Toshiba REGZA 52HL167 LCD 1080p Television Review

A couple of years ago Toshiba's line was dominated by rear projection DLP designs. Today, flat panel LCDs are pushing those sets aside.

The 1920x1080p 52HL167 ($3,499) is the top model in Toshiba's REGZA series of flat panels, which sits just below the top of the line Cinema Series. The equivalent Cinema Series model features a refresh rate of 120Hz, which is said to minimize motion blur, and a $500 higher price tag.

Outside The set's sound comes out of a narrow slot at the bottom of its high gloss frame in a configuration Toshiba calls SoundStrip2. Inputs include three HDMI connections (version not specified) and two HD component connections. There's also an RF antenna input for the set's onboard ATSC/NTSC tuner and a service port for firmware updates.

On the tech side, the big pull is, of course, 1080p. The Toshiba will accept both 1080p/60 and 1080p/24. Unfortunately, when the set receives a 1080p/24 input it adds 3/2 pulldown and then displays it at 1080p/60.

Toshiba's PixelPure 3G video processing uses 14-bit processing. Processing at a higher bit depth has benefits apart from making good ad copy, but the result is not equivalent to what we would see from higher bit depth from the original source. Deep Color can do this, but we see no sign if it being implemented in the consumer world. And just because a display has 14-bit internal processing does not mean that it could accept a 14-bit source—if one existed.

Toshiba's CineSpeed panel claims a response speed of 8ms and a viewing angle of 176 degrees. Until recently, both response speed and off-axis viewing are two areas of flat panel performance in which plasmas have held a distinct advantage over LCDs. As mentioned earlier, however, LCD manufacturers have recently begun to make significant improvements in both areas.

Toshiba's DynaLight Back Light control is said to provide dynamic adjustment of the backlight to produce superior contrast with deeper black levels. There's also a Back Light control to minimize the overall image brightness while improving the black level as well.

In the Advanced Picture Settings menu, Dynamic Contrast worked surprisingly well. Used at its Low setting it deepened blacks and minimized the slightly washed-out appearance that was common in LCD sets until recently.

My review sample measured and looked best in the Warm setting. For more information about this, see "Tests and Calibration" at the end of the report.

There are four fixed, preset picture modes of video settings, plus an adjustable mode called Preference. Preference mode can and should be set separately for each input. But be sure to write down those settings because it's still frightfully easy to have your Preference settings wiped out without warning whenever someone makes a single change to one of the preset picture modes. We've complained about the volatility of Toshiba's Preference mode for over 10 years now.

Overscan is engaged in every aspect ratio except Native. As with many sets, overscan here reduces image resolution to a degree that's obvious with HD material especially. To preserve the full resolution of this set, for HD sources turn Auto mode Off and select the Native the aspect ratio menu.

The set is also compatible with Toshiba's THINC and CE-LINK. The THINC menu provides access to CE-LINK Player control, the Channel Browser, and the Favorites Browser. CE-LINK provides flexible control features when the set is used with other CE-LINK Toshiba components connected via HDMI. It was not tested for this review.

The Toshiba does not offer direct input selection, either from the controls on the set or the remote. You select from a list of nine options after calling up the Input Selection menu.

You do have the option to re-label the source inputs, but only from a preset list of options. "DVD" is one of them. "HD DVD" is another. Is it a surprise that there isn't a choice labeled "Blu-ray?" Apart from not being backlit, I like the Toshiba remote. The buttons are mostly large and well spaced for stubby American fingers. But I did find that the remote—or at least my sample—was balky in some of its operations. Sometimes it simply refused to work. Persistence usually resulted in success, but with more than a little frustration along the way.

Classic LCD issues like motion lag, poor black level, limited contrast, and color uniformity are becoming far less significant. There's room for further improvement, but readers who have avoided these displays in the past now have good reasons to have another look.

The Toshiba impressed me out of the box. The image was bright (but not too bright) and very detailed, particularly in the Native aspect ratio. And the blacks, while less impressive than the best plasmas, were more than acceptable. Its full-screen color uniformity was good.

