DLP - The
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Whe r e Tec hnology Become s Ent e r t ainme nt ®
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Date: 2005.08.10 12:21:29
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LE 100 Serie
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73 No Problem
Our experts solve three common
home-entertainment dilemmas.
on the cover
Mitsubishi WD-52627
52-inch 1080p DLP
HDTV (p. 38). Stand,
Avdeco DT250
Screen image, Zap
Photo by
Tony Cordoza.
09/05 features
77 The Sound of Style
Three surround speaker packages
bound to please both eyes and ears.
81 Breaking Out of the Box
If you spent $5,000 on a TV but only
$500 on speakers, come on . . .
it’s time to get some better sound!
86 Looking for Some DVD Action?
The Top 10 discs that will push your
system to the limit.
90 What’s in Store
The Tweeter electronics chain
tests a radical new way to shop for
your entertainment.
94 My Digital Adventure
How the Men in Black director
discovered the future of movies in
his very own home.
test reports
38 1080p Comes to DLP
11 Track One
David Katzmaier reports on HDTV’s
next generation and takes an
exclusive look at Mitsubishi’s first
1080p DLP set
45 Spotlight: Plasma for Less
Sleek HDTVs from Dell, JVC, and
Maxent that you can actually afford.
51 Spotlight: DVD+HDMI
Players from Toshiba, Samsung, and
Panasonic that know how to keep it
all digital, all the time.
57 LG exclusive!
LRY-517 universal DVD recorder/VCR
61 Yamaha
RX-V657 digital surround receiver
— the first with XM satellite radio
65 SkipJam
iMedia A/V distribution system
68 Quick Take
Klipsch’s iFi speaker system for iPod
70 New! The List
The best gear to buy right now
Our new look
12 Feedback
Readers sound off
16 Random Play
The Supremes press Stop on Grokster,
format-war update, 15 minutes with
Ric Ocasek, more
22 Reality Bytes
Connecting the dots
24 The Connected House
House arrest
26 The Custom Installer
The rules of home theater
28 Tech Talk
Roll your own HDTV
30 New Products
The latest home-entertainment gear
98 Movies
Million Dollar Baby, Hitch,
Team America, James Dean and
Steve McQueen, Cursed, more
102 Games
Destroy All Humans! , Fantastic Four,
Batman Begins, Medal of Honor:
European Assault, more
35 Digital Bling
Cool gadgets to go
36 Q&A
Your audio/video questions answered
118 Backtalk: Steve Buscemi
Hollywood’s most famous character
actor chimes in on firefighting, vinyl,
and the rebirth of radio drama
103 Music
Foo Fighters, Black Eyed Peas, Johnny
Cash, Audioslave, Richard Thompson,
Porcupine Tree in surround, more
track one
Our New Look
ˆ 34%0(%.!"//4(
CHANGE. It’s usually only a matter of months — maybe a year — before
the “best” HDTV, MP3 player, DVD burner, or whatever you just bought is
outclassed by a spiffy new model (often from the same brand!). It might
be a cutting-edge refinement — like “1080p resolution” (turn to page 38
for a look at the first DLP HDTV to incorporate this technology). Or maybe
it’s a cool feature, like the HDMI connector found on some new DVD players (turn to page 51 for more on that subject). Whatever the new wrinkle
is, don’t despair. A great HDTV is still great even when that really great
HDTV comes to town. Besides, we all know that it’s only a matter of time
before you convince yourself to upgrade again.
Change is also what keeps a magazine relevant and at the top of its
game. Looking back over the past six or so years, I’m amazed by the
sheer breadth of our coverage — from the curiosity and excitement over
groundbreaking products like HDTV to the recent wave of hard-disk-based
home and portable gear that lets us experience music, movies, games —
you-name-it — anywhere. Change has been not only fast and furious but
also profound, and the revolution continues as we anticipate the Next Big
Thing (HD DVD or Blu-ray, anyone?) or trend ( your networked home?).
I want to highlight yet another change, one that everyone here at Sound
& Vision is proud of: our exciting new look. I’d like to thank art director
Laura Sutcliffe for spending countless hours exploring idea after idea to
define a new high-tech signature for S&V. She really nailed it. Thanks also
goes to associate art director Maria Ramos,
who helped Laura along the way. Bravo!
Beyond our new look, we’ve also made
a few editorial changes. We’ve expanded
“Random Play” (page 16) and packed it with
a lively mix of news, commentary, mini
reviews, and more. There’s everything from
Leslie Shapiro’s “SnapShot” report on mul]YiklViX]
titasking cellphones (page 21) to Eric Taub’s
probe into the dark side of today’s connected house (page 24) to a glimpse of the
first disposable camcorder (page 28).
Next, I want to steer your attention to
our new streamlined test-report format.
Our goal, as always, is to give you every&+
thing you need to make an informed buying
decision. And starting this issue, you’ll find
expanded lab data and comments on our Web site for almost every product we test.
Finally, please be sure to check out “The List” on page 70, a new department where we catalog the best audio/video gear we’ve tested.
Hope you like the new Sound & Vision !
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I really enjoyed your “Plasma vs. LCD”
(February/March) and “DLP vs. LCD”
(June) face-offs, and I sure hope you finish the rear-projection TV playoffs by
doing DLP vs. LCoS. We’ve been hearing about this technology for so long that
this face-off is needed now.
Why didn’t you include LCoS in your
comparison of DLP and LCD sets? The
JVC models I’ve seen that use the DILA light engine have far better brightness and color accuracy than anything
else out there. I understand it’s not yet
cost effective to manufacture the necessary panels, but that’s no reason to omit
LCoS from your comparison.
We’ve been waiting for the new higherresolution 1080p LCoS models to
appear this fall from JVC (D-ILA), Sony
(SXRD), and Hitachi. Our next face-off
will likely pit a state-of-the-art 1080p
LCoS rear-projection TV against a
champion 1080p DLP model.
In “DLP vs. LCD,” there was no mention
of a DLP phenomenon that’s very pronounced to me. Whenever I’ve looked
at DLP sets in stores, they’ve “blurred”
on any kind of fast motion. For instance,
when a football play begins, the distinct
blades of grass become a green pond,
and the numbers on the back of a jersey break up into square blocks. Did the
reviewers notice any of this?
Al Griffin replies: No, we didn’t see
those problems during our test, at
least with high-quality source material. It’s hard to know what’s going
on behind the scenes at a particular
store. For instance, the signal feeding the TVs can be split many ways,
possibly degrading the picture. Also,
the problems you describe are things
we frequently see on HDTV programs,
but they’re usually caused by poor or
overly aggressive digital compression
on the part of broadcasters and cable
providers — not by anything the TV
does. That’s why we used only reference-quality DVDs and high-def D-VHS
tapes for our comparison. Also, the
smearing artifacts you describe (a.k.a.
“image lag”) tend to be associated with
LCD sets, not DLP.
I was thumbing through the July/August
issue when John Sciacca’s “The Lost Art
of the Demo” (“The Custom Installer”)
caught my interest. Here in upstate New
York, we’re still blessed with a number
of independent shops that sell audio
and video gear the old-fashioned way —
which means that they have knowledgeable salespeople and that they let you
listen and watch at length before you
buy. Recently, I went shopping for outdoor speakers. After some extended
listening, I paid $100 more than I’d
planned to on a brand I hadn’t previously considered because the speakers sounded so much better than anything else in the store. When I’m going
to lay out serious bucks for home theater equipment, I always go to an independent specialty store. I might spend
more, but I walk away feeling I’ve bought
gear that will give me greater long-term
“The Lost Art of the Demo” hit my home
theater buying experience right on. I
spent three months shopping for a front
projector and got only two demos. I even
called ahead to one store and asked
them to set up a projector I was interested in buying. But after three weeks
and four visits, nothing happened. I
ended up buying an entry-level DLP projector off the Internet without even previewing it. I’m happy with the purchase
but might have bought something very
different had things gone otherwise.
There’s one point about the lost art of
the demo that John Sciacca failed to
©2005 Sharp Corporation
AK- Alaska A/V: Juneau.
AL- Audio Insight: Huntsville• Cohen’s Electronics: Montgomery•
Fidler HiFi: Mobile• Hooper’s: Birmingham• Kincaid TV: Tuscaloosa•
Tennessee Valley Protection: Huntsville.
AR- Custom Audio Video: Little Rock.
AZ- Audio Plus: Prescott• Jerry’s Audio Video: Phoenix, Scottsdale• The Specialists:
Tucson• Ultimate Electronics: Glendale, Phoenix Metro Area, Scottsdale.
CA- Access to Music: San Rafael• Accurate A/V: S. Lake Tahoe• Ahead Stereo:
Los Angeles• Audio Concepts: Long Beach, San Gabriel• Audio Video City:
San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria•Boots Camera: Fresno• Century TV: Garden Grove•
Convoy Big Screens: San Diego, San Marcos• Creative Stereo: Santa Barbara•
David Rutledge Audio: Rancho Mirage• Discount Sales: Ontario• Magnolia A/V: Colma,
Costa Mesa, Emeryville, Palo Alto, Roseville, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Ramon,
Santa Clara, Santa Monica, Santa Rosa, Torrance, Woodland Hills• Pacific Coast A/V:
Corona Del Mar• Paradyme Audio/Video: Roseville, Sacramento• Performance Audio:
San Francisco• Systems Design: Redondo Beach• Visual Sound: La Habra.
CO- Advantage Sight & Sound: Montrose• Axxis Audio: Durango• Central Electronics:
Steamboat Springs• Pro Home Systems: Grand Junction• Soundtrack: Boulder,
Colorado Springs, Denver & Suburbs, Ft. Collins• Summit Electronics: Frisco.
CT- Audio Etc: Orange• Carstons Stereo/Video: Danbury• Planet TV: Stamford•
Roberts Audio Video: New London• Stereo Shop: Hartford• Westfair TV: Fairfield.
DC & Washington Suburbs- Myer-Emco.
DE - Hi Fi House: Wilmington.
FL- Absolute Sound: Winter Park• Audio Center: Deerfield Beach• Audio Connection:
Ft. Myers• The Audiohouse: Vero Beach• A/V in Paradise: Key West•
Bill’s A/V Innovations: Vero Beach• Bob’s TV: Ocala area• Hoyt Stereo:
Jacksonville• Palm Audio: Destin• Seagull Electronics: Juno Beach•
Sound Components: Coral Gables• Sound Ideas: Gainesville• Sound Insights:
Jenson Beach• Sounds & Cinema: West Palm Beach• Stereotypes:
Daytona Beach• Tropical Video: Rockledge• Wee-do Home Theater: Pensacola.
GA- Audio Warehouse: Savannah• Evolution Home Theater: Atlanta• FusionPoint:
Macon• Merit TV: Columbus• Stereo Connections: Valdosta• Stereo Shop: Martinez.
HI- Elite Electronics: Honolulu.
IA- Audio Vision: Sioux City• Nielsens: Spencer• Sound World: Mason City.
IL- Abt Electronics: Glenview• Barrett’s Home Theater: Algonquin, Naperville•
Sherman’s: Normal, Peoria, Peru• The Shoppe: Bradley• Sound Forum:
Lake in the Hills• Sound Living: Chicago• State Line Satellite: Rockford•
Sundown A/V: Springfield• Ultimate Electronics: Fairview Heights.
IN- Classic Stereo: Ft. Wayne• Kings Great Buys: Evansville• Ovation Audio:
Clarksville, Ft. Wayne, Indianapolis.
KS- Accent Sound: Overland Park• Advance Audio: Wichita• Audio Junction:
Manhattan• Kansas Audio Video: Topeka.
KY- King’s Great Buys: Owensboro• Ovation Audio: Lexington, Louisville.
LA- Acadiana Security Plus: Broussard• Alterman Audio: Mandeville,
Metairie• Home Theater Concepts: Slidell• Mike’s Audio: Baton Rouge•
Wright's Sound Gallery: Shreveport.
MA- Cameras Inc.: Arlington (Boston)• Home Smart Home: North Attleboro•
Nantucket Sound: Hyannis• Percy’s: Worcester• Pittsfield Radio: Pittsfield.
MD- Gramophone: Baltimore, Columbia• Myer-Emco: Bowie, Frederick,
Gaithersburg, Rockville• Soundscape: Baltimore.
ME- New England HiFi: Scarborough.
MI- Contemporary Audio: East Lansing• Court St. Listening Room:Saginaw•
Hod’s Home Theater: Waterford• Paragon Sound: Ann Arbor• Paulson’s:
Farmington Hills• Pecar's: Troy (Detroit)• Superior Sound: Grand Rapids•
Today’s Audio: Flint.
MN- Audio Designs: Winona• Audio King: Minneapolis & Suburbs•
Dostal Electronics: Hutchinson.
MO- The Entertainer: Jefferson City• Independence A/V: Independence•
Q-Audio & Video: Cape Girardeau• Ultimate Electronics: Ballwin, Fenton,
Independence, St. Peters.
MS- Ideal Acoustics: Starkville• McLelland TV: Hattiesburg•
Something Southern: Oxford.
MT- Rocky Mt. Hi Fi: Great Falls• Vann’s Inc.: Billings, Bozeman, Hamilton,
Helena, Kalispell, Missoula.
NC- Anderson Audio: Morehead• Audio Designs: Raleigh• Audio Unlimited:
Jonesville• Audio Visions: Wilmington• Comtec: Asheville• Elite A/V: Lewisville•
Freeman’s Stereo Video: Charlotte• Intelligent Electronics: Raleigh• Sound Systems:
Charlotte• Tri City Electronics: Conover.
ND- Custom Cinema & Sound: Horace (Fargo).
NE- Custom Electronics: Omaha.
NH- State Street Disc.: Portsmouth.
NJ- 6th Avenue Electronics: East Brunswick, Jersey City, Livingston, Paramus,
Springfield, West Long Branch, West Paterson, Woodbridge• Camera and TV Stop:
Medford• Monmouth Stereo: Shrewsbury.
NM- Ultimate Electronics: Albuquerque.
NV- Ultimate Electronics: Las Vegas.
NY- Aarlington Audio: Poughkeepsie• Audio Breakthroughs: Manhasset• Audio Den:
Lake Grove• Clark Music: Latham, Syracuse• Hi Way HiFi: Ithaca• JSG Audio Video:
Binghamton• Media Room: Bedford Hills• Park Ave. Audio: Manhattan• Rowe Photo:
Rochester• Speaker Shop: Amherst• Stereo Exchange: Manhattan.
OH- Absolute Theater: Powell• Audio Arts: Youngstown• Audio Craft: Akron, Cleveland,
Mayfield Hts., Westlake• Audio Etc.: Dayton• Belden Audio: Canton• Classic Stereo:
Lima• Ohio Valley Audio: Cincinnati• Ovation Audio: Cincinnati• Stereovisions:
Columbus• Threshold Audio: Newark• Unique Home System: Cincinnati.
OK- Tumble Inn: Muskogee• Ultimate Electronics: Oklahoma City, Tulsa.
OR- Kelly's Home Ctr.: Salem• Magnolia A/V: Beaverton (Portland), Clackamas.
PA- Audio Junction: Pittsburgh• Audio Lab: Fairless Hills• Ed’s TV: Hatfield•
Hi Fi House: Broomall, Jenkintown• Listening Post: Pittsburgh• Palmer Audio:
Allentown• Park Audio & Video: Altoona, Duncansville• Pat’s Stereo: Greensburg•
Stereo Barn: Wyomissing (Reading)• Stereo Shoppe: Selinsgrove, Williamsport•
Stereoland: Natrona Heights• Studio One: Erie• Wee Bee Audio Video: Lancaster.
RI- Stereo Discount Ctr.: Providence.
SC- Audio Warehouse: Beaufort, Bluffton• Custom Theater & Audio:
Murrells Inlet• Fusion Systems: Greenville• Upstairs Audio: Columbia•
Whole House Audio& Video: Aiken.
SD- Sound Pro: Rapid City• Sound Pro’s: Mitchell.
TN- College HiFi: Chattanooga• Hi Fi Buys: Nashville• Modern Music: Memphis•
Sound Room: Johnson City.
TX- Audio Video: College Station• Bjorn's: San Antonio• Bunkley's Sound Systems:
Abilene• Don’s TV: Tyler• D-Tronics: McAllen• Home Theater Store: Arlington, Austin,
Dallas, Friendswood, Houston, Southlake• Krystal Clear: Dallas• Marvin Electronics:
Ft. Worth• Matt Panter Home Theater: Waco• Mesa Home Systems: Austin• Metex:
Laredo• Mike Massey, Inc.: Odessa• Sound Perfection: Frisco• Soundquest: El Paso.
UT- Crazy Bob’s: St. George• Next Audio Video: Logan• The Theater Experience: Sandy.
VA- Audio Connection: Virginia Beach• Audio Video by Design: Williamsburg•
Audiotronics: Roanoke• Home Media Stores: Richmond• Myer-Emco: Arlington,
Fairfax, Falls Church, Sterling, Tyson’s Corner.
VT- Toner’s Satellite: Milton.
WA- Bunch-Finnegan TV: Kennewick• Magnolia A/V: Seattle & Suburbs,
Silverdale, Tacoma• Pacific Sight & Sound: Wenatchee.
WI- Audio Video Pros: Onalaska• Flanner’s A/V: Milwaukee• Hi-Fi Heaven: Green Bay•
Sound World: Wausau• Suess Electronics: Appleton• Team Electronics: Manitowoc.
WV- Mack & Daves: Huntington.
Puerto Rico- Precision Audio: San Juan.
Canada- Adrenalin Audio: Edmonton, Alb. •Advance Electronics: Winnipeg•
Audio Express: Saskatoon, SK• Audio Video Innovations: Dartmouth, N.S.•
Bay Bloor Radio: Toronto• Canadian Sound: Brampton, Ont.• Environment Electronique:
Westmount, Que.• Furniture Factory Outlets: Thunder Bay, Ont.•K&W Audio: Calgary•
Kebecson: Montreal• La Boutique Electronique: Montreal• Lipton’s Elect.: Newmarket, Ont.•
Stereo Plus: Ottawa, Ont.• StereoLand: Windsor, Ont.• The Sound Room: Vancouver, B.C.•
Unifi: Waterloo, Ont.
Mexico- Contact Productos Exitosos S.A.: Mexico City.
make: many salespeople can’t understand, let alone explain, an effective
audio demo. I worked as a home theater
supervisor at a major retailer for over a
year. We hired and trained many people
for our sales staff, and only one or two of
them adequately grasped the nuances of
sound and performance associated with
better-quality speakers. And only one
of them actually understood audio well
enough to sell it to others. Much of this
ignorance is due to the lack of training at
retailers nowadays. Audio has become
the unwanted stepchild to video in the
eyes of many new to home theater. People don’t come in looking for audio, and
it’s often considered an afterthought.
The art of the demo isn’t lost — at least
not in Albuquerque. I’ve been shopping at Hudson’s Audio for years, and
I’ve always had the pleasure of not only
having a demo but also taking the gear
home and listening before I buy. They’ll
even let you upgrade within a year by
trading in what you bought at purchase
price, as long as you keep the box,
packing material, and manual. The staff
wants people to be happy with what
they buy, regardless of how much they
spend. While that kind of caring might
not be everywhere, it does exist.
my heart for the Good Guys. I got my
start there out of high school and have
always felt that it did a great job of
training its sales staff.
I now know which of the portable players
in “The iPod Killer Elite” (July/August)
look cool and have nice features. What
I don’t know is how they sound! How
could you review audio players and
never once mention that? The iRiver
caught my eye, but isn’t it ultimately
about what will satisfy my ears? You
dropped the ball on this one.
Your point is well taken. We focused
on usability and features to find out
how each player stacked up against its
iPod competitor because we believe
these are key to the experience and
convenience of using a personal music
player. We agree that sound quality is
important, but what you hear will likely
depend more on the earbuds you use
than anything else. And the earbuds
supplied with most portable players
(iPods included) are mediocre at best.
We did note that “sound quality almost
always depends more on the audio
compression format, bit rates, and earbuds used than the player itself.” That
I’m saddened by your findings
about the lost art of the demo.
I work at a Good Guys store in
Stockton, California, and I can
tell you that the heart of our sales
pitch is the demo. I refuse to let
customers buy a home-theaterin-a-box system, let alone a nice
two-channel setup, without letting them hear and play with it first. The
art of the demo isn’t dead — at least not
at the Good Guys.
John Sciacca replies: First, I would
like to clear up any possible misunderstanding. I didn’t say that demos
were dead, just that it’s getting harder
to find a good one. Sadly, our industry has spawned a lot of overnight
“experts” who don’t seem interested
in anything other than making a quick
buck. It’s great to hear that your store
takes such pride in giving customers
a terrific presentation. On a side note,
I have to add that I have a soft spot in
I’m saddened by your
findings about the lost art of the
demo. I work at a Good Guys
store and I can tell you that the
heart of our sales pitch is
said, we understand your concern and
will make every effort to include sound
quality as part of future evaluations of
these kinds of products.
In the July/August “Feedback,” Timothy Hughes calls Ken Pohlmann’s “How
Cool R U?” column “downright silly.” I,
on the other hand, thought it was clever
and very funny in the way it presented
a new perspective on some hot developments. It doesn’t hurt to put a little
humor into the magazine once in a while.
We welcome your letters. Send e-mail to soundandvision@hfmus.com and regular mail to Editor,
Sound & Vision, 1633 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. Please include your name, street address,
and phone number for verification; only your name, city, and state/country will be printed. All
letters are subject to editing at our discretion.
Authorized Dealers
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hdtv watch
Dramas Trump Reality Shows
seeking her help. CBS also unleashes Criminal Minds starring Mandy Patinkin and
Thomas Gibson as FBI profilers, and Fox
lets loose Bones, in which a group of scientists team up with a skeptical law-enforcement agent (David Boreanaz).
Picking up on the spookiness of Lost,
NBC offers Surface, with scientists investigating a new form of sea life. And CBS
unveils Threshold, in which still more scientists probe an extraterrestrial craft that
has landed in the ocean.
Sitcoms, meanwhile, have been on life
support, but NBC is premiering My Name Is
Earl, where a slob (Jason Lee) wins the lottery. UPN presents Everybody Hates Chris,
based on the childhood of comedian Chris
Rock. And when Monday Night Football
completes its run, ABC will debut Emily’s
Reasons Why Not , where Heather Graham
plays a successful woman whose favorite
word in life is “no.”
As a bonus, most HDTV series this season will be broadcast in 5.1-channel surround sound, which was far less prevalent
even a year ago.
And the first woman president of the
United States is Hillary — not so fast! It’s
Geena Davis, star of this fall’s Commander
in Chief, ABC’s answer to NBC’s The West
Wing. While running the country, Davis
juggles twin teenagers, a 6-year-old, and
an ambitious husband (Kyle Secor). Donald
Sutherland is the speaker of the House.
Commander is further proof that scripted
dramas are re-emerging as the dominant
format in prime time. Finalizing their fall
lineups, the networks were inspired by the
popularity of last season’s freshman dramas, including Lost, House, Grey’s Anatomy, and (what the Emmys are calling a
“comedy”) Desperate Housewives. This is
bad news for nonactors hoping to return
week after week in so-called reality shows.
But it’s good news for HDTV fans put off
by standard-definition reality fare like The
Biggest Loser and The Apprentice.
Hoping to garner the ratings of NBC’s
supernatural detective series Medium, CBS
is conjuring up Ghost Whisperer. It stars
Jennifer Love Hewitt as a newlywed who
communicates with earthbound spirits
Geena Davis is the president, flanked by
(from left to right) Anthony Azizi, Kyle Secor,
Donald Sutherland, Harry J. Lennix, and
Ever Carradine.
Jennifer Love Hewitt is a newlywed who gets
spiritually motivated.
ixes G
Predictably, music and
movie companies are
claiming victory in the
Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in MGM vs. Grokster that peer-to-peer (P2P) services can be held liable for copyright infringement. But
all parties concerned agree that the high court’s decision doesn’t mean the end of fi le sharing — instead,
it’s a warning that the days are numbered for services that abet free, unauthorized downloads. Some
industry experts say legitimate Internet music sources
like iTunes are likely to prosper without “free” competition.
The Court didn’t find P2P networks or fi le sharing inherently unlawful. But it agreed with content owners that courts
can consider a software maker’s business model (for example, a failure to fi lter out copyrighted material). And the Court
found enough evidence of unlawful intent in the business
models of Grokster and StreamCast for them to stand trial.
Two lower federal courts in California had dismissed the
suit, citing the Supreme Court’s 1984 Sony Betamax ruling.
Back then, the Court said that although technologies like the
VCR might be used for copyright infringement, they have
substantial legal uses — and their creators can’t be held
liable for infringement by third parties. The Court’s Grokster
decision leaves the Betamax ruling intact, heeding concerns
that its reversal would have a chilling effect on invention
and innovation.
Hey, fans of HD DVD vs. Blu-ray Disc, get ready: another, possibly bigger
hi-tech battle is coming. In November, Microsoft will challenge its gaming
rivals when Xbox 360 goes on sale — beating Sony’s PlayStation 3 by a
year and Nintendo’s Revolution by . . . who knows?
Like a Trojan horse, the next-gen Xbox
is poised to infiltrate your living room
under the guise of a game console, but it’s meant to dominate your entire home-entertainment system. Of course, it
will offer gaming action in 16:9
widescreen, 720p or 1080i resolution, and Dolby Digital 5.1. But
it will also rip CD tracks, talk to
your MP3 player, let you buy songs
from MSN Music, mate with your
digital camera, and connect wirelessly to a PC to stream digital
media. Go online, and you can do
text messaging, voice chats, and
video conferencing.
Surprisingly, whereas Xbox 360
will play high-def games, it won’t
play HD DVD or Blu-ray discs.
Microsoft is mum about supporting
either format, but an agreement
with Toshiba to “investigate”
codevelopment of HD DVD might
provide a clue about which way
it’s leaning.
The former Cars leader and current alterna-band überproducer (Le Tigre, Weezer, Nada Surf) gets back in
the driver’s seat with his sixth solo set, Nexterday
(Inverse/Sanctuary), a sharp return to the Boulevard of
Songwriting Basics.
iGUY ($35)
“I’m not Gumby,
dammit!” Just
an amazing simulation (above).
Your iPod slides
into this rubberized figure via
the slot in its . . .
iPosterior. Bend
him, shape him
— scare the cat!
Yeah, 30 bucks
for a sock. But
these knit-cotton cuties (in
green, gray,
blue, orange,
and pink) will
keep your $300
iPod safe. Um,
why aren’t they
called iSocks?
This colorful,
USB 2.0enabled dock
will protect your
iPod shuffle
when transferring songs or
charging. And it
has a nub to
park that pesky
cap. (pdrop
You once said that you write the same song your whole
life, but you “try to make that one song better.” Does that still
hold true for you?
I still think it’s kind of true. People who write songs have writing styles, you know? Your style will develop over the years,
but the songs will always be coming from the same mind and
heart. It’s like a chapter in a book. It’s not the final chapter, nor
is it necessarily the most important chapter.
That’s a good analogy. I like listening to an artist’s work in the
order it was intended — as ongoing chapters, to use your word
— but I also like listening to things randomly on my iPod.
Actually . . . I’ve never even held an iPod. That’s probably
strange, huh?
Stop the presses! [both laugh]
My family has one, though. I love the concept. I’m pro-iPod.
I wish we had one back when I was touring. But I wouldn’t have
much time for it now because what I listen to the most is demos
from bands. I love listening to music that’s about a year
ahead, music that’s at its beginning. That’s intriguing to me.
As a producer, have you ever worked with surround sound?
No, I haven’t, actually — mostly because I only
have two ears. [laughs] I haven’t delved into
it, nor have I been very interested. But it’s fun
for movies. I think it’s good for the theater
environment because it’s cool to hear somebody talking behind you. But in an audioonly situation, you’ll do what — put the harmonies in the back left and the guitars in
the right? I don’t know if that’s excessive or not. But the car would be a
good place for surround music. No
doubt about that.
So I guess you’re still “Moving
in Stereo” then?
Yeah, I’m going to be
moving in stereo forever. I’m just glad
I’m not moving
in mono.
Does smart,
innovative technology
need complexity?
Although technology has been advancing at a
rapid rate, consumers still seek simplicity. The
Philips way of thinking is just that: creating
innovative products that are designed for
the way people live. Inventing the technology
behind the CD and coinventing the DVD
was one of the first steps in responding to
consumers’ desires: Philips continues to meet
those needs today by creating products that
are technologically advanced yet easy to use.
Sense and simplicity is not just a belief, it’s how
Philips thinks about product development:
products such as its flat TV with Ambilight
technology (which emits light and color beyond
the frame and onto the walls because people
naturally watch television with their peripheral
vision). It all just makes sense. So it’s not just
about creating forward-thinking products;
it’s about making sure those products respond
to what consumers have been looking for
all along.
