Recently I got all excited about a pretty cool-looking networked 3.1 home theater system from JVC. Since it seems most of the innovative networked products are coming from brands that aren't as easy to find at Best Buy, and since JVC said it supported a wide range of file formats including DivX, I called it in to take a closer look.
Although setup was easy, and its picture and sound were about what you'd expect from a $1,000 home-theater-in-a-box from the pre-HD era, the networking and file management aspects of the machine (i.e., the hard part) were just not finished. Seriously, it needs more time in the QA oven before it will be anything like good eatin'. As JVC is learning, it's not enough to just meet the bare minimum of HDMI and DivX support.
Like I said, on the HTIB front, the DD-3 isn't bad. Perhaps best suited for apartment dwellers, its shiny black surfaces, gunmetal trim and curved edges suggest that it wouldn't look totally out of place on a Star Destroyer either. I like the fact that everything, even the 120W sub, is powered through a single plug on the main unit. Though there are only three speaker boxes, the center actually has two surround speakers integrated into it, with a decent psychoacoustic rendering of 5.1. (I will add that it works best in tight quarters, and may not pass muster from the pickiest of surround-soundophiles.) Each of the four speakers gets 25W of juice.
Setup was easy, especially since there's no wireless option: just plug a (really long) Ethernet cable in, connect the unit and the three speakers to the subwoofer, and you are off and running. On the PC end, all it took was CyberLink Media Server 1.1 install disc, though I downloaded an update patch from CyberLink's website just to be safe.
On paper, the DD-3 is friendly to many file formats: MP3, WMA, WAV, JPEG, ASF, DivX, MPEG1 and MPEG2. It also supports a range of disc types and USB devices. In fact, I found the best way to playback files from the PC was to burn them to CD or DVD. I did not have as much luck getting them over the network.
•The DD-3 only supports "up to" HDMI 1.0, and video resolutions of 480i, 480p and 720p only. Also, it will only play DivX files up to 720x480 at 30 fps or 720x576 at 25 fps. So, nothing high-def at all in that department.
•In USB mode, it did not recognize a bus-powered 2.5-in. Seagate drive, though it did power it up and is fully compliant with USB 2.0. I discovered, in very fine print, that this is because it will not support USB volumes over 2GB. There's goes, basically, every USB hard-disk drive in existence. When I plugged in a 1GB Lexar USB thumbdrive, the DD-3 only recognized some of the media files stored on it. I even tried to move them around, in case a folder hierarchy was frustrating the software, but no dice.
•Totally random annoyance: when you're watching a DVD, say you momentarily switch to another source (Network, USB, Line or whatever) then go back to DVD. It forgets where it was and starts over, all the way back at the FBI warning.
•In my mind, the main event was the CyberLink Media Server software. Like Windows Media Connect, it serves up files for you to listen to, look at or watch at the receiver end. As you can see in the gallery, CyberLink's interface couldn't be simpler: just check the folders—My Music, My Videos, My Photos, etc.—that you want to access, then leave the app running. On the DD-3's screen, I could navigate to my PC, but when I clicked on the CyberLink option, all I got was a single folder of music. As I scrolled slowly through all of the artists, I found that it ended in the letter D. So not only did I not get all of the designated files, it even truncated the list of files that it would let me access. Since the CyberLink software only runs on Windows XP anyway, I'm thinking maybe Windows Media Connect would have been JVC's better option.
When I called customer support to discuss my troubles, I got through to someone quickly, but he was unable to help. He told me the product wasn't even listed in the database, and I had to show him the press release on JVC.com before he was convinced I wasn't deluded or just plain dumb. The support rep told me that someone will get back to me in the next day or two. If anything positive comes out of that call, I will report back. On the other hand, if you never hear me discuss this product again, well, maybe it's for the better.