Neither of the two noise reduction adjustments was very effective, even set to High. I rarely felt the need for them anyway, but set the CableClear on Auto and left the MPEG Noise Reduction off.

While I was happy with the Toshiba before calibration, I enjoyed it even more afterwards. Apart from color, the performance was equivalent before and after calibration once the user controls were properly set.

Standard definition digital broadcasts were solid, though you'd never confuse them with HD. But if you move over to analog cable channels like CNN, ESPN, Sci-Fi, the History Channel, etc., you'll see a lot more noise. It was tolerable, but a definite step down from even standard definition digital cable. This was not helped perceptibly by the set's noise reduction controls.

I did see some false contouring. Watching In Enemy Hands (a submarine movie that makes U-571 look like a classic) on HBO HD, the underwater shots had that posterized, "paint-by-numbers" look. But neither false contouring nor noise was common.

In fact, the Toshiba really showed what it could do with the new high-definition formats. The Chronicles of Riddick on HD DVD features are plenty of very dark scenes. While the Toshiba's blacks weren't the best I've seen, they were excellent for an LCD. Only rarely did either the black level or lack of shadow details distract me from the movie.

The Mummy is a similarly pristine HD DVD. The opening scenes in ancient Egypt—both bright and dark—were strikingly crisp and detailed. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, on Blu-ray, showed no shortage of detail. The color was outstanding, and the blacks were very good even in difficult, darker scenes.

Problem areas? The viewing angle was fairly critical with this set. Twenty degrees off-axis is about the maximum you should sit unless you want to watch a consistently washed-out image. That's still big enough to encompass all the seats on a large sofa, and then some, from a comfortable viewing distance.

There was occasional motion lag, though it was rarely troubling. Still, if you're into sports and video games you might want to look into some of the new LCD developments, offered by Toshiba and others in some models, designed to minimize this problem [or look at plasma- Ed.].

The Toshiba's video processing was fair at best, though it rarely produced visible artifacts on real program material. It passed the difficult Coliseum "flyover" at the end of chapter 12 of Gladiator on DVD. And with a 1080i input it handled the details in the Vatican wall in Chapter 7 of the MI3 Blu-ray release perfectly, but stumbled on the steps at the start of chapter 8 of the same disc. A perceptible shimmer intruded on the latter, which cleared up when I switched the player to 1080p.

Finally, the audio from Toshiba's SoundStrip2 system surprised me. It was reasonably well balanced and not actively irritating. Most of you will be using your own external sound systems most of the time, but I can guarantee you will find a need for at least occasional use of the set's internal amps and speakers.

In the past year I've changed my previously lukewarm position on LCD flat panel displays, and Toshiba's REGZA 52HL167 has contributed to that change. Yes, like all modern displays you can actually afford to buy, it has flaws. But in the areas where it matters on real program material—clarity, detail, lack of distracting artifacts, and, yes, even black levels- it's a very impressive performer.

Outstanding color
Crisp, natural detail
Good blacks

Review System

Pioneer Elite DV-79AVi DVD player
Toshiba HD-A20 HD DVD player
Samsung BD-P1200 Blu-ray player
Sony BDP-S300 Blu-ray player
Scientific Atlanta 8300 HD cable converter/DVR
RePlay standard definition tuner/DVR
Monster and UltraLink HDMI
Tributaries and Monster component


Television System: NTSC standard, ATSC standard (8VSB), Digital cable (64 QAM, 256 QAM; in the clear, unencrypted)
Power consumption: 219W (average); 0.4W in standby mode
Audio power: 10W + 10W
Speaker type: Two 4" round
Video/Audio terminals:
S-Video/composite video with L/R analog in
Composite video with L/R analog in (side)
three HDMI (video and two-channel audio), Audio Lip Sync supported
two ColorStream (component video)
PC (15-pin D-sub Analog RGB)
Fixed analog L/R audio out
Digital audio out
Other: IR out, service port
Dimensions (WHD, with stand): 50.5" x 33.375" x 15.375"
Weight: 101.6 lbs. (with stand)
Price: $3,499

(973) 682-8000

Tests and Calibration

With the Aspect ratio set to Native, the Toshiba's luminance response, in both HDMI and component at 1080i, extended cleanly up to the maximum 37.5MHz multiburst frequency from my AccuPel test generator, though it was clearly rolling off by that frequency in component. Oddly, however, the maximum frequencies of the 1080i chroma burst were more visible over component than HDMI.