Join us on our journey at
© 2005 Philips Electronics North America Corporation.
You’ll never go back to ordinary TV.
Philips Flat TV with Ambilight. There’s no sense in going
back in time, so you’ll never want to turn off the world’s first and
only Ambilight feature. It’s unlike anything you’ve experienced
before. The Ambilight effect will fill your room and your eyes with
the color on your TV screen. The flat TV with Ambilight technology
from Philips – the next step in the evolution of television. For
more information and to find the retailer nearest you, check out
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The vitals: 4 discs, 19 episodes
(2001-02), 5 commentaries,
7 featurettes (Shout! Factory).
The gist: Quick-tongued NYC
detectives, led by alcoholsoaked pill-popper Mike McNeil
(Denis Leary), talk about and do
anything but solve crimes. “It’s
probably the last cop show not
about procedure,” says co-creator Peter Tolan. Best commentary moments: As he’s talking
about the pilot, Tolan’s cellphone rings, leading to a Leary
theory on who’s calling and why.
And Leary gives a bladder-busting description of “the walk”
during Episode 3, “Bathroom.”
The verdict: A Job well done, and
the perfect antecedent for Tolan/
Leary’s current show, Rescue Me
(see review on page 101).
The vitals: 4 discs, 22 episodes
(1982-83), 3 commentaries,
3 featurettes (Fox). The gist:
Ace P.I. Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist) fabricates agency head
Remington Steele. A faux Steele (Pierce Brosnan) comes along and
suavely assumes the role. They never mix business with pleasure —
well, almost never. “We were trying for a 1930s Thin Man/romanticcomedy/mystery show,” says co-creator Michael Gleason. They succeeded. What’s missing on DVD: Input from Zimbalist (perhaps next
box, says Fox). Brosnan reverently chimes in, though. The verdict:
Steele cagey after all these years.
(For complete interviews with Tolan and Gleason, go to our Web site.)
Increase in
DVD sales and
rentals last year
Total tally in bucks: $21 billion!
Sources: Motion Picture Association
of America, Digital
Entertainment Group
Cell Division
play offers excellent
color and 352 x 416pixel resolution. The
Nokia also has an MMC
memory-card slot for storing plenty of downloaded MP3 fi les.
The Samsung SCH-A890’s killer app is Verizon’s
video-on-demand VCast service ($15 a month),
which I used for downloading 5-minute clips of
news, entertainment, or sports highlights. Then
there’s Verizon’s EV-DO broadband connection
(included with VCast), which let me readily stream
music and videos. The phone has a 1.3-megapixel
camera. E-mailing images home was quick and simple.
The Samsung isn’t a super-slim model either, but it’s
compact compared with the Nokia.
Both phones replace a bunch of other gear. Each has messaging,
Net access, still/video imaging, music playback — and they make
calls, too! On my next dash, I’ll grab the Nokia for serious imaging
or the Samsung for fast Internet access and downloading. Either
way, it’ll take less than one minute to pack. (For more about 3G cellphones, turn the page to “Reality Bytes.”)
Quick! What do you grab when you have
three minutes to pack? In my rush, I abanN90 cellphone
doned my usual camera, PDA, MP3 player,
Price to be set
and laptop. Instead, I scooped up two thirdNokia.com/nseries
generation (3G) cellphones: the Nokia N90
and the Samsung SCH-A890. Could these
feature-laden toys replace all that stuff?
The Nokia N90’s forte is a 2-megapixel
SCH-A890 cellphone
camera with a Carl Zeiss lens for stills and
MPEG-4 videos. You also get a 20x digital
zoom. It was easy to send visual taunts to
friends stuck back home, and between photo ops I searched the
Web to find the best martinis. This phone is bigger and heavier than
some others, but that’s a tradeoff for better optics. The 21 ⁄8 -inch dis-
Got Bugs?
Sure you do — it’s the dog days of summer.
But you haven’t seen bugs until you’ve
seen Bugs! Shot in the rain forests of Borneo, the Imax movie focuses on the lives of
a mantis and a butterfly, with a supporting
cast of scorpions, tarantulas, leeches — you
get the idea. And you can get the film on a
Sensio 3-D DVD. Hook up a Sensio processor
between a DVD player and a front- or rearprojection TV, put on wireless LCD glasses,
and different images are fed to each lens.
The processor, an infrared emitter, and two
pairs of glasses cost $3,000.
Sensio is also getting involved in the professional realm. Most recently, it oversaw
all 3-D aspects of the production of Robert
Rodriguez’s film The Adventures of Shark Boy
& Lava Girl in 3-D. To check out the Montreal
company’s other applications and releases,
go to Sensio.tv. And for more about those big
bugs, go to (where else?)
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Ken C. Pohlmann
Connecting the Dots
SORRY TO BREAK THE NEWS. But your shiny, spiffy iPod is an obsolete piece of junk.
Ditto the other electronic toys you tote in your L.L. Bean knapsack. They’ll soon be
vacuumed up, integrated, and reissued as a new paradigm that we can’t live without.
Here’s what I mean: Suppose you have three dots, spaced equidistantly. Logically,
you’d connect them to form a triangle. That kind
of brilliant thinking is exactly what captains of
industry are doing. When you connect the
three dots — computers, telecommunications, and entertainment — you
get the Swiss Army phone. No, I’m
not talking about a red phone with a
knife blade and tweezers (though a
corkscrew would be nice). I’m talking about 3G phones, the third generation of cellphones.
Cellular telephones were first
test-marketed in Chicago in 1977
to 2,000 people. They must have been
impressed, because 28 years later,
there are over 180 million subscribers in the U.S. alone. According to the Cellular Telephone
Industry Association, wireless service
revenue was $102 billion last year. For
many folks, cellphones are vital to
everyday life. I know people (no names)
who might absent-mindedly go out their
front doors without wearing pants, but by golly, they won’t forget their phones.
That reliance on cellphones is about to escalate. 3G phones are characterized by
high-bandwidth connectivity. That seems innocent enough, but the ramifications are
huge. For example, a 3G could subsume all the functions of a PDA, allowing high-speed
e-mail and Web surfing and shopping. Throw in photos, videos, music, multimedia
messaging, and video gaming, and you start to get the idea. (See “Snapshots,” page 21.)
A cellphone really is the ideal platform. It has a user interface, storage, audio playback, and a video display. In other words, it’s a really small multimedia computer. If it
can’t do a task with onboard circuitry, it can connect to another system that can. If the
connectivity is fast, the line between onboard and outboard functions begins to blur.
Consider some of the applications. You ask for directions to Hollywood and Vine;
the phone downloads the data. As you navigate, it gives you voice-guided instructions.
If you deviate, the navigation adjusts its directions. Or how about this? The radio is
playing a song, but you can’t remember the name of it. You place a call and hold the
phone up to the speaker. The system identifies the song and tells you the title.
As cellphones expand into data and entertainment, music will lead the way. Consider, with current portable players, you have to rip CDs or download to a computer
and sync files to a dedicated player. With a cellphone player, you can wirelessly (and
quickly) download music right into it. Downloading to phones is already big business
in the U.K. and other countries. Ask yourself, would you rather carry around a cellphone, an MP3 player, a PDA, and . . . or just a phone that does everything?
Sure, I could be wrong. Three dots could also be connected to form a circle instead
of a triangle. But I’m betting on phones. And your old iPod, freshly loaded with 5,000
songs? Bummer: it’s history. But send it to me. I’ll find it a nice home.
Meanwhile, Back
at the Format War
Even though a lot of people would rather see
a single format, it now looks like the two
high-definition rivals, HD DVD and Blu-ray
Disc, are going to duke it out in stores. The
first HD DVD players and movie titles are supposed to be available by Christmas, the first
Blu-ray products by next spring.
Unification talks between the two camps
broke down over an inability to compromise
on the disc’s physical structure. Hollywood
studio execs are apparently still lobbying
behind the scenes for a single format — fearing that an ugly format war will cause people
who might otherwise be interested in getting
a high-def player to sit on the sidelines. But
both camps say they’ve invested too much
time and money for an easy deal to be made.
Toshiba says it will sell an HD DVD player
in December for about $1,000. The company
has developed two new HD DVD discs: a 45gigabyte single-sided triple-layer disc and
a dual-sided hybrid that can hold 30 GB of
HD content on one side and 8.5 GB of standard-def content on the other. And movies? Warner Bros., Paramount, and Universal promise nearly 100 titles by year’s end.
With Blu-ray’s debut farther out on the
horizon, product plans are more vague,
although the format’s backers say that both
players and recorders will be available when
it does launch. TDK announced it has developed a prototype four-layer Blu-ray Disc with
a 100-GB capacity, although there are still
questions about how soon those discs can be
It’s like having
a cow’s udder
sewn to the side of
my face. Painful
and humiliating.
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Eric Taub
House Arrest
The Video Grokster?
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled against
Grokster, users of BitTorrent file-sharing software may be feeling a bit nervous. Created by
programmer Bram Cohen, BitTorrent enables
legitimate, fast downloads of large files. But
many people use it to distribute copyrighted
content like movies.
BitTorrent (free at BitTorrent.com) is easy to
install and use. The key feature is its “swarming” ability: you share bandwidth with everyone else downloading the same file,
so downloads go faster the
more popular they are. Like
other peer-to-peer programs, BitTorrent has
many legal applications, and Cohen himself has denounced
using it to get
Several BitTorrent
hubs on the Web that were
flagrantly distributing copyrighted content have been shut down, though
BitTorrent itself hasn’t been targeted.
But the wide availability of movies on the
Net has spurred some in the film industry to try
to stay one step ahead of pirates. Revelations
Entertainment, co-founded by Morgan Freeman, has partnered with Intel to form ClickStar. Unlike other legit movie-download sites
like CinemaNow and Movielink, ClickStar plans
to make available first-run movies that aren’t
yet on DVD. Presumably, not all of them will
star Morgan Freeman.
In October, Disney will unleash a line of prerecorded MMC music cards for tweens (that
would be kids older than 9 but younger than
13). The tracks are in WMA format, and the
cards are designed to slip into new Disney
digital music players ($60), though they’ll
also work in any player that can read WMA
files with an SD or MMC slot. The first batch
of titles includes Disney’s Greatest Hits, Radio
Disney Ultimate Jams, and That’s So Rave.
Disney says the preloaded cards offer tweens
an easy path to digital music, bypassing computers and credit cards.
can wreak: files that won’t open, erased hard drives, your entire music collection lost.
But how would you feel if it wasn’t just your music that you lost but your entire house?
I realized this possibility after checking out a very cool product: an Internet oven.
Not only does this device cook and then chill your food, but you can program it to
do so remotely. Then again, if I could operate it remotely, so could my worst enemy.
Maybe a bitter ex-girlfriend would think it was really clever to turn on my oven to 600°
for two weeks while I was on vacation. Sound farfetched? It isn’t. “Smart” appliances
are already available in other countries. Connect all these appliances to your security
system, HDTV, PC, music system, and then out to the Web, and you’ll have one very
smart home. You’ll also have a home that a hacker could easily fl ing into chaos.
But someone operating a connected house would be wise enough to close it off to
electronic intruders, right? Wrong. How many PC users do nothing to prevent their
computers from becoming infected with viruses?
Telling a washing machine to run delicates through the heavy-duty cycle might
not excite a teenage hacker, but that’s not the point. A network is only as strong as its
weakest link. A hacker could use your router’s Port 25, the one open to receive e-mail,
and then send a message with malicious code to your PC — not to bring down your
hard drive, but to infiltrate your networked home-security system and disable it.
And hackers are getting more clever. This spring, ransom-ware began appearing
on PCs — code that locked every file on the hard drive. The only way to read the files:
send money to a specified e-mail address and get a decryption code in return.
So what’s a connected homeowner to do? Pretty much what any PC owner should
be doing already — and probably isn’t. You need multiple layers of defense. First, use
a router with a built-in firewall. At a minimum, protect your wireless network with a
WEP (wired equivalent privacy) password, and change it regularly. Open only one port
on your router, and add a user name and password for it. If you plan on accessing your
home network from only one external location, restrict access to that single IP.
But these precautions won’t help you if you open an e-mail attachment from some
nogoodnik. Even if there’s no attachment, don’t open an e-mail if it, the subject, or
the sender looks suspicious. When you open HTML-formatted e-mail — the kind with
fancy text and illustrations — you send a signal back to the sender that your e-mail
address is legitimate. And HTML e-mail isn’t always easy to spot because it can be disguised to look like a plain text message.
It’s a dangerous world out there. So be smart — the more devices we connect to our
digital homes, the easier it’s going to be to lose everything in the click of a mouse. S&V
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John Sciacca
The Rules of Home Theater
Scorsese on Dylan
Was he ever so young? Yes, that’s Bob Dylan
in 1961, just turning 20, and it’s one of the
rare sights you’ll see in Martin Scorsese’s
two-part documentary on the singer’s early
career. No Direction Home will have its U.S.
broadcast premiere on September 26 and
27 on PBS’s American Masters series. And
there’ll be plenty of Dylanalia to go with it:
The CDs: On August 30, Columbia/Legacy
offers a two-disc soundtrack of unreleased
performances as Vol. 7 in Dylan’s Bootleg
Series. It also serves up Live at the Gaslight
1962 — but you can only buy it at Starbucks,
which has an 18-month exclusive on the title.
The DVD: On September 20, Paramount
issues the doc on DVD with extensive extras.
The Books: The same day, Simon &
Schuster publishes the paperback of Dylan’s
Chronicles, Vol. 1, followed on October 1 by
The Bob Dylan Scrapbook, 1956–1966. — K.R.
✚ It’s an iPod World — We’re Just Shuffling Through It: “Download Your Music . . .
Upgrade Your Apartment,” say the folks at
Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town
in Manhattan, who are offering a free iPod
with all new leases (pcvst.com). In other iPod
news, Apple now has a recycling program.
Drop off your old iPod at any Apple store for
“free, environmentally friendly disposal”
and get a 10% discount on a new one. Meanwhile, Apple has tentatively settled a classaction lawsuit over faulty iPod batteries. To
see if you’re eligible for new batteries or $50
vouchers, go to appleipodsettlement.com.
✚ Get Sirius? A Stern Rebuke: In a survey on
which satellite radio option it should offer,
Hyundai found that many customers didn’t
want Sirius because they don’t want Howard
Stern, who moves there in January. (Anybody
remember how to change stations? Guess
not!) Hyundai ultimately went with XM.
sport’s ruling bodies is known as The Royal and Ancient. Before I was a custom
installer, I was a golf pro at a swanky club in northern California. One of my responsibilities was officiating at tournaments, and believe me, it was important to have a
deep knowledge of the rules before handing out an unpopular ruling to a member.
One thing I learned about the rules early on was the difference between “should”
and “shall.” While “should” refers to things a player doesn’t have to do, but ought to,
“shall” leaves little room for interpretation. Violating a “shall” can earn you a twostroke penalty (or loss of the hole in match play).
Setting up a home theater isn’t very different. While there’s no rulebook,
there are definite guidelines for
correctly hooking up your TV,
DVD player, surround sound
components, and speakers to
bring the theater experience
home. And there are some
things you should do to get
the most out of your system,
and other things you shall
do to make it work at all.
Having pioneered surround sound,
Dolby Labs is probably the closest
thing the A/V world has to a governing body. Since speaker placement is one of
the most important steps in installing a system, Dolby.com shows
where your speakers should be placed for proper surround imaging (click on “Room
Layout and Speaker Setup”). Follow these guidelines as closely as your room permits.
While your surround system should have speakers that can handle the kind of deep
bass that shakes the floor, to fully enjoy the cinematic impact you shall use a decent
subwoofer to convey a movie soundtrack’s low-frequency effects (LFE) channel.
When connecting your TV, you should use the best possible video connector. You’ll
get a much better picture with a component- or S-video cable than with a compositevideo cable. If you plan to watch HDTV shows, you shall use at least component-video
cabling because composite- and S-video cables can’t carry these signals. If possible,
you should use DVI or HDMI cables because they keep the signal in the digital domain,
bypassing a potentially degrading round of digital-to-analog-to-digital conversion.
To get the best possible surround experience, you should take the time to properly
adjust your system. Using the setup facilities in your receiver to balance channel levels and compensate for the varying distances from each speaker to the listening position lets you hear the soundtrack the way the filmmakers intended.
To get the best possible sound from your DVD player or digital cable box, you shall
use a digital audio cable, either optical or coaxial. This is necessary because Dolby
Digital and DTS soundtracks are sent to your receiver in digital form. If you use the
analog connections, you’ll miss out on a lot of the performance you’ve paid for.
Golf’s Rule 6-1 says, “The player and his caddie are responsible for knowing the
Rules.” The same goes for your A/V system. If you don’t know the rules, consider hiring an installer who does.
The difference between a system that’s merely installed and one that’s installed
right is often a matter of details. But those details separate systems that look and
sound good from the ones that look and sound great.
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David Ranada
Roll Your Own HDTV
so you can stress a specific aspect of screen performance. Since you’re the cameraman, you know precisely what each scene is supposed to look like. And since you
control the signal, you can eliminate the many layers of visual second-guessing and
“tweaking” that take place, say, as a film morphs from a camera negative into a DVD.
Of course, the footage itself must be high quality. So I’ve been lugging a high-definition camcorder around town looking for video stress tests that could be distributed to
our reviewers in a practical HD format.
Sony was kind enough to lend me its top consumer camcorder, the ultra-deluxe
(and ultra-expensive) HDR-FX1. It produces the best-looking video I’ve ever seen from
a home camcorder. My shots of Times Square at night produced footage whose smooth
motion, color accuracy, brilliance of highlights, richness of detail, and freedom from
visual noise easily trounce video from the first HD camcorder I tried a couple of years
ago (a JVC model) as well as any similar footage I’ve seen on DVDs.
Along with the camcorder, Sony provided a copy of Vegas, a professional-grade PC
editing package that’s ideal for manipulating FX1 footage (sonymediasoftware.com).
Though not as easy to use as your typical let’s-make-a-home-movie program, Vegas is
enormously more powerful, and it does high-def without flinching. Aside from editing
functions, it offers a convenient way to convert FX1 footage — which comes out of the
camera as an MPEG-2 “transport stream” — into Windows Media Video (WMV) HD.
When used properly, Microsoft’s WMV HD video codec delivers outstanding quality. It’s one of the systems being considered as an encoding method for the upcoming
high-def disc system(s). Using it has tempted me to investigate making high-def DVDROM discs that are directly playable in computer DVD drives (that is, without first
copying the video from a DVD-ROM to a hard disk). Microsoft has defined how such
discs can be made and has even issued a few commercially — like the high-def version of Terminator 2 and a series of Imax movies (visit wmvhd.com for previews).
But going the playable-DVD route requires learning at least two computer languages (HTML and JScript). I’m already hardware-challenged; using a 3.2-GHz,
hyperthreaded Pentium 4 going full blast, it took 35 minutes to convert a 105-second high-def segment into a WMV HD file. “Rendering” a 90-minute high-def production would take about 27 hours of continuous number crunching.
Nobody said going high-def would be easy. Or cheap: the camcorder alone costs
$3,700, and Vegas goes for $450, plus you need a kick-ass computer to run it effectively. The whole process, at least in this early stage of HD home movies, is not for the
short-of-time, faint-of-heart, or empty-of-pocketbook. You also might want to think
twice if you aren’t savvy-of-computer.
Room Service!
Eggs and XM!
Roadside motels used to tout color TV to lure
guests. Now some hotels are making a similar
pitch — with satellite radio and iPods.
This fall, Hyatt will begin offering XM satellite radio in more than 50,000 rooms. Each
room will have a custom-made XM receiver
with a channel guide and information on how
to subscribe. Frequent Hyatt guests will be
treated to discounts on some XM receivers.
The W Hotels in New York City’s Times
Square and Los Angeles/Westwood offer Sirius
satellite radio via XACT plug-and-play tuners,
available in some suites. Guests can even buy
their own tuners at the gift shop.
Boutique hotels are eager to be hip. Dream,
also in New York, provides iPods and portable
DVD players. And the Crescent in Beverly Hills
includes an iPod Music Minibar in each of its
40 lounge-bar theme rooms. The iPods are
anchored to desks and connected to speakers
for in-room listening. You get jazz, electronica,
and (of course) lounge music. Like what you
hear? Buy CDs at the hotel for the trip home.
The piano bar sure is looking (and sounding) passé.
Pose, Then Dispose
The One-Time-Use Video Camcorder,
made by Pure Digital Technologies and
sold at CVS and other drug/photo stores,
works like this: Shoot a home movie. Play
it back (and cut the embarrassing stuff).
Take the unit to the store. Get a finished
DVD in return. Drawback: the $30 gadget
(not including $13 for processing) gives
you only 20 minutes of recording time.
Still, for disposable-camera fans who
need a last-minute fix without investing
in a full rig, the disposable camcorder
might do just fine. Coming soon: the disposable home theater. (Just kidding!) (Or
are we . . . ?) (Cue Twilight Zone theme.)
— K.R.
new products
flat gets phat
Hot gear from the world of home entertainment
Toshiba’s 42HPX95 HDTV ($4,000) shows where plasma sets are going: loaded with features and more affordable than ever. Not only does the TV come with a built-in digital tuner and CableCARD slot — so getting high-def
shows is as convenient as possible — but a feature called THINC (Toshiba Home Interactive Network Connection) lets the TV act as a media receiver. That means you can use its remote to play MP3 music files and view
digital photos stored on a PC elsewhere in your home. Not that the 42-inch (diagonal) screen needs anything
extra to be the center of attention. tacp.toshiba.com, 973-628-8000
> Fine Tuning
Radio will never sound the same again once you turn on
Polk Audio’s I-Sonic ($599). The stylish table radio
will let you tune into some of the 350 or so stations in the
country that broadcast HD Radio signals, which usually
provide song titles and artist names, scrolled on the frontpanel display. Still nothing worth listening to? Just switch
over to XM satellite radio’s 150+ channels of music, news,
talk, and sports (you did get a $12.95/month subscription
and $49 XM antenna, right?). The I-Sonic also packs a
DVD/CD player and has auxiliary inputs for jacking in your
iPod. Available October. polkaudio.com, 800-377-7655
NOTE All prices and product information supplied
by the manufacturers. Dealer prices may vary.
pyramid scheme
Last year Bose added a proprietary connector to its Lifestyle DVD systems for streaming
music to other rooms. And now that the company has introduced the AL8 wireless audio
link ($399), you won’t even need cables to have multiroom audio. Consisting of two 3-inchtall black pyramids (a transmitter and receiver), the system wirelessly streams uncompressed music via Bose’s FreeField technology, a proprietary scheme similar to Wi-Fi. The
AL8 works with any Bose link-enabled gear. bose.com, 800-444-2673
MartinLogan’s tower
speakers are known for
their big electrostatic
panels, like the one on
the Summit ($9,995 a
pair). Its panel stands 5
feet tall and is mounted
on a base that provides
. . . um, bass. While
smaller than in other
ML designs, the base
still packs a punch: its
two 10-inch woofers,
each with a 200-watt
amplifier, are said to
hammer out notes
down to 24 Hz. Not bad
for a speaker you can
see through.
> Sound
What’s Up,
Now that you’ve got an iPod,
do you find yourself listening
to your home stereo less
and less? It doesn’t have
to be a competition if you
have Kensington’s Stereo
Dock ($90). Just plop your
iPod in the cradle, and the
Dock brings all your tunes,
playlists, and podcasts to
your home system
— charging up the
player at the same
time. A wireless
remote is included,
and all iPods with the
dock connector are
welcome. kensington
.com, 800-235-6708
new products
CSI When You Want It
Just sit back and relax — Sony’s RDR-HX715 DVD recorder ($700) takes saving TV shows to a new level of convenience. TV Guide
On Screen makes it easy to time-shift programs, plus the 160-GB hard disk means you won’t have to erase any of them for a while.
Hookup becomes effortless if you use the digital HDMI output, which conveys both video and audio through a single connector.
sonystyle.com, 800-222-7669
Finish Line
Whether you get Energy’s Reference Connoisseur speakers in
cherry, rosenut, or black-ash finish,
one thing’s for sure — you’ll be
adding some style to your listening
room. The real wood, hand-rubbed
veneers encase cabinets reinforced
with Energy’s Interloc bracing
system, making them as sturdy as
possible without sacrificing volume.
All Connoisseur models, including
the RC-70, RC-50, and RC-30
towers (shown, left to right, $2,000
to $550 a pair), use light and rigid
resin-coated Kevlar woofers, which
are said to improve sonic accuracy.
> Serve Me
Kaleidescape’s latest
whole-house movie
systems ($22,500 and
up) boast new software
that lets you locate
titles by director, actor,
or genre and a server
(shown) that holds
content from 660 DVDs.
Not enough? Add more
servers until Blockbuster gets jealous.
Systems include a DVD
ripper and movie player
and provide playback
in as many as 25 zones.
Simply Seen
Although you’ll appreciate the big features
of RCA’s Scenium
($2,999) — like the 61inch DLP screen, the
integrated high-def
tuner, and TV Guide
On Screen — it’s the
little things like the
fully backlit remote
that’ll make you feel
pampered. And when
you hook up your DVD
player to the HDMI
input, which shuttles
both audio and video,
you’ll truly be living
the simple life.
rca.com, 800-336-1900
Twice the pixel resolution.
Twice the arguments over the remote.
Enjoy the highest resolution HDTV has to offer with 1080 DLP™
technology,twice the resolution of plasma TV. Plush1080p™ imaging
delivers the perfect picture from any video source. For a Mitsubishi
retailer visit mitsubishi-tv.com.
DLP and the DLP logo are trademarks of Texas Instruments. Resolution comparison based on pixel count of 720p HDTV and 1080p HDTV.
digital bling
Web Wanderer Tiny Tunes
>>> COOL FACTOR Sure it’s nice to browse the Web and
check your e-mail while on the go, but with a 41⁄8-inch, 800 x
480-pixel screen, Nokia’s Wi-Fi-enabled mini PC is begging for
you to check out some digital photos and MPEG-4 movies,
too. It’s a shame there’s just 128 MB of memory onboard,
but you can add more with a MultiMediaCard.
>>> BONUS If a Wi-Fi network isn’t close by, the 770 can still
connect wirelessly to the Internet through your Bluetoothenabled mobile phone. There’s also a dedicated Internet radio
application. Playing hits from the future, no doubt.
$350 • NOKIA.COM, 888-256-2098
>>> COOL FACTOR Once you’ve picked your favorite from the
ten colors, you’ll have an MP3 player that’s about the same
size as the iPod shuffle but throws in a screen — handy if you
keep forgetting the names of songs. Or artists. Or everybody
you meet at parties. Okay, maybe not that last one, but why
doesn’t somebody come up with a gadget for that?
>>> BONUS Not only is there a built-in FM tuner and
voice recorder — which can record from the tuner —
but the little guy also comes with a sports armband and
belt clip. Plus, indeed.
$150 (1 GB); $120 (512 MB) • CREATIVE.COM, 800-998-1000
Visionary ’Mondo Mayhem
>>> COOL FACTOR Oakley’s Thump sunglasses can
compete with serious MP3 players now that a 512-MB
model has joined the line. It plays all the MP3, WMA,
and WAV tracks you can stuff into that half-gig of flash
memory, and it comes in three slick color combos.
>>> BONUS Never get tangled in earphones again! The
earbuds swivel and extend to ensure you get a snug fit
so you feel front and center with the music.
$495 • OAKLEY.COM, 800-431-1439
>>> COOL FACTOR Bringing games and movies to a 27⁄8-inch
screen in the palm of your hand, Gizmondo looks like a
close cousin of Sony’s PSP. But instead of using UMD discs,
the Giz gets its media via SD cards, with games and MPEG-4
videos running on its Windows CE operating system.
>>> BONUS Where to start? Besides letting you play music files
and take VGA-quality snapshots, Gizmondo knows exactly where
it’s at thanks to a built-in GPS locator that you can track through
another GPS device like a cellphone or PDA. Thieves, beware!
$229 • GIZMONDO.COM, 904-279-9240
Expert advice on home theater, audio & video
Q. We’re considering a 26- to 37-inch plasma or LCD TV for
A. A.G. says: Unlike LCD TVs, plasma models start at 37
inches, so in the 26- to 37-inch range you’ll find more options
in the LCD camp. Approximate operating temperatures range
from 50 to 100°F for LCD, and 33 to 100°F for plasma, so either
one should survive the winters at your temperature-controlled
vacation home.
Q. I have a DVD changer, and I’ve
noticed that on a few rented DVDs, the
picture shows up but there’s no sound.
The discs play fine on my other, older
DVD player. Any thoughts?
