If there’s been any real change in the home theater audio landscape recently, it’s been the emergence of the anti-AVR. From soundbars to powered tabletop systems to wireless streaming speakers that can double as your TV’s audio system, the trend is toward all-in-one solutions that are simple to shop for, easy to install, and a cinch to operate. Granted, even the most basic receiver is none of those things. But the Swiss Army knife of the A/V world still remains the best value in the land, packing more power, features, flexibility, and (when mated with good speakers) performance than any integrated approach.
2D Performance 3D Performance Features Ergonomics Value
Price: $1,699 At A Glance: Top-tier black levels and color accuracy • So-so 3D • World-class value
Last year, the number-one TV I recommended to friends, family, and anyone else who would listen was Panasonic’s ST50 series plasma. Although a serious enthusiast might have appreciated the superior black levels and more extensive picture controls of the company’s then top-line VT models, 2012’s ST50, like the ST30 models of the year before, delivered most of the VT’s performance and easily beat out all but the most expensive LED LCDs. It was simply an incredible value and was recognized as such in Home Theater’s Top Picks of the Year.
Last weekend I attended the annual Flat-Panel HDTV Shootout held each year by Value Electronics, a small independent retailer in the New York City suburb of Scarsdale. This was the 9th year for the event, one that proprietor Robert Zohn started way back when as a marketing tool, but also out of obvious sheer love for the technology. In recent years it’s grown into quite the industry event. Zohn brings in arguably the most skilled and respected calibrators in the world to tune each of the sets to its absolute optimum image, a team which this year included Kevin Miller of ISFTV and Tweak TV, DeWayne “D-Nice” Davis of A/V Fidelity, and David Mackenzie of the U.K. website HDTVtest. The two-day affair was attended by a mix of industry types and press (including the renown Dr. Larry Weber, a brilliant and gregarious leprechaun of a man who many regard as the father of plasma TV), along with Value’s most passionate customers. For those who can’t be in attendance, it’s simulcast on the web and available for later viewing so videophiles everywhere can live vicariously through the attendees.
Hold your index finger up to the air for a moment. Can you feel that? It’s the fresh breeze of good sound wafting ever so gently across the horizon.
After years of living in a desert of low-res MP3s, crappy white ear buds, wafer-thin flat-panel TV speakers pointed away from the listener (come on!), and increasingly anemic AVRs, there is a revolution afoot.
Sonos Playbar Soundbar Performance Features Ergonomics Value
Sonos SUB Subwoofer Performance Features Ergonomics Value
Price: $699 At A Glance: Excellent sound quality for music and movies • Powerful optional subwoofer • Mixed surround-sound performance
Since its launch in 2005, the Sonos wireless music system has won accolades and an extensive fan base thanks to an early focus on tapping into the digital music libraries that consumers built after the iPod’s launch in 2001, and an evolving graphic interface that, in today’s version, brings the benefits of room, source, and track selection to intuitive touchscreen apps that run on smartphones and tablets.
For those unfamiliar, you start by plugging one Sonos component into your network router to create a bridge to the Internet and to your home PC or hard drive where your personal music is stored. It can be any component the company sells. Sonos offers several powered speaker systems (Play:5, Play:3, the SUB subwoofer) and two player modules that feed music into either an existing hi-fi system (the Connect) or into a pair of speakers (Connect: Amp). If none of these devices can be placed near a live Ethernet jack, you can plop the aptly named Bridge wireless adapter next to your router.
You may have heard that sales of soundbars are skyrocketing today. I’m excited about that. The best of the new premium soundbars sound pretty great, and with their unassuming presence, lack of speaker wires, and relatively simple installation, they stand to introduce legions of new ears to the joys of a high-quality home theater experience.
Putting together a home theater can seem like a daunting task. So many pieces to think through and connect up! But if you care enough to do your homework and educate yourself, you’ll find it’s not as complicated as it looks. Here’s what goes into your typical viewing room.
At a press conference in Manhattan today marked by celebrity guest appearances of super model Kate Upton, Super Bowl quarterback Eli Manning, and super-rapper Flo Rida, Samsung officially introduced its 2013 TV line and availability for a new F8500 super plasma. Along with Panasonic’s much anticipated ZT plasma series that will debut soon, the F8500 is said to represent a new level of performance for a category that remains much beloved by A/V enthusiasts as the gold standard for image quality.
Simultaneously, Samsung announced that its 85-inch Ultra HD model, the UHD-S9 first shown at CES (photo above), will be available for preorders on the Samsung.com Web site at the end of March.
It’s not unreasonable that any regular reader of Home Theater may lust, if only in his heart, for a two-piece projection system that genuinely matches, if only at a smaller scale, the experience we have in our local multiplex.
As a consumer electronics editor and reporter, I’ve never been a big fan of company profiles. We are frequently contacted by public relations reps who think their client has a good backstory worth telling consumers. But I usually prefer to let those company’s products speak for them in the Court of Test Reports, believing that hands-on feedback about the equipment is what readers really want, and that positive observations we might report in an article do a disservice if the gear fails to live up to it. Matters are complicated further when the company is one that advertises in our magazine or on our Website. Any upbeat comments naturally become suspect, and might cast doubt on a good product review arrived at independently and fairly. We never want to look like we’re in bed with any manufacturer, so why even go there?
Such was the case with Emotiva, a Web-based direct-sale audio company out of Nashville, TN that has carved a niche for itself delivering what’s best described as “affordable high-end.”