At 720p the set responded to the max burst frequency in both HDMI and component, but was rolled off somewhat from either input. As with 1080i, the chroma burst was less visible in HDMI than component at the maximum frequency.

As noted in the main text of the review, the 1080i resolution, in particular, was measurably reduced in any aspect ratio except Native.

Both the color and luminance held up well at 480i and 480p with both HDMI and component inputs (and the aspect ratio set to Natural—the Native option is not available at these resolutions).

In its Warm color temperature setting, the pre-calibration gray scale (measured with our Photo Research PR-650 spectroradiometer), was, as noted in the review, very close to the ideal 6500K.(Fig.1). Calibration brought this further into line (Fig.2).



Fig.3 shows how the set performed out-of-box, pre-calibration, with respect to this D6500 standard. If the red, green, and blue all overlap precisely on the 100% line across the horizontal center of this chart, the result is D6500 across the entire brightness range. The results in Fig.3 are actually not bad (falling within the lines at 90% and 110% is reasonable) but we can usually do a lot better. No set is likely to be perfect in this regard, but the post calibration results on the Toshiba (Fig.4) are excellent and come very close to the ideal.



The primary red and blue color points on the Toshiba were reasonably close to the correct values, but the CIE chart in Fig.5 shows the excessive saturation of green. (The white triangle outlines the color space of the set, as delivered.) While it may look like the extra colors would be a plus, this is not true. All colors in a video display are created from the three primaries, red, green, and blue. These are the only colors included in all consumer video source materials. When a set produces intermediate colors requiring a mix of the primaries (in other words, all colors other than the primaries themselves), it uses red, green, and blue, as defined by the set's color points, right or wrong, to create them.


If the set's primaries differ from the standard, all the colors produced from a combination of them will be wrong. The results will usually be watchable and sometimes even pleasant. Most of us have been living with sets having poorly defined primaries for years; in fact, many (if not most) manufacturers take liberty with these primaries based on some combination of technical, aesthetic, or commercial grounds. But they are still not accurate.

As noted in the review, however, with the right tools the set's ColorMaster feature can be used to improve this situation. Fig.6 shows the final result. The visible change was much more subtle than you might expect from comparing Figs. 5 and 6, but with the right program material you can see it.


I measured a peak contrast ratio of 1,525:1 using the output from a peak white window pattern (47.5 foot-Lamberts) and a full black field (0.031fL). The result was nearly identical when I used a full field white pattern (unlike plasmas, an LCD's output does not decrease as the average picture level increases). Thus, this measurement is directly comparable to the Full-On/Full-Off contrast ratio measurements provide in HT's print issues. For this set we did not perform an ANSI contrast measurement.

With the aspect ratio set to Native, there was zero overscan over either HDMI or component at 1080i or 720p.

In other aspect ratio settings the overscan averaged 2.5% at 1080i and 720p, but increased to an average of just under 4% (slightly excessive) at 480i and 480p.

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Sony BDP-S300 Blu-ray Player Review

The $499 BDP-S300 is an important product, giving Blu-ray some much needed traction in the affordable player category. Combine that with recent news from rental powerhouse Blockbuster that it is expanding Blu-ray titles in its stores (at the expense of HD DVD in most cases), and the BDP-S300 looks like a no-brainer.

The sparse front panel offers only the basic controls: Power, Open/Close drawer, Play, Stop Pause, and chapter skip (forward and back). All other functions are located only on the remote.

And the remote is a good one- it controls both the player and a television. The buttons are a little too close together to prevent the occasional wrong command, and they are not backlit. But it gets the job done without major annoyances. And in a unique and welcome touch, a removable sticker at the bottom of the remote provides both phone numbers and a website for Sony technical support.

The player and remote support Sony's Theater Sync. This feature, which appears to be similar to one offered by other manufacturers under different names, provides for one-touch operation with compatible components when they are connected via HDMI cables. For example, you can turn on the player, TV, and AV receiver, set the receiver and TV inputs to the correct settings for disc play, and start the playback, all with the touch of the Play button.