A. I.G.M. says: Obviously the
soundtracks aren’t actually missing from
those discs, so there must be some
menu setting that’s preventing them
from being heard. My bet is that your
changer is set to recognize only one
of the digital surround systems — DTS
or Dolby Digital — while your older
machine is either set for the other one
(or stereo PCM) or can detect and play
any of the formats. Go into the changer’s
setup menu and make sure the machine
our second home in Cape Cod. But we’re not at the house
during winter, when the temperature is set at 56°F. Will either
plasma or LCD be affected by the low temperature, and if so,
which one would hold up best?
is set to play whatever surround format
is present on the DVD.
Q. I’m confused about HDCP (Highbandwidth Digital Content Protection). My JVC projector has a regular
DVI input without HDCP. My PC connects to that input and works perfectly. I tried using a DVI-to-component
Tim Ries The Rolling Stones Project
Brian Blade Bill Charlap Sheryl Crow Michael Davis Lisa Fischer Bernard Fowler
Bill Frisell Larry Goldings Darryl Jones Norah Jones John Patitucci Keith Richards
John Scofield Kent Smith Luciana Souza Charlie Watts Ronnie Wood
One of the most anticipated new jazz CDs of 2005
saxophonist Tim Ries,
(I Can’t Get No)
with the help of some
Honky Tonk Women
amazing guest artists,
Paint It Black
Rolling Stones
presents newly
arranged and
Ruby Tuesday
reimagined jazz
Wild Horses
versions of Stones
and more
classics. This
musical adventure is
not to be missed.
Catch Tim Ries on
tour with The Rolling
Stones all year!
adapter to route the PC signal through
my receiver for switching, but since
the image is noticeably better with the
direct DVI connection, I’m thinking of
upgrading to a receiver with DVI or
HDMI jacks. Will some or all signals be
stopped from passing through the DVI
cable because the projector doesn’t
support HDCP?
video only and requires a separate audio connection. It separates the color and black-and-white components of a video
signal to improve picture quality. In most cases, an S-video
connection produces a much better picture than a regular
composite-video connection that uses ordinary RCA jacks.
Q. Is there any problem setting up a 5-, 6-, or 7-channel
system using all floorstanding full-range speakers? Would I
miss any surround effects with the speakers on the floor?
A. I.G.M. says: No problem at all.
In fact, that’s an excellent configuration if you want to play both multichannel music and soundtracks. It really
becomes more of a practical question
of whether you have the money (it’s a
costly option) and the space for tower
speakers. Using floorstanding speakers
for the surrounds isn’t a problem as long
as the paths between them and your listening position aren’t blocked.
A. A.G. says: Sorry for the bad news,
but without an HDCP-compliant DVI
input on your projector, you won’t be
able to watch HDCP-encoded HDTV
programs — like those on premium satellite or digital cable channels — whether
they’re switched through a receiver’s
DVI output or not. You’ll still get nonencrypted cable and satellite shows, and
you shouldn’t have a problem switching
other non-HDCP-compliant DVI sources,
like a PC or a DVD player. But if you want
to watch the good stuff on HBO HD or
Showtime HD, you’ll have no choice but
to fall back on your projector’s analog
component-video input.
Q. I’m confused about optical, coaxial, and S-video connections. Optical
and coaxial seem to contain both video
and audio; is there any benefit of one
over the other? Is S-video for video only,
requiring a separate audio connection?
A. I.G.M. Says: Connection options
get more daunting as the days go by,
but the older ones are pretty straightforward. Optical and coaxial digital links
carry audio signals only, the former by
a fiber-optic cable and the latter by a
more-or-less conventional metal wire.
They deliver precisely the same information, so the only thing that should
determine which one to use is what your
equipment supports. Be sure to check
this out when buying your gear. More
than one buyer has had the unpleasant
shock of finding out that both his DVD
player and satellite box, say, have only
coaxial outputs, while the receiver offers
only one optical and one coaxial input.
S-video is, as its name implies, for
Have a question about audio, video, or home theater? Send e-mail to soundandvision@hfmus
.com (put “Q&A” in the subject line) or regular
mail to Q&A, Sound & Vision, 1633 Broadway,
New York, NY 10019. Please include your name,
street address, and phone number for verification; only your name, city, and state/country will
be printed. Sorry, but only questions chosen for
publication can be answered, and all letters are
subject to editing at our discretion.
MITSUBISHI-TV.COM / 800-332-2119 / $3,699 / 49 5⁄8 x 34 x 18 5⁄8 IN / 121 LBS
test reports
subishi would do, especially since
it’s much less expensive than previous big-screen 1080p TVs. At
$3,700 list, the WD-52627 brings
higher-resolution big screens to
ordinary shoppers.
Special Report: 1080p Comes to DLP
s amazing as HDTV looks, it’s hard to believe it can get better. But that is
indeed the promise of a new generation of HDTVs just hitting stores. Collectively, they use what’s known as “1080p” technology, and its goal is nothing
short of delivering all the detail carried by today’s high-def broadcasts.
Though 1080p resolution has been a feature of some flat-panel LCDs and a
few high-end LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) big-screen sets, this is the first
year it will be widely available in relatively affordable rear-projection HDTVs. That’s
because 1080p can now be realized with DLP — Texas Instruments’ popular Digital Light
Processing “micromirror” technology.
The 52-inch Mitsubishi WD-52627 is
among the first of a slew of 1080p DLP
Mitsubishi’s first 1080p DLP set delivers
models coming to market.
a superb picture overall and a modest
I’m a fan of DLP’s picture quality, so
bump in resolution over 720p.
I was eager to see how this new Mit-
WHAT’S 1080p?
Anyone who’s ever shopped for an
HDTV has faced the terms 1080i
and 720p. These numbers describe
the most commonly used HDTV
broadcast signals as well as an
HDTV’s native display format. Any
signal an HDTV sees at its input
must be converted to its native
format before it can be displayed.
The “i” or “p” part describes
whether the HDTV displays signals as interlaced or progressive
video. More often than not, this
depends on the display technology. CRT-based HDTVs, whether
direct-view or rear projection, are
usually native 1080i — the picture is made up of 1,080 horizontal scan lines flashed up as two
fields in rapid succession, each
containing half the lines (though
in reality, very few displays can
produce all 1,080 lines). All fi xedpixel HDTVs — LCD or plasma flat
panels, or rear projectors based
on LCD, DLP, or LCoS light engines
— are progressive-scan displays
that flash up all of their horizontal
and vertical lines of pixels at once,
in the same 1 ⁄60 of a second an
interlaced display uses to put up
one field. But until now, most were
limited to 720 horizontal lines of
Thanks to their bright images
and slim profiles, 720p DLP, LCD,
and plasma TVs are extremely
popular. But the most common
broadcast format by far is 1080i. At
any moment, these signals carry
more than 2 million pixels of information in a 1,920 x 1,080 grid —
more than twice as many as 720p.
Yet today’s 1080i and 720p HDTVs
can’t get them all onscreen at the
same time. The TVs simply don’t
have enough pixels or produce
enough scan lines to do the job. So
they convert the signal, essentially
throwing out resolution.
the short form
Here’s where 1080p comes in.
Done properly, it has two key
advantages over lower-resolution HDTVs. First, depending on
the technology used, the pixels
in a 1080p TV will likely be either
packed more closely (as with a
typical square-pixel grid) or have
overlapping footprints onscreen
(as in the new DLP technology).
That can vastly reduce or eliminate visible gaps between the pixels — the so-called “screen-door
effect” — creating a smoother,
more natural picture.
Second, when you see “1080p”
describing an HDTV, it means the
set’s imaging element can theoretically display all 2 million of those
pixels in a 1080i signal at once (or
the visual equivalent). And since
1080i converts more cleanly to
1080p than to 720p, it’s easier to
preserve all that original picture
detail. To be sure, going from a
720p to a 1080p display is an evolutionary step — nothing like the
upgrade from standard to highdef TV. But the technology has the
potential to finally let HDTV be all
it can be.
Virtually all the major TV makers are jumping on the 1080p
bandwagon. Along with Mitsubishi, Samsung, Toshiba, and even
HP are releasing sets based on a
new micromirror DLP chip from
Texas Instruments, though it’s
one that doesn’t actually
have the 2 million-plus
discrete pixels required
for 1080p. A clever
technique nicknamed
“wobulation” is used to
achieve apparent 1080p
performance with only
half the number of mirrors
that would otherwise be
required (see “Pixel Magic,”
page 40). Meanwhile, JVC and
Hitachi have 1080p LCoS-based
models, Sony is expected to
announce new 1080p LCoS sets,
and LCD makers will likely follow suit.
It’s only natural that the emergence of 1080p TVs would spawn
talk of full-on 1080p broadcasts,
which would show us those 2 million pixels at
twice the frame rate of a 1080i signal. But 1080p
would hog twice as much broadcast bandwidth as
1080i or 720p signals, and broadcasters are already
pressed to deliver that much. I’d expect 1080p programming to first be available on next-generation Blu-ray Discs or HD DVDs (though neither
camp has announced any plans yet for 1080p). In
any event, most of the 1080p
HDTVs expected this year can’t
even accept a 1080p signal via
their HDMI or component-video
inputs. But the lack of native
1080p source material shouldn’t
prevent you from enjoying the
benefits of 1080p with regular
high-def programs.
Sharp high-definition images.
No visible pixel structure.
Deep blacks.
Accurate, well-saturated color.
Occasional rainbow effects.
Unable to fully resolve 1080i
While the WD52627 is Mitsubishi’s lowestpriced 1080p DLP, it doesn’t hurt
for options. It includes more connections than any set in its class,
including a pair of HDMI inputs,
The TV brought out all the fi ne detail in the bleak landscapes of icy Hoth.
two FireWire ports and three
component-video inputs. And it
has Mitsubishi’s NetCommand system, which uses
an onscreen interface to control all the gear that
● 1080p DLP light engine
can be connected.
● 6-color user-adjustable color balance
A CableCARD slot offers the potential for watch● 6 picture presets
ing digital cable without an external cable box. Like
● 2 HDMI, 2 FireWire, 3 component-video
most other similarly equipped late-model HDTVs,
the set includes the TV Guide On Screen program
● NetCommand onscreen remote-control
guide to make up for the loss of your cable com● Digital cable-ready with CableCARD slot
pany’s electronic program guide. Though free, TV
and TV Guide On Screen
Guide is a less-satisfying solution that requires you
● Fully backlit remote control
to manually re-order the channel lineup to match
● 9-format memory-card reader for digital
your cable system, and it’s earned a spotty perphotos and audio files
formance record because of its dependence on
local cable feeds for program information.
Still, if you’re determined to lose the set-top
box, it’s better than nothing.
The WD-52627 measured well in most key
I liked the Mitsubishi’s extensive picareas. Notably, multiburst patterns used to
test resolution looked better than on any
ture-quality controls. New this year are
720p DLP television I’ve tested, proving
two picture presets, Bright and Natuadditional resolution for the 1080p format
ral, each of which can “remember”
— although the WD-52627 still couldn’t
resolve every pixel of a 1080i image. The
your specific adjustments for contrast,
HDMI inputs were decidedly sharper than the
brightness, and color temperature for
component-video inputs on both test patterns
each input (but not color, tint, and
and program material, so I recommend using
them whenever possible. The key areas
sharpness). This is a great feature for
of grayscale tracking and color decoding
tweakers like me who want custom
were also close to dead-on after calibration.
settings for day and night viewing.
Black-level retention was relatively good, as
The set also allows users to fidwas brightness uniformity, with only minor
hotspotting toward the center.
dle with the individual levels of
six colors, which let me easily
optimize the color balance. A
video noise-reduction feature
➥ Full lab results on S&V Web site
is onboard, but it softened the
key features
test bench
test reports
image, so I left it off for critical
first experience of the WD-52627’s
home theater performance came
courtesy of The Empire Strkes
Back from the Star Wars Trilogy
on DVD. This is my favorite Star
Wars flick, and its restored picture looked stunning. I immediately appreciated the blackness
and depth of space as the camera
descended toward the ice planet
of Hoth. The shadowy corridors of
the rebel base evinced natural gradations from light to dark and few
traces of noise.
I also saw the hallmarks of
excellent color balance in the icy
world. Leia’s face showed a subtle
flush as she was teased by Han
about her wanting him to stay and
fight. As Luke lay in the snow, the
wound on his face was colored a
deep red but his skin tone looked
realistic — not oversaturated.
While the Mitsubishi’s color
was strong and accurate, the
color-wheel system used to pro-
duce color in this and all other DLP TVs is generally
more problematic than the three-chip system used
by LCD and LCoS sets. The spinning wheel occasionally caused faint trails of color, or “rainbows,” along
the edges of bright objects. Many viewers don’t notice
these trails, but I saw them about as often on the Mitsubishi as on previous DLP sets I’ve tested.
Fine details, on the other hand, looked great. I
set my high-end Denon DVD player to upconvert its
output to 1080i format, and the WD-52627 rendered
intricate parts of the image with all the clarity I
could wish for. From the old-school instrumentation
in the Snow Speeder cockpit to the myriad domes,
ports, panels, and ridges in the hull of an Imperial
Star Destroyer passing overhead, Lucas’s imaginings
appeared highly realistic.
With a twinge of regret at leaving Lucas’s galaxy,
I went far, far away to look at some true high-def
sources. My first stop was HDNet, a 1080i network
that was showing a Marianne Faithfull concert. I was
immediately impressed by the sharpness of the picture — she was wearing a blouse covered with newsprint, and headlines and subheads in smaller type
sizes were clearly visible. I could pick out a few misplaced strands of her blonde hair, and again the deep
blacks and shadows of the dimly lit club were deep
and clear.
My next stop landed on ESPN’s broadcast of the
Home Run Derby. As I watched Bobby Abreau knock
dinger after dinger over the left-field wall, I basked in
the realism of the crowd and the
immaculate field. I could read slogans on people’s shirts and caps,
discern collective expressions of
awe as a homer sailed overhead.
One of the most impressive
aspects of the WD-52627’s image
qualty in high-def and otherwise
was the complete lack of visible
pixel structure. An image of bright
light streaming in through a window appeared clean and natural,
with no trace of the pixel grid.
Even with my nose right up to the
screen, it was nearly impossible to
detect any pixels at all. If you like
to sit close to the screen like I do,
1080p DLP makes a big difference.
1080p VS. 720p
I was
curious to see how 1080p stacked
up against its predecessor, so I
compared the WD-52627 side by
side with a 50-inch 720p DLP set
we had on hand. After adjusting
the two for optimum image quality and similar brightness, I fed
them the same sources via an
HDMI distribution amplifier.
Watching the Marianne Faith-
igital Light Processing (DLP) is today’s most-popular fixed-pixel, or “microdisplay,” rear-projection
technology. It relies on a chip — called a DMD, or
Digital Micromirror Device — that’s covered with
microscopic mirrors, each representing one pixel of
light on the screen. But rather than try to mass-produce a chip
with all 2 million-plus mirrors needed to create a 1080p image,
DLP developer Texas Instruments took a different route.
Using an HP technique known as “wobulation” (TI calls it SmoothPicture), TI achieves a
1,920 x 1,080 effective pixel resolution using
half that number of mirrors. Wobulation relies
on the same principle as interlacing, which
shows half the picture at a time, but so rapidly the eye combines the two parts into one.
Starting with the square pixel design of its
720p DLP chips, TI turned each mirror 45° relative to the sides of the display, creating rows
of diamond-shaped pixels. There are only 960
x 1,080 micromirrors on the grid, but each of
them, in effect, creates two separate pixels,
one after the other.
During operation, light from the lamp
bounces from the chip to a device called an
optical actuator, a reflective panel that pivots.
In its first position, the actuator reflects half
of the image information (the odd-numbered pixels) onto the
screen. After 8 milliseconds, the actuator switches position
— or “wobulates” — half a pixel-width. Simultaneously, the
chip flashes up the picture information for the other half of the
image (the even-numbered pixels). This process is so quick
that it’s impossible to differentiate between the sets of pixels, and the entire frame, with all 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, is “constructed” within the standard 1⁄60 -second field time.
— D.K.
“Definitive Technology’s
Mythos Gem will be Your
System’s Crown Jewel”
— John Sciacca, Sound & Vision
Small size, big sound and
drop-dead gorgeous!
“Unbelievable clarity and dynamic authority...
huge sounding... show-stealers.”
— Chris Martens, AVguide.com
Imagine the ultimate sub/sat system — remarkably compact, exquisitely elegant with ultra high
performance room-filling sound and foundationshaking bass you thought only came from huge
floorstanding behemoths. This impossible dream is
now the latest reality from Definitive. Introducing
the new Mythos Gem System featuring the incredible 650-Watt SuperCube III subwoofer.
“Outstanding... I couldn’t believe the sound
wasn’t coming from large floorstanding
— Adam Zolot, CNET.com
The Mythos Gem System is the perfect choice
for discerning listeners who desire the versatility
of an easy-to-live-with compact sub/sat system
combined with the cutting-edge styling, worldclass build quality and state-of-the-art sonic performance that’s won Definitive’s Mythos Series
and SuperCube Subwoofers Sound & Vision’s
“Critic’s Choice Award” and Home Theater’s
“Product-of-the-Year Award.”
The polished aluminum Gems (available in silver
or black) can be wall, shelf, or stand mounted and
the tiny but mighty SuperCube III is easy to hide
but stylish enough to show off. They’re perfect for
your lifestyle and the mind-boggling performance
plus their remarkable value had Home Theater
raving, “Amazing… there isn’t much else out
there that can beat it in terms of sonic performance
at the price.”
Complete Gem System
around $1999
(stands optional)
11433 CRONRIDGE DR. • OWINGS MILLS, MD 21117 • 410. 363.7148
See our dealer list on page 14
A Tall Order
It was a tall order when Revel engineering was asked to create the most affordable line of Revel speakers. But there
was one overriding mandate: Make sure they sound like
With this goal in mind, drivers, crossovers and cabinets
were designed, thoroughly evaluated, assembled, and
refined until our engineers were convinced the Revel
sound could be achieved. Then the speakers were subjected to the ultimate test – double-blind listening.
The result?
The Concertas not only sounded like Revels, they
handily outperformed the competition as well.
A tall order indeed.
3 Oak Park Drive, Bedford, MA 01730-1413 USA | Tel: 781-280-0300 | Fax: 781-280-0490 | www.revelspeakers.com
©2005 Harman International Industries, Incorporated. “Revel” is a registered trademark of Harman International Industries, Incorporated. All rights reserved
Plasma for Less
A trio of sleek HDTVs you can actually afford
ool, but expensive — that’s the attitude most people
have toward plasma HDTVs. If we were still living in the
dark ages, circa 2001, such an outlook would be warranted. But it’s 2005, and the prices for plasma TVs have
spiraled down, down, down. How much money do you now
need to score a 42-inch high-definition plasma TV? Around
$3,000 or even less, and that kind of a deal doesn’t have to mean
a big compromise in picture quality.
Like the stock market, plasma pricing tends toward sudden, dynamic dips — the TV you have your eye on today will
likely cost even less tomorrow. With this in mind, we called
in three plasma HDTVs spotted selling on the Web for around
three grand or less: JVC’s PD-42X795, $3,200 ($5,500 list); Dell’s
W4200, $2,599 direct from Dell ($3,000 list); and Maxent’s MX42XM11, $2,000 ($2,500 list). But you can’t assume that all “budget” plasmas are created equal. So we put these low-ballers
through our usual rigorous procedures to see well how each
stood up. This involves tweaking the TV using both the set’s
standard user controls and hidden “service” controls that only
technicians have access to. What differences — if any — would
we find as we stepped up in price? Let’s now turn our attention
to the wall to see what, value-wise, these TVs really get us.
This stylish TV has
decent picture quality
and cool features,
but falls short of the
With its crisp, natural
picture, excellent tuner,
and low price, this
could be the sweetest
flat-TV deal going.
Unbelievably low price
for a plasma HDTV,
but a mediocre picture
means it’s not really a
great deal.
JVC.COM / 800-252-5722 / $3,200 ($5,500 LIST) / 45 ⁄4 x 28 ⁄8 x 4 ⁄4 IN / 83 ⁄8 LBS
in the black shades of the men’s
tuxedos, and the evening gowns
worn by the starlets had a rich, vivid
appearance. A later scene where
Hughes test pilots a new plane
didn’t fare as well. The picture had
punchy contrast, but the highlights
had a “burned-out” appearance, and
the normally wispy clouds looked
ragged and patchy.
The JVC’s clean, natural color and
punchy contrast was also evident
when I watched HDTV programs like
HBO’s Six Feet Under. An opening
shot of a mobile home in the California desert showed sharp detail in
the exterior decorations and plants.
In a later scene where Nate studies
his face in the mirror while shaving,
his skin looked mostly natural, with
only a hint of redness.
HDTV with all the frills
hile many low-cost plasma TVs require a separate digital tuner to watch local
high-definition broadcasts, JVC’s PD-42X795 packs in not just a tuner but also
many other cool features. That list includes built-in speakers and a separate control box with a complete set of connections including HDMI, VGA, and FireWire
(so you can hook up one of JVC’s digital VCRs and record HDTV). A heavy-duty aluminum
base that comes with the TV lets you confidently set it up on a table or stand. The remote
control is a bit chunky, but it has a generously spaced button layout and a backlit keypad. At
its top you’ll find the Aspect button, which lets you switch between four picture-display modes (three can be accessed for HDTV programs).
Since the JVC has an antenna input for grabbing local digital and
high-def broadcasts, my first order of business was to plug in an antenna and
let the TV’s Channel Search function rip. The JVC easily grabbed most of the
digital channels in my area. The Fox affiliate was the lone holdout, but most
HDTVs I’ve tested have had a problem with it.
I initially had my Scientific Atlanta HD cable box plugged into the set’s
HDMI input. But the TV proved to have a sharper picture when I used its component-video input for high-def, and test patterns confi rmed that using the
HDMI input resulted in a softening of the picture. I’d recommend sticking with
the component-video inputs. Suprisingly, there are no custom picture memories for each of the TV’s inputs, a common (and valuable) feature today.
After making service-menu adjustments to the picture, I dropped The Aviator into my DVD player. In the scene of the premiere
party for Howard Hughes’s 1930 fi lm Hell’s Angels, colors looked clean, and
there was good sense of shadow depth and detail. I could see slight variations
JVC’s PD-42X795
is a sharp-looking plasma TV with a
solid feature set and decent picture
quality, especially for HDTV. But the
occasionally patchy image, lack of a
custom picture memory for each
input, and softened resolution when
using an HDMI connection keep it
from getting an unqualified recommendation.
the short form
Good tuning of over-the-air HDTV.
Solid blacks with good shadow detail.
Somewhat soft HDTV picture via HDMI.
Occasional “patchy” picture effects.
No custom picture memory for each input.
key features
HDMI, VGA, and component-video inputs
FireWire port for HDTV recording
1,024 x 768-pixel resolution
Built-in HDTV tuner
test bench
After calibration, the JVC’s grayscale tracking
was about average at ±500 K, and its color
decoder performed well. A gray full-field test
pattern revealed picture noise, which was also
visible in some program material, and HDTV
multiburst patterns confirmed softening of the
picture on the HDMI input.
Full lab results on S&V Web site
DELL.COM / 800-915-3355 / $2,599 / 517⁄8 x 28 x 31 ⁄4 IN / 99 LBS
without looking noisy or lurid. This
made it easy to see slight variations
in hue between Kate Hepburn’s lipstick and the red velvet curtains in
the background. In this and other
scenes, skin tones looked balanced,
neither too orange nor too red. Meanwhile, details in the partygoers’
black tuxedos and other dark images
showed off the Dell’s strong shadow
HDTV programs like Six Feet Under
also looked very good. The sunlit scenes that opened one episode
had strong contrast — highlights on
the surface of a trailer home looked
entirely natural, and I could see fine
gradations in the shadowy inner
branches of the surrounding trees.
Picture detail was very good, which
helped bring to life the interior shots
of an old woman’s ceramic-frog collection and a finely textured wallhanging next to it.
Dude, you’re getting a Dell . . . plasma
hen computer companies first made the jump into the business of selling plasma
TVs, I cast a cold eye on the occasion. Weren’t those guys busy enough already
supporting the billions of PCs out there with their daily virus updates and blue
screens of death? But after receiving Dell’s W4200 plasma HDTV, I started to
warm up a bit. The W4200 looks a lot better than your average low-price plasma sold through
PC channels. Staring at it, my thought was: I wouldn’t mind hanging this set on my wall.
Other things that add to the Dell’s warm and fuzzy appeal are its built-in HDTV tuner,
wide array of back-panel inputs, and well-designed onscreen menus and remote control. The
remote has a substantial feel and echoes the TV’s black/silver look. The buttons on its top
half are backlit, and the bottom ones are spaced far enough apart that you can easily locate a
specific control in the dark. Pressing the Size button calls up a list of five display modes, each
of which can be accessed when watching HDTV.
After I connected my antenna, the Channel Add feature of
the Dell’s digital tuner successfully added the full lineup of digital broadcasts in my
area. The set’s onscreen program guide posted the titles of upcoming shows for digital channels, but it unfortunately listed program start times incorrectly — a problem
Dell says it is working on. When you press the Display button on the remote, you see a
screen that lists the digital channel ID (WNBC-HD, for example), signal strength, and
both the digital channel number and its analog “alias” (Channels 67 and 2, for example).
Adjusting the Dell’s picture was a snap thanks to a Personal picture preset that
could be customized for each video input. The Normal setting gave the most natural and accurate picture of the four color-temperature presets, but shadows and skin
tones looked a bit reddish, so I made adjustments in the set’s service mode. The only
real picture problem I saw was that blacks looked too bright via the S-video input,
which translated to limited shadow depth when watching movies or TV.
To check out the Dell’s picture quality, I revisited The Aviator on DVD. In the movie-premiere scene, colors showed a distinct Technicolor punch
The entry of
computer makers into HDTV space
hasn’t been a totally happy affair, but
with Dell’s W4200 things are looking up. This set’s nice styling, strong
features, solid picture quality, and
reasonable price add up to a winning
the short form
Crisp HDTV and DVD pictures.
Natural color and contrast.
Excellent built-in HDTV tuner.
Clear, detailed onscreen menus.
Dark gray blacks via S-video inputs.
Onscreen guide lists wrong times.
key features
HDMI, DVI, VGA, and component-video
1,024 x 768-pixel resolution
Built-in HDTV tuner with onscreen guide
Custom picture memory for each input
test bench
After calibration, the Dell’s grayscale tracking
was excellent. A –25% green channel error in
the color decoder was apparent only on component video — HDMI was perfect.
Full lab results on S&V Web site
MAXENTUSA.COM / 888-373-4368 / $2,000 ($2,500 LIST) / 49 ⁄8 x 28 ⁄2 x 3 ⁄4 IN / 98 ⁄8 LBS
the black-tie premiere from The
Aviator, shadow depth was solid,
and a decent amount of detail
was visible in the tuxedos, but the
highly saturated colors looked soft
and noisy. The skin tones of partygoers also lacked subtlety, tending
toward a uniform, reddish-orange
hue. And in the shots of Hughes
zipping through the sky on a test
flight, the clouds had a rough,
patchy quality that obliterated
much of their detail.
HDTV programs like Six Feet
Under looked slightly soft, but they
had punchy contrast. For example, in a shot of the trailer home
against a desert sky, the TV conveyed the intense quality of the
desert light. And though the Maxent tripped up on “Technicolor”
scenes from The Aviator, it did a
good job here of conveying the
less vivid tones of the ceramic-frog
collection. But the reddish skin
tones that I saw on the DVD also
extended to HDTV.
At 2k, it’s almost a giveaway
he Web is filled with lots of things, including plasma TV deals that seem too good to
be true. But when we confirmed that Best Buy was selling $2,000 plasma HDTVs from
a company called Maxent, we had to check one out. With its black screen border and
silver case, the MX-42XM11 shares some design elements with Dell’s plasma. It also
comes with a reasonably sturdy plastic stand and separate side-mounted speakers.
The Maxent’s lack of an analog or digital tuner means you’ll need your own
cable, satellite, or off-air tuner/decoder box to watch TV. In contrast to the
Dell, which got a shout-out for its onscreen menu system, this set’s menus get
a thumbs-down. The problem is speed: After you press buttons on the remote
control, the sub-menus take a painful second or two to render.
The remote control lacks a backlit keypad, but the buttons are big and easy
to locate. Direct video inputs (nice!) and the Wide button for selecting display
modes are hidden beneath a sliding door — an unfortunate location since it
makes the frequently used input buttons hard to get at. Five display modes are
available, two of which (4:3 and 16:9) can be used for HDTV.
The first review sample Maxent sent had all sorts of problems.
Adjusting picture controls for one input affected the picture on other inputs, the
set wouldn’t display any standard 480i signals, and using the DVI input with my
digital cable box resulted in a momentary copy-protection error message every
time I changed channels. Fortunately, a second sample TV had none of these
issues. The Low color-temperature setting delivered pictures that were reasonably close to NTSC spec except for a moderate blue-green bias in shadows.
