Home Theater

Much has changed in the five (!!!) years since I bought my last home theater components, so here’s an update on all the major pieces:

h3. Amplifiers

Way back when the thing was to get a big gigantic amplifier. Personally, I tended to a compact AVR and then having amplifiers in the speakers. So I ended up with the Onkyo DS989 and then these Definitive Technology speakers with 1,000 watt amplifiers. Now, the trend is to what are called Class D (for digital) amplifiers, they are 90% efficient compared with Class A/B (50%) and run much cooler. The other trend across all components is folks moving to web distribution. “Audioholics”:http://www.audioholics.com/education/amplifier-technology/10-things-about-audio-amplifiers points out:

h4. Axiom

Axiom A1400-8 is a good example at $3850 list. (I actually bought Axiom speakers for a mini-home theater and they are great). Although the monster still weighs 58 pounds, it outputs 200 watts per channel into 8 channels in a single package. Wow, that is a great buy.

h4. Emotiva

Emotiva XPA-2 is another web-only distributer. Although it is only two channels, it is huge costing $800, it delivers 500W into a 4 ohm load, so it is truly a monster amplifier set. It’s pretty common for the cost per channel at the high end to be $700 per channel. For instance, the Denon POA-A1HDCI costs $7000 and has 10 channels. You are going to need a big shelf for the Emotiva as 2 channels weights 75 pounds.

They also make an “XPA-5”:http://www.emotiva.com/xpa5.html which is the same thing in five channels also delivering 200 watts per channel and weighs in at 58 pounds as well and is $800 so a real deal. You basically want the XPA-2 for your main left and rights and then use the XPA-5 for the other channels.

h4. Outlaw

I originally got into this with the Outlaw Audio AVRs, got one for my Dad and then one for downstairs. These are were really inexpensive at the time. Now “Outlaw”:http://outlawaudio.com seems to make just about everything. The highest end is their “Model 7900”:http://www.outlawaudio.com/products/7900.html whcih is 7×300 watts per channel for $3500 weighing at 145 pounds! It needs two 15 amp circuits just to run.

Now the purists are still going to use Class A amplifiers (which are 20% efficient) because they are supposed to be purer. Class A means that the outpu amplifiers are always on even if there is no signal. They have low distortion, but have low power. Class B have output transisters that switch on and off and have 70% efficiency. Most designs use Class A/B which means one output stays on and are 50% efficient. Class D are completely different, they are switching amplifiers with a high switching rate.

h3. A/V Processors

This is a fancy name for the preamp or frontend. These today have HDMI switching and can handle HD internally, so you hook all your inputs into them and then switch them to your front projector. When I assembled my first system, I never used these inputs. I would just hook thing up directly to the RPTV or whatever, so there wasn’t any switching loss. When you look at all the devices today, most projectors like the “Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080”:http://www.projectorcentral.com/epson_cinema_1080.htm now only have a single HDMI port so that you really need to have a switcher to make things work.

For instance the “Denon AVP-A1HDCI”:http://www.audioholics.com/reviews/processors/denon-avp-a1hdci/ is a good example. It is $7000 so more like a new car, but the lower end Denon AVR-5308CI AVR has nearly all the feature.

Or another example is the “Integra DTC-9.9”:http://blog.hometheatermag.com/cedia2008/integra_updates_their_groundbreaking_processor/ which is $2000. It has ISFccc controls, THX Loudness and Audyssey Dynamic equialization. Should be good given how good the DTC-9.8 was.. They has have receivers the DTR9.9 which is a 170watt by 7 channel unit for $2500.

“Rotel RSX-1560”:http://blog.hometheatermag.com/cedia2008/rotel_gets_marks_attention/ is $2600 with 7 channels of Class D amplifiers for $2600 and ships in October.

“Home Theater Magazine”:http://hometheatermag.com is where I started with Home Theater and it is still the top google hit when you index for it. In terms of processors, they liked the $7,000 “Anthem STatement D2”:http://www.hometheatermag.com/preampprocessors/908ant/. This shows the maturing of the category with HDMI switching. The big issue here is that there are bunch of different flavors, 1.1, 1.2 and the latest is 1.3 which apparently passes more color information. The Anthem is a 1.1 switcher. It has four inputs and one output so would work if you wanted to switch in say a Comcast DVR, a MacBook for DVD playback and Internet and a Wii for games. These high end units are using the Gennum chipset which handles most tough signals well. And it comes with a microphone that you connect to a PC to do in room equalization. Pretty cool. And with Blu Ray, we are entering the era of true lossless audio, so it should sound amazing.

h3. Projectors

Unlike amplifiers or processors, there are relatively few vendors of front projectors, so that makes the job easier. But “Cedia”:http://www.projectorcentral.com/cedia_2008.htm just happened so, the main news is the new projectors are coming and aren’t reviewed yet, so if you can stand it wait a bit and see how these new models work out.

h4. High end projector

These are competing in the $4-8000 sweet spot.

“Panasonic PT-AE3000”:http://blog.hometheatermag.com/cedia2008/090408PannyPJ/. This is an update to the really good AE2000. It has better picture quality and on the current battleground of contrast ratios, it is better. But, it has something call Fraem Creation, so in 1080p/60, it generates half frames and plays them at 120 frames per seoncd to eliminate motion blur on LCD projectors. It arrives at the end of October.

