Picture Presets, AVR Shopping, Soundbar Center
Black Hole Mode
You often talk about the advantages of professional calibration, but why couldn't TV makers include a mode for a blacked-out room? Or am I missing something? I have a ninth-gen, 50-inch Pioneer Kuro and a PS3. I set the TV's picture mode to Movie for standard-def TV and Standard for Blu-ray (with film mode set to Advance).
Actually, most modern TVs provide a picture mode that often gets reasonably close to the ideal settings in a dark room; this mode is typically called something like Movie or Cinema. If the set is THX-certified, the THX picture mode is usually close to correct. However, given the inevitable sample variability (differences from one sample of a particular model to another), it's always a good idea to set the basic picture controlsbrightness, contrast, color, tint, and sharpnessusing a setup disc such as High-Definition Benchmark or Digital Video Essentials on Bu-ray or HDTV Wizard on DVD.
In many THX-certified sets, the THX mode does not let you alter these controls. For those with such a set, select the THX mode and run through the setup disc to see if the test patterns look rightif not, select the Movie or Cinema mode and tweak them yourself.
In the Pioneer Kuro, the picture mode is called AV Selection, and I leave it set to Pure in all cases. The 9G models fixed a bug in the film mode, so its setting doesn't matter when feeding the TV progressive signals such as those from most Blu-rays; I found that Advance mode works best for interlaced signals, so that's where I leave it.
AVR Shopping Tips
I am currently in the market for an A/V receiver in the $800-$1200 range. I am doing some online research to short-list my preferences, but I need some educated suggestions. Here are my questions:
1. How much does impedance matter in a receiver? Are receivers that support speakers at 4 or 6 ohms better than the receivers that support 8 ohms?
2. How important is the total harmonic distortion (THD) in a receiver? The lower the number, the better?
3. How important is the signal-to-noise (SNR) in a receiver?
4. How important is THX certification? Does this really make a huge difference in listening to music?
5. Are there any other features that I need to pay attention to when shopping for receivers?
Here are some thoughts on your questions:
1. Matching the impedance characteristics of a receiver to those of the speakers is very important. The lower the speaker's impedance, the more power it tries to draw from the receiver, and if it tries to draw too much power, the receiver's amp will create lots of distortion that could damage the speaker. It's not that receivers that support lower impedances are necessarily "better" than those that do not; the important thing is to match the receiver's capabilities to the speaker. Most low-cost receivers can't handle speakers with a nominal impedance of 4 ohms or less; 6 ohms is borderline, and 8 ohms is quite safe. Determine the nominal impedance of your speakers and get a receiver that is rated to drive speakers of that impedance.
2. The lower the THD, the better. However, most modern A/V receivers have very low THD, so this really isn't an issue in most cases.
3. The higher the SNR, the better. As with THD, though, this really isn't much of an issue these days. The only exception might be with speakers that exhibit high sensitivity, in which case any noise that is present will be more apparent.
4. THX certification guarantees a certain level of performance. It's not essential, but all else being equal, I like having it. THX Select is for smaller rooms, while THX Ultra is for larger rooms.
5. If you're going to use the receiver as a central audio/video switcher (which is what it's designed to do), you want to make sure it doesn't degrade the video signal passing through it to the display. The best way to do this is to read the receiver reviews in Home Theater magazine and on the HT website, in which we test the video capabilities as well as audio. For example, some receivers clip parts of the video dynamic range called "above white" and "below black," which is a bad thing. We also test the video processing that is found in virtually all receivers these days.
In addition, we provide full audio measurements, which reveal any weirdnesses in that area. For example, some receivers output close to the rated power when two channels are driven, but way under the rated power when five channels are driven. In some cases, the output power with five channels driven is close to the rated spec but way less when seven channels are driven.
Most other features are things you might really want or not care about at all, which is entirely up to you. Do you want multi-room capabilities? Networking capabilities, such as file sharing and streaming via DLNA? iPod connectivity? Satellite radio? Internet radio? Such features might or might not be available at various price points, and you must determine how important they are and whether or not you can afford a receiver that has the ones you want.
Soundbar in the Center
I love the Home Theater Geeks podcast and when you are on Leo Laporte's radio-show podcast. You guys are great together, and I never miss an episode. You have inspired me to improve my A/V!
I just bought a Marantz NR1501 receiver. I connected my existing Energy Take 5 speakers (4 of them in total, two front and two back). Now I'd like to add a center speaker and a subwoofer. Here are my questions:
1. Are those "soundbar" speakers that mount under the TV screen effective, and do you have a recommendation? I have a 46-inch Sony Bravia TV.
2. Are wireless subwoofers okay? If so, do you have a recommendation for that?
Thanks for the kind words! I'm glad I've inspired you to improve your A/V system.
I would not use a soundbar as a center-channel speaker; most of these products are designed to be used in place of a surround-speaker system. I would try to get another Take 5 speaker exactly like the others in your system. It's very important to match the tonal characteristics of all the speakers, especially the front left, right, and center.
As for wireless subwoofers, they're probably okay, but I don't have much direct experience with them. For audio and video, I generally prefer to go with wires to avoid any possibility of interference from other devices in the same RF frequency range. Perhaps some of our readers have had a good experience with a wireless sub and can make a recommendation along those lines...
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