Checking out the Maxent’s picture on DVDs, I noticed
a degree of “shredding” visible as breakup on fine diagonal and vertical lines. In
MX-42XM11 plasma TV sells at an
amazingly low price, but its limited features and relatively mediocre picture make it something less
than a great deal. This is definitely
a situation where spending a few
more bucks will get you more. S&V
the short form
Low price for a plasma HDTV.
Noisy picture quality.
No analog or digital tuner.
key features
DVI, VGA, and component-video inputs
1,024 x 768-pixel resolution
PIP (picture-in-picture)
test bench
Grayscale tracking on the Maxent was poor,
explaining why skin tones had a red/orange
tint despite a relatively accurate Low colortemperature preset. Test patterns revealed a
degree of picture noise and some softening of
detail with HDTV signals.
Full lab results on S&V Web site
Three players that know how to keep it digital
ne of the hot new features in DVD players is something you don’t really see. I’m talking about that HDMI connector lurking on the back panel. With its ability to carry both
high-definition video and multichannel audio on one cable, the High Definition Multimedia Interface can greatly simplify home theater hookup. But there’s more to HDMI
than convenience. Since the signals it carries are digital, an HDMI link between a DVD player
and a digital TV allows the purest flow of video from disc to screen, skipping a cycle of digital-to-analog-to-digital conversion that can degrade image quality.
What’s more, each of the three players tested here employs special
processing that “upscales” regular 480i DVD video to an HDTV
signal format (720p or 1080i) and uses the HDMI connector to send it to your HDTV. The goal, of course,
is to get the best possible picture quality — an image that, while not
as detailed as true HDTV, is
as smooth and clear as DVD
can be. So does upscaling plus
HDMI equal a better picture?
At least with these players, it
largely depends on how well
your HDTV converts analog
component video to digital.
If your set does this well and
has good upscaling, you
probably won’t see much
difference between a player’s component and HDMI
outputs. That was my experience with the high-end
DLP front projector I used.
On TVs with less than perfect processing, though,
you might see a cleaner
image using HDMI, just as our
TV reviewers sometimes report.
It turns out, though, that the determining factor in picture quality was how these players handled
the initial conversion from 480i to progressive-scan 480p,
which occurs before upscaling to an HDTV format and affects
images carried by both the component-video and HDMI outputs. As
you’ll see, some players definitely do this better than others.
A decent and very
affordable HDMI player
with versatile mediacard slots, but run-ofthe-mill picture quality.
Beautiful styling and
DVD-Audio via HDMI
are nice touches, though
video performance was
just average.
Delivered some of
the best progressivescan video seen at any
price, and it’s a fine
music player to boot.
TACP.TOSHIBA.COM / 800-631-3811 / $150 / 17 x 17⁄8 x 81⁄8 IN
HDMI on a budget
side from its HDMI output and attractive $150 price, the Toshiba SD-5980 has two
unusually versatile features going for it — the two media-card slots on the front
panel. Between them they support an impressive array of flash-memory formats,
including SD/MMC, xD, and CompactFlash cards as well as Memory Sticks. Not only
will the player display slideshows using pictures stored on the cards, but it will also play
music stored as MP3 or WMA fi les. Beyond this, the SD-5980 is pretty much standard-issue
and includes such common features as zoom and multiple bookmarks but little else. The
remote control was easy to use thanks to its nice, spacious layout.
the short form
Cheap for an HDMI-equipped player.
Compatible with multiple flash-memory
Good remote control.
Mediocre progressive-scan video.
Noisy analog stereo outputs.
key features
HDMI output
Plays MP3, WMA, and JPEG on CD-R and
memory cards
● Accepts SD/MMC, xD, CompactFlash, and
Memory Stick flash-memory formats
test bench
Test patterns clearly showed a rolloff in vertical resolution using the player’s progressivescan component-video and HDMI outputs.
Despite the use of 24-bit digital-to-analog
converters, the stereo audio outputs produced
noise levels reflecting only 15-bit performance,
audibly degrading even CD sound quality.
Full lab results on S&V Web site
The SD-5980 has only
analog stereo outputs, so you’ll need to use one of its
digital audio outputs or the HDMI output to play multichannel Dolby Digital or DTS soundtracks. You’ll also
want to use a digital connection when playing CDs,
since I found the analog output to be noisy. For example, music with a very wide dynamic range — such as
practically any Telarc classical or jazz CD — revealed
unusually high background hiss.
Video performance was
okay when watching standard interlaced video from the
component- and S-video outputs, but when I switched
the component-video output to progressive-scan
mode, I was disappointed with the results. The resolution of test patterns was obviously softened in the vertical direction, a trait of the Samsung player, too.
To be fair, while this softening was distinct on test
patterns, it was tough to see on most of the movies I
tried. The eye is amazingly tolerant of loss of detail
when a superior picture is not available for side-byside comparison. But “hard to see” doesn’t mean
“invisible.” In the opening text crawl of Star Wars II:
The Attack of the Clones, the tiniest stars in the background either disappeared or were not as bright as
they should be. (The Panasonic was the only player
in this group to nail that scene.)
Far more common were jagged
diagonal edges, a distortion that
often occurs when material shot as
video has been poorly converted to
progressive-scan. These “jaggies”
were easily seen on Bruce Springsteen’s Live in New York City DVD,
on close-ups of the silver metal
drum rims and on diagonally
slanted mike booms.
With all three players, signals
fed to the HDMI output is created
in two steps: First the standarddefinition interlaced video on the
DVD (480i) is converted to standard-def progressive-scan (480p).
Then that signal is scaled from
480p to the 720p or 1080i HDTV
Viewed over my high-end 720p
front projector, images delivered
by the Toshiba’s 720p HDMI output looked essentially the same
as those from its progressive-scan
component-video output, jaggies and all. The picture actually
improved when I sent 480i component-video signals to the projector,
which had a superior progressivescan conversion circuit.
The card slots
are cool, and depending on your
TV, the SD-5980’s HDMI output
might provide modest benefit. But
its progressive-scan conversion is
less than stellar and affects even
the HDMI output. If you’re looking
to wring every last drop of performance from your DVDs, consider
looking elsewhere.
SAMSUNG.COM / 800-726-7864 / $200 / 17 x 2 3⁄8 x 10 IN
A bargain universal player
he Samsung DVD-HD950 bears a strong resemblance to the DVD-HD841 tested in
January (available on the S&V Web site). Along with the HD950’s HDMI output, which
replaces the DVI output on the older model, the new player and its remote are essentially identical in layout and features to the HD841, right down to the ability to play
both DVD-Audio discs and Super Audio CDs, a great perk for a $200 player. Undoubtedly the
most handsome of these three players, the HD950 sports a black front panel that’s a distinct
improvement over the earlier silver one and nicely sets off the spectacular white display.
Samsung’s remote control in nicely laid out and could have been the most versatile of the
three, thanks to its jog dial (for frame stepping) and surrounding shuttle ring (for various
slow-motion and scan speeds). Unfortunately, frame stepping and slow motion operate only
in the forward direction (even the $150 Toshiba will
do reverse slow motion).
the short form
Plays DVD-Audio and SACD.
Mediocre progressive-scan video.
Noisy analog audio outputs.
No speaker-distance compensation.
key features
HDMI output
Full setup facilities for multichannel analog
output of DVD-Audio and SACD
Plays MP3, WMA, and JPEG on CD-R
test bench
Video performance measurements showed a
falloff of vertical resolution on the progressivescan and HDMI outputs. The background noise
levels of the multichannel analog audio outputs
limited sound quality to approximately 15-bit
resolution, or less than CD quality.
Full lab results on S&V Web site
Unlike the more spartan Toshiba,
the Samsung’s DVD-Audio and SACD capabilities
bring with it a full set of multichannel analog outputs and their accompanying setup routines. But
like the HD841, the DVD-HD950 provides only for
speaker “size” selection and level balancing. There’s
no speaker-distance compensation, which I’d have
thought was required even for Dolby Digital and DTS
playback. This means that sonic imaging and front/
surround balance may not be optimal when using
the multichannel analog outputs, depending on your
speakers and how they are arranged.
As with the Toshiba, you should use a digital output
for the best sound. The Samsung has both coax and
optical audio outs for Dolby Digital, DTS, MP3/WMA,
and CD signals, as well as the HDMI output, which
can also carry multichannel DVD-Audio signals. The
player won’t deliver SACD signals in digital form (this
is true of almost all SACD players).
Unfortunately, when
I used the multichannel analog audio outputs to play
some SACD and DVD-Audio discs, the music was
marred by a surprisingly high level
of background noise. Put in technical terms, the Samsung delivers
only 15 bits or so of dynamic range
from its 24-bit converters. For
example, the added hiss squelched
the explosive dynamics of Paavo
Jarvi’s reading of Stravinsky’s
The Rite of Spring (Telarc SACD)
and slackened the musical tension of the soft passages before the
violence of the Sacrificial Dance
of my comments for the Toshiba
player’s video performance apply
here, too. The two players looked
about the same onscreen and measured almost identically on the
test bench. Using the progressivescan component-video and HDMI
outputs, I observed the same falloff in vertical resolution on movies (producing the same muted
star fields in Star Wars ) and the
same trouble with jagged diagonals on concert DVDs and other
programs that originated on video.
In the end, the HDMI output failed
to provide a superior picture on
my projector, even compared with
its component output switched to
interlaced mode.
Although its
video quality is average, the main
appeal of the DVD-HD950 is the
surround sound music capabilities
you get for $200. And having the
HDMI output to convey DVD-Audio
signals digitally is a definite plus.
PANASONIC.COM / 800-211-7262 / $250 / 17 x 2 3⁄8 x 91⁄4 IN
A superior performer
ith Panasonic’s DVD-S77 we reach the big time, not only in features but also in
performance. For $100 more than the Toshiba you’d expect quite a few more
capabilities, and the DVD-S77 won’t disappoint you. It will play DVD-Audio discs
as well as DVD-RW discs recorded in the editable VR mode and even DVD-RAM
discs, which the other two can’t play. The only obvious omission is SACD playback, which
keeps the Panasonic shy of being a true universal player — too bad considering what it does
right. The remote, while lacking the Samsung’s jog/shuttle dials, does allow frame stepping,
slow motion, and fast scanning in either direction, making precision cueing very easy.
the short form
Superior progressive-scan video.
Excellent DVD-Audio sound quality.
Many user adjustments.
Plays most major disc types.
No SACD playback.
key features
HDMI output
Plays DVD-Audio, DVD-RAM, and DVD-RW
VR-mode discs
● Plays MP3, WMA, and JPEG pictures on
test bench
Vertical-resolution test patterns came through
with flying colors on all outputs, and jaggies
were notably absent on video-originated material in progressive-scan operation. Audio noise
levels were low for CD and movie soundtrack
playback and even lower for DVD-Audio.
Full lab results on S&V Web site
The Panasonic has full bass-management
facilities for its multichannel analog outputs, which
give you all the tools you need for optimum sound
quality, including speaker-distance compensation. It
also has a raft of video adjustments and processing
options not available on the other players, including
presets for image “enhancement,” basic picture controls (including gamma), video noise reduction, and
even a choice of HDMI “color space.” Most of these can
be left in their default settings or played with at your
For once, a relatively
inexpensive player can actually produce sound quality from a DVD-Audio disc that’s better than a CD’s
(aside from one being multichannel and the other only
stereo). While its measured background noise levels
aren’t the lowest I’ve seen, the DVD-S77 was quieter
with DVD-Audio discs than even theoretically perfect
CD playback — as it should be, given the lower noise
floor of the DVD-Audio format.
Panasonic has long held
an edge over the competition in its processing to convert interlaced to progressive-scan video. Unlike the
Toshiba and Samsung, the DVD-S77 retains full verti-
cal resolution for its progressivescan output and doesn’t generate
jaggies on diagonal edges (an alltoo-common problem among the
many DVD players I’ve tested). The
player passes this superior performance to its HDMI output. As
with the other players, the Panasonic’s HDMI and progressive-scan
outputs yielded identical-looking
images from my front projector.
Yet both produced better-looking
video than the Toshiba or the Samsung players. The DVD-S77’s video
prowess came through vividly in
the Monsters, Inc. DVD. Sulley’s
fuzzy hair had the kind of lifelike detail (both horizontally and
vertically) that’s supposed to be
the hallmark of progressive-scan
reproduction, but is all too rare.
I can’t say
whether you’d get this same video
quality from Panasonic’s lowerpriced players, since good progressive-scan conversion is a costly
feature to build into in an inexpensive component. But I’m really glad
that the company made the effort
here. Sure, Panasonic’s DVD-S77
costs two-thirds more than the
Toshiba and a quarter more than
the Samsung. But that buys you
some great features and versatility as well as truly superior audio
and video performance. The DVDS77 can even hold its own against
many of the high-end DVD players
I’ve tested, and in comparison with
them it’s a genuine bargain.
test reports
LGUSA.COM / 800-243-0000 / $450 / 173⁄8 x 3 x 14 IN
LRY-517 DVD Recorder and VCR
ast time I checked, there were five different recordable-DVD disc types — a
potential compatibility catastrophe. Wouldn’t it be great if someone invented
a player that could play all kinds of DVDs? Even better, what if it was also a
LG, apparently able to read my mind, created the LRY-517, billed as the world’s
first “universal” DVD recorder. Besides being the first to both play and record
DVD-RAMs along with DVD-R/RWs, DVD+R/RWs, and even DVD+R DLs (double layer),
it can also play DVD-Video discs, audio CDs, and CD-R/RWs as well as read JPEG, WMA,
MP3, and DivX files. Wait! There’s more! The deck boasts slots for eight different memory-card types and includes a four-head VCR. Whew. All in all, this recorder is about as
universal as it gets. Well, not quite — it can’t record to CD-R or -RW.
The LRY-517 is as austere-looking as a Quaker on Sunday, so it won’t win any awards
for industrial design. Its front panel is remarkably plain. Two loading slots, one for disc
and one for tape, stare down at you. A lower panel fl ips down to reveal — most notably —
a FireWire (IEEE 1394) input that lets you quickly jack in a DV camcorder and dump your
home movies to tape or disc. Excellent.
The feature set is sparse, but with a few niceties like an AutoPlay mode for DVDs that
automatically starts movie playback, skipping the menus and annoying trailers. Another
nice touch: the menu for your discs shows up to nine thumbnail images containing the
opening scene for each chapter. Click on a thumbnail, and the scene starts playing in
low-res inside the thumbnail. Once you’ve seen enough to know you’ve got the right
chapter, you can select it for full-screen playback.
Of course, the crowd pleaser is the DVD recording
capability. Never burned a DVD before? Relax. This player makes it super simple: Drop in
a blank DVD, select a recording mode, and hit the record button. That’s it.
There are the usual four recording modes — XP, SP, LP, EP — and a standard 4.7-GB disc
yields recording times of 1, 2, 4, and 6 hours, respectively. Recording times are approximate because the deck uses variable bit-rate compression, so capacity depends on what’s being
recorded. The recorder’s real perk is its readiness to
A recorder that burns to
dump bits to any DVD disc you feed it. I particularly
most any DVD disc or VHS
like that it accommodates DVD-RAM discs because
tape, but falls shy of its
they allow simultaneous recording and playback —
promise of universality.
you can start watching the beginning of a title while
the rest is still recording (and you
can even monitor the progress of
the recording as a picture in picture). Killer.
As you delve deeper into DVD
recording, the LRY-517 will accommodate your greater sophistication. For example, you can format
DVD-RW discs in either Video or
VR mode. The Video mode creates
discs that are playable on conventional DVD players after the disc
is finalized. The downside is that
you’re limited in terms of editing.
Conversely, the VR mode allows
extensive editing, but discs can be
played only on other decks with a
VR mode.
Speaking of editing, that’s one
of the most important features
that a DVD recorder can provide.
It’s easy to dump programs onto a
disc, but you’ll soon want to organize and edit them into more conveniently watchable forms. In VR
mode, the LRY-517 lets you either
test reports
the short form
Widest disc compatibility of any
Simultaneous recording and
playback with DVD-RAM.
Easy tape-to-disc dubbing.
Flexible editing features.
Can’t record on CD-R/RW discs.
Editing features depend on disc type.
No commercial skip.
No program guide or IR emitter.
edit the content directly, or edit a playlist that determines how the content is played, leaving the video
itself unaltered. You can delete an original or playlist title/chapter, delete a part of a title, name a title,
divide one title into two, combine two chapters into
one, rearrange the order of playlist chapters, hide a
title/chapter, overwrite a previously written title, and
protect a title against accidental erasure. Various editing functions, however, depend on the type of disc
used. For example, you can delete part of a title only
on DVD-RW (VR) and DVD-RAM discs, move a playlist
chapter only on DVD-RW (VR), and divide a title only
on DVD+RW discs. Ultra confusing
— and not quite universal.
I was bummed that the player
lacks a commercial-skip button
and that you can’t move data from
memory cards to disc or tape. On
the upside, you can manually delete
commercials from a recording by
searching for start and end points,
or designate commercials as chapters and delete those chapters
— tedious, for sure, but better than
In XP mode, a recording of Lost looked as good as the broadcast feed.
key features
Records and plays DVD-R/RW, -RAM,
+R/RW, and +R DL (double layer)
Plays DVD-Video, audio CD, CD-R/RW,
JPEG, WMA, MP3, and DivX v. 3/4/5
Memory slots for SD, MMC, MS, MS Pro,
SMC, xD, MD, and CF
Built-in VCR
front-panel composite- and S-video
inputs, stereo audio input, DV input
back-panel component-, composite-,
and S-video outputs; composite-video
input; 2 stereo audio outputs and 1 input;
optical and coaxial digital audio outputs
test bench
The LG’s progressive component output
was typical for a DVD player, which means
good on film-based material but with jagged
diagonal edges on video-based programs.
Vertical progressive resolution was fine,
but some test patterns produced very jerky
motion rendition (not visible in movies).
As usual, recording performance was
excellent at the two top recording modes (XP
and SP), and static resolution test patterns
looked unusually sharp in the LP and EP
modes. However, the typical blocking and
mosquito noise kicked in as soon as there
was significant image motion.
— David Ranada
Full lab results on S&V Web site
Setting up the
recorder was trivial. I connected
the output of my cable box to the recorder’s antenna
input, connected its component-video output to my
Samsung DLP HDTV, and connected its optical digital
audio output to my Denon receiver. Wiring completed,
I enabled progressive-scan, selected the cable-TV
band on the recorder’s built-in tuner, and unleashed
auto-channel setting. Piece of cake. But — and it’s a
major letdown — the recorder has no electronic channel guide. All time-shifting must be done by programming the recorder to turn on and off at specific times
— as with an old VCR. And it also lacks an IR emitter
to change channels automatically on a cable or satellite box, so if you use one of those you can’t record
multiple programs from different channels without
changing channels manually.
I burned all kinds of discs, verifying that the recorder
really does handle both + and – DVDs as well as double-layer DVD+Rs, which played fine but occasionally
stuttered or skipped during layer changes. As you’d
expect, picture quality has nothing to do with disc
type (they’re just bit buckets), but it has everything
to do with bit rate. For example, I recorded an episode
of ABC’s Lost, a prime-time soap opera apparently
inspired by Lord of the Flies. The XP mode looked as
good as the broadcast feed, with sharp picture quality. Details were clearly visible even in visually complex, quick-edit flashbacks of the plane crash. In SP
mode, still scenes weren’t quite as sharp looking, and
details, such as rain falling in a
tropical downpour, were slightly
blurred by MPEG motion artifacts,
but the picture was still very good.
The LP mode was watchable,
but the picture was very soft, and
MPEG encoding artifacts such
as blocking were plainly visible
— for example, details on the
sand beach became homogenous
blobs. The picture was worse than
a high-quality VHS recording.
And the 6-hour EP mode looked
terrible, like something you’d
see streaming over the Internet.
Moving objects, even slow pans,
were completely surrounded (or
obscured) by mosquito-noise artifacts. I’d use this mode only if I
was down to my last minutes on
my last disc. In all modes, sound
quality was quite good (for off-air
dubs) and, of course, stereo only.
I spent some nostalgia time
with the VCR — no problems. Nice
to have around for playing old
tapes, or to make a recording if
you run out of discs. I was pleased
that I could dub from tape to disc,
and vice versa, but only at realtime speed. You can’t make tape
or DVD dubs of any copy-protected
DVDs or tapes.
is a good thing, usually, but not
always. When all these different recordable-DVD formats hit
the market simultaneously, some
people predicted Armageddon, or
at least a bunch of frustrated consumers. In fact, it wasn’t the end
of the world, but it was a pain. LG’s
LRY-517 cuts through all the hassle
and just deals with it — recording
and playing regardless of disc type
— with the caveat that its editing
capabilities depend on the kind
of disc you use. Throw in extraordinary memory-card compatibility, a DV input, a VCR, and you’ve
got something happening. Okay,
so, there’s no hard disk. And A/V
snobs wouldn’t be caught dead
with a VHS deck in their stack. But
there’s no denying that this flexible component does more than
most other recorders.
test reports
YAMAHA.COM/YEC / 800-492-6242 / $550 / 171⁄8 x 6 3⁄4 x 161⁄2 IN / 273 ⁄4 LBS
RX-V657 Digital Surround Receiver
tarved for new music? For talk (left, right, or center)? Sports? Comedy? Weather
and traffic? Satellite radio delivers all these and more by the dozen. Yamaha is
among the first A/V receiver makers to bring satellite radio home, via a new XMready line that includes the RX-V657 model here.
The RX-V657 packs all the usual A/V receiver goods, including seven-channel power, plus one subtle but critical addition: a tiny port on its back accepts an
antenna/tuner called XM Connect & Play. So far the only one available is the $50 Audiovox CMP1000, but others may join the party later, and XM-ready devices like boomboxes
and clock radios can also employ them. Plug one of these pocket-size pods into the new
Yamaha and you get 150-plus digital channels — all nicely integrated into the receiver’s
display, tuning, and preset-memory functions. Such leading-edge stuff usually reaches
me first in a big-buck flagship receiver. Refreshingly, the RX-V657 is a $550 list price model
that’s comparatively compact and simple (for an A/V receiver!) — all pluses in my book.
Connect & Play unit. The service
costs $12.95 a month, less if you
buy by the year or add multiple
Apart from adding XM, hookup
involved the usual audio and video
connections. There are only two
component-video inputs, though,
and no DVI or HDMI connectors.
The Yamaha also boasts an
automatic setup routine, which
uses a small microphone to determine speaker “size” and distance
from the listening position, and to
set the bass crossover frequency
and speaker levels. It worked well
enough: checked with my hand-
Setting up the Connect & Play option couldn’t be much simpler. The
antenna/tuner (see photo at right) is a clamshell arrangement about the size of a moderate
quahog, or roughly 3 inches square. I set this atop the receiver and plugged its captive, 30foot cord into the tiny XM jack, aiming the up-slanted antenna through a window more or
less toward XM’s satellite in the southwest sky.
To my surprise, XM came right up even though signal
strength on the Yamaha’s onscreen meter was
only 32%. Fine-aiming raised this to 45% to 50% with
A solid performer that seamno dropouts, so I’d bet most users will have little troulessly blends XM satellite
ble acquiring an adequate XM signal. Of course, you’ll
radio with Yamaha’s excelalso have to activate your XM subscription by dialing
lent surround performance
a toll-free number or visiting XM’s Web site with your
and adaptability.
credit card and the registration number from your
test reports
the short form
Well-integrated XM Radio option.
Fine performance with broad
selection of surround modes.
Simple, easy-to-use remote control.
held meter, speaker levels were within ±1 dB of the
ideal setting.
Yamaha has been
perfecting its music-surround technology longer than
any other major brand, and the RX-V657 shows off
this heritage. There are several proprietary modes
and variants for music and movies, with hardly a dud
among the lot. Of course, you also get Dolby Pro Logic
Only two component-video inputs.
II/IIx (often my choice for making surround sound
No DVI or HDMI connectors.
from stereo material) as well as the full DTS palette.
You’re likely to find something that
will believably, or at least entertainingly, enhance any sort of music or
movie soundtrack.
During my test, XM hosted a
Coldplay session on XM Live (Channel 200) as part of its “Artists Confidential” series. The up-close,
in-studio sound provided a good
baseline for sampling the RX-V657’s
music-surround modes. After a bit
of fiddling among user-adjustable
parameters like Liveness and Room
Size, I found that the Bottom Line
A Coldplay session on XM Live helped sample the music surround modes.
mode (named after the famous,
recently closed New York City club)
produced a very convincing and musical in-the-room
effect that was still reasonably natural-sounding on
● 95 watts x 7 channels
the interview parts of the program — no small feat.
● Automatic setup
Close listening to XM’s fairly deep roster of jazz
● Video upconversion (composite to
channels and its depressingly thin classical choices
S-video and S-video to component)
demonstrated that XM can, in fact, sound very good
● 14 proprietary DSP surround modes,
including virtual surround and headphone
indeed, given material that doesn’t obviously expose
the vulnerabilities of its data-compression
● 9 selectable crossover frequencies, 40
scheme (MP3 and its cousins suffer the
to 200 Hz (common to all channels set
same). A performance of Copland’s Rodeo
to “small”)
on Channel 110 sounded big, clear, and
● Back surround speaker outputs
sharply defined in both plain stereo and
reassignable to Yamaha-specific
Presence (front surround) outputs
DPL IIx Music. Aside from a very occa● Zone 2 audio capability (can reassign
sional “swirly” texture on soft strings
Back Surround/Presence speaker outputs
and a slightly “flat” tonality to cymbal
to Zone 2)
crashes, I was hard pressed to tell XM
● 8-component preprogrammed system
from CD here, though with things like
solo piano the difference was more
key features
test bench
The Yamaha delivered plenty of power at
its 8-ohm speaker setting, well exceeding
its rating with two-channels driven. A
modest and unusual error was detected in
the performance of the digital-to-analog
converter with uncompressed stereo signals
from CDs, but this didn’t seem to produce
any audible effects in music listening.
Full lab results on S&V Web site
Sky Captain and the World of
Tomorrow’s soundtrack is fast
becoming a favorite. If you love
full-range, room-zooming
effects, hyper-active surround
channels, and lots of big-bass
moments, and don’t mind a little silliness (okay — a lot of silliness), check it out.
The Yamaha acquitted
itself with honors on this stiff
test, never exposing any shortage
of power in 6.1-channel playback
even with my moderately watthungry speakers. It preserved
excellent dynamic impact, clarity, and depth in even the busiest scenes, such as the attack of
the flappy things in Chapter 6.
The RX-V657 also supplies several
surround alternatives for movie
sound. Its Movie Theater-Adventure setting, suitably adjusted,
produced a more spacious, widely
spread ambience than straight
Dolby Digital during a scene in an
echoey giant hanger, though at the
cost of a slight twanginess that
was occasionally audible.
Yamaha supplies a basic but well-thoughtout full-system remote control. It
requires some switching back and
forth between modes (for instance,
AMP and DVD) in everyday use,
but its logical groupings of keys
in different colors and shapes is
intuitive and pleasant to use. I also
liked the straightforward onscreen
menus — too bad they’re supplied
in only standard-def (480i) video.
When watching high-def sources
or progressive-scan DVD (480p
format), you have to wait for
your TV to resync every
time you call up or close
an onscreen menu.
Take away XM, and what
you have here is a very
capable, nicely balanced,
midprice A/V receiver with
plenty of power and a superb
selection of excellent-sounding surround options. But why
take it away? Sure, you could
buy an XM portable for little
more than the cost of the XM
Connect & Play add-on, but you’ll
sacrifice the integrated display
and control that makes Yamaha’s
solution so elegant. The RX-V657’s
XM capability doesn’t appear to
add much to the price, so consider
it the icing on an already very
tasty cake.
Designed for
Recognized for
has a beautiful black ash finish and accommodates most
Flat Panel, DLP, or LCD Projection TVs up to 63", most
Direct View TVs, and up to six or more audio/video
components plus a center channel speaker. It features two
glass door compartments, plus an open center section with
a wooden slide-out shelf. It also features adjustable legs
and an integrated CMS® Cable Management System to
hide wires and interconnect cables.