The HDMI output is spec 1.2, and there are also Toslink optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs, and both two-channel and multichannel analog audio outputs. There's also a relatively quiet fan—a common sight on most HD players. But there is no Ethernet or other suitable connector for online updates or web-enabled interactivity. The detachable power cord is one of those small, two pole jobs that are hard to find a replacement for if you lose it.

According to Sony the player will pass x.v.Color from its HDMI 1.2 output, but will not automatically switch an x.v.Color-compatible display to the correct color space. You will have to do this manually; auto-switching apparently requires HDMI 1.3. I lacked both x.v.Color source material and an x.v.Color display, so did not test this feature (at present x.v.Color source material is limited to discs recorded on a few camcorders).

Unlike Sony's first-gen BDP-S1 (and Pioneer Elite's BDP-HD1) the BDP-S300 will play back CDs, either from its analog audio outputs or any of its digital audio outputs, including HDMI.

The Sony will play the uncompressed 5.1-channel PCM soundtracks offered on an increasing number of Blu-ray Discs (mainly from Sony and Disney). It can output them to a compatible AV receiver or pre-pro either over its HDMI 1.2 link or from its multichannel analog outputs.

The BDP-S300 as currently constituted will not, however, decode Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD, or DTS HD Master Audio at full resolution. It instead decodes the Dolby Digital or DTS "core" tracks, limited to 640kbps and 1.5Mbps, respectively. From there, depending on how the player is set up, it either converts the core DTS or DD data to multichannel PCM (for passing on to the receiver or pre-pro over the HDMI link, or D/A converted and passed through the player's multichannel analog outputs), or passes them directly on to the receiver to be decoded there as conventional DD or DTS soundtracks.

A future firmware upgrade to the BDP-S300 for Dolby TrueHD playback is always possible—Sony recently provided such an upgrade for its first-gen BDP-S1 player. But until you hear an official announcement to that effect for the BDP-S300, don't assume that such an upgrade will be offered.

If you use the 5.1-channel analog audio outputs, your Speaker setup options are limited. You can set the center channel and L/R surrounds to either Yes or No, and the front speakers to Large or Small. There are no adjustments for bass management, no selection for a subwoofer or its crossover frequency. I found that the subwoofer, if connected, was in the circuit whether I selected Large or Small for the left and right speakers. There are no calibration test tones, and no level controls or delay adjustments for the individual channels. This omission is significant because not all receivers or pre-pros offer both of these adjustments for their multichannel analog inputs. If yours does not, the usefulness of the BDP-S300's analog outputs will be compromised.

It's All (Not) in the Game
Earlier Blu-ray players, apart from the PlayStation3, were crippled in their ability to play some of the Java-enhanced features on Blu-ray Discs. Unfortunately, this remains an issue with the BDP-S300.

I tried to call up one of several games and features on each of three discs: Chicken Little, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. In each case I was confronted with exasperating load-time delays, and failures of the games to load and play properly. In one instance the player locked completely and had to be unplugged at the back panel and then plugged in again to resume playback.

Watching Blu-ray At first I thought that the BDP-S300 loaded Blu-ray Discs a little faster than the earlier Blu-ray players I've checked. But this appeared to vary with the disc, and on average it wasn't all that much different. It's certainly not speed-competitive with the only Olympic sprinter in the group, the PlayStation3.

But once loaded and running, the BDP-S300 performed like a gold medalist. The best Blu-ray Discs looked sensational at either 1080p/60 or 1080p/24. And for those using 720p displays, or displays that will not accept 1080p inputs, the player also performed beautifully when set for either a 720p or 1080i output.

The new Disney release of the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films are currently the gold standard for Blu-ray picture quality. The Curse of the Black Pearl, in particular, looked nearly as good on the Sony player as I recall from seeing it projected digitally in its theatrical run a few years ago.

The black levels were pristine on The Curse of the Black Pearl, the colors were rich and true, and the detail was often startling. In fact, I couldn't help but notice that the detail was good enough to show that some of the costumes were, obviously, costumes, and not genuine period clothing. You'd never notice this on a standard definition DVD and certainly not on most theatrical film presentations. The BDP-S300 definitely proved that it has what it takes for a great high-definition presentation.

