The preamp/processor, the heart of any home theater system, is a constantly evolving beast. Every few months new technologies roil the industry and make processors purchased just a couple of years earlier seem as dated as a 2-year-old computer. Lexicon is known for processors that sound great, are incredibly easy to operate, and do not require professional installation.
True to form, Lexicon’s MC-12 balanced preamp/processor offers everything you might want, including 12 output channels, three component video inputs, and a 5.1 channel analog input for Super Audio CD and DVD-audio players. Perhaps more important, the MC-12 is able to play every surround format available, including Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS-ES, as well as formats that are still being developed. —Joel Brinkley
Lexicon, 781.280.0300, www.lexicon.com
Thin is In
No one makes better plasma displays than Fujitsu. The company sold the first thin, hang-on-the-wall TV more than five years ago and has improved picture quality with each new generation, culminating in Fujitsu’s Plasmavision PDS-5002 50-inch model.
Colors appear crisp, vibrant, and natural. Resolution is superb, and “snow,” or video noise, is barely noticeable. All plasmas, however, have difficulty rendering deep black, which means that you see little or no detail in dark scenes. The Fujitsu has improved true black display and presents more details than its competitors.
The screen offers a resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels, meaning it can display high-definition images, though not at full resolution. Keep in mind that this set is simply a monitor; you still need external digital and conventional TV tuners to receive programming.
Although plasma screens cannot offer a picture as clear, crisp, and bright as the best CRT display, direct-view, or projector, no plasma on the market performs better. —Joel Brinkley
Jack of all Trades
The Pioneer Elite DV-47A universal player offers what no other can provide. It will play everything: DVD-video, DVD-audio, SACD (both two- and 5.1-channel), CD, Video-CD, DVD-R, DVD-RW, and MP3 on CD-R.
Maybe the best SACD player on the market sounds better than this one. Perhaps the best DVD player will provide a slightly better picture when played on a top-of-the-line system. The Pioneer, however, does everything quite well. It decodes Dolby Digital and DTS. It offers 3:2 pulldown correction and progressive-scan video output—all the key features the demanding viewer expects from high-end DVD players today. —Joel Brinkley
If you have a video projector, more than likely you need a video processor to scale the signal for the big screen. Faroudja created the market category and still makes the best video processors. The Faroudja DVP5000 is a processor that takes any signal—DVD, cable, DBS—and converts it up to 1,080-line progressive, the holy grail of HDTV.
Generally, only front projectors with 9-inch CRTs are capable of displaying 1,080-progressive signals, and there is no program material available, from any source, in this format because so few displays are capable of handling 1,080-progressive. But the Faroudja simulates it beautifully and convincingly. A standard 1,080-line interlaced high-definition signal played through this Faroudja processor looks sharper, cleaner. Need proof? DVDs played through this are stunning. —Joel Brinkley
The 40-inch Sony KV-40XBR700 television is the largest direct-view set, in addition to offering the best picture quality. Resolution is sharp and clean; colors are vivid, and the image is almost three-dimensional.
All of Sony’s high-end television sets offer a picture conversion technology called Digital Reality Creation, which converts a standard 480-line signal to a simulated 960-line picture, theoretically approaching the quality of high-definition. In past models, this circuit worked well, but it also introduced video “artifacts,” or errors. This latest version is clean and much improved.
As a high-def set (using an external digital tuner), the Sony is crystal
clear and quite pleasing, though no direct-view set can produce high-definition at full resolution. The set does, however, automatically present high-def and DVD movies in the proper size letterbox with no loss of resolution. —Joel Brinkley
Sony, 800.222.7669, www.sel.sony.com
Late last year, high-resolution (1,280 x 720 pixels), 1-chip DLP projectors with native 16:9 aspect ratio chips finally became available to the home theater market. Long-awaited, these models significantly raise the bar in 1-chip DLP performance and picture quality.
At the top of this class is Runco’s VX-1000c projector, which features a sleek, high-tech design that is as sharp as the images it produces. The PFP Controller (designated by the “c” in the model number) acts as a control center for the projector and incoming video signals while providing state-of-the-art video processing for sources such as DVD and direct broadcast satellite. The VX-1000c is also the brightest DLP projector in its category, making it capable of driving screen sizes larger than its competitors can while still delivering bright pictures.
This projector handles all digital and high-definition signal formats including: 480p, 720p, and 1080i. The HDTV source should be connected to the pass-through input of the controller, which sends the HDTV signal from your set-top box decoder unprocessed straight to the projector. By not converting the signal to analog and back to digital, the Runco VX-1000c produces a spectacular HDTV image. —Kevin Miller