BELL’O INTERNATIONAL, LLC 711 Ginesi Drive, Morganville, NJ 07751
Tel. 732.972.1333 Fax 732.536.6482 www.bello.com e-mail: sales@bello.com
IN MEXICO: Equipos Y Cintas Sa De Cv Tel. 525.543.4763 Fax 525.687.0688
IN CANADA: TEAC Canada Ltd. Tel. 905.890.8008 Fax 905.890.9888
IN PUERTO RICO: Bonnin Electronics, Inc. Tel. 787.725.4765 Fax 787.725.0840
All Bell’O designs are patented or patent pending
test reports
SKIPJAM.COM / 914-933-0590 / $1,098 AND UP / 15 x 2 x 9 IN
iMedia A/V Distribution System
hat time-shifting was to the VCR generation, place-shifting is becoming
to the home-network-enabled. Extending personal entertainment to every
room in your home is the mission of SkipJam, a company whose main
product is the iMedia Center, a box you can attach to multiple A/V components including your cable or satellite receiver, home theater receiver,
DVD player, and TV. SkipJam’s promise is that virtually anything you can
play or show in one room — whether a live or recorded TV program, a movie, a song, or
a photo — should be accessible in any other room independently of where the content
is received or stored. As a bonus, if you have broadband available at a remote computer,
you’ll be able to watch whatever you’d be able to see at home. With assistance from SkipJam’s installers, I prepared to see how well this ambitious product delivered.
The iMedia Center ($799) assumes you have an Ethernet network in place.
The encoder/player can switch up to four analog video devices (via four compositeand three S-video inputs), up to six analog audio devices (via stereo inputs), and up to
four digital audio devices (via two coaxial and two optical inputs). While HDTV resolution is not supported, analog TV and FM tuners are built in, and you get two remotes: a
rechargeable RF (radio-frequency) controller, which has a helpful LCD screen and can be
operated through walls, and a conventional infrared one.
You also get three dual-headed infrared (IR) emitters (for controlling such components as an audio receiver, cable box, or DVD player), an Ethernet cable (for attaching the
iMedia Center to your network), a composite video/stereo cable, and a CD-ROM containing SkipJam iMedia for Windows. This software enables you to tune,
watch, and record channels available on your cable box from a computer in another room or across the planet.
For our test, SkipJam provided a second iMedia Center for a remote
room so that signals from cable and satellite receivers and a DVD
player located there could be
made available elsewhere. HowWHAT WE THINK
ever, for a second or third room,
Versatility squared. But
you could get by with an iMedia
you’ll need a pro to install
Player ($499), which has audio and
this A/V-sharing system.
video outputs but no inputs. Skip-
Jam also offers the iMedia Audio
Player ($299), with audio output
only (no video and no inputs) and
the iMedia Audio Player Pro ($499)
for in-wall installation.
Unlike most media servers,
the SkipJam does not come with
storage. All your music, photos,
videos, and TV shows can either
be parked on the hard drive of
any computer on the network or
directed to a Network Attached
Storage (NAS) device dedicated
only to file-sharing. For our review,
SkipJam provided an off-the-shelf
Maxtor NAS. About the size of a
VHS videocassette, it stores files
on a 300-gigabyte hard-disk drive
and plugs directly into an Ethernet jack. The $250 drive also buffers live TV (the default is a half
hour). SkipJam provides a free TV
program guide that
downloads listings.
SkipJam’s installers spent the better
part of a day resolving network issues for
us. They replaced our
misconfigured router,
set up IR codes,
attached sticky IR
emitters to all our
“I liked the sense
of control I had
playing any A/V
device in any
test reports
the short form
Vast flexibility for moving A/V
content around your home or the
Relies on inexpensive networkattached storage.
Free program guide for recording TV
cable boxes, receivers, and DVD players, and put in an
IR blaster that turned on our TV. An antenna on the
iMedia Center makes it look Wi-Fi-ready but is actually for the two-way RF remote. (If you misplace the
remote, you can get it to beep three times from a button on the iMedia Center.) For the best video performance, SkipJam advises against using Wi-Fi.
After a lot of hand-holding by the installers, I was able to get the iMedia Center to jump through hoops. Though the TV would
sometimes turn off when the Center turned on my receiver, and the
Maxtor NAS had to be rebooted
more than once, I did grow to like
the sense of control I had playing
any A/V device in any room and
experiencing all my entertainment
without leaving the couch. (I was
even able to view and operate a
computer running in another room
from the TV.)
I could also change channels on a
cable box in another room and saw
no degradation in picture quality.
After recording Charlie’s Angels:
Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle faithfully followed me from room to room.
Full Throttle from cable to the NAS,
I started the movie up, pressed
pause, then “Follow me” and
selected another room destination. When I entered
● Streams content from cable or satellite
the other room, I pressed play on the remote, and the
box, DVD player, and other A/V devices
movie continued. This also worked for music. When
to your home network for viewing or
listening in other rooms
I watched a movie from a DVD player, the SkipJam
● RF remote with LCD that doubles as a
would stream it directly to the other room or play it in
2.4-GHz cordless phone
both rooms.
● Lets you watch your home TV from
You can record a TV show using SkipJam’s program
remote locations via the Internet
guide or by manually setting the time and channel.
● Instant replay of
Unfortunately, there are no grid-type listings. (You
live broadcasts,
still have access to your cable or satellite guide for
commercial skip
that.) SkipJam offers four MPEG-2 and three MPEG-4
● Unlimited
compression modes. (You’ll want to use MPEG-2 if you
plan to burn a DVD in your PC.) The best quality in
each of the compression schemes approached that of
DVD, but MPEG-4 uses about half the disk space. You
can skip forward 30 seconds or back 10 seconds.
There are three reverse and three fast-forward
speeds (you can scan through a 1-hour recording in 85
seconds), one slow-motion speed, and frame advance.
One thing that needs refining is that the screen goes
black for a second upon coming out of any fast-forward speed. Also, the live TV buffer isn’t automatic —
you have to pause your viewing session at least once
to activate it. But unlike TiVo and other self-contained
video hard-disk recorders, the SkipJam can replay
anything you’ve watched in the last 2 hours even after
you’ve switched to another channel.
As a multiroom audio server, SkipJam aggregates
songs stored on the NAS and all the computers on
Complex setup.
No support for HDTV.
key features
your network. It plays the MP3,
OGG formats, including music purchased from Napster and iTunes
with digital rights-management
wrappers. I liked the Play Anything random-play mode and the
ability to run a slideshow or watch
TV with music in the background.
The RF remote, meant to replace
every other remote in your home,
was pretty easy to use. The Home
and Back keys keep you from getting lost, and you can navigate
from its LCD screen while in secondary rooms.
By accessing cable boxes in
either of the other rooms, I could
watch TV in a third room on a networked computer that was loaded
only with SkipJam’s software — no
PC tuner card needed. I could also
record what I was watching to the
computer’s hard drive and play it
back with Windows Media Player.
By installing the SkipJam software on any PC in a remote location with broadband Internet
access, I was able to control my
cable box and watch programs.
This means that no matter where
you are, if you have broadband
access you can watch anything
you’d see at home, including local
sports. Unfortunately, the picture
quality was like watching a worn
VHS tape. But still . . .
If you have
a network in place, SkipJam is one
of the most adaptable systems
available for distributing your
cable or satellite TV channels,
recorded shows, movies, music,
videos, and photos throughout
your home. Its hardware components are less expensive than
other whole-house systems, but
it’s a complex product to get running and requires a professional
installer with strong computer
networking skills. You may even
need more than one visit to tweak
the system as you learn the many
ways to use it. That said, the
remarkable freedom it provides
makes SkipJam’s steep learning
curve well worth the climb.
Copyright © 2005. Madison Media Software, Inc., a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America. All rights reserved.
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quick takes
iPod Speakers Get Serious / Klipsch iFi System
KLIPSCH.COM/IFI / 800-554-7724 / $400 / SATELLITES 8 3⁄4 IN HIGH / SUBWOOFER 10 3⁄4 x 10 3⁄4 x 14 IN, 25 LBS
e live in an iPod-centric world. You
have one, I have one, my wife has
one, and it’s probably just a matter
of time before my preschool-age daughter
wants one. And while many people now listen to music exclusively on their iPods, a
slew of mostly portable iPod “speaker” addons have sprung up to let them enjoy tunes
when they’re not in transit. The problem
with most of these is that they sound bad.
That was my thinking, at least, before
I heard the Klipsch iFi system. Klipsch
took the step here of using real satellite
speakers and a powered subwoofer — a radical idea in the world of iAudio. The silvery
speakers match the sleek aluminum design
of recent top-of-the-line Macintosh computers and come with a sturdy dock for your
iPod, iPod photo, or iPod mini that connects
to the subwoofer by a supplied cable. An
iPoddish scroll wheel lets you adjust volume,
and you can also use it to adjust the bass
after pressing a button labeled Subwoofer.
There’s a mute/standby button and a stereo
minijack input on the back for plugging in a
CD player or whatever.
The iFi isn’t
an all-in-one thing that you just plunk down
on a kitchen counter. It’s a sub/sat speaker
system with 200 watts total power — the
sub’s built-in amp also powers the sats, and
the system comes with speaker cables. You
set up the iFi as you would regular speakers,
taking care to position the satellites for wide
imaging and the subwoofer for the most satisfying bass. Big plus: the satellites’ swiveling-ball attachment and base plate can be
rotated for a wall-mount installation.
I found immediate use for the iFi alongside my computer. After positioning the sats
about 3 feet apart to form an equilateral triangle with my head, I stowed the sub next
to the wall under my desk and plugged my
Mac’s audio output into a second minijack
audio input on the sub’s back panel. Unlike
the dock’s aux input, which mutes the iPod
when it detects a signal, this one mixes your
computer’s audio with the iPod. The idea is
to let you hear “You’ve got mail!” without
interrupting the music.
The sats worked well, delivering a spacious stereo image with good detail. And
balancing the bass didn’t take long. The process was helped along by an LED bar on the
dock that lit up to indicate both subwoofer
and overall system level. The iFi’s small, lozenge-shaped RF (radio-frequency) remote
control lets you pause, play, and skip tracks
as well as adjust volume — handy if you’re
using the iFi as your main stereo system.
With my 10-GB iPod
plugged into the dock, the iFi’s performance
turned out to be a real revelation.
Songs I’d downloaded from the
iTunes store and heard only with
earphones sounded startlingly
full, detailed, and lifelike. Played
on the iFi, the sunny Britpop of
the Delays’ “Long Time Coming,”
for example, turned out to have
shimmering layers of percussion
and vocals that I hadn’t previously
noticed. And unlike most other
iPod speakers I’ve tested, the iFi
didn’t sound harsh when I cranked
the volume up.
The iFi sub lacked serious low
end (waddaya want for $400?), but
the bass from its 8-inch woofer
wasn’t boomy. On “If You Knew,”
a live Neko Case track from her
CD The Tigers Have Spoken, the
bass was tight and tuneful. And
both the reverb-laden guitar and
Neko’s Patsy Cline-like belting had
a smooth, liquid quality that was
easy on the ears.
I’m glad to
know that people who rely solely
on their iPods and computers for
music listening now have a highfidelity alternative to the mostly
bad speaker solutions out there.
Klipsch’s iFi is the real deal. If
you’re seeking a good, inexpensive
way to extend your iPod into your
living space, look no further.
the short form
Great sound for iPod speakers.
Finish mirrors high-end Macs.
None to speak of.
key features
• iPod dock with separate sub/system
volume controls
• RF remote control with 100-foot range
• Satellite 3⁄4-in tweeter, 31⁄2 -in midrange;
subwoofer 8-in driver, 200-watt amp
• Rotating base and wall-mount options
• Dual aux audio inputs
the list
The Best Gear to Buy Right Now
WELCOME TO THE LIST, where Sound & Vision’s editors share their recommendations on the best home-entertainment gear. Everything appearing on The
List has been reviewed by our expert staff and has stood out for performance
or value. Watch our test reports for the “S&V Approved” icon (above) designating that a product has been added to The List. And watch this space, where
we’ll flag additions and note deletions. For a full review of any product, go
to soundandvisionmag.com. Most prices are manufacturers’ list, which may
bear no resemblence to selling prices, particularly in volatile categories like
HDTV. Check with authorized dealers for pricing.
Denon AVR-3805
Panasonic Onyx TH-42XVS30U
42-in plasma
Denon DVD-3910 universal HDMI player
$1,199, JULY/AUGUST 2004
A versatile mix of high power, thoughtful features, and performance.
$6,500, MAY 2005
Not the cheapest 42-inch plasma
HDTV, but stunning to look at in every
way. panasonic.com
Pioneer PDP-4350HD
43-in plasma
$5,000, MAY 2005
Style, great features, and a clear, natural picture further cement Pioneer as a
plasma leader.
Dell W4200 42-in plasma
$2,599, see page 45
Surprisingly strong performance and a
good basic feature set make it a great
bargain. dell.com
Sony Qualia 006 70-in SXRD
$13,000, MAY 2005
This high-end set featuring 1080p-resolution LCoS technology is simply the
best RPTV we’ve tested. sony.com/
RCA Scenium Profiles
HD61THW263 61-in DLP
$7,999, DECEMBER 2004
Excellent performance in an unusually
trim DLP projector, just 7 inches deep.
Mitsubishi WD-52627 52-in DLP
$3,699, see page 38
1080p resolution, a super-smooth picture, deep blacks, and vibrant color
create a winning combo.
Sharp XV-Z2000 DLP
$4,000, JULY/AUGUST 2005
Fine HDTV home theater performance
with the benefits of DLP at a sensible
price. sharpusa.com
Sony Cineza VPL-HS51 LCD
$3,500, APRIL 2005
There’s terrific value in this LCD projector that delivers great HDTV and progressive-scan DVD images.
$1,499, JANUARY 2005
Superb video upconversion and onboard bass
management for all formats. usa.denon.com
Lite-On LVW-5045
DVD/hard-disk recorder
Yamaha RX-V657
$399, JULY/AUGUST 2005
Ease of use and convenient high-speed dubbing
from hard drive to DVD make this deck a winner.
$550, see page 61
Integrated XM satellite radio tuning,
good sound, plus Yamaha’s extensive
surround mode options.
Panasonic DVD-S77 HDMI player
Marantz SR4500
$250, see page 51
Progressive-scan video that’s a cut above typical
DVD players. panasonic.com
Panasonic DMR-ES10 recorder
$200, JUNE 2005
An entry-level recorder with solid video quality and
good editing chops. panasonic.com
$430, JULY/AUGUST 2005
Strong power reserves and some
sophisticated user adjustments belie
its low price. marantz.com
Pioneer VSX-815
$365, JULY/AUGUST 2005
Easy auto setup stands out at this price
and combines with solid audio performance. pioneerelectronics.com
Kaleidescape movie server
$22,500 and up, FEB/MARCH 2004
Now in its second generation and still the ultimate
hard-disk movie player. kaleidescape.com
MartinLogan Fresco
Xperinet Polaris video/music server
$6,995, JUNE 2005
Hard-disk-based movie and music distribution in a
“poor man’s Kaleidescape.” xperinet.com
Escient FireBall DVDM-300
music server/DVD controller
$4,999, JUNE 2005
A proven hard-disk music system with flawless
DVD changer control. escient.com
Denon AVR-5805
$6,000, MAY 2005
10-channel behemoth with high-end sound and
truly amazing multiroom flexibility.
Onkyo TX-NR1000
$5,000, JUNE 2005
Excellent performance, sophisticated features, and
a future-proof modular chassis. onkyousa.com
Yamaha RX-Z9
$4,499, MAY 2004
THX Ultra2 certification, 51 surround programs, 9
channels — and that’s just the beginning.
$5,970, JANUARY 2004
Turns ears and eyes with the spacious
sonics from its dipole drivers and its
sexy good looks. martinlogan.com
$4,650, JANUARY 2004
The Flat Panel Monitor system delivers
high-end sound from speakers just
4 inches deep. bwspeakers.com
Definitive Technology Mythos
$3,694, JANUARY 2004
DefTech invented the high-performance “plasma speaker” with this slim,
aluminum-enclosure system.
Atlantic Technology FS-3200
$2,465 to $2,660, APRIL 2005
Most of the performance of AT’s 4200
system in a cheaper, flat-screenfriendly package.
Infinity TSS-4000/1100
$2,394, see page 77
An all-around great-sounding and
good-looking on-wall/freestanding system. infinitysystems.com
No Problem
Today’s gear can
present you
with so many
options that
it’s hard to
make the
right choice.
Let S&V’s
experts show
you the way
out of three
common homeentertainment
The HDTV Jungle
Your old
TV works just fine, so you’ve
put off buying an HDTV.
You used to have some
good reasons for waiting. Prices for widescreen high-def sets
were higher than you’d
ever imagined paying
for a TV, and a swarm
of new technologies
with strange names like
plasma, DLP, and LCoS left
you baffled. And it wasn’t
clear how you’d actually
get HDTV programs. Sure,
the network TV stations in
big cities were broadcasting
high-def, but the affiliates in
your hometown took longer
to get on the bandwagon.
And when you called your
cable company to see if they
offered HDTV, the service
rep just said, “HDTV — uh,
what’s that?” But now that
the cable company is calling you
to extol the virtues of HDTV, you’re
wondering how to get in the game.
are widely
and prices
for HDTVs
continue to
drop. But
there’s still
the problem
of too many
TV types
to choose
High-def channels are now
widely available on both satellite and cable, and
broadcast stations in cities from Florida to Alaska are
airing HDTV during prime-time. So programming’s
no longer a reason to put off buying an HDTV, and
set prices continue to drop. But there’s still the issue
of too many TV types to choose from. With a little
advice, though, you can zero in on the right one.
If you’re tight on money, space, or both, your best
bet is a direct-view CRT model (below left). These HDTVs
display high-def programs using the same
cathode-ray tube technology found in your old
TV, and most have a wide “16:9” screen. With
screens ranging from 26 to 36 inches (measured
diagonally), they can easily squeeze into small
spaces, and prices go from a very reasonable
$500 up to $2,000.
Another HDTV option for the space-challenged
is flat-panel plasma and LCD sets — but you’re going
to have to spend a lot more. The key advantage
here, of course, is that you can mount the TV
on a wall like a picture. But flat HDTVs can also
deliver exceptional pictures. Recent 42-inch plasmas that received
glowing reviews in
these pages include
Pioneer’s PDP-4350HD
(May, bottom right),
Panasonic’s TH-
42XVS30U (May), and Dell’s W4200 (page 47). Actual
selling prices (as opposed to hyperinflated “list”
prices) are $5,000, $4,500, and $2,899, respectively.
Flat-panel HDTV screen sizes can be as big as 71
inches for plasma and 45 inches for LCD. But prices for
those mammoth models are unthinkably high for the
average Joe. With screen sizes ranging from 42 to 73
inches and prices starting as low as a thousand bucks,
a rear-projection TV (RPTV) provides a much bigger bang
for your buck.
RPTVs use tubes or a light engine with DLP (Digital Light Processing), LCD, or LCoS (liquid crystal on
silicon) technology to project images onto the screen.
While rear-projection sets can be bulky — especially
those based on older CRT technology — most of the
latest DLP and LCD sets are less than 20 inches deep,
with many measuring only 15 to 18 inches. (You’ll
even find a handful of really slim DLP models that use
a special lens assembly to get cabinet depth down to
a mere 7 inches, though they’re a lot more expensive.)
Unlike direct-view tube and flat-panel plasma and
LCD sets, which perform well in brightly lit rooms,
RPTVs need a dim space to look their best. Even so,
our reviewers have waxed poetic about such models
as Mitsubishi’s 48-inch WS-48515 (February/March),
Toshiba’s 52-inch 52HM94 (June, below), and Sony’s
Qualia 006 (May). Actual selling prices are as low as
$1,999, $1,895, and $10,999, respectively.
LOOKING AHEAD With more high-def channels coming online all the time, HDTV is on a roll. You
can expect to see even more set types unveiled in the
near future, with HDTVs driven by exotic technologies like SED — short for Surface-conduction Electronemitter Display — which combines the best aspects of
CRT technology with a flat-panel form factor. But with
more companies adding their own unique spins to
capture your high-def dollars, set prices can only continue to come down. As that happens, there’ll be no
reason left to sit on the sidelines.
Entertainment Overload
THE PROBLEM Hey! Congratulations! Your
bookcase o’ discs is mighty impressive. What are
we looking at here? Maybe a thousand CDs and 500
DVDs? A monster collection like that must be a tremendous joy — except, of course, when you actually
want to find something. You can alphabetize them,
use the Dewey Decimal System, or any other scheme,
but that one CD might be in your wife’s car, your kid’s
boombox, or your toddler’s mouth. Speaking of 2-yearolds, I know one who passionately loves to rearrange
shiny discs into an ordering that only his secret
genius can fathom. The fact is, the bigger the
forest, the harder it is to find a certain tree.
THE SOLUTION Throw away all your
discs, of course. Whoa! Wait a second — let me
explain. In other words, move all that precious entertainment to a server. That’s not as scary as it sounds.
I’m not suggesting that you call IBM and have a mainframe installed in your living room. Servers can be
a PC, a dedicated box with a big hard-disk drive, or
as simple as an iPod. Whichever way you go, you’d
be transforming that brimming collection of discs
into an easy-to-manage collection of digital files. So
instead of a wall of CDs and DVDs, you’d have a hard
drive loaded with your favorite music and movies. (Of
course, most folks will hang onto their discs for archival purposes or at least back up their newly minted
electronic collection on a secondary drive.)
The advantages of file storage are compelling. For
starters, apart from the server itself, files don’t take
up any space. And you can organize and classify to
your heart’s content without ever touching a CD or
DVD, build playlists for any occasion, and find any
song you want in a matter of seconds. No more hunting for missing discs in the kids’ rooms or under a car
seat. (Sure, you can do that with a CD or DVD megachanger, but it’s easier and faster with a server.) Last
but not least, you’ll be able to set up a wired or wireless network around your server that lets you access
your collection from anywhere in the house.
So, a server is the clear winner, right? Well, that
depends on what you want to use it for. Music can eat
up a decent amount of disk space but video takes up
more — a lot more. With modest data compression
that doesn’t compromise sound quality, you can fit
1,000 CDs on a reasonably priced server, but several
hundred DVDs copied without additional compression
will require a much bigger investment in drive capacity and might raise some legal questions. For example,
Hollywood is challenging the legality of movie servers
like the Kaleidescape (our February/March 2004 review
is on the S&V Web site) that let you store copies of
your DVDs on a huge hard drive.
Still, manufacturers are hotly pursing this new
market. We’ve reviewed a number of servers. For
example, Yamaha’s MusicCAST (September 2003) has
a CD drive, an 80-GB hard drive, and Wi-Fi to send
music wirelessly throughout your house. The Escient
DVDM-300 (June 2005, bottom right) ups the ante, ripping CDs to its 300-GB hard drive and controlling up
to three DVD/CD changers. And the awesome Xperinet
Polaris (June 2005, bottom left) can deliver up to seven
streams of movies from its 1.25 terabytes of storage.
(All of these reviews are on our Web site.) That’s just
the beginning.
LOOKING AHEAD To serve or not to serve?
If you’re a trendsetter, a server is the way to go. It’s
simply more elegant and convenient than discs. And
as prices come down, servers will proliferate. Look
for an explosion of fully integrated systems that can
acquire, store, organize, and distribute all your entertainment assets. As we break the habit of buying and
playing discs or copying them to memory, we’ll skip
the disc part and just buy files to store on home servers. It’s possible we’ll eventually skip personal storage
altogether in favor of on-demand delivery from some
huge central server. Either way, whether it’s in your
home or hidden in a silo in North Dakota, the advantages of a server make it the bookcase of the future.
Having a
monster CD
and DVD
collection is
a tremendous joy —
except when
you actually
want to find
The problem
is, the bigger
the forest,
the harder
it is to find a
certain tree.
Out of Control
THE PROBLEM See if this doesn’t sound
familiar: You’ve just upgraded to a new home theater
system with an HDTV and surround sound, but now
no one can figure out how to use it! Even writing notes
to yourself like, “To watch a movie, put the TV on
Input 1 and the receiver on DVD,” isn’t enough to prevent occasionally getting sound but no picture, or vice
versa. Having to continually switch inputs is making the whole family homicidal, and the prospect of
mastering the mound of remote controls frightens
even the bravest souls. You’re thinking about getting satellite radio but
you tremble at the idea of adding
yet another remote!
There has to be a
better way, right?
You’ve just
upgraded to
a new home
system, but
no one can
figure out THE
how to use SOLUTION
This is a common
it! Even the dilemma, and
“simplest” unfortunately,
systems can even the “simplest” home
be tricky to theater systems
operate. can be tricky to
operate. Just playing
a DVD can take six or
more button presses
on multiple remotes
and make anyone feel
like committing a felony! Even though some receivers come with so-called “universal” remotes designed to handle all the control
chores for your home theater, these are rarely easy
to use. Sometimes they lack the buttons essential for
system operation. Other times they’re so poorly laid
out that they cause more
frustration than satisfaction. What you need is
a system controller that
makes operating your gear
simple enough for anyone
in the household.
A great controller is
not only
easy for even the most technophobic member of the
family to use with little or no instruction but powerful
enough to handle every chore necessary to operate a
system day in and out. One of my current favorites is
the Harmony 676 (bottom left). At $199, this remote can
tame most systems while remaining a breeze to operate. One of its best features is a Help button that walks
you through all the steps necessary for getting back
on track. Plus, Harmony’s Web-based interface
greatly reduces programming time and aggravation. (Pete Pachal looked at the Harmony 880 in the July/August
At $1,399 (plus programming costs — professional assistance
required), the Niles
IntelliControl (bottom right) isn’t
foolin’ around. This
remote uses radio
frequencies to
beam commands
through walls
(and cabinets) and
will have you controlling your system
instead of the other
way around. A single
button press is all it
takes to do nearly anything — including lowering
the lights, closing the drapes,
and powering up your components.
LOOKING AHEAD It’s likely that remotes
will always be with us in one form or another, but
in the future, look for gear to be controlled via their
own Web browsers. Logging onto a Web page using a
computer, PDA, or cellphone will let you operate your
system from anywhere in your home — or the world.
It will all be done through a slick graphical interface,
and each piece of gear will report its status — TV on
Input 3, receiver on DVD input at 80% volume, DVD
Chapter 3, and so on. Also, as more
components incorporate connections like HDMI or FireWire
that carry control commands
along with audio/video
information, the parts of
your system will be able
to “talk” to one another.
So as your DVD player
powers up, it will tell
your receiver and TV
to turn on and go to
the proper input. The
next step will be for it to tell
your fridge to bring you a beer!
The Sound
of Style U
Three surround speaker packages
bound to please both eyes and ears
nlike oxygen, food,
or water, surround
sound isn’t necessary
for survival. But if you
recently upgraded to a
slim, big-screen HDTV,
you’re probably feeling a need to
update the audio part of your system with something equally tasty.
Home theater used to mean huge
tower speakers or chunky satellites paired with subwoofers that
took up as many cubic feet as an
SUV’s gas tank. But a new trend in
speaker design has yielded a flock
of systems that match the trim
new video displays.
We pulled together a group of
three sleek, stylish packages priced
between $2,000 and $2,500: the
Infinity Total Solutions TSS-4000
($2,394), Mirage’s Omnisat V2 series
($2,400), and Polk Audio’s RM30
($2,080). In addition to stylin’ looks,
these systems can be installed in a
number of configurations. And
each comes with hardware for
wall-mounting the satellite speakers or placing them on bookshelves
or stands. So let’s fire up the plasma
and get down to business.
For the lab report on these three
systems, go to the S&V Web site.
ne technique speaker
makers are using to slim
down their offerings is to
switch to rigid aluminum
cabinets that can be shaped into
trim profiles. With its gleaming
all-metal satellites and subwoofer,
Infinity’s Total Solutions TSS-4000
rig would fit right into a futuristic,
robot-assisted home theater. The
system I tested consists of three
matched TSS-SAT4000 satellites
for the front left/right and center
channels, a pair of smaller TSSSAT1100 sats for the surrounds,
and the TSS-SUB750 subwoofer.
Each satellite comes with a base
for shelf or stand mounting plus
a sturdy metal wall bracket that
swivels the speaker up to 30° offcenter. Infinity also offers sturdy
aluminum stands that make a
sweet match for both the 4000s
and the 1100s ($279 each and $179
a pair, respectively).
I placed the left/right TSS-4000s
alongside my plasma TV stand
about 3 feet out from the front wall
and the center speaker on a shelf
directly beneath the TV. The sub
went into the front corner of my
room. I particularly appreciated
the TSS-1100’s tall stands, which
positioned the speakers a foot or
two above my seated ear level — a
good elevation for surround speakers. Slim speakers tend to have
limited bass, so I set my processor
for a fairly high, 120-Hz low-pass
setting to filter the low frequencies
out of the main channels and pass
them to the subwoofer.
Turning first to trusted CDs to get a
grip on the Infinity system’s stereo
performance, I spun the jazzy
“Outlaws” from Bill Frisell, Dave
Holland, and Elvin Jones. I was
quickly impressed by the SUB750’s
performance. Dave Holland’s
walking acoustic-bass lines came
across as full and authoritative,
hitting all the low notes without
sounding boomy. The upper bass
notes were slightly thin, but I got
a good sense overall of the instrument’s heft and body. Listening
next to The Shins’ “Pink Bullets,”
I found the vocals clear and sibilants neither harsh nor overemphasized. And when the harmonica solo kicked in, it had a balanced
tone, at once brassy and sweet.
