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Home Electronics: Future Perfect

Harvey Laney

As soon as you have installed your home theater or audio system, it is time to think about updating it. The sad truth is that technology evolves at such a rapid clip that new equipment and functionality are available before you even learn how to use what you have. Meridian, a company that manufactures all-digital music systems, understands well its clients’ desire for equipment that will enable them to enjoy the highest possible quality today and years from now—even as the technology changes.

Meridian’s 861 reference surround processor was created in 2000 with performance and flexibility in mind. Able to be customized and updated, the 861 could be thought of as a computer, although the company is uncomfortable with the comparison. “The 861 is a card cage. It’s an audio computer, basically,” acknowledges Meridian America’s vice president, Andy Regan. “But you couldn’t do the same thing with a regular computer.”

Nonetheless, the card-configuration design of the 861 is evocative of PC technology, in which you purchase and install new cards to upgrade the computer’s capabilities. Because of this, you can purchase the 861 processor configured to best fit your needs, or you can upgrade the processor if you already own it. For example, as you add or change speakers in your system or want to add to the number of audio and video inputs, simply purchase the proper card from a dealer or, if it’s only software that is needed, download it from Meridian’s web site to optimize the 861’s performance.

With its third and most recent update, the 861 features Smart Link, a technology that ensures that discs are played on the correct setting. The processor is able to interpret data encoded on the disc so that it automatically selects the mode corresponding to the type of disc inserted. This eliminates the need to choose from myriad playback options—DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, Dolby Pro Logic II, THX, dts, standard CD, etc. “Think about it,” says Regan. “The average consumer has no idea which format is the proper one, and all discs look the same.” This upgrade also gives the processor the ability to play DVD-Audio discs.

Other available upgrades include an add-in progressive video output, which will improve picture quality; a three-input component video switcher; and four additional optical inputs. This unparalleled flexibility comes in a unit already touted as one of the best on the market.

Meridian also offers a superb DVD player in its 800 series that features a digital link with the 861. Most other DVD players are relegated to an analog processor link because of recording industry copy-protection fears. Me-ridian, however, developed an encrypted digital output that the industry has approved. The result is win-win. Signal degradation typically found in other player-processor pairings is nonexistent in the 861/800.

In a lower price range, Meridian has a 500 series with two disc players and two processors. However, a dealer must perform the upgrades, which Meridian says will not be available as far into the future as those for the 800 series.

Meridian, www.meridian-audio.com

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