Home Entertainment

 

Extreme Close-up

January 1, 2005 By Len Schneider



It used to be enough to merely impress. But today, it takes 500 horsepower to get a car enthusiast’s attention, and a $500,000 Girard-Perregaux to turn the head of a watch fetishist. Surely 500-foot yachts await us in the near future. We have transcended such terms as good, better and best. We now live in a world of extreme.

Yes, some may consider this moniker a bit tacky. But you should at least give us credit not joining such august firms as 7-Eleven and Taco Bell in omitting the first “e” or transposing the final “m” and “e.” Indeed, extreme has become as much of a mantra in luxury-goods manufacturing as it is in soft drink production. Many of the most over-the-top new home entertainment products originate in the engineering labs of high-end audio legends like Bowers & Wilkins, Linn and Krell.

Let us look over a few of 2005’s most extreme new products—with one caveat. Even if you possess the means to acquire these magnificent creations, some will not be available for a few months. But whether or not you can have them right now, you cannot help but desire them.

Sony Qualia 006 Rear-Projection TV
After introducing its new SXRD (silicon crystal reflective display) technology last summer in a stunning front projector under the ultra-exclusive Qualia umbrella, Sony presents a more practical way to enjoy SXRD’s unsurpassed resolution: the Qualia 006. The 006 is an all-in-one, rear-projection TV that does not require a separate screen or a complicated installation process. Mere hours from now, you can be enjoying a TV picture as sharp as any on planet Earth.


With the Qualia 006, Sony brings its high-resolution SXRD technology to a rear-projection chassis for the first time. (Click image to enlarge)


The 006’s main bragging points? A 70-inch screen—and the ability to display even the most advanced high-definition video images at their original resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. The set’s advantages stretch beyond mere resolution, though. Its pixels are separated by an ultra-thin gap, so they deliver a brighter picture with less of the “screen door” look that many TVs display when you look closely at the screen. A host of other improvements, including sophisticated video signal processing and a new screen design that improves off-axis viewing make this, if you will pardon the pun, one to watch.

Aesthetically, the $9,999 Qualia 006 is a fully realized yet minimalist expression of the industrial designer’s art. Aimed at a more modern decor, the 006 is a fine addition to most homes except, perhaps, those where Renaissance architecture and furniture reign supreme.

LG MW-71PY10 71-inch Plasma TV
Even considering that Sony’s Qualia 006 is surprisingly svelte for a rear projector, it still does not fit the bill for those who worship thinness. For them, we offer a quick look at the MW-71PY10, LG Electronics’ seemingly bigger-than-life 71-inch plasma TV.

The MW-71PY10’s biggest advantage is just that: It’s big. In fact, it’s huge. Forget inches. Think of this screen in terms of feet—5.83 feet measured diagonally. At 1920 by 1080 pixels, the resolution is as good as TVs get, and this LG is prepared even for next-generation HDTV signals. Part of the credit for the stunning picture is due to what LG calls the XD engine, a digital processing chip that brings near-HDTV picture quality to almost all video sources.

On the feature side, the MW-71PY10 offers a variety of inputs, including such digital connections as DVI and HDMI, and a slot for a digital cable card, so you can say good-bye to your cable box. An incredibly versatile picture-in-picture arrangement lets you move, resize and otherwise juggle up to nine video windows on the same screen. At press time, LG had not yet priced the MW-71PY10. Rest assured that while it may well be the most costly TV ever sold, it will seem ridiculously accessible compared with today’s most ornate watches.

SIM2 HT500 Link Video Projector
Only a few years ago, a quality home theater might have used a $12,000 single-chip DLP video projector. Suddenly, though, standards have skyrocketed, thanks to the widespread introduction of three-chip DLP projectors. Of course, the cost has risen—three-chip DLP projectors start at $30,000—but, as we are thankful to report, so has the quality. Single-chip DLP projectors use a rotating color wheel to produce a color image; the wheel whines audibly and causes a few mildly annoying picture flaws. Three-chip projectors have no color wheel, and thus produce a better picture and less noise.


All of the video for SIM2’s HT500 Link runs through a bundle of three fiber-optic cables that is as thin as a pencil and easy to install. (Click image to enlarge)


One of the most advanced three-chip projectors is SIM2’s flagship HT500 Link. Most exciting is the HT500 Link’s proprietary DigiOptic system, which squeezes high-definition video through a shockingly slim fiber-optic cable. The cable runs between the projector and the included DigiOptic Image Processor. The DOIP is more appealing than its acronym suggests; it sits in an equipment rack far from the projector but conveniently close to your other audiovisual components.

Of course, this nicety would be wasted if the picture was less than optimum. Fortunately, this is not the case. A second-generation implementation of Faroudja’s DCDi image enhancement circuitry smoothes the jagged edges that sometimes mar images, particularly those of fast-moving sporting events.

Vidikron Vision Model 80 and Model 100 Video Projectors
Vidikron has the audacity to offer not only one extreme projector, but two: the Vision Model 80 and Vision Model 100. Both list for $30,000. Which should you choose? That depends on where you intend to use it.


