Home Electronics: View Master

  • Ken Kessler

A subset of video processors is drawing attention from two disparate groups: videophiles, who are excited by even the slightest improvement in picture quality; and the rest of the world—people who are happily unaware that video is processed at all. Yet enthusiast and apathetic alike are lured to these machines for a relatively small reason: a diminutive LCD screen.
Although a miniature display may seem redundant on a component placed in a room with a 15-foot screen or a 60-inch plasma, the electronics in many homes are located in a separate control room. In such instances, the screen, which displays the same content as the main monitor, is helpful to custom installers. “You can use the screen to cue movies or to check the incoming signal quality,” explains Paul Miller, founder of Miller Audio Re-search, an English company that provides manufacturers with A/V data and analysis. “But the real value is reading the setup menus at the processor itself.”

After setup is complete, the benefits for homeowners include accessing DVD-Audio menus without turning on the main monitor and supervising other video sources, such as a security camera or other DVD players. “The preview screen allows you to monitor the video signal in another zone to make sure the kids are not viewing inappropriate cable or satellite channels,” says Richard Schram, president of Parasound, which makes the Halo C1 processor. “It also adds luxury to your home theater in that you can navigate DVD menus and fine-tune the setup without subjecting guests to on-screen menus.”

Mark Levinson offered one of the first processor-plus-screen models, the No. 40 Media Console ($30,000), in 2001. This model handles strictly video—the absence of audio signals ensures a pure data transmission. The No. 40 accepts a dozen inputs (three each for composite and component and six for S-video) to connect video cameras, digital cameras, DVD players, high-definition VCRs, computers, and game consoles.

Slightly less extreme is Parasound’s Halo C1 ($6,000), a 7.1-channel THX Ultra2-certified audio and video controller. “The LCD enables custom installers to have [the processor] up, running, and fully calibrated in 30 minutes,” says Schram.
Bel Canto’s PRePro ($7,900), in addition to having six coaxial digital inputs, two component video inputs, a component video output, and eight balanced XLR outputs, has programmable buttons on the fascia that give users direct access to features. It also handles as many as 7.1 channels and offers broadcast-grade video switching.

The 7.1-channel RSP-1098 ($2,999) from Rotel is available in matte black or two-tone matte silver and black. Despite an array of options (eight inputs each for analog and digital, five analog A/V inputs, and four high-definition component video inputs), the RSP-1098 accomplishes the company’s goal of presenting a simple, unintimidating design.
The needs of installers notwithstanding, these engaging processors may not add appreciable functionality in a home already equipped with current gear. “Let’s face it,” says Miller, “if a customer goes into a store and sees a wall with 20 or 30 audio/video processors and receivers, which one do you think he’s going to look at?”


Much like leather seats in a car, the screens are nice, but not necessary.
Bel Canto, 612.317.4550, www.belcantodesign.com;
Halo, 415.397.7100, www.parasound.com;
Mark Levinson, www.madrigal.com;
Rotel, 978.664.3820, www.rotel.com

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