Epson 7500 UB. Much better black levels and they have FineFrame which is alos half frame interpolation. It arrives in December. It a follow on to the PowerLite Home Cinema 1080 LCD projectors which have been cheap and decent performers. “Home Theater Magazine”:http://blog.hometheatermag.com/cedia2008/090608Epson/ thought it was the best looking projector out there. $5000 in December.

“Mitsubishi HC7000”:http://blog.hometheatermag.com/cedia2008/090508MitsPJ/ which has improvements in contrast as well at 1000:1. $4K in late October. It runs silent 17dB and has HQV Reon video processing. Its claim to fame is that it handles the anamorphic 2.35 lense natively FWIW

“Sony VP-VW70”:http://blog.hometheatermag.com/cedia2008/sonys_new_projector_lineup/ at $8000 has a higher contracts ratio and you have to get from an installer. The previous “Sony VP-VW60”:http://www.hometheatermag.com/frontprojectors/1107sonyvw60/ which was a decent performaner at 93 at $5000. The VPL-HS10 is the entry level Sony at $3500.

“JVC DLA-HD750 or RS-20”:http://blog.hometheatermag.com/cedia2008/090408JVC/. JVC is so confusing because they have two model designations for everything. The RS line is for installers and the HD line is for everyone else. The big improvements are full white balance controls and color managmenet in the RS-20. $7000 for the HD750 and $6000 for the HD350.

The current winner in the low cost projector wars are JVC at $5K and $8K and Sharp at $2K:

“JVC DLA-RS2”:http://www.projectorreviews.com/jvc/dla-rs2/ remains a winner at the high-end, but the above models are big competition. It is the current holder of best quality and highest contrast. Although it is over a year old and uses LCos. They are a niche manufacturer, but really have good “out of the box”:http://www.hdtvexpert.com/pages_b/JVC_DLA-RS2.html color adjustments according to HDTVExpert.com. It is identical to the JVC HD100 reviewed by “Home Theater Magazine”:http://www.hometheatermag.com/frontprojectors/408jvcdila/ where it got a 96 for performance, but at $8000, is really, really expensive.

“JVC DLS-RS1x” or the “JVC DLA-HD1”:http://www.hometheatermag.com/frontprojectors/607proj/index1.html is $5500 so really cheaper. For the true videophile, you have to get the RS2, but many folks will be OK iwth the really high contrast of this LCOS projector. It scored at 94 performance in “Home Theater Mag”:http://www.hometheatermag.com/frontprojectors/607proj/index4.html so not a bad tradeoff. They did think it was loud though.

h4. What is 2.35 all about

The trend is for “2.35”:http://www.projectorcentral.com/235_home_theater.htm screens which are even wider than the 16:9 in DVDs. Basically, you buy a wider screen and hope it fits in your room and the main issue is that with 9 foot ceilings, you are limited in width, so a 2.35 screen is actually the smallest you can fit there. The rub is that all current projectors are 16:9 native projectors, so to show 2.35 aspect, you buy an anamorphic lense that goes in front of the projector and stretches it. Personally, it all sounds like not really worth it, but that’s what the bleeding edige is all about!

h4. $2000 projector

For work we wanted a “low end”:http://www.projectorcentral.com/1080p_home_theater_projectors.htm but high quality 1080p projector. Thanks to “Projector Central”:http://www.projectorcentral.com/home-theater-projectors.htm, we settled on the “Epson Home Cinema 1080 Projector”:http://www.audioholics.com/reviews/projectors/epson-home-cinema-1080/ which is a 1080p unit that is a “budget unit” at $3000 list. You still to ISF set the thing to calibrate it. The main issue with front projectors like this is to be able to get it to project properly with the right offset and zoom. A 110 inch screen for instanct works with this unit from 10.4″ up to 23″ which is incredible. Although in looking at all the reviews, the “Sanyo PLV-Z2000”:http://www.projectorcentral.com/Sanyo-PLV-Z2000.htm is probably the leading model just based on image quality that is very high and low price under $2000.

Working up from that $2500 price point are three units, the JVC DLA-RS1, Panasonic AE2000 and the Sony VPL-VW60

Technology-wise, there are three competing “technologies”:http://www.hometheatermag.com/advicefromtheexperts/707projectprimer/, LCD, LCoS (including JVC D-ILa and Sony SXRD)22 and DLP. For a long time DLP which are really micro mirrors had a huge performance advantage. Most of the competition in the key under $5000 projectors are three panels of LCDs or LCoS. LCD and LCOS are usually three panels of red, green and blue while DLP is a single panel with a color wheel that spins. The major trick now played is what is called auto IRIS, this resets the brightness depending on how birght the scene is so it makes the contract look better than it is natively. So while DLP are more expensive and have darker blacks, with autoiris and lower cost, the LCD/LCOS dominate the low and mid-end.

h3. Projection Screens

These are the unsung heros of displays. For $500 at 100″ diagonal, you can get an awesome one according to “Projector Central”:http://www.projectorcentral.com/projection_screens_review.htm. They recommend the Grandview Fixed FRame White Screen 1.0 Gain. Take less than 30 minutes to build.

If money is no object, then get the STewart Studiotek 130 which is 18.5% brighter.

h3. DVRs

Well I just hate the Comcast DVR, it is this really clunky Motorola unit. “TiVo HD XL”:http://blog.hometheatermag.com/cedia2008/tivo_goes_thx/ is the ticket. It uses CableCard, so you can hook it up to Comcast and record 150 hours in HD for $600, unlike the Comcast DVR which is more like 15 hours worth at most and it has the TiVo user interface!