2003 Editor's Choice Awards Page 5
Accessory of the Year
Outlaw ICBM-1 bass-management box
($249; reviewed by Joel Brinkley, February 2002)
Unless you're using full-range speakers in all channels and no subwoofer—a rare scenario for a home theater—bass management is a big issue with the new high-resolution audio formats of DVD-Audio and SACD. That's because the players provide limited or no bass management for these formats. And few surround processors or receivers redirect the bass to the subwoofer when playing these formats in the only way possible in most cases: by way of their analog multichannel passthrough inputs.
The Outlaw ICBM-1 (for Integrated Controlled Bass Manager 1) solves that problem. This solution may not be neat—you'll need at least six extra analog leads in your system, for a minimum of 12 to connect your player to your processor, and more if you use stereo subs and/or a center rear speaker, both of which are provided for. Nevertheless, the solution is complete. Separate cross-over frequencies can be set for the left/right, center, left/right surround, and center surround channels. And while JB did not find the ICBM-1 to be absolutely transparent sonically, it came very, very close. A slick, affordable solution to a nagging problem.
Budget Product of the Year
Energy Take 5.2 surround speaker system
($900; reviewed by Scott Wilkinson, July/August 2002)
Unless they're some sort of exotic minimonitor design, tiny speakers get no respect in audiophile circles, even though many consumers demand tiny speakers for their home-theater systems. But how to find small speakers that don't suffer from thin, anemic sound and low volume capabilities?
Scott Wilkinson found an answer in the Energy Take 5.2 system. Its slightly lean but clean presentation was evenly balanced, with excellent imaging and a smooth transition to the Energy S8.2 subwoofer (optional, but included in the above price). It also played plenty loud for his modestly sized room. SW concluded, "The Energy Take 5.2 surround-speaker package is an excellent system and a terrific value, offering more bang for the buck than any other sat/sub system I know."
Products of the Year
Reference Imaging CinePro 9x Elite video projector Teranex HDX Cinema MX video processor
($114,000; reviewed by Thomas J. Norton, October 2002)
What more can we say that we haven't already said about these products? This package produces more of a "Wow!" factor than any other video display we know of. It costs an arm and a leg, but if you can afford it, it's worth it. If you keep the screen width reasonable—we recommend no more than 8 feet; 7 feet is better—you might never want to go to a movie theater again.
DVDs of the Year
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Platinum Series Extended Edition
($39.99; New Line Home Entertainment)
With 30 minutes of new footage added to the three-hour theatrical running time, the feature is now spread out over two discs of this four-disc set. The pause to change discs may disrupt the mood for the most serious Ring fans, but the rest of us won't mind taking at least one break during a 210-minute movie—and, of course, we're all taking year-long breaks between episodes of this three-film saga.
There are too many additions to describe in detail here, but they include an extension of the Prologue and early scenes with the Hobbits, a more dramatic Rivendell council scene and, most significantly, an extended Lothlórien sequence. The added material significantly enriches the film. In fact, if it had been released theatrically in this longer form, it might very well have grabbed the Best Picture Oscar it was denied. It also significantly enhances the characters and performances—the latter already exceptional across the board.
The other two discs are devoted to truly extensive special features, none of them duplicated entirely from last summer's 2-disc release (though there is a little redundancy in some of the interviews). It's a film school in a box—New Line claims an unprecedented 30 hours of supplemental material (including the four commentary tracks). Our sample arrived just before press time, and there wasn't nearly enough time to take it all in. However, it's clear that this release is a landmark treatment of a great film.
The video and audio transfers are outstanding. Our only complaint about the earlier 2-disc release was a visible—though not fatal—softness in many scenes. By spreading the film over two discs and increasing the available data space, that problem has largely been fixed. With only occasional exceptions (these now appear to originate in the film's Super 35 photography), the images are now crisply detailed. The sound—now available with both Dolby Digital and DTS (in their respective 5.1 EX and ES forms)—is spectacular. The dynamic range is immense, the sound effects enveloping, the bass deep and powerful. Composer Howard Shore's music, in particular, is astonishing and recorded in a way that makes the most of its contribution to the film's powerful emotional pull. In short, this is a must-own set.
($29.99; Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
Those of us in the media might be forgiven for feeling a little over-Monstered this year—they're everywhere. But familiarity sometimes breeds admiration, and this amazing Pixar/Disney confection is hard to resist. Monsters, Inc. is not only a narrative delight from beginning to end, it's also one of the best-looking and best-sounding DVDs you'll see anywhere. Contrary to popular myth, it doesn't make every video display look equally good. The highly detailed skin and background textures, not to mention the phenomenal fur on Sully (one of the lead characters), guarantee that only the best displays will get it all. But not to worry—you'll be blown away by the visuals on any good set. The sound is a knockout as well, as good as we've ever heard from an animated feature.
There are extensive extras as well. The now-expected Pixar outtakes are as hilarious as ever, and the cartoon short that accompanied the feature in theaters, For the Birds, is included. It's a classic. There's also a brand-new Monsters short, Mike's New Car.
If you're one of those "grownups" who thinks that animation is just for kids, you don't know what you're missing. Monsters, Inc. is a delight for everyone.