GHz digital wireless surround contains two discrete channels, each with its own built-in 25-watt amplifier driving a 2.75-inch midrange.
It's worth noting that many competing devices crowd the 2.4GHz spectrum. The wireless surround speaker gave us clean sound during our entire testing period, but interference from cordless phones, 802.11b/g networking equipment, and even microwave ovens is possible.
The receiver/changer comes equipped with the usual assortment of surround-processing modes: Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS. In addition to SACDs and DVD-As, the deck spins every type of recordable DVD, as well as audio CDs and JPEG photo discs. The player can even handle your home-burned MP3 and WMA music. Each of the six amplifier channels is rated at 100 watts.
Considering the 630DV's size and price, its connectivity suite is downright paltry. You get two inputs and one output for stereo audio, one coaxial digital in, cheesy spring-clip speaker-wire connectors, and the standard set of video jacks--that's it.
The DVD version of Stanley Kubrick's scary masterpiece, The Shining, immediately sucked us in, and we forgot all about evaluating the 630DV's sound quality. That's always a good sign; when we're unhappy, we busily scribble comments. As it was, our notepad was still blank when the closing credits rolled.
John Hiatt's Bring the Family SACD rocked with real conviction. This kit has the muscle to fill 300-square-foot rooms with sound. The subwoofer's bass was fairly deep and strong, though it lacked the dynamic punch you'd get from powered models. And the system achieved a synergistic sat/sub blend.
The drawback to the 630DV's single-surround gambit is a somewhat claustrophobic sound field: it was too easy to tell that the source was directly behind us. But the wireless speaker's bass response was acceptable if unimpressively lightweight.
To get some context, we brought in Samsung's HT-DB660TH three-speaker HTIB. That system has nothing but front units, which project sound to the back of the room. We preferred the 630DV's sound quality and surround effect; when we listened to DVDs and CDs, the DB660 couldn't compare. There's no doubt that the Samsung, listed at $699, is a beautifully styled kit, but it simply lacks the Pioneer's refinement and dynamic verve.
Another competitor for the 630DV is the Niro 1.1Pro, our favorite alternative to multispeaker HTIBs. This system, listed at $799, sounds wonderful on DVDs and is incredibly easy to set up and use. The one little catch is that the Niro's charms don't extend to CDs. If you plan to spend as much time listening to music as watching movies, you'll want the Pioneer.