Inexpensive Speakers, Panasonic Plasmas, Bitstream Conundrum
More for Less
I am looking for a 7.1 speaker system for $1000 or less. I'm also looking at the Pioneer VSX-1020 A/V receiver.
$1000 or less for a 7.1 speaker system is pretty low. The only system I can recommend from HomeTheater.com's speaker buyer's guide is the Wharfedale Achromatic WA-S1 system (pictured above). The 5.1 system we reviewed lists for $600, and you could get two additional satellites to make a 7.1 system for under $1000.
If you can stretch your budget a bit beyond $1000, the NHT Absolute Zero system is another good choice. The 5.1 system we reviewed lists for $1294, and an extra pair of satellites is $300, making it nearly $1600 for a 7.1 system. I'm sure that either system would mate well with the Pioneer VSX-1020 AVR.
Other inexpensive 5.1 packages that have received positive reviews from Home Theater include the Orb Mod1 ($800), Energy RC Micro ($1000), Energy Take Classic ($600), and Polk Blackstone TL250 ($1019). I'm sure you can add two extra satellites to these systems for a few hundred bucks, and all would work well with the Pioneer 1020.
Panasonic vs. Panasonic
What are the main differences are between the Panasonic ST30 and GT30 lines of plasma TVs?
The GT30 is THX certified, while the ST30 is not. Also, the GT30 has four HDMI inputs and three USB ports compared with the ST30's three HDMIs and two USBs. Cosmetically, the GT30 is thinner, but the ST30 is available in two more screen sizes than the GT30 (42 and 46 inches as well as 50, 55, 60, and 65).
Perhaps the most important differences are that the G30 is said to have deeper blacks (which we'll confirm in our reviews), and it can display 1080p/24 content at 48, 60, or 96Hz. The ST30 can display 1080p/24 at 48 or 60Hz, but not 96. Displaying 1080p/24 at 96Hz should result in noticeably smoother motion, which, along with deeper blacks, makes the GT30 worth the extra $400 in my book.
Update: Reader Chris Heinonen posted a comment below, saying that the GT30 does not offer 96Hz playback with 1080p/24 material, to which I replied that the manual says it does. As it happens, we now have a GT30 in the studio for review, so I checked it out in the TV itself. Lo and behold, Chris is correctthe GT30 does not have a 96Hz option, and the manual is wrong. The only Panasonic model with 96Hz playback is the flagship VT30.
This changes my conclusion about which model to get. As we've now seen in a side-by-side comparison of the ST30 and GT30 in our studio, the black level isn't all that much lower on the GT30 (0.012 foot-lamberts vs. 0.015fL on the ST30), so unless you really need the extra HDMI and USB ports, I'd get the ST30 and save the $400.
I have a Yamaha RX-V2067 AVR, Samsung BD-C6800 Blu-ray player, and Samsung LE55C8700 LED TV. These should provide the latest Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD codecs through my KEF 5.1 speaker system. But when I watch a Blu-ray with DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD, I only see "DTS" in the receiver's display. I've tried all kinds of settings in the Yamaha and Blu-ray player, but I've never seen those DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD indicators in the display. Am I listening to just DTS sound or not?
Danny van Munster
Do you see "DTS" when you play a Dolby soundtrack? If so, I bet the Digital Output parameter in the Audio menu of the BD-C6800 is set to "Bitstream (Re-encode)," which converts everything to regular DTS before sending it to the receiver. In this case, you are, in fact, listening to the DTS core data. Your AVR is capable of decoding DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD, so set this parameter to "Bitstream (Audiophile)," and the player will send the native bitstream to the receiver via HDMI.
From what I can tell in the Yamaha's manual, there is no dedicated DTS or Dolby indicator of any kind in the front-panel display, as there is on many AVRs. It does refer to showing the surround decoder in the alphanumeric part of the display if you press the remote's Info button to cycle though the different types of info. But the manual is unclear about exactly what the receiver displays with different bitstreams.
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