Cheap Home Theater System: Onkyo HT-S3500

Cheap but high quality Onkyo HT-S3500 Home Theater system

Onkyo’s most recent entry-level home theater system – the HT-S3500 – is an affordable and effective system appropriate for small-to-medium viewing/listening areas.  The package includes the standard home-theater-in-a-box components: audio/video receiver, two front speakers, two rear speakers, a center channel speaker and a subwoofer.  System setup in our ground floor apartment was pretty easy – especially with only HDMI inputs (Dish Network, Playstation3 and Samsung Blu-Ray player) going to my Samsung LED TV.  There is a convenient on-screen display that also helps when confirming you’ve got things connected correctly.  For the price, the receiver sounds great (to my decidely non-audiophile ear though – other opinions may vary) and there seem to be ample inputs (4 HDMI inputs as well as ample composite and audio inputs) and a handy USB slot on the front of the device for connecting iPod/iPhone/iPad (I assume Android devices will work just fine but have not tried it yet).  I paid under $240 with free shipping; for me, the system provides strong bang for the buck, and is perfect as a starter system (or for those in apartments or smaller rooms).

Highlights:  The audio quality sounds great to me – our TV room is not particularly big (10′ by 20′ with the TV about eight feet from the main couch) and the passive subwoofer provides plenty of bass for a room of this size.  I believe everyone will have to mess around with the settings to their individual preferences (took me a bit to get where I could really hear the center channel speaker).  We hooked the small individual speakers to the wall through the keyhole slots, a pretty simple process but as some other folks have noted in other reviews the speaker wire is  fairly flimsy.  The iPod/iPad input is very helpful – haven’t tried video on there yet but audio from iPhone works great and sounds good.  You can also use the Onkyo remote to control the iPod, which is pretty nifty.  All in all, the receiver really seems to integrate all of the various components together seamlessly and has worked flawlessly from the get-go.  I think Onkyo was very thoughtful in putting the package together – color-coding the wires was a nice touch to make setup easy.

Cons: I am very happy with the system so far, the pros heavily outweigh the cons in my opinion.  The receiver definitely gets hot (I knew this going in though as it was mentioned in several reviews) so I keep it in the most ventilated spot on my component shelf.  I’ve also seen recommendations to add a small computer fan, but so far I don’t think it warrants that.  I wish they would’ve provided a print out of the manual rather than just providing a CD – I ended up having to print that out and it was quite LONG and used a lot of the ink in my printer at home.  One of the things I still need to confirm is if I connect an old gaming console up via composite cables, will I have to also run a composite cable to the TV?  That’s what I’ve gleaned from the manual but it seems like it should be able to upconvert through the HDMI (ie send the signal to the TV at the best resolution, not improve the image from the source, of course.)

Summary:  The Onkyo HT-S3500 home theater system is a nice gateway into the world of home audio/theater – it provides good performance (the Wall-E Blu-Ray looks and sounds great, in particular) and some convenient features (such as front panel iPod input) at a great price (click on the button below or the image above for latest pricing from

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Review: Dish Network Hopper DVR

Dish Network DVR with Hopper function that allows skipping commercials in some programsThe Hopper DVR from Dish Network is one of the more hotly anticipated pieces of hardware in the consumer electronics industry for 2012.  The most controversial feature – the namesake ability to skip over commercials in some primetime network programs – has garnered most of the attention, but the more traditional DVR features are pretty impressive as well.

Highlights – The Hopper is a full-featured “whole-home” DVR which offers 2 TB (terabytes) of storage (that’s ~1,000 hours of SD programming – so probably room for one full season of Kardashian-related programming on E! – but about half of that storage is used by the new prime time feature and OnDemand channels, etc.), three tuners, and the ability to service up to three additional rooms via “Joey” units.  The ingenious Prime Time Anytime feature allows for all hours of prime time network programming to be stored for a week via just one tuner (apparently the four network signals are all combined and then unscrambled into individual programs as the user decides to watch).  Using this feature, up to six prime-time programs can be recorded simultaneously, even though the device only has three tuners – impressive technology, indeed.  The Hop feature allows the viewer to skip commercials (only for prime time network programming and only after 1:00 AM the day following original airing).  The user interface has been streamlined and features Facebook, Pandora and Twitter capabilities, favoring Blockbuster@Home (owned by Dish Network) over Netflix.

The device is very small and lightweight for all the performance offered, and Dish Network technicians are typically available for quick installation and trouble-shooting.  The Hopper DVR is free for new customers with most programming packages (America’s Top 120 and up; contact Dish for pricing details – currently for existing subscribers it is $99 but there is generally some room for negotiation) and the monthly fee for using the device is $10 ($7 per month for each Joey unit that delivers programming to different rooms).  The unit has the expected USB and Smartcard slots, HDMI output and even a surprisingly convenient Locate Remote feature that causes the remote to beep when you can’t find it.  (The remote is nothing to write home about, looks like every other previous Dish Network remote.)

Summary: Dish Network has created a  device that is simple and intuitive; the ability to record six programs at once during prime time will settle numerous family arguments over what to record.  Compared to the offerings from DirecTV and Tivo, the Hopper is a bargain as well.  The Prime Time Anytime and Hop features represent some of the only real advancements in the DVR category in the last several years.  Dish Network has created an impressive product that is a must-have for all its subscribers.

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DIRECTV and Viacom End Standoff

DIRECTV subscribers had MTV, Comedy Central and other Viacom channels restored yesterday as the the satellite company and the media titan agreed on a new seven year deal.  The stalemate in which DIRECTV subscribers were blacked out from Viacom stations lasted two weeks.  Precise terms of the deal have not disclosed but apparently Viacom will receive about $600 million in the first year of the deal, a 20% increase over their previous deal.  DIRECTV did save some money by declining to carry Viacom’s joint venture premium channel Epix (estimated at $500 million annually).

Did Dish Network and AMC take notice?


Channel Punch-Out: DirecTV and Viacom Fight To A Draw” -

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