Vidikron’s Model 80 projector uses JVC’s Digital Image Light Amplifier (D-ILA) technology to deliver unsurpassed 1920 by 1080 resolution. (Click image to enlarge)


If you desire a home theater system in a living or family room, consider the Model 100, which combines a three-chip DLP array with what Vidikron calls LightAmp technology. Think of the 100 as the equivalent to a lighthouse. The beam it throws is almost visceral, and the resulting image is bright enough to overcome high levels of background lighting—even sunlight streaming in the windows. You can watch a movie in the same room with your spouse, even when he or she is working on a hobby that requires substantial illumination.

If you plan to install a projector in a room with more controlled lighting, though, Vidikron proposes the Model 80. What the 80 lacks in luminosity it makes up in detail. While the 100 boasts a far-from-shabby native resolution of 1280 by 720 pixels, the 80 staggers you with 1920 by 1080 resolution. For this projector, Vidikron relies on a technology from JVC called D-ILA, which is also referred to as LCoS and which is similar in concept to Sony’s SXRD.
Enough acronyms—let us escape into the somewhat simpler world of audio.

Halcro SSP100 Surround-Sound Processor and MCA70 Amplifier
Australia-based Halcro made its mark with one of the most extreme amplifiers ever created: the dm58, a behemoth that stands 31 inches high yet appears as aerodynamic as a jet fighter. The SSP100 preamplifier/surround-sound processor (mercifully shortened to “pre/pro” for this commentary) and MCA70 seven-channel power amplifier combine some of the dm58’s sheer daring with new technologies and unique diagnostics to aid you if service is ever required.


Halcro’s SSP100 surround-sound processor carries the aluminum “wing” motif that makes the company’s amplifiers so distinctive. (Click image to enlarge)


The SSP100’s most arresting feature is its front LCD display—a mini-TV screen that saves you from having to turn on your main video screen when you want to hear music. The pre/pro offers a one-cable HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) connection that accepts digital audio and video from a DVD player or other video source. It also automatically calibrates itself to suit your room and speaker system.

The MCA70 amplifier uses a new digital amplification technology to deliver 350 watts in each of its seven channels with nearly zero distortion and negligible heat generation. It also monitors its own health, issuing a fault notification over the Internet if anything goes wrong. A technician might surprise you at your door before you even suspect something is amiss with your amp.

Denon AVR-5805 Audio/Video Receiver
At a full 12 inches high, the AVR-5805 is not only the most visually impressive receiver ever, it is a technological tour de force, a single component that powers both a state-of-the-art theater and a four-source/four-zone distributed audiovisual system. Is it sufficient to say that it contains 10 (yes, we said 10!) 170-watt amplifiers? Your installer can configure the AVR-5805 to power one full 9.1-channel system or two 5.1-channel systems in different rooms. Or how about a 7.1 system in one room, a 2.1 system in a second room and a mono background music system in yet another area of your home, all playing simultaneously? You can turn each of the four zones on and off as needed and control volume independently.


Since few racks offer space for wider or deeper components, Denon was forced to extend the AVR-5805’s height to a full 12 inches. (Click image to enlarge)


The $6,000 AVR-5805’s advanced MultEQ XT digital audio processing minimizes the destructive effects of room acoustics. MultEQ XT is designed to widen the sweet spot (that “ideal listening position”) for people sitting in different places in the room. Finally, a host of connectivity options means there are not many electronic devices that the AVR-5805 cannot communicate with.

Audio Design Associates HTR-2400 Home & Theater Receiver
The HTR-2400 takes the AVR-5805’s multiroom capability to an even more extreme level: It includes 24 (gasp!) amplifier channels in a single chassis. Sixteen of these amps are super-efficient digital designs that solve the heat problem that would make this product impossible with conventional analog technology. Why so many amps? To facilitate the HTR-2400’s eight-source/eight-zone audio distribution capability. The remaining eight amplifiers are high-current analog designs dedicated to home theater operation and optimized for superb sound quality.


ADA’s HTR-2400 incorporates electronics to drive a 7.1-channel home theater and eight additional zones of stereo sound. (Click image to enlarge)


But the HTR-2400’s capabilities do not stop there. The unit incorporates two tuners: an AM/FM/weather tuner and an XM satellite radio tuner. You can also order your HTR-2400 with two conventional tuners or two XM tuners. The $12,000 version of the HTR-2400 includes a small but eminently useable front LCD screen (16:9 widescreen, of course); the $10,000 version does not. The various zones can be controlled by keypads or touchscreens.

Krell Trio AM/FM/XM/Internet Radio Tuner
Krell has always taken an extreme approach to audio engineering; the company is famous for gigantic amplifiers that can suck an AC outlet dry. With the Trio, the company brings its distinctive approach to the (formerly) humble radio tuner.