I hadn’t heard much music from
Rammstein — a German band that
can best be described as Metallica meets the Third Reich in the
Matrix — but when a friend told
me that the singer sets himself on
fire during concerts, I had to check
out their new DVD, Live aus Berlin.
Playing the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix
of the anthemic “Rammstein,” the
Infinity rig delivered an excellent
sense of arena-crowd ambience. I
felt as if I was right there in Berlin
and could follow the path of the
fans’ whistles and howls behind
me. The singer’s guttural growling sounded full and clear through
the center speaker. And the system
didn’t flinch at loud volumes.
Cranked up, the dynamic
impact of the drums was nothing
short of thunderous, with snare
hits sounding slamming and crisp,
and the kick drum low and tight.
Oh, yeah — the guy did sing with
his jacket on fire.
Turning to a scene in I, Robot
where Detective Del Spooner (Will
Smith) is chased through an underground tunnel by a fleet of nasty
robots, I had another opportunity
to hear the Infinity system shine in
surround. As the escaping detective ran his vehicle up against
fast facts
TSS-SAT4000/CENTER4000 front
speakers 3⁄4-in tweeter, two 31⁄2 in midranges, four 31⁄2 -in woofers;
SAT4000, 23 in high, CENTER4000,
23 in wide
■ TSS-SAT1100 surround 3⁄4 -in
tweeter, two 31⁄2 -in midranges; 91⁄4
in high
■ TSS-SUB750 subwoofer 10-in
driver; 150-watt amp; crossover
bypass; 10 3⁄4 x 16 3⁄4 x 153⁄4 in, 33 lbs
■ Aluminum cabinets and finish
■ $2,394
■ infinitysystems.com, 516-674-4463
the sides of the tunnel, spattering glass and robot parts along
the way, the sats conveyed a vivid
sonic image of ricocheting debris.
It was actually one of the most
impressive surround sound performances I’ve heard in my room.
And when the bass kicked in, I felt
it in my bones. Dialogue coming
from the center speaker, meanwhile, was consistently clear and
natural, even at off-center seats on
my couch.
With its clean, all-metal looks,
slim profile, and slamming performance, Infinity’s TSS-4000 system is an excellent option for any
home theater. But its versatile
wall-mounting options make it an
especially ideal solution for rooms
where floor space is at a premium.
Even after I took them down, the
Infinity speakers’ great looks and
sound left a lasting impression.
Omnisat V2 series
My setup followed pretty much the
same lines as for the Infinity system. Both the V2 CC and V2 surround satellites come with hardware for wall and ceiling mounts,
and Mirage also offers stands ($149
fast facts
Omnipolar design for 360° sound
V2 FS tower 1-in tweeter, 41⁄2 -in
midrange, two 41⁄2 -in woofers, four
41⁄2 -in passive radiators; 45 in high
■ V2 CC center 3⁄4 -in tweeter, 3-in
midrange, two 41⁄2 -in woofers; 171⁄8
in wide
■ V2 surround 1-in tweeter, 41⁄ 2 -in
woofer; 8 in high
■ S10 subwoofer 10-in driver; 200watt amp; crossover bypass; 143⁄4 x
17 x 181⁄2 in, 41 lbs
■ Aluminum satellite cabinets
■ Brushed black or silver finish on towers and center; platinum/black, black,
silver, or white on surrounds; black or
platinum on subwoofer
■ $2,400
■ miragespeakers.com, 416-321-1800
a pair) for the surrounds, though I
ended up using my own stands.
Listening first in stereo with the
V2 tower/S10 sub combination, I
played my trusty Bill Frisell CD.
Mirage’s claims for spacious,
involving sound were quickly verified: the ride cymbal had a crisp,
open sound that conveyed complex overtones and texture, and
the processed electric-guitar
sounds were cast with a width and
depth that belied the slim towers’
appearance. In Frisell’s version of
“Moon River,” the acoustic-guitar
leads had a smooth, natural tone.
Unaided by the subwoofer, the V2
towers produced passable bass.
With the sub in the mix, the sound
was strikingly full, with Dave Holland’s acoustic-bass lines coming
through cleanly from the top to the
bottom of the scale.
When I fired up
Rammstein, the
Omnipolar sats
did a great job
of conveying concert ambience, with
discrete handclaps
cutting through the
general roar. A synthesized propeller sound was consistently solid as
it arced across the
front and then the
rear channels, and
the singer’s monstrous voice sounded
full and clear coming
from the V2 center
speaker. Dynamics
overall were excellent
— just what you want
for heavy metal. I was
also impressed at how
cleanly the sub rendered both the bass
guitar and kick drum.
of conveying the sense of threat
— signaled here by a terrifying
swell of bass — as massive robot
carriers surround his car in the
tunnel. During the ensuing chase,
surround effects like robot carcasses smashing against concrete
walls sounded clear, with a pinpoint sense of placement in space.
All in all, the Mirages did a powerful job of evoking the tunnel’s subterranean atmosphere. I was also
impressed with the performance
of the V2 center speaker. For example, in a subsequent scene where a
doctor examines a robot, dialogue
stayed just as clear when I shifted
my position to an off-center seat.
ith their thin aluminum cabinets and
sculptured look, the
speakers in Mirage’s
V2 series appear to come from
the same universe as the Infinity system. But take a closer peek
and you’ll see a difference. The
speakers in the Mirage package are
Omnipolar models featuring a topmounted midrange/tweeter array.
An additional component called
the Omniguide, a saucer-shaped
deflector that hovers directly
above the driver, directs the sound
in a spherical 360° pattern. The
idea is to maximize the level of
reflected sound coming from the
speaker to create a wider, deeper,
more lifelike presentation.
The system’s anchor is the
Omnisat V2 FS tower, each of
which comes with a temperedglass base that provides both
metal spikes and rubber feet
for carpet or bare-floor installations. Rounding out the system
are the V2 CC center speaker, V2
surrounds, and S10 subwoofer, a
handsome wood-veneered model.
If spacious sound in a sleek package is what you’re after, Mirage’s
V2 FS tower-based system will
be a no-brainer. Of the three systems here, I found its sound to be
the most refined and involving with music, and its
dynamics on action
movies left little to
be desired. Oh, yeah
— if I didn’t make this
clear enough before:
the dark-toned system
looks totally badass.
It was a perfect visual
match for my blackframed plasma. Mirage
obviously set out to do
something special in
designing this system,
and it shows. A fantastic value overall.
When I returned to
Will Smith and his
character’s plight
in I, Robot, the Mirage
system did a formidable job
Polk Audio
RM30 System
he third aluminum entry
in our lean speaker spotlight, Polk Audio’s RM30
system features satellites
likewise designed to accommodate a variety of setups, including
wall mounting. At 61⁄2 inches deep
and about 6 inches wide, Polk’s
sats are a good deal chunkier than
those in the Infinity and many
other wall-friendly systems. But
Polk gives you another installation
choice: both the RM30 satellites
used for the front left/right channels and the RM302 center speaker
come with plastic bases for table
or stand mounting. The other components of the system I tested
were the RM101 satellites, a tiny
two-way speaker that worked well
for the surround channels, and
the compact PSW404 subwoofer.
The RM101 sats come with hardware that lets you mount them to a
wall or attach them to Polk’s SA-2
stands ($89 a pair).
I installed the RM30 system following the same template as for the
previous two. The main difference
was that I used a pair of my own
stands to support the RM30 left/
right front sats. Doing so required
using the plastic base supports
that Polk includes with the speakers. These provided adequate support, but build quality was kind of
flimsy — I worried about bump-
ing into the speakers. Those concerns extended to the subwoofer,
which, though solidly constructed,
sits on four tiny plastic feet loosely
attached by nails. There are no
threaded holes for inserting carpet
spikes or other, more substantial
forms of support.
An initial stereo listen to Frisell’s
“Outlaws” on the RM30 system
indicated wide imaging, full-range
sound, and smooth integration
between the PSW404 sub and the
sats. The system handled loud volumes well: when I cranked things
up during a passage where the
guitarist lets loose with distortion
and the drums and bass get all frenetic, the sound remained clear
and well-defined. Compared with
the previous two systems, though,
cymbals sounded overly crisp. The
system’s bright voicing was readily
apparent in The Shins’ “Pink Bullets”: vocals had an edgy, sibilant
quality, and the normally smooth
keyboards sounded somewhat
Moving on to Rammstein’s
cyber-metal in 5.1-channel surround, I found much less to
be fussy about. Actually, I was
impressed: the kick drum and bass
were low-reaching and solid, the
snare-drum slam sounded decent,
and the singer’s voice was clear
as it emanated from the center
fast facts
RM30 left/right front 1-in tweeter,
two 41⁄2 -in woofers; 24 in high
■ RM302 center 1-in tweeter, two
41⁄2 -in woofers; 24 in wide
■ RM101 surround 3⁄4 -in tweeter, 31⁄2 in midrange; 7 in high
■ PSW404 subwoofer 10-in driver;
200-watt amp; crossover bypass;
135 ⁄8 x 143 ⁄8 x 161⁄2 in, 46 lbs
■ Pewter finish satellites, black finish
■ $2,080
■ polkaudio.com, 800-377-7655
speaker. The surround speakers
conveyed a palpable sense of concert ambience, and the circular
pans from the keyboard sounded
smooth as they arced around.
The RM30 system’s admirable handling of concert DVDs carried over
to movies. The tunnel chase in I,
Robot turned out to be a thrilling
ride, with directional sound effects
coming across with pinpoint
accuracy. In a scene where the
crushed remains of a large vehicle
are unexpectedly hurtled toward
Detective Spooner, the sonic trajectory as it launched from the
front of my room and landed
behind me was startlingly realistic. The subwoofer also cleanly
and tightly rendered the thunderous bass accompanying the mayhem. Finally, the subsequent chat
between the errant robot and Dr.
Susan Calvin in her lab sounded
clear, even from off-center seats.
Polk Audio’s RM30 system has
what it takes to deliver surround
sound excitement with movies and
concert DVDs. Overall, I found its
sound too bright for my tastes during stereo listening with jazz and
folk-influenced acoustic music,
but I liked its deep, clean bass and
wide imaging. While its build quality and style paled a bit compared
with the other systems, it’s more
than $300 cheaper, and Polk’s versatile installation options also help
even the score.
uying a home theater system used to
mean going to a swanky boutique where
a designer deftly guided you through the
process. Like a tailored suit, your system
was carefully assembled one component
at a time after hours of diligent auditioning. But to get this kind of high-end service you usually had to have a high-end credit-card limit — which
immediately placed these systems beyond the reach
of most people. Thankfully, as the demand for home
theater grew, more affordable gear began to appear at
the big electronics stores.
But a lot of people still found it too hard to pick
out a complete system à la carte, so many companies started packaging everything together — and the
home theater in a box (HTiB) was born. Today, buying a system can be as simple as phoning QVC or just
tossing a box into your shopping cart at Wal-Mart!
This isn’t entirely a bad thing, because any kind
of home theater speaker setup is usually better than
just using a TV’s meager speakers. And many systems
are so cheap that they’ve brought surround sound to
people who otherwise couldn’t have afforded a home
theater setup.
But then there are the people who pick up really
cheap HTiB systems at the same time they’re paying
several grand for high-tech flat-panel LCD or plasma
HDTVs. They can afford something better, but the
sound part of the equation gets short shrift for whatever reason. If you find yourself in that category — or
have been thinking about buying an all-in-one setup
just to keep things simple — read on. Here are ten
steps that will help you break out of your box and get
into better sound!
Breaking Out of the Box
If you spent $5,000 on your TV but only
$500 on your speakers, it’s time to
get some better sound BY JOHN SCIACCA
The first step is to evaluate your
current system and see if you can
salvage any of its components.
While a total “out with the old, in
with the new” philosophy is great if
you have the bucks, hanging on to some
of these golden oldies can save your budget.
Source components like tape decks and VCRs are prime
candidates for recycling, because you probably don’t have
many options for playing your old audio cassettes and
VHS tapes. And you can always change them out later.
Before hanging on to any of the components from your
HTiB, make sure they work with other gear — and are just
plain worth salvaging. (To be honest, though, most HTiB
systems use the cheapest components possible and probably shouldn’t be used in your new rig.) Often, the speakers
have proprietary connectors or must run through the bass
module for proper equalization. Also, speakers are typically rated at 4 to 8 ohms. If yours are outside that range,
they might pose a challenge to your new system. Is the
subwoofer up to the task of anchoring your new rig? HTiB
systems often include a wimpy bass module that can’t
produce the kind of deep, loud bass you get in a good
movie theater. Does the receiver have enough inputs to
accommodate your current and future gear?
Remember: you want to upgrade for better performance.
If something doesn’t meet that goal, kick it to the curb.
Set a realistic budget for your new system. The test reports
in Sound & Vision will give you a good starting
point for what gear is likely to cost — just
keep in mind that actual selling prices
are almost always less than list prices.
Neither the bottom nor top of the line
is usually right for most people. You
can assemble a great system by shopping in the middle of the line.
Decent 5.1-channel surround
speaker packages (sans electronics)
start around $600, with lots of options
in the $1,000 to $2,000 range. As your
budget goes up, you’ll get into models with
larger, better-performing drivers, graduate
from small bookshelf speakers to towers (at least in front),
and see cabinets with real wood veneers.
If you decide to buy a separate subwoofer and satellite
speakers instead of a complete system, you’ll find that a
good sub can eat up half (or more) of your speaker budget
— starting around $350. More money equals more output
(louder) and more impact (lower).
The receiver is the heart, mind, and soul of your system,
so don’t skimp on it. While models start as low as $300, you
should probably avoid buying the cheapest one. Since everything plugs into the receiver, the additional inputs offered
on more expensive models should be incentive enough for
paying at least a little more up front.
If you’re not going to significantly improve the performance of your existing system, why bother upgrading?
You’d be better off saving a little longer until you can afford
a system really worth owning.
Since your HTiB probably came with a receiver (or DVD/
receiver combo), you might be wondering why you should buy a new one.
I’m glad you asked!
To meet the aggressive pricing
of these systems, costs must be
cut, and one of the fi rst things to
go is power. Since the receiver
powers all of the satellite speakers, you want something with
a little muscle. When checking
specs, don’t just look at the wattage, but see how the unit is rated.
To get a sense of what’s really under the
hood, check power ratings for “all channels driven
from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.” Also, the lower the number for THD
(total harmonic distortion), the better. A beefy power supply
is heavy, so a receiver’s weight can sometimes be used as a
quick judge of quality.
Even the most basic A/V receiver often eclipses the scant
number of inputs offered by HTiB receivers. To jack in your
DVD player, gaming consoles, cable box, TiVo, and iPod,
you’ll want to make sure there are enough inputs to go
around. Equally important is the number of digital audio
inputs. With more components offering Dolby Digital and
DTS audio output, it’s a good idea to have multiple optical
and coaxial digital inputs on hand.
To avoid having to switch inputs through your TV, you’ll
want to route video signals through the receiver. While most
receivers now offer composite-, component-, and S-video
switching, the slickest models upconvert the composite- and
S-video signals and then route all incoming video signals
to a single output. This frees you from switching inputs on
your TV, which greatly simplifies day-to-day operation.
Finally, if your HTiB system is more than a year old, it
probably doesn’t include the latest surround processing
modes, like Dolby Pro Logic IIx or DTS Neo:6, which can create surprisingly good surround sound from two-channel
material like CDs and older TV shows and movies.
Just as important as a speaker’s sound is its looks. Before
shopping for a speaker system, determine what décor
issues might dictate where the speakers
will be installed. Fortunately, whatever your needs, there’s a speaker
style that allows for first-rate
Where size isn’t an issue,
large floorstanding speakers
usually deliver the best sound.
Their larger drivers reach lower
to cover virtually the entire frequency range, and some
include built-in subwoofers for even fuller bass.
If space is tight, smaller “bookshelf” models might fit the
bill. You can place these guys on shelves or in a cabinet,
but they perform best on stands and can produce terrific
sound when paired with a good subwoofer.
Recently, on-wall speakers have appeared that are
designed to be the yin to the yang of plasma and LCD TVs.
Oozing style, they both look and sound great. (For a peek
at three systems priced around $2,400, see “The Sound of
Style,” page 77.)
For décor-sensitive rooms where you don’t want to see
the speakers, nearly every manufacturer offers in-wall
models that — when properly installed — can deliver
sound rivaling that of their freestanding counterparts. Best
of all, they virtually disappear.
When no space exists for traditional speaker placement,
the ceiling can be your final frontier. Sonance, Triad, Niles,
and Speakercraft offer ceiling speakers with aimable drivers that can create a realistic and engaging soundstage
even when placed over your head.
Unlike a receiver, which can become obsolete with the
introduction of new, must-have features, great speakers
will last you a long time. Regardless of the style you select,
you’ll never regret it if you go for quality.
While it reproduces only a scant 0.3% of the
audible frequency range, a subwoofer
has a big impact on any home theater
system. I mean, when is the last
time you heard someone talking
about kick-ass treble? A subwoofer
delivers the emotion in home theater, but the only emotion a cheap
sub delivers is disappointment.
Remember those classic movie
moments? Arnold pumping shotgun
shells into the 18-wheeler? Cannonballs
shattering Captain Jack Sparrow’s Black
Pearl? The Orcs’ onslaught on Helm’s Deep? These scenes
are loaded with bass that can rattle the fillings clean out of
your head! Without floor-shaking effects, such moments
become ho-hum.
Finding a sub that plays both low and loud used to require
a monolith that would be more at home in Stonehenge than
your living room. But with new driver designs and digital
amplification, this is no longer true. Definitive Technology,
Velodyne, Sunfire, and others have subs that produce huge
sound from tiny cabinets.
Having a big driver or amp doesn’t guarantee great performance, though, and a sub that sounds impressive on movies might be boomy handling a bass guitar or drum kit. Since
it’s easy to tell if a musical bass note sounds realistic (who
really knows what an exploding Death Star sounds like?),
bring some music discs when you’re auditioning subs.
Having great bass is so important to the sound of your
system that you should spend slightly more than you originally budgeted if it will get you a much better sounding sub.
The most important component in any home theater, aside
from the receiver, is the DVD player. Since you’re likely
to be watching a lot of DVDs, buying a $49 player isn’t the
way to go. Go for a model that supports progressive-scan
(480p) playback, and look for something called “2:3 pulldown,” which provides smoother playback of
material transferred from film to video
— which includes just about any movie
DVD. If your TV has a DVI or HDMI
input, consider a player that can
take advantage of these all-digital
video connections. These players can
upconvert the DVD signal to HDTVlike resolution. If you have a large collection of music downloads, look for a
player that supports the MP3 or WMA
format. For topnotch sound, seek out models that can also play multichannel DVD-Audio
or Super Audio CD (SACD) discs — their surround sound
mixes can provide a thrilling experience rivaling a great
movie soundtrack or live performance.
If you haven’t considered satellite radio, now’s the time to
check out the Sirius and XM services. Hundreds of commercial-free, digital music stations sure would sound sweet on
that new system. The only catch: it’ll cost you $13 a month.
Decide where your new gear is going to go before you start
bringing it home. Since electronics aren’t really finicky
— they just want a relatively cool, dry, decently ventilated
place away from dust — you could just pile everything on
the floor beneath the TV. And, you could spend the rest of
your life sleeping on the couch.
When looking for a cabinet, entertainment center, rack,
or whatever, keep four things in mind: 1) Since practically
every A/V component is 17 inches wide, the cabinet interior
should be at least 20 inches wide so you can get your hands
on either side of a piece of gear. 2) Many, many wires go to
and from the receiver, so the more depth
you have to work with, the better.
Shoot for at least 20 inches.
3) It’s usually okay to stack components, but A/V receivers, satellite receivers, and some of
the new cable boxes can get
very warm and shouldn’t have
any gear placed on top of them.
4) If you want to have everything out of sight behind closed
doors but you’re worried about not
being able to use your remote control
— relax! For a couple hundred bucks, you
can set up a simple infrared (IR) repeater system that will
give your remote Superman-like X-ray vision. (For step-bystep instructions on installing an IR repeater system, see my
“Custom Installer” column from the April 2004 issue, avail➤
able on the S&V Web site.)
Until we become a truly wireless world, cables will remain
a necessary evil. Few people get excited over the prospect
of buying cables, but none of this great gear can work without them. So embrace wiring as another piece you need to
complete the home theater puzzle.
Getting the signal to each speaker requires
good speaker wire. This doesn’t mean that
vermicelli-like stuff that often comes
with HTiB speakers. Wire is described
by its gauge, with a lower number
meaning the wire is heavier
— for example, 12 gauge
is thicker than 18 gauge.
A lower gauge can be important when the runs are really long.
Think of a fire hose vs. a garden hose
— the lower gauge allows signals to flow
with less resistance. Plan to spend about 50¢ to $2 a foot
for decent cables. And use banana-plug connectors if your
speakers and receiver accept them, since they make a very
solid connection, are a breeze to plug and unplug, and are
less than $10 a pair.
You’ll need either coaxial or optical cables to send the
digital audio signals from your DVD player, game console,
and cable box to your receiver. Depending on quality and
length, these usually run $20 to $70 each.
If you’re adding a DVD-Audio or SACD player, you’ll
need analog cables — six of them — to pass along the multichannel surround sound signal. (There are a handful of
pricey components that can send the signal digitally, using
either proprietary connectors or a FireWire connection.
This greatly simplifies connection.)
Having a kitchen stocked with the best ingredients doesn’t
guarantee a terrific meal. Likewise, just having great gear
doesn’t promise a great system. Everything first needs to be
correctly set up.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of proper
speaker placement. In a perfect world, all five (or six or
seven) satellite speakers would be arrayed
in a circle with each speaker at the same
distance from the listener. But don’t
worry if your room doesn’t allow for
this — speaker makers have found
ways to compensate for less than
perfect conditions. Still, there are a
few rules you should follow for the
best sound: 1) The center speaker
should be directly above or below
the TV screen (or directly behind it if
you’re using an acoustically transparent
projection screen as in a movie theater).
2) The front left and right speakers should be equally spaced
from the center speaker, forming an equilateral triangle
with the main listening position. 3) The surround speakers
should never be ahead of the listening position.
While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of
cables involved in connecting a system, follow this simple
rule: one cable at a time. Also, you’ll never regret spending
the time to label each cable at both ends. Trust me.
If your installation requires things like running wires
inside walls or under carpeting, cutting holes in walls, or
mounting speakers — or you just want to make sure it’s
done right the first time — consider hiring a pro. The Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA
.net) has members across the country who are ready and
willing to step in.
Once everything is up and running, it’s time to sit back and
enjoy those sweet, sweet sounds. But as you go to fire up
your new system, you’ll likely notice that your coffee table
has sprouted a fungus-like population of remote controls.
While this pile is impressive in a
“Look how big mine is!” sort of
way, juggling multiple remotes
to watch a DVD gets old. Fast.
And believe me — you don’t
want to get a phone call from
your significant other when
she can’t figure out how to
get her daily fix of Oprah !
There’s a simple solution
to this madness: buy another
remote. I know it seems illogical that the solution to having too
many remotes is to get a new one.
But once you’ve got your hands on a good
universal remote, you’ll be like a Jedi with his lightsaber.
A decent universal remote runs $150 to $400 and will
turn using your system into a one-button affair. For
instance, pressing a Watch Movie button turns your TV
on and selects the proper input; turns your receiver on,
changes it to the proper input, and engages the surround
processing; and turns your DVD player on and issues the
play command. If your lights are remote-controlled, it can
dim those as well. A good remote might turn out to be the
best component you buy. I’m a big fan of Logitech’s Harmony remotes — they’re easy to use and simple to program. (For more on finding the right remote, see “No Problem,” page 73.)
omparing a home theater in a box to a well-designed
home theater system is a bit like comparing a Honda
Civic to a Porsche Carrera. Sure, they’re both cars,
and they’ll get you from Point A to Point B, but that’s
pretty much where the similarities end. While an HTiB can
be a great starter or secondary system, to take your home
theater experience to the next level, you need to break out of
the box and assemble a system designed with performance
in mind. After you upgrade, movies will virtually explode
into your living room and music will sound so realistic,
you’ll think you’re in a concert hall. Why would you want to
settle for less than that?
Surround Sound. Simplified.
Surround Sound. Simplified.
Duplicate A Complete Surround Sound System
Using A Single Speaker & Subwoofer
Cambridge SoundWorks® is proud to present the next evolutionary step in
home theater technology, SurroundWorks 200. The beauty of SurroundWorks
is that it simplifies surround sound by using only three easy to set up pieces:
a multi-channel center speaker and a compact, high performance subwoofer,
matched with an all-in-one DVD/AM/FM control center.
The entire system is wired using just two connecting cables. Engineered to
recreate surround sound with “invisible” speakers, SurroundWorks is the
perfect solution for consumers looking to add surround sound to any room
without any fuss. It’s installation and user friendly – easy to place, easy to
connect and easy to use.
SurroundWorks’ main speaker eliminates the need for mounting, wiring and
finding space for multiple speakers by using one easy to hook up and locate
single-point array – no rear speakers required. It can be wall mounted, placed
on a TV or on a tabletop, and connects with a single cable to the powered
bass module. The system’s compact powered subwoofer delivers tight, deep
bass in a compact enclosure that’s less than 1 cubic foot. The bass module
contains a 225 watt multi-channel BASH® amplifier and patented circuitry that
TV & stand not included.
makes SurroundWorks’ spacious 3-dimensional soundscape possible from
such a simple system. The SurroundWorks system is controlled with our new
AVS600 DVD tuner/control center that provides all the inputs and outputs
you’ll need for most home theater needs.
• Dolby® Digital, DTS® and Dolby ProLogic® II surround decoding
• AVS600 DVD/tuner console with functionality for CD, VCD, DVD, DVD
Audio, JPEG and MP3 playback, as well as digital AM/FM stereo tuner
with 20AM/20FM presets
• Three additional inputs are provided for connection of auxiliary A/V
sources such as a VCR, cable box, or satellite dish (2 rear panel,
1 front panel)
To Order Call: 1-800-FOR-HIFI
Or Visit: www.cambridgesoundworks.com
Try SurroundWorks in your own home for 45 days – If you don’t fall in love
with its incredible, room-filling sound, return it for a full refund.*
999 99
1-800-FOR-HIFI • www.cambridgesoundworks.com
Visit our Cambridge SoundWorks stores in New England or the San Francisco Bay area.
©2005 Cambridge SoundWorks, Inc. *45-Day Satisfaction Guarantee only applies to items purchased on our website, through our call center or at one of our retail stores. Customer is responsible for return shipping costs for website and phone orders. Not responsible for typographical errors.
These 10 discs
will push your
system to the limit
Master and Commander
The Killer Demo Chapter 4, “Under Attack.” Watching this first and
detail in this nautical tale — an effort that’s reflected in the
refreshingly natural color palette. And the Oscar-winning cinematography and Oscar-nominated special effects consistently draw
you deep into battle scenes.
The Sound Powerful surround sound and low-bass effects help to
heighten the film’s action. The dialogue is consistently clear and
natural, even as cannonballs rip through the ship’s starboard side
and careen off the port side.
most vivid of the sea battles on a big-screen HDTV with a good
surround sound system will make your heart leap into your throat.
Standout Extra Hard to choose, since the many extras take up
an entire second disc. But the 70-minute “making of” documentary is a fascinating look at how computer-generated effects
enhanced the film’s battle scenes.
This DVD offers reference-quality video and audio, and it’s a
— Al Griffin
great story to boot.
The Incredibles
(widescreen collector’s edition, Disney/Pixar)
The Picture This is the best-looking animated film ever made,
and that’s saying something. Its hyper-expressive characters
and familiar settings are rendered in sparkling detail, from the
spotty shave that gets Bob a lecture by his boss to the cracked paint
job of his laughably tiny car.
The Sound Creating a convincing fantasy world calls for some intricate
sound design, and nowhere does The Incredibles break the illusion.
In one memorable example, we hear the wash of the ocean waves as
Mom and the kids hit the water after their plane crashes, followed by a
(collector’s edition, 20th Century Fox)
The Picture Director Peter Weir strives to faithfully recreate period
dull roar just before a huge piece of missile splashes down.
The Killer Demo Chapter 23, “100-Mile Dash.” This excellent
chase scene — with Dash pursued across leagues of jungle
by soldiers in flying, bladed hovercrafts — is filled with the
kind of spectacular stunts that only animation can deliver.
Standout Extra Check out the short sequence of “Incrediblunders” on Disc 2, featuring wacky animations of hair gone crazy,
the heroes smacking into pylons or being crushed by planes, and halfrendered faces, hands, and expressions.
