Home Electronics: Drivers Wanted

  • Ken Kessler

An undeniable revolution in sound reproduction has begun. A new all-digital sound projector (first available from Pioneer), featuring innovations from the British technology research company 1Limited, will have you rethinking everything you know about surround sound. Instead of requiring center, left, and right front and rear speakers, plus a subwoofer, the PDSP-1 speaker delivers 500 watts of power in as many as 7.1 channels from a single flat panel.

The speaker, a 5-inch-deep panel designed to mount below a plasma screen, works by producing tight, focusable beams of sound that are driven by 254 speakers. As the sound reflects off the walls and other surfaces, the various channels of sound ultimately arrive at the listener’s ears from the left and the right, the front and the rear. All of the sound movement is controlled digitally, and the panel also contains the digital surround-sound processor as well as amplifiers and bass. The processor can handle Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic, MPEG, DTS, and other audio formats.

In every home theater today, surround sound from DVDs is reproduced through five or more speakers with the necessary wiring and amplification. With the PDSP-1, the speaker panel is simply connected to a DVD (or CD) player and a monitor. Although it originates from a single location, the sound is full and convincing. For instance, while viewing the Mel Gibson war epic We Were Soldiers, which includes scenes depicting helicopter flyovers, whizzing bullets, and a series of explosions, you will hear the helicopters coming from the horizon and passing overhead and feel as though you have been dropped right in the middle of an ambush.
You may unintentionally glance around the room to see whether speakers are hidden, because your brain will not be able to process the notion that every sound is coming from in front of you. As for the sound quality, only the most ardent audiophile would be able to discern the difference between true surround sound with a separate subwoofer and the PDSP-1.

Installing the panel is simple, and because the system requires no satellite components, you will not have to make any design compromises to accommodate freestanding speakers or to fit in-wall or flush-mounted speakers. Once the unit is in place, typically below the screen, the PDSP-1 is then tuned to the acoustic conditions of the room through a remote control. If you alter the layout of the room, you can adjust the sound projector nearly as easily as you would change the volume on another system.

The PDSP-1 will be available in early 2003, and the price is expected to range from $30,000 to $40,000. Given Pioneer’s expertise in home cinema, including DVD players and monitors, we predict that the one-panel technology is here to stay, although some fine-tuning is inevitable. In the meantime, you may want to consider what to do with all your reclaimed floor space.

Pioneer, www.pioneerelectronics.com
1Limited, www.1limited.com

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