In its most basic form, the Trio is an AM/FM tuner built to the usual Krell standards, with fully balanced audio circuitry like that found in the most exotic high-end audio components. Great-sounding, yes, but from there the real fun starts. Want to enjoy XM radio? Just add the XM module. (Rumors of a Sirius satellite radio module abound, too.) Want to join the 21st century by streaming Internet audio from your computer over a wireless 802.11g WiFi network? Just add the wireless module. By the time you have loaded the Trio with all of its optional (yet irresistible) modules, you are ready to send three totally distinct signals to three different zones.

Even the front panel contributes to your enjoyment as it scrolls artist and song information; the Trio also sends the information to Crestron-style touchscreen controllers. Earmark $4,000 of your summer toy budget now.

JL Audio Gotham Subwoofer
JL Audio has earned a Krell-like reputation in car audio circles, but you no longer have to sit in your SUV to enjoy the utterly realistic bass response for which the company is famous. Be warned, though: At more than 300 pounds, the company’s upcoming Gotham subwoofer seems almost as massive as a Cadillac Escalade.


With two robust 13.5-inch woofers and an amplifier that peaks at 4,000 watts, JL Audio’s Gotham sub is a home-shaker. (Click image to enlarge)


The Gotham’s twin 13.5-inch woofers are powered (overpowered?) by a digital amplifier that produces almost 4,000 watts on a short-term basis, for dynamic crescendos that might just demonstrate the real meaning of the song “Breathless.” Try your favorite version of the 1812 Overture if you do not believe—but open a window first. Although the Gotham sports a distinctly contemporary aesthetic with easily accessible controls, the striking gloss black finish blends surprisingly well with a variety of decor. Although the $7,500 Gotham does not come cheap, we cannot imagine that any home theater would need more than one.

B&W CT800 Speaker System
When B&W embraces extreme, you know the time has come for this trend. As perhaps the best-known maker of high-end loudspeakers, B&W must be expected to deliver over-the-top systems. With the CT800 system, we doubt the company will disappoint.

The CT800 is designed specifically to be built into a large, custom home theater. But whereas many built-in systems use relatively flimsy cabinets and produce relatively flimsy sound, the CT800 employs B&W’s patented Matrix approach that all but eliminates resonances. Drawing on its groundbreaking Nautilus technology, which stands as a classic in aesthetic and acoustic design, B&W added an elaborate series of tubes to the backs of each speaker’s drivers. The tubes dissipate the potentially deleterious effects of the sound waves coming from the backs of the drivers.

Another piece of creative engineering is the pivoting head containing both the midrange and tweeter. Oh, yes, it can be precisely aimed at your favorite listening or viewing position—with a laser, no less. After installation, your friendly technician simply unscrews the phase plug from the midrange driver, substitutes a low-powered laser (much like a presentation pointer), and then finishes the aiming with unprecedented accuracy.

Expect a price in the neighborhood of $50,000 for a 7.1-channel system when the CT800 ships early this year.

Linn Artikulat Speaker System
This enjoyably idiosyncratic Scottish company introduced its latest speaker system about a year ago—but that intro was accompanied by a “you’ll see this in a while” disclaimer. Now Artikulat is real. In broad brushstrokes, the system is a series of speakers: main left and right, center, a compact main/surround speaker and a subwoofer. Linn is known for excellent speakers, but they all seem rather delicate compared to the towering monsters that dominate the high-end audio market. Artikulat is the first Linn speaker that could be called extreme. In fact, the front metal plate holding three speaker drivers seems rather extreme—and beautiful—in itself.


Linn’s Artikulat speakers mount three drivers—a tweeter, a mid-tweeter and a midrange—in a rigid (and gorgeous) aluminum plate. (Click image to enlarge)


The speakers’ sculptured design incorporates high rigidity pressure-molded enclosures that contribute essentially no sound of their own; they simply let the drivers sing. Each speaker includes an internal amplifier that drives the woofer. You can also get Artikulats with amplifiers for all the drivers built in, like the powered monitors found in most newer recording studios.

Richard Gray’s Power Company PowerHouse Power Delivery System
We shall end our journey to the extreme with one massive chunk of metal: the PowerHouse from Richard Gray’s Power Company. RGPC is known for AC line conditioners that filter out interference caused by various electrical components and shield your audiovisual system from voltage spikes induced by lightning and power surges. More recently, the company has created beefy line transformers that completely isolate your home entertainment system from the rest of your home’s electrical appliances for the best possible performance.


The 350-pound PowerHouse from Richard Gray’s Power Company delivers up to 6,000 watts of clean AC power. (Click image to enlarge)


The PowerHouse is the most extreme of this extreme line of products. It is a rack-mountable power delivery system for up to 20 separate components, each one powered through a commercial-grade AC outlet. The PowerHouse demands its own 240-volt line, but when you consider that it supplies more than 6,000 watts of clean AC power, you quickly comprehend that an ordinary AC wall socket could never power the PowerHouse. And the expense involved in running a dedicated AC circuit for the PowerHouse is trivial in the context of the unit’s $8,999 price. For the extreme components we have featured here, would anything less be adequate?

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