This is the complete package, and even if you don’t enjoy the
humor, the action, or the characters, you’ll still have the best-looking
— David Katzmaier
computer animation ever committed to disc.
The Return of the King
The Killer Demo Go to Disc 2, Chapter 46, and be sure to turn up
(special extended edition, New Line)
The Picture While it does run 4 hours and 10 min-
utes, the extended edition of Peter Jackson’s finest work
has the luxury of sprawling over two of the four discs. Even
the skies and backgrounds are clean and free of noise, and
the colorful computer-generated beasts and nefarious characters are
utterly convincing.
The Sound The music score fills the room during the rousing battle
scenes, giving way to the dynamic clash of armor against sword or
the deep crunch of huge stones caving in the walls of Minas Tirith.
the volume until you can clearly hear King Theoden of Rohan
riding across the front line of his cavalry, exhorting the troops
in a death-embracing speech. Now leave the volume turned up
for the visual and sonic onslaught to follow.
Standout Extra The documentary J.R.R. Tolkien: The Legacy
of Middle-earth skillfully weaves interviews, still photos, and scenes
from the movie into a focused half-hour filled with insights and trivia
about Tolkien’s inspirations and influences.
This DVD is the best of the Lord of the Rings series and one of the
best boxed sets ever produced.
— D.K.
The Empire Strikes Back
(Star Wars Trilogy, widescreen edition,
20th Century Fox)
The Picture The crystal-clear look of the
restored film on DVD is even more impressive
when you remember the laserdisc or VHS version.
The Imperial Star Destroyers, snow speeders,
and walkers look hyper-realistic, putting the computer-generated ships in Revenge of the Sith to
shame. And everything from the hurtling asteroids
to Yoda’s toad-like skin comes across with new
The Sound As you’d expect from the people who
brought you THX, the restored
soundtrack is amazing. John Williams’s timeless score plays throughout the action-packed two hours,
complementing the splat-splat of the
blasters during the battles and establishing the spooky atmosphere of
The Killer Demo Chapter 14, “Battle in the Snow.”
We get our first look at the awesome Imperial walkers during this 10-minute spectacle as Luke’s
speeder squadron hurtles over the snow toward
their towering forms. Note how Lucas’s portrayal of
meteoric speed in the cockpits alternates with wide
shots of intricately choreographed flight patterns.
Standout Extra The Birth of the Lightsaber is the
best featurette. If you ever wondered how a sword
could compete in a world of laser guns, this is a
The best film from the original trilogy, Empire is
— D.K.
stunningly restored on DVD.
Spider-Man 2 (Superbit, Sony)
The Picture While Spider-Man 2 deservedly won an Oscar for Visual
Effects, the image quality is nothing exceptional. The picture on the
standard DVD often seems slightly washed out, like it was in movie
theaters. But on a big screen, Sony’s Superbit version has a vividness that
notches up the now-famous clashes between Doc Ock and Spidey.
The Sound The movie got Oscar nominations for Sound and Sound Editing, no
doubt because of the high-voltage action scenes, which contain myriad small
sonic details placed convincingly in an equally dynamic surround mix.
The Killer Demo Chapter 42, “The Train.” The editing of action, sound, and music
kicks what could have been just another “fight atop a moving vehicle” sequence
into high gear. And don’t forget Chapter 39’s “car thrown through a window”
Standout Extra Because the Superbit version uses all the disc space for video
and sound, there aren’t any extras.
You’re in for a great ride, on or off the train.
— David Ranada
The Bourne Supremacy (widescreen edition, Universal)
The Picture The old-world European architecture that
serves as a background for much of the movie comes
through with crisp highlights and rich shadow detail.
And the surprisingly natural-looking skin tones are a
good starting point for tweaking your TV’s color.
The Sound Equal parts evocative ambience and
dynamic slam, the excellent sonics help to drive the
story and keep your adrenaline pumping.
The Killer Demo Chapter 16, “On the Run.” Jason Bourne
uses any means necessary, including cars, trains, and boats, to
elude a dragnet. Lots of exciting surround effects trail Bourne as
he throws an entire city into chaos.
Standout Extra “Blowing Things Up” gives a detailed
explanation of how the pyrotechnics crew pulled off
exploding a suburban home, complete with real flying
A thinking person’s action movie that will keep you on
the edge of your seat.
— A.G.
Pirates of
the Caribbean
(collector’s edition, Disney)
The Picture With the seagoing passages set
mostly under sunny skies — it is the Caribbean,
after all —the oceanic sparkle combines with
deep natural shadows to produce unusually realistic images with fine details.
The Sound Effects are placed in the Dolby Digital EX mix with unusual sensitivity. For instance,
Johnny Depp’s rescue of Keira Knightley in
Chapter 3 includes a terrific sequence of subtle
and layered effects — from underwater bubbling
to gunshots whizzing past your ears.
The Killer Demo While most people would probably choose Chapter 11, “The Battle,” with its
pounding ship-to-ship cannonades, I’d recommend the passage in Chapter 3 where Depp first
encounters Orlando Bloom. Their swordfight is a
tough test for an HDTV’s ability to portray details
in deep shadows.
Standout Extra The “Fly on the Set” featurettes on
Disc 2 focus on the kind of production details I’d
have shot if I could have wandered around during
filming, camcorder in hand.
Depp’s over-the-top performance is nicely set
— D.R.
off by the rich sounds and images.
The Matrix Revolutions (widescreen edition, Warner)
The Picture While Revolutions has the stylized green and gray color
palette featured throughout the Matrix series, the image quality is terrific. The
disc features deep, deep blacks that still retain plenty of detail and definition.
The Sound This DVD has everything you’d expect from a reference recording.
Sound effects are convincingly located, dialogue is easy to understand, and
nearly every scene bursts with surround action, whether full-blown effects or
subtle ambience to draw you into the action. Make sure your furniture is bolted
down to withstand the steady battering it’s going to take from your subwoofer!
The Killer Demo Chapter 17, “Breaching the Dome.” You’ll be taken to the edge of
sensory overload as the machines invade Zion amidst a swirling hail of lead that
erupts from every corner of the room.
Standout Extra The second disc has several featurettes that offer a closer look
into the making of the film. Especially intriguing is a multi-angle version of the
Super Burly Brawl.
This exciting conclusion to The Matrix Trilogy offers a roller-coaster ride of A/V
— John Sciacca
thrills that will push any home theater to its limits.
Hero (Miramax)
The Picture I’m not one to gush over cinematography, but the sumptuous
visuals in Hero are a smorgasbord for the eyes, with deeply saturated colors establishing the mood in every scene.
The Sound The surround channels are used engagingly throughout, either
to create a sense of space or to convey thousands of arrows flying overhead.
Detailed sounds like individual raindrops or the pluck of a string are as convincing
as the loud crash and clang of swords. Hero won’t give your sub a constant workout, but the bass kicks in hard when the action calls for it.
The Killer Demo If you’ve doubted how back surround speakers can enhance the
home theater experience, check out Chapter 7 on a 6.1-channel system. Sound
swirls around the room, perfectly tracking the action onscreen.
Standout Extra “Hero Defined” shows how director Zhang Yimou went to perfectionist lengths to get his shots, especially for the lake fight in Chapter 8.
If you avoid foreign films because you don’t like subtitles, Hero’s amazing
action, terrific sound, and compelling story will change your mind.
— J.S.
I, Robot
(widescreen edition,
20th Century Fox)
The Picture I, Robot relies heavily on computergenerated backgrounds to create its future world,
but the pseudo-environments are painstakingly
crafted and crammed with detail.
The Sound Lots of action in the surround channels
during even quiet scenes gives the movie a lively
feel. And the low-bass effects in action sequences
— chase scenes in particular — will leave lesser
subs puffing to keep up.
The Killer Demo Chapter 18, “You Are Experiencing a Car Accident.” There’s fear-inducing bass
as a pair of robot carriers encircle Will Smith’s
car in a tunnel. The flurry of screeching wheels
and crunching robot parts during his subsequent
escape is surround sound mixing at its finest.
Standout Extra A gratuitous trailer for Fox’s TV sitcom Arrested Development stands out, but not in
a good way. Why do some studios litter DVDs with
promotional materials for unrelated projects?
I, Robot might not be the best sci-fi movie ever
made, but it still makes for an exciting home
— A.G.
theater ride.
What’s in Store
Tweeter tests a radical
new way to shop
for your entertainment
he days of going to an electronics store,
choosing from a lineup of components,
and carrying your selection out to the
trunk of your car might be fading fast.
We now want our entertainment with us
all the time, wherever we go, but few of
us have the time to wade through the overwhelming proliferation of gear being created to address that
desire. Things like home theaters, multiroom entertainment systems, and home networks are inherently
complex, and retailers are realizing that the best way
to make them palatable to the average person is to
simplify shopping as much as possible.
That’s why you might begin to see more stores go
down the path chosen by Tweeter Entertainment’s
prototype outlet in the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin, Nevada. The venerable specialty chain, which
started in New England in the 1970s, now has 160
stores and recently branched out into places like Florida and Illinois. But none of its stores offer the dramatically different experience you’ll find in Las Vegas.
Here, “home within the store” settings show gear
integrated into typical rooms, and you’re encouraged
to think in terms of systems rather than individual
components. Intrigued by this vision of shopping’s
future, we went to Vegas for a closer look.
Family Night In
Body Shop
Digital Playground
It’s obvious from the moment you
walk in that this store focuses on
home-entertainment solutions, not
stuff. Instead of shelves lined with
gear, boxes stacked in the aisles,
and the din of cash registers, you
get an open floor plan that’s clean,
quiet, and inviting. Imagine a cross
between an Apple store and Ikea,
and you’ll get the idea.
As soon as I arrived, I was
greeted by Katie, the concierge
— like being greeted by the maitre d’ at an upscale restaurant.
She asked pleasantly if I wanted
something in particular or was just
looking around. When I told her I
was just browsing, she handed me
a detailed map so I could take a
self-guided tour. The oval space is
designed to let you walk through at
your own pace without any salespeople hovering — a big plus in my
Much of the store is taken up by
the room settings, ranging from
the “What’s Cookin’ ” kitchen —
which includes a Sony under-thecabinet LCD TV/radio and Westinghouse’s iCEBOX PC/DVD/TV
with waterproof keyboard — to the
“Family Night In” living room featuring HP’s Digital Entertainment
Center PC. Able to handle movie
and music playback, gaming,
recording, networking, and more,
the HP unit is meant to be your
house’s audio/video hub.
The centerpiece of the “Body
Shop” bathroom is Philips’s $2,000
MiraVision — a mirror with a 17inch LCD screen across the bottom
so you can watch the news while
brushing your teeth. The “Insomniac’s Dream” bedroom features a
42-inch plasma TV that rises from
the Cabinet Tronix chest at the
foot of the bed.
In the “Digital Playground,”
you’ll find a videogame system
featuring big-screen action and
the kind of high-impact sound you
expect from home theater. Browsers are encouraged to experience
the latest games in full-blown surround. The gear here includes an
Xbox console, a Sony 55-inch rearprojection LCD TV, Artison speakers, and MartinLogan’s Dynamo
You emerge from the room settings to a huge wall of TVs, including flat-panel plasma and LCD displays from brands like Pioneer,
Samsung, and Panasonic, starting
at $3,000. Across from the TVs is
the “On the Go” area, which highlights iPods, XM and Sirius satellite radios, Tivoli table radios, and
more. Everything is out in the open
for you to pick up and play with.
At the back of the showroom
floor, I came across “The BigScreen Adventure” — a room
tricked out in $250,000 of the finest home theater gear. Featuring
a Sony Qualia 004 front projector,
a 10-foot Stewart screen, a Kaleidescape DVD movie server, and
JBL’s 7.4 Synthesis Series surround
speaker system, it made watching
things like the famous speederbike chase in Return of the Jedi
exhilarating. The setup even has
D-Box Quest motion-simulator
chairs that sway, tilt, and shake
in sync with the onscreen action.
If watching movies in this room
doesn’t motivate you to get out
your credit card, nothing will!
Next door is the “Sound Stage,”
dedicated to demo’ing audio
options. While there were traditional floorstanding speakers and
plasma-friendly on-wall systems,
most of the speakers sold here are
“architectural” — ceiling, in-wall,
and outdoor models. The store
caters to people who want great
sound but also want the speakers to blend into the look of their
homes. Brands include Artison,
Boston Acoustics, Polk Audio, MartinLogan, Sapphire, and Mirage.
Right before circling back to the
front of the store, you come across
the “Collaboratorium” — a glasswalled conference room where you
review what you’re planning to buy
before breaking out the plastic.
What Tweeter considers to be the
most important part of the store
is located, appropriately enough,
right in the middle. Made up of
four sets of tables and chairs, the
“Design Studio” is where you sit
down with a salesperson to discuss your situation and consider
the possibilities.
While Tweeter would love to sell
you a complete home theater in
one visit, the reality is that people
tend to buy systems in stages. “The
first time a customer is here, he
might just walk around and we’ll
give him some ideas,” says store
manager Hector Menna. “Next,
we set up a visit where the salesperson, a field supervisor, and an
installer go to his home to determine the best solution. Then we
write up a proposal, and when the
customer comes back in, we discuss it.
“You don’t see a lot of boxes
moving out of here,” explains
Menna. “The idea isn’t to sell a TV
but to sell a solution. And a big
part of that is the in-home survey.
Someone might come in thinking
he wants a plasma TV for watching
movies. But once we find out all
the factors involved, we might recommend a different kind of TV.”
Because the store relies on
salespeople to make specific recommendations and forgoes aisles
and aisles of product displays,
it doesn’t have to stock as many
components as a typical Circuit
City or Best Buy. “Until recently,
this was a product-driven business,” says Menna. “But the amazing flexibility of digital gear has
shifted the focus from individual
products to systems. Also, people used to want everything to be
Sony or everything to be Yamaha,
depending on what components
they already had. But our customers trust us to build a system that
will accomplish what they want.”
While they can create completely customized systems, the
members of the sales team also
rely on packaged systems they
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know are sure hits. “It simplifies
the options,” says Menna. “We
have packages where you can
walk in and buy everything in the
room.” For instance, the Family
Night In system — which includes
a 56-inch Samsung DLP TV, Denon
components, and Polk speakers
— sells for $10,200. (The HP Media
Center PC is extra.)
Another unusual aspect of the
store is the emphasis on custom
installation. “The vast majority of
sales here involve some kind of
installation,” says Menna, “which
is why having the staff come out
for a home visit is so important.”
About 60 of the larger stores
in the Tweeter chain have been
revamped along the lines of this
one, with the rest scheduled to
follow over the next five years.
“Where we used to have three
rooms devoted to audio, we’ve
taken down one of those rooms
and put up a package room with
different settings and home theater displays priced from $5,000
to $18,000,” says Tweeter CEO Joe
Maguire. “That concept comes
right out of Vegas.”
Maguire won’t say how closely
the other stores will follow the
Vegas model, but the goal is to
make shopping easier and more
enjoyable for customers from the
minute they walk in until their
products are installed. “A traditional electronics store is all about
the stuff,” he says. “In Vegas, we
answer the question, ‘What does
the stuff do for you?’ ”
TV Showcase
Big-Screen Adventure
here’s no doubt that Tweeter’s new store is impressive, and it’s just common
sense that people would
want to audition gear in a relaxing environment where systems
can be seen in the best possible
light. But old-fashioned “tire kickers” are likely to be frustrated that
they can’t check out a variety of
components at a certain price,
and some people might equate the
store’s upscale settings with “too
expensive for me.” Whether the
Vegas concept ultimately succeeds
remains to be seen. But for now it
offers a stroll into the future that’s
worth taking.
Design Studio
My Digital
How I discovered
the future of
movies in my
very own home
When we last visited director Barry Sonnenfeld (February/March 2004), he was
a man without a home theater. Having sold his house
in Amagansett, New York,
and not yet ready to move
to Telluride, Colorado,
he had to watch DVDs in
the screening room at his
East Hampton, New York,
offices. Barry has since
settled into a house in East
Hampton as he awaits
his move to Colorado.
Here he tells how setting
up a home theater in his
interim abode unexpectedly gave him a glimpse of
cinema’s future.
selling our
home in
four years
before we
intended to move to Telluride, I found myself
living in a house with
a huge basement that
had the potential to be a
home theater. The screening room in my old house
was designed for 35mm
film projection. The movies I directed had been
edited in East Hampton,
and we would often look
at the work in progress in
my home theater. Movies
like Men in Black and Wild
Wild West had hundreds
of optical effects shots that
we would screen for contrast, color, and sharpness.
The room also had an analog Sony video projector
— a great CRT model with
9-inch tubes.
The last film I directed,
Men in Black II, although
shot on film, spent most of
its life in the digital world.
The film dailies were
transferred to video and
then edited digitally (as
almost all films are, with
the exception of Steven
Spielberg’s — Steven still
insists on editing on film).
All of our recruited-audience screenings — where
we invite three hundred
people who don’t know
how to spell to watch our
movie and comment on it
— were projected digitally.
It wasn’t until we had finished the project that we
cut the negative and made
film prints for the theaters.
I was also getting sound
mixes in Dolby Digital surround sent to me over the
Internet, which were then
downloaded to my computer and synced to the
film projectors for viewing.
When I was in Los Angeles directing MIB II in 2001,
Texas Instruments set up
a demo of its latest digital
projector in a local theater.
The image was extraordinary — the only thing
missing was the projector flicker we’re used to
seeing in movie theaters.
I could tell that a change
was quickly coming. When
it came time to build a
theater in my new home,
I realized that the future
was digital and that 35mm
projection was no longer
needed for either my work
or my viewing pleasure.
Although the Sony CRT
projector I had in the old
house produced a beautiful image, it needed
biyearly tweaking, and I
really wanted to see what
a 16:9 high-def digital proector could do. I inter-
I prefer livingroom furniture in
my home theater
so I can nap or
cuddle with loved
ones. (That’s Get
Shorty on the
Installer John Tamburello, pizza and coffee out of sight but with a 102°
temperature, helps me test the Qualia before moving it up into the soffit.
although this was quite an expensive architectural detail, it was
worth it, since it also isolates the
projector from cigar smoke. The
cigars created additional expenses
due to the installation of industrialstrength smoke eaters as well as a
variably controlled ozonator to kill
any smoke odors.
viewed several installers and hired
the amusing, talented, and often
ill John Tamburello. He drives a car
that most junkyards would reject
for not having enough panels worth
scrapping. On the other hand, he
says he doesn’t worry about its being
parked on the streets of New York
City. He seems to live on pizza and
cold coffee, and always exhibits flulike symptoms, but is strangely very
smart, informed, and
easy to work with.
The first decision
we had to make was
the size of the screen.
I wanted a microperforated screen so the
front left, center, and
right speakers could
be located behind it.
I also wanted a fairly
large image, even
though the room is
only 18 x 241⁄2 feet. We
went with a 12-footwide screen, which Sweetie the wife
thinks is too big and I think verges
on too small. Because our room is
located in a dedicated space without windows, we had 100% control
over the room’s ambience and were
able to go with a relatively bright
(1.3 gain) white screen. (Some projector manufacturers suggest using
a lower-gain gray or silver screen in
rooms that can’t be completely darkened to help create the illusion of
deeper blacks, since grayish blacks
have been one of the drawbacks of
DLP projectors.)
Our theater was designed with
a soffit running across the back
of the room that sends cool, fresh
air across the enclosed projector.
I didn’t want to hear the fan of a
projector during screenings, and
“I don’t like overly
remote controls
and wouldn’t let
the installer set
up a Crestron or
any of those cool
things that make
life complicated.”
he biggest debate concerned
the projector. At the last minute, after we’d decided on one
manufacturer, several people suggested I check out the Sony
Qualia 004. I drove into New York
City and visited the Sony Concierge
Qualia showroom, where I saw how
incredible the projector is. It uses
three 1,920 x 1,080-pixel SXRD (Silicon Crystal Reflective Display) panels and projects an extraordinary
1080p-resolution picture. The detail
is crisp and sharp, and the contrast
is easily controlled. I like to watch
sports with lots of pop and color
saturation, but use a slightly more
muted setup for movies.
Ironically, the Qualia is very quiet,
but having already built the room
with ventilation in the soffit, and to
keep it safe from the cigar smoke, we
placed it in the soffit. If you’re building a room knowing you’re going to
use this projector, don’t go through
the expense of enclosing and ventilating it. It’s not only quiet but a
beautiful piece of industrial design.
(For more on SXRD technology, see
May’s “Object of Desire,” available on
the S&V Web site.)
Although my background is in
cinematography, having shot movies for the Coen brothers ( Raising
Arizona, Miller’s Crossing ), Danny
DeVito ( Throw Momma from the
Train ), Rob Reiner ( When Harry Met
Sally, Misery ), and Penny Marshall
( Big ), and although the films I have
directed have a certain visual style,
I’m equally concerned about sound.
I believe the success of any movie
is in proportion to the manly use of
subwoofers. Comedies are no exception. I have two powerful Sunfire
True Subwoofer EQ Signature subs.
The rest of the speakers are made in
Denmark by System Audio, and I’m
happy with the clean, smooth sound.
The other big decision was the
Sunfire Theater Grand IV preamp/
processor/tuner and the Sunfire
Cinema Grand 400 amplifier, which
puts out more power than we need. I
don’t like overly complicated remote
controls and wouldn’t let Tamburello
set up a Crestron or any of those cool
things that make life complicated,
especially when you buy a new piece
of equipment and have to reprogram
the remote. Instead I decided on a
Home Theater Master MX-800 universal remote, which we use in all of
our other media areas as well.
I wanted to make sure that our
room was dead enough, soundwise. John and I talked about putting acoustic panels on the lower
halves of the walls to dampen the
sound, but with the plush furniture
and deeply carpeted floor, we found
that this wasn’t necessary. And as a
comedy director, I’m well aware of
the imporance of not deadening a
space so much that peals of hysterical laughter get swallowed up by the
room. I once had a terrible premiere
of Addams Family Values at Paramount’s new theater in Los Angeles,
which was so dead that the audience
never heard itself laugh. Sherry Lansing, the head of the studio, promised me she’d never have another
comedy premiere there again.
nfortunately, just as the
home theater was completed, with the Qualia
tuned to perfection and the
subs reverberating in my stomach, I
was hired to direct a film in Vancouver with Robin Williams titled RV. I
won’t be back home until the fall.
My hunch has proved correct,
however. Digital will be standard procedure on RV. This will be
the first movie I direct where we
won’t even make film dailies. The
lab is transferring the film negative directly to high-definition tape,
which will be fed into Avid editing
stations. We’ll cut and preview the
movie on high-def tape for those
people who don’t know how to spell,
and I’ll be able to use my home theater to view those cuts of it. The first
time we’ll see the movie on film is
when we make a print off the digital
intermediate. I just hope it doesn’t
hurt the comedy.
Million Dollar Baby
entertainment movies
Lady of the Ring
Movie Picture/Sound Extras The late-career masterworks of director Clint Eastwood — Unforgiven, Mystic
River, and now Million Dollar Baby — all
share the same basic qualities: simplicity, emotional directness, and economy of
scale. Most important, though, is their singular lack of sentimentality. This is a crucial element for movies that tend to dwell
on guilt and regret and that often feature
characters with no real chance of redemption. Million Dollar Baby may be the ultimate expression of this eloquent yet
unspoken aesthetic. It’s the boxing movie
for those who don’t care for the sport but
who appreciate the sort of natural, intimate, character-driven tale that Hollywood
seldom delivers — in this or any other era.
Eastwood is far too smart to attempt a
movie like this without
plenty of help. He surrounds
himself with the best actors
available and gives them the room
they need to shine. The result is the
rare film that genuinely earns its two
major acting Oscars. Hilary Swank (Best
Actress) is letter-perfect as Maggie, the
dirt-poor thirty-something boxer who
claws her way to a title shot, and Morgan
Freeman (Best Supporting Actor) was born
to play the aging, world-weary boxer
whose narration gives the fi lm much of its
depth. Eastwood is just as convincing as
Maggie’s cantankerous trainer, though he
had to settle for another set of Best Directing and Best Picture Oscars.
Million Dollar Baby is no visual feast. It
takes place in dark, dingy gyms, arenas,
and tenements, but the DVD picture contains every bit of grime and drop of blood.
Dark scenes are perfect, sustaining the
somber mood without obliterating the film’s
remarkable sharpness and detail. The char-
acters live on “the periphery of society,” as
Eastwood likes to say, and their harsh world
comes across in the stark realism of the
film’s every frame. The restrained
soundtrack skillfully blends dialogue with
Eastwood’s own melancholy score, exploding into surround sound glory in fight scenes
that approach Raging Bull-style ferocity.
The extras on the two DVDs are a little
thin, though this is mainly because the
ever-laconic Eastwood declines to sit for a
commentary. Instead we get two mini-documentaries (totaling 30 minutes) that rely
on typical cast-and-crew interviews. But
insights on the director’s creative technique
— best summed up as follow your gut,
trust your colleagues, and don’t think too
much — make the material worthwhile.
There’s also a roundtable discussion with
Eastwood, Swank, and Freeman (recorded
the day after the Academy Awards ceremony), but moderator James Lipton spoils
the vibe with his relentlessly fawning
manner. A bonus CD offers the beautiful
score in stereo. This set is a perfect introduction to the many talents of Hollywood’s
most unlikely Renaissance man. [PG-13] English and French, Dolby Digital 5.1; letterboxed (2.35:1)
and anamorphic widescreen; one dual-layer disc, one
single-layer disc, and one CD.
Movie Picture/Sound Extras The ever-charismatic
Will Smith may be
perfectly cast here as
New York City’s “love doctor” — the man
who coaches hopelessly smitten guys into
the arms of their beloveds — but that
doesn’t help this romantic comedy work
up much passion of its own. Smith and
co-star Kevin James (TV’s The King of
Queens) do manage a few outsized laughs
as Hitch himself falls prey to the love bug,
but the real star of the film is in the background. Director Andy Tennant shot the
movie all over lower Manhattan, and the
sharp, detailed images show this idealized
setting as the ultimate adult playground.
Warm, natural skin tones make all those
beautiful New Yorkers even more attractive. The 5.1-channel mix is subdued, the
soundtrack leaning instead on pop tunes
that fairly scream “Yuppies in Love.”
Extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes,
an uninspired half-hour documentary, and
the “I Thing” music video by Amerie. [PG13] English, Dolby Digital 5.1; French, Dolby
Surround; letterboxed (2.35:1) and anamorphic
widescreen; dual layer. — KEN KORMAN
Anderson (Session 9).
But it will likely be remembered as the movie for
which actor Christian
Bale actually lost a third
of his body weight (63
pounds) to play a character who hasn’t slept in a
year and may well be
losing his mind. The
bleak, desaturated visuals
ratchet up the tension, as
does an eerily atmospheric soundtrack
anchored by an intentionally Hitchcockian score —
the estate of Bernard
Herrmann practically
deserves royalties. Extras
include a director’s
commentary, eight
deleted scenes, and a half-hour documentary. [R] English, Dolby Digital 5.1 and
Dolby Surround; letterboxed (2.35:1) and
anamorphic widescreen; dual layer.
Movie Picture/Sound Extras Director Wes Craven
and writer Kevin
Williamson have
adapted their patented Scream formula
— contemporary, wisecracking hottie
stars in cool horror-movie peril — to
make this modern Wolfman retread.
Unfortunately, the magic is marred by
laughable special effects, especially
the Tasmanian Devil-like creatures.
The images — dark 2.35:1 widescreen
compositions with pale neon colors
— take a back seat to the coming-at-ya
jolts of the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.
Extras, including a cast-and-crew
commentary and four documentaries, are like the script — strictly déjà
vu. [NR] English and French, Dolby Digital
5.1; letterboxed (2.35:1) and anamorphic
widescreen; dual layer. — MEL NEUHAUS
Star Trek: Insurrection
(1998), in which Captain
Picard and the crew of
the Enterprise work to
save a paradise planet
in defiance of Federation orders, isn’t as
dramatic as the title
promises. Its main assets are its characterizations, especially F. Murray Abraham’s over-the-top bad-guy turn. Images
on this two-disc set are fine, with clean
reproduction of even the smallest
computer-generated details like background fish and birds. Sound effects are
convincingly placed, but sometimes
there’s a hint of distortion (less so in DTS).
Disc 1 has a pop-up text commentary,
and Disc 2 is filled with a making-of documentary, eight production featurettes,
storyboards, and deleted scenes,
including an alternate ending. [PG] English,
Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, and Dolby Surround;
French, Dolby Surround; letterboxed (2.35:1)
and anamorphic widescreen; two dual-layer
Movie Picture/Sound Extras Paramount
Movie Picture/Sound Extras “Alfred Hitchcock on steroids” best
describes this intense and disturbing
psychological thriller from director Brad
The true story of California high-school
basketball coach Ken Carter, who
famously locked his overachieving team
Movie Picture/Sound Extras soundandvisionmag.com
Reflections in a swollen eye: Christian Bale, The Machinist
These days, it seems like all the bad guys in the
world have it in for America. Thankfully, someone is
always looking out for us, whether they’re dynamic
marionettes or top-secret teenagers. Both these fi lms
have lots of fun with the spy movie genre. D.E.B.S.
(Sony; Movie , Picture/Sound , Extras
) is aimed squarely at family audiences. But
Movie , Picture/Sound , Extras
) — written by Matt Stone and co-written and
directed by Trey Parker, the creators of South Park
— has something to offend everyone.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen images in
both have reds, whites, and blues that practically
jump off the screen,
although D.E.B.S. manages
to pack in a higher level of
detail. Despite being comedy spoofs, the fl icks have
deadly serious Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. They’ll
rattle your subwoofer and
energize your surround
speakers with explosions
and bullets that fly in all
directions. D.E.B.S. comes
with two commentaries
(one by director Angela
Robinson, the other by the
cast), deleted scenes, a
making-of featurette, and
the “Into the Morning”
music video by the Weekend. Team America’s
extras include an introduction, nine production
featurettes, deleted scenes,
and animated storyboards.
Warner, 7 discs
Movies Picture/Sound Extras Warner, 6 discs
Movies Picture/Sound Extras Films
New to DVD: Never So Few (1959), The Cincinnati Kid
(1965), Tom Horn (1980). New transfer in two-disc
set: Bullitt (1968). New edition: The Getaway (1972).
Reissue: Papillon (1973).
New to DVD: East of Eden (1955). New transfer:
Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Same as separate
edition: Giant (1956). All three are two-disc sets.
Notable directors
Sam Peckinpah ( Getaway ), Norman Jewison ( Kid ),
John Sturges ( Never ).
Elia Kazan ( Eden ), Nicholas Ray ( Rebel ),
George Stevens ( Giant ).
Acting method or
Method Acting
Speak softly and carry a big shtick: long blue-eyed
stares, animal ease at rest and in motion, unexpected
grins. Languid with machines and women.
Second that emoting: pleading stares, slouching
stumbles, sudden outbursts. He hesitates, tears words
from within, and strikes a perfect pose.
Range and power
shown here
Array of distinctive performances, from quicksilver
kid who steals scenes from Frank Sinatra in Never to
more meditative characters in Papillon and Tom Horn .
Although all films were made over just three years,
his thrillingly instinctual and magnetic acting grows
rapidly richer with each movie.
DVD quality
Picture: Excellent contrast and rich colors. Sometimes
overly grainy but detailed and bright, as if shot today.
Sound: Crisp. The 5.1 mixes of Papillon and Never and
the 4.0 mix of Bullitt are mainly front-channel.
Picture: Rebel has saturated colors, Giant luminous
tones, and Eden a brown/yellow period look. All
are a little short on detail. Sound: Giant could use
more breadth, but the 5.1 mixes of Eden and Rebel
have clean separation and convincing effects.
Commentaries: one for Bullitt , two each for Getaway
and Kid . Documentaries: two (each feature-length).
Featurettes: three.
Commentaries: one for each film. Documentaries: one
feature-length and five hour-long ones. Featurettes:
four. Also: deleted scenes, interviews, screen tests, etc.
out of the gym when they underachieved academically, gets the full
Hollywood treatment in this sturdy if
long-winded movie. Wearing his principles proudly on his sleeve, Samuel L.
Jackson was born to play the title role,
but the rest of the cast shines just as
bright thanks to a script that refuses to
stereotype those tough, underprivileged
kids. Picture and sound are both finely
tuned, bringing real grit and excitement
to the in-your-face game sequences.
Extras include a featurette on the
real Ken Carter, a short
documentary about
how his games
were recreated
for the film,
Twista’s “Hope”
music video
featuring Faith
Evans, and 10 minutes of
highly entertaining deleted
scenes. [PG-13] English,
Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby
Surround; French, Dolby Digital
5.1; letterboxed (2.35:1) and
anamorphic widescreen; dual
Robert Ryan in
House of Bamboo
20th Century Fox
Movie Picture/Sound Extras FORTY GUNS
20th Century Fox
Movie Picture/Sound Extras None
In the crime thriller
House of Bamboo
(1955), maverick
director Sam Fuller
melds stunning Japanese locations, bizarre
interrelationships, and
sizzling violence. The crystal-clear,
restored 2.55:1 CinemaScope images
burst with vibrant hues — a far cry from
the old faded red prints. The 4.0 sound
(remixed from the original stereo tracks)
adds oomph to the shoot-outs. Noir
authorities Alain Silver and James Ursini
provide commentary, and there’s rare
newsreel footage of the director and stars.
Fuller’s revisionist Western Forty Guns
(1957) stars Barbara Stanwyck as a
“high ridin’ woman with a whip”
(according to the film’s ballad), whose
greed is overwhelmed only by her obsession with government gunman Barry
Sullivan. The black-and-white 2.35:1
widescreen picture is near pristine, with
only occasional graininess and surface
wear. The mono track is also clean and
booms with resonance. House of Bamboo:
[NR] English, Dolby Digital 4.0; French and
Spanish, 2-channel mono; letterboxed
(2.55:1) and anamorphic widescreen; dual
layer. Forty Guns: [NR] English, Dolby Digital
stereo and 2-channel mono; Spanish, 2channel mono; pan-and-scan, letterboxed
(2.35:1), and anamorphic widescreen; dual
PRECINCT 13 [2005]
Movie Picture/Sound Extras In this remake of John
suspenseful lowbudget classic,
policemen and
inmates once again
combine forces, barricade a soon-to-beabandoned precinct, and hold off the bad
guys — this time, corrupt cops wielding
the latest in lethal toys. While the new
version doesn’t have the raw tension of
the original, it’s slick and entertaining.
Images are detailed, but poor contrast
mars crispness. The sound, though, is
first-rate, loaded with surround-channel
action that sends gunshots whizzing by
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your ear and immerses you in the pulsing
music. Interesting extras include a
commentary by the creative team,
engaging deleted scenes, and five
featurettes. [R] English, Dolby Digital and
DTS 5.1; French, Dolby Digital 5.1; letterboxed
(2.35:1) and anamorphic widescreen; dual
Series Picture/Sound Extras This post-9/11 series is
as compelling as any
network TV drama currently in production. Like many of his comrades in the
New York City Fire Department, Tommy
Gavin (a very convincing Denis Leary) is
equal parts heroic, insecure, juvenile,
self-destructive, and compassionate.
Episode after episode, Leary and cowriter/producer Peter Tolan find something compelling to say about the
fire-fighting life, where hours of boredom
are interspersed with dramatic situations
most of us will never experience.
All 13 episodes on this three-disc set
have excellent color and lots of detail
and contrast in the many action scenes.
The Dolby Surround sound is also quite
involving, with appropriately boomy
sonics and ambient effects when the
hoses come out and the men attack a
blaze. Extras include commentaries
on the fi rst and last episodes by Leary
and Tolan, four worthwhile making-of
featurettes, and a fun collection of
bloopers and deleted scenes. [TV-MA]
English, Dolby Surround; letterboxed (1.78:1)
and anamorphic widescreen; three dual-layer
Lions Gate
Series Picture/Sound Extras When glamorous but
broke ex-model Maddie
Hayes and wiseass
detective David
Addison first appeared
in 1985, they instantly
became TV’s new
favorite odd couple. The
tension and rapid-fire dialogue between
the two, as played by Cybill Shepherd
and Bruce Willis, made the series snap,
crackle, and pop, while daring and innovative private-eye plot lines allowed it to
sizzle. Now, it’s more of a simmer, since so
many other shows have imitated the original, but it’s still very entertaining. This six-
disc set contains the feature-length pilot
and 23 hour-long episodes. Images are
crisp, bright, and beautiful, with ideal
contrast. The clean mono sound allows
all the bickering banter to come through
loud and clear. Willis and Shepherd are
joined by creator Glenn Gordon Caron
and various production crew members
on informative commentaries for five
episodes. The three featurettes are also
better than usual. [NR] English, Dolby
Digital 2-channel mono; full frame (1.33:1);
six dual-layer discs.
The Criterion Collection
Movie Picture/Sound Extras DIVORCE
The Criterion Collection
Movie Picture/Sound Extras In White Nights (1957)
Marcello Mastroianni shows his great
emotional range as
Mario, a young man
going through the mill
of unrequited infatuation with a girl he
meets on a bridge
(Maria Schell).
Director Luchino
Visconti uses the
actor’s charm and selfdeprecating humor to
add poignancy to
Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s
lessons in love. In Divorce Italian Style
(1961), Mastroianni’s comic talents are
shown even more as he plays Ferdinando, a vain, aristrocratic lounge lizard
plotting to kill his wife in a crime of
passion — if only he can find her a lover.
The images in both films are clean,
except for occasional edge damage in
Nights. Divorce’s sun-drenched Sicily is
filled with crisp, dazzlingly white shirts and
deep black suits. The picture of Nights is
detailed even in the shadowy exteriors.
Characters in the foreground, atmospheric
street types in the midground, and
cityscapes far in the background are all
distinct. Sound on both titles is a clear
mono. Both sets have cast-and-crew
interviews and screen tests — more
substantial ones on Divorce’s two-disc
set, which also contains a 40-minute
documentary. Both: [NR] Italian, Dolby Digital
mono (with English subtitles); anamorphic
widescreen. White Nights: letterboxed (1.66:1);
dual layer. Divorce: letterboxed (1.85:1); two
dual-layer discs.
Take Center Stage.
Support your widescreen television with furniture
that adds star quality to your home. Our many
configurations come in various widths and heights.
Enclosed storage areas and/or open shelf spans
provide ample room for A/V components and other
choice possessions. Accessories range from secure
panel TV mounting systems to interior lighting, and
we also offer luxurious seating options.
See the entire production at
or call 800-201-6533 for a catalog.
Visit our booth (#1203) at Cedia.
Our World’s a Stage
entertainment games
Grand Theft UFO
THQ (PS2, Xbox)
Game Graphics/Sound FANTASTIC FOUR
Ike. The Red Scare. Tupperware. That’s what the people of
Earth are thinking about in Destroy All Humans! Flipping
the script on Space Invaders, this game casts you as
Crypto, an alien armed with an addictive array of futuristic weapons and mental abilities. You’ll read minds to
reveal those deep Earthling thoughts. (“Boy, do I love
my new Edsel. It’s a classic in the making!”) You’ll also
vaporize civilians (just like your brethren do in
War of the Worlds ) and trash towns from
the comfort of your flying saucer. Humorous dialogue roasts idyllic 1950s America while a spooky score toasts the
era’s cheesy sci-fi flicks. And
you’ll know you’re well
on your way to world
domination when you’re surrounded by screams. Combine
all that with expansive environments à la Grand Theft
Auto (yahoo-run family farms, top-secret government
sites), the explosive mayhem of Mercenaries, and the
twisted satire of Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! and you get
gameplay so hard to resist, you’ll feel like you’re caught in
the grip of Crypto’s Abducto Beam. — DREW THOMPSON
Activision (all consoles)
Game Graphics/Sound At least the game is better than the
movie. Marginally better. Sure, it’s cool
to let players geek out with all four
members of Marvel’s first family: malleable Mr. F, see-through Sue Storm,
her blazing bro Johnny, and dermatological disaster The Thing. But the
action isn’t balanced, with levels that
hardly play to the strengths and weaknesses of each character. However, if
you get giddy beating up bad guys over
and over again, level after level, to the
drone of hopelessly flat zips and bangs
in passable 480p, then by all means . . .
lame on!
— J.M.G.
Microsoft (Xbox)
Game Graphics/Sound Forget the Farrelly Brothers — Conker
is crasser. The raunchy squirrel pisses
on fiery demons, leaps onto breastshaped sunflowers, and lays waste (!)
to an opera-singing mound of manure.
This, oddly, is all quite fun, because an
occasional chuckle does crap, er, crop
up. And the game isn’t just a toilethumor marathon. Violent parody of
movies like The Matrix and Saving Private Ryan is made awesomely gruesome thanks to a full-on 5.1 tornado of
bullets. And visual splendor abounds,
especially in “fur shading” — think
Sulley of Monsters, Inc. (only real-time,
down to the follicle). Wait, did I mention
the poo monster? — JON M. GIBSON
EA (all consoles)
Game Graphics/Sound The Dark Knight has never been dimmer — but that’s a good thing. Much
better than the usual licensed schlock,
this bat-game borrows from the best
— namely, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell,
ripping off its sly use of diffused light
and shadow. This means our Kevlarclad crusader can slowly stalk his prey
or, as conceived by the film’s fight choreographer, execute freestyle clips ’n’
kicks straight outta some ’80s breakdancing bash. It’s fluid (if a bit goofy),
but good ol’ Bruce looks cool doing it,
thanks to glossy 720p visuals that bear
an eerily realistic resemblance to the
actors (backed by cast voiceovers).
Still, that doesn’t make up for EA’s Catwoman — which was schlock licensed
from schlock.
— J.M.G.
A steal at $20,
Map Pack
collects nine
available only
as downloads
via Xbox Live)
onto one nice,
neat disc.
Each actionpacked combat arena
can be used
online or off.
EA (all consoles)
Game Graphics/Sound After Rising Sun sank like a stone, the
Medal of Honor series went back to
boot camp. Now this World War II
first-person shooter is in fighting form
again for a European Assault, but it’s
quickly hobbled by newly added
arcade-style gimmicks — like a Matrixinspired power-up that slows time
and grants you invincibility and unlimited ammo. Morphing the game’s hero
into Neo doesn’t make sense in a
series famous for its historically accurate battles. Sparsely detailed environments also earn the game a demotion
(fortunately, the action is usually too
intense for you to notice), as does the
absence of online play. Even though
your screen doesn’t benefit, your
speakers will, thanks to the superb,
sweeping score and realistic enemy fire
that will have you taking cover behind
your couch.
— D.T.
music entertainment
Two from the Foos
Music Sound We won’t know the full
extent of System of a
Down’s third “album,”
until the second disc
drops this fall. But for
now, Mezmerize’s filler-free assault nails
its targets with precision-guided metal/
rock. On “B.Y.O.B.,” singer Serj Tankian
aims his biting black humor at bloody
Iraq while knockout thrash riffs and
“la la la”-fueled pop raise an eyebrow.
Daron Malakian wages six-string
devastation on “Revenga” and sarcastically announces “My cock can walk right
through the door” in the anti-authoritarian “Cigaro.” The New Wave-y “Old
School Hollywood” and the heartbreaking “Lost in Hollywood” conclude
the first hit of what may turn out to be
a lethal double dose. — JEFF PERLAH
Separation Sunday
In Your Honor
Music DualDisc Mix Extras Foo Fighters 5 is a mighty big enchilada,
especially in its double DualDisc edition.
That’s right, two DualDiscs: an “electric”
album backed by a DVD documentary
and an “acoustic” album with a surround
mix on DVD-Audio. There’s also a 16-page
booklet, and the whole thing is housed in a
removable slipcase. And, oh yeah, it’s modestly called In Your Honor.
All of that might seem like an unintentional satire of rock pomp. But In Your
Honor is everything it means to be. Singer,
guitarist, and bandleader Dave Grohl has
said he wanted no middle ground, so the
electric disc is as hard as nails while the
acoustic disc is a low-key, melodic gem.
The entire set is a testament to the range
and tightness of the Foos.
From the opening guitar-army onslaught
of the title track to the ringing feedback
finale of “End over End,” the electric album
is an unrelenting blast of aggressive hard
rock. It peaks with the powerful one-two
of “The Last Song” and “Free Me.” The fi rst
is a cathartic kissoff that sounds like the
U2 of “I Will Follow” given a swift kick by
the Sex Pistols of “God Save the Queen.”
And “Free Me” has furious, Led Zeppelin-
like riffing and some of the
most intense screaming on
record. The disc plays through
like one long song, which isn’t
a complaint but praise for its sustained ferocity. And it sounds great
in the beefier “enhanced stereo” on the
DVD side. The 20-minute making-of documentary includes interviews with all four
Foos. Just one complaint: why is there no
surround mix of the electric album, especially since the mix of the acoustic one
turned out so brilliantly?
Led Zep’s John Paul Jones makes an
appearance on the acoustic disc, as does
Norah Jones, who adds piano and vocals
to the lovely bossa-nova “Virginia Moon.”
The diversity of settings is shown to maximum effect in Elliot Scheiner’s six-channel mix, where he apportions the musical
elements more or less democratically. The
mix is more about immersion than segregation, and the tracks (especially the
acoustic guitars) have a crystalline clarity.
Grohl sounds like a different person here;
it’s hard to believe that the nuanced singer
of “Miracle” is the same guy who shreds
his cords on the other disc. The acoustic
album reaches its zenith in “Over and Out,”
where guitars, vibes, strings, and tomtoms set a haunting scene.
Grohl and the Foos are to be hailed for
dreaming big and hitting the mark with In
Your Honor. It is, quite simply, an awesome
The Hold Steady’s
Craig Finn is the
raconteur at the end
of the bar whose jokes
are worth sticking
around for. The former
leader of the Minneapolis-based Lifter
Puller has relocated and ignited the
Brooklyn scene with two albums of
visceral social commentary. His favorite
subject is women who are mostly speedfreaks, looking to religion to calm their
minds. On paper, Finn is a smart-guy
poet, but the guitars striking anthemic
power chords make him the rocker of his
Out of Exile
Music Sound It’s difficult to say
whether the band or
the producer should
get more credit for
this solid sophomore
album. Sure, Audioslave is a perfectly fine hard-rock outfit,
playing looser and with more swing than
parent groups Soundgarden and Rage
Against the Machine. But Rick Rubin’s
production — or really, lack of production — turns Out of Exile into something special. His love for 1970s rock has
been clear since he recorded the Cult,
but this may be the warmest and most
entertainment music
organic sound he’s achieved. The bass
sounds like a bass, drums don’t overwhelm, and there’s an inviting rehearsalroom ambience. (You can even hear
the rhythm guitar drop out when Tom
Morello takes a solo.) Rubin has also
gotten Chris Cornell to forgo his usual
shouting to the rafters and sing in a more
direct, personable style. Arena rock with
heart is what it’s all about, and so goes
the best of Audioslave’s material — like
“Your Time Has Come,” with its chunky
riffs and anti-suicide message. Even
the more intense Rage/Soundgarden
moments in the disc’s second half are
convincing, though Rubin neglected to
tell Morello that making worm noises
on guitar during “The Worm” wasn’t the
sharpest of ideas.
Bristling at Stereo
Your progressive-rock band’s most recent
albums, 2002’s In Absentia and the new
Deadwing (Lava/Atlantic), are both available in DVD-Audio editions from DTS.
When you were mixing the last one, you
said you didn’t want to be influenced by
any other surround mixes. Did the same
philosophy hold true for Deadwing ?
Yeah. To me, every time you mix a record
in surround, it’s like the first time you’ve
mixed a record, period. For some other people, there seems to be a set way that they
kind of naturally fall into when mixing for
surround: the vocals are always in the front,
and so are the drums. But a Porcupine Tree
record, by definition, has more elements
to play with — a lot of textural and sounddesign stuff, and a lot of keyboards. So I
asked our surround mixer, Elliot Scheiner,
“Can we try the vocal in the middle of the
room? Can we put the bass drum in the
middle of the room?” Things like that just
sounded better to me.
Did knowing beforehand that you were
going to do Deadwing in surround affect
the writing process?
I didn’t compose differently, but the way
we tracked was different. I was very much
thinking in terms of having three separate
vocal parts interlock in places where, in the
past, we may have had a set of harmony
vocals. I thought, “Oh, that’s gonna sound
great: I’ll put one in the back, and then one
over here, and then one over there. . . .”
On previous albums, I may have bounced
stuff down to a stereo pair, but I won’t even
do that anymore, because now I can spread
everything out.
Does music in surround have a future?
I think it’s got a future, absolutely. . . . It often
comes down to just one record. In the 1970s,
Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon came
along, and people really wanted to hear
that on a good stereo system. In the
’80s, it was Dire Straits’ Brothers
in Arms that did it for the CD as a
format. [That album has just been
released on surround SACD in
Europe and is expected here
imminently on DualDisc.
— Ed.] In the 21st century,
we’re the ones who are
pushing the envelope.
I’d really like to think
that Deadwing could be
the album that will make
people want to hear music
in surround. Which is
nice because, in the end, it
comes down to the art, not
just the technology.
For more with Steven Wilson,
go to the S&V Web site.
Monkey Business
Music Sound The purists who once adored them
might dis them now, but the Black Eyed
Peas dish out happy hip-hop that’s
nothing to snicker at. In fact, Monkey
Business shines even brighter than
2003’s Elephunk. The fluid, buoyant
“Pump It” rides the surf of Dick Dale’s
“Misirlou.” Meanwhile, “They Don’t Want
Music” is a trumpet- and sax-tootin’ soul
banger. Like its predecessor, this album
features several guests — from Justin
Timberlake to James Brown. But the
Peas are clearly in charge: will.i.am
croons poignantly on “Gone Going,” and
Fergie toys with her male cohorts as she
drops sexy vocals on “My Humps.” Business is flourishing.
The Black Eyed Peas
DVD (New West).
Full 90-minute
2001 show that
was edited into
half hour for Austin City Limits. 5.1
mix. (Also on CD.)
DVD (Cooking
Another 90minute gig, this
time from 2003.
5.1 plus early
’80s bonuses.
The Woods
Sub Pop
Music Sound Whereas All Hands
on the Bad One was
a “crossover” album
to love and One Beat
was a punk cry to
rally around, this one
(driven by Flaming Lips producer Dave
Fridmann) is a dirty bonecrusher, all
Hammer of the Gals. The commotion
and distortion can get wearying when
they intrude on a ballad like “Modern
Girl.” Still, the faithful will get shivers
from Corin Tucker’s undiminished voice
(“Land ho!” indeed), Carrie Brownstein’s newly Led Ladyland guitar, and
Janet Weiss’s topping-herself-withevery-album drumming. There are blunt
lyrics, too: “A family feud / The Red and
the Blue now / It’s Truth against Truth /
I’ll see you in hell, I don’t mind.” And two
classics bookend the album: “The Fox,”
which stalks and pummels, and “Let’s
Call It Love” / “Night Light,” joined by a
jam (!) for a marathon of 15 minutes (!!).
The Woods may often be a thicket of
racket, but it’s Sleater-Kinney on their
own terms. We wouldn’t want them any
other way.
Got This Feelin’
Music Sound These guys share their name with a penand-paper role-playing game steeped
in medieval/Renaissance swordsmanship. But they’re from St. Louis, and as
you’ll hear from the first two tracks of
Got This Feelin’, they pledge allegiance
CD (Cooking
Vinyl). Mostly
unplugged studio set: breezy
“Let It Blow” to
nasty “Should I
film (Lions Gate).
Thompson wrote
and plays the
score for Werner
Herzog’s look at
the last days of a
Coming this fall:
Boxed set with
rarities (5 CDs,
Free Reed).
1,000 Years of
Popular Music
(live DVD, CD,
Cooking Vinyl):
11th C. to Britney!
to the royalty of both King Crimson and
Queens of the Stone Age. Or as their
press release says, “Tempo changes
are sexy, kids” — especially when
delivered with hooks as hot as these.
Guitarist Andrew Elstner and bassist
Jimmy Vavak focus the dynamics of
the previous Python and, backed by
compelling new drummer Rob Smith,
deliver a mostly Jawbox-dropping
set. From the circular riff of “This Is a
House of Lies” and the choppy chords
of “Detroit Flu” to the album’s Floydian
coda, “Aquiline,” Riddle of Steel cuts
like a knight.
Out-of-State Plates
Music Sound THE POSIES
Every Kind of Light
Music Sound Hard to say what’s more fun: listening to
all the non-album and previously unreleased tracks that comprise Fountains of
Wayne’s double CD of rarities, Out-ofState Plates, or reading the hilarious cutby-cut commentary by partners-in-rhyme
bandleaders Adam Schlesinger and
Chris Collingwood. There’s the pluperfectly power-popping “Maureen”
(of whose “muh-muh-muh-muh” hook
Schlesinger notes that “a couple more
like this and people will think that Chris
really does stutter”). Then there’s the
hazy-shade-of-winter guitar of “Elevator
Up” (“a song about drugs,” writes Collingwood, “culled from extensive research
with people who have actually done
them”). These guys are undeniably
musical wiseacres, but they’re also true
music fans, as underscored by the
straight-ahead covers of ELO (“Can’t
Get It Out of My Head”), Jackson Browne
(“These Days”), and even Britney Spears
(“. . . Baby One More Time”).
Like Fountains of Wayne, Posies coleaders Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer
wear their influences on their sleeves
— though the cuffs are more Edwardian.
Reunited for Every Kind of Light, their
first new collection in seven years, the
Posies will have you thinking late Beatles
(“That Don’t Fly”) and Zombies (“All in
a Day’s Work”), and with the same stateliness, too. That a number of songs here
(“Could He Treat You Better,” “Sweethearts of Rodeo Drive”) deal with the
current climate in Washington makes
reference-point sense, too. After all,
back in the late 1960s, no one said pop
and politics couldn’t mix.
“I hear the Man a-comin’ / He’s rolling
’round the bend — on 104 tracks!”
Or so you’ll sing in praise of the Man
in Black’s big boxed set, The Legend
(Columbia/Legacy). His name, of
course, is JOHNNY CASH, and the
box serves up four CDs of songs that
include seven previously unreleased
performances. Spring for the deluxe
limited edition and you also get a bonus CD of his
1954 radio debut, a bonus DVD of his 1980 TV special,
a coffeetable book, and a lithograph.
Speaking of DVDs, there are
other Cash titles for your collection:
The Man, His World, His Music
(1968-69 doc, Sanctuary), Ridin’
the Rails (1974 TV special on
trains, Rhino), and Live at
Montreux (1994, Eagle Eye).
Columbia/Legacy also
celebrates Johnny’s wife,
with the two-CD Keep On
the Sunny Side: Her Life in
Music. And his daughter
Expanded Editions of
Seven Year Ache, King’s
Record Shop, and Interiors in late August.
Come November:
the biopic Walk
the Line, with
and Reese
Steve Buscemi
I hear you’re calling in from the set of The Sopranos.
I’m directing the next episode — Episode 5. We’re in preproduction right now. It’s the fourth episode I’ve directed.
You also recently directed a movie, Lonesome Jim.
Yeah, it’s a comedy about a young man from Indiana who
tries to make it as a writer in New York. But he can’t hack
it, so he moves back in with his family and has a nervous
breakdown in the comfort of his own home. The problem
is that his older brother is even more depressed than Jim,
so they compete to see who will have a breakdown first.
Will it be in theaters soon?
The Independent Film Channel is releasing it sometime
this fall or winter. I know it will definitely play at the theater they acquired — the Waverly in New York City — but I
don’t know where else it will be shown.
What kind of theater do you like to watch movies in?
I like ones with character. At the Sundance festival, we
showed Lonesome Jim at the Eccles Theater, which is the
largest venue there. And sitting in the audience I could
just feel that everyone was with it. I’m a fan of the old
classic movie houses, but unfortunately those are really
rare now.
Movies like that often find a wider audience on DVD.
That’s the way it worked for the other movie I directed,
Trees Lounge. I don’t expect Lonesome Jim to have a
wide release or a long life in theaters. I hope it does, but
with something like this, it’s all about word of mouth.
Are you a fan of DVDs?
There’s a whole set of John Cassavetes movies on DVD
[Five Films] that’s pretty cool.
You recently acted in Sirius satellite radio’s Theater
of the New Ear. What can you tell me about that?
Carter Burwell, who writes the music for the Coen Brothers movies [Fargo, The Big Lebowski ], was asked to perform his scores in London. But he thought it would be
more interesting to write something new instead. So he
asked the Coens and Charlie Kaufman [Adaptation] if
they’d write these radio plays, which we performed for a
live audience at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn.
What was it like?
It was great fun, and the cast was amazing — people like
John Goodman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Marcia Gay
Harden. While I’ve done radio plays before, this was the
first time I’d done live radio.
How do you listen to music?
Mainly on an iPod and speakers. But I’ve gotten back into
using a turntable, so I’ve dug out a lot of my old albums,
like Nick Lowe. Back when I was into vinyl, I didn’t like
jazz like I do now, so I’ve been buying Thelonious Monk,
Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.
I know you’ve been a firefighter as well as an actor
and director. How do those experiences compare?
Acting for me is when you get that adrenaline rush that’s
comparable to going into a burning building — there’s
that nervousness, that fear, but you’re with people you
trust, and it’s something you experience together. And
when it’s over, you feel good. I’ve never gotten that adrenaline rush from directing, but I definitely felt it doing that
live radio piece.
For the complete interview, go to soundandvisionmag.com
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