I had no issue with the player's sound on Blu-ray Discs, either. I used an HDMI connection exclusively for my tests, which delivered the full benefits of uncompressed multichannel PCM soundtracks on those discs that have them (including many of the above titles). Although a good Dolby Digital soundtrack can still sound impressive, these uncompressed tracks do deliver an extra helping of the qualities that audiophiles crave.

Watching DVD
How well does the Sony play back standard definition DVDs? Very good, I'd say. Using a 1080p/60 resolution from the Sony's HDMI output I closely compared the upconverted image on the Sony with the Pioneer Elite DV-79AVi. Here I used 1080i from both machines (the Pioneer's maximum capability). It took only a few minutes to determine that the Sony actually looked a bit punchier, but the differences were within the range of fine-tuning the video adjustments on the projector. The Pioneer is not only twice as expensive as the Sony, but will not, of course, play Blu-ray Discs.

And a Glitch or Two
Our review sample froze up on a few occasions when given a command (though never randomly while a movie was playing). Clearing the freeze usually involved ejecting the disc and reloading it.

The Sony also sometimes performs erratically if you push the chapter skip button a few times in succession. Sometimes the player landed on the chapter I was aiming for; sometimes I had to make a correction or two. The faster your chapter-skip finger, the more likely you are to see this.

Judged purely as a DVD/CD/Blu-ray player, the Sony is a sure winner. It is also a good upconverting DVD player and a respectable, if slow-to-load, CD player. While the occasional freeze-ups were only a minor nuisance, I'm still a bit concerned about them. Despite this, however, the BDP-S300 has a lot to recommend it. If you want a relatively affordable standalone Blu-ray player, it's currently the only game in town. And fortunately, it's an outstanding one.

Sony's first affordably priced standalone Blu-ray player is a good one, with superb playback quality from Blu-ray Discs, and solid upconversion of standard definition DVDs for your legacy collection.

Review System

Denon AVR-4306 AV receiver (from preamp outputs; also HDMI switching)
Anthem Statement P5, five-channel
Revel Concerta F12 L/R, C12 center, S12 surrounds, and JL Fathom f113 subwoofer
JVC DLA-RS1 1080p LCoS projector
Stewart Studiotek 130, 78-inch wide, 16:9, 1.3 gain screen
UltraLink, Monster, and Gefen HDMI cables, Kimber AGDL digital cable, Monster and Cardas interconnects, Monster speaker cables. APC S15 power line conditioner/UPS.


Firmware version at time of review: 2.0
Video outputs: composite, S-Video, component YPbPr, HDMI 1.2 (audio/video)
Audio outputs: Two L/R analog, 5.1-channel analog, optical digital, coaxial digital
Power consumption: 33W
Dimensions: 17" x 3.125" x 14.875" (WxHxD)
Weight: 10 lbs
Price: $499

Sony Electronics Inc.
(858) 942-2200

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Revel Performa F52 Speaker System Review

Sonic revelation.
When the assignment came in to review Revel's Performa system, I was more than just a little bit excited. After all, spending time with a Performa F52, C52, S30, M22, and B15A setup is akin to driving a Mercedes-Benz CL600 coupe with every conceivable option when you're accustomed to commuting in a Honda Accord. There's nice, and then there's, "Give me the keys, and get out of the way!" Yes, this would be fun.

Revel enjoys a stellar reputation in the audiophile community. People recognize their products as tools for the discriminating audio enthusiast, and, with the support of parent company Harman International, Revel enjoys the financial support required to remain on the cutting edge. Of particular note, Revel is one of just a few select companies with membership in the far more elite Harman Specialty Group. Make no mistake: Revel is a cream-of-the-crop brand.

Initial Impressions
For this evaluation, I configured a 7.1 system with the C52 center-channel speaker, flanked on the left and right by the F52 tower speakers. Positioned on the left and right sides were a pair of S30s, while the M22 loudspeakers served as the left and right rear channels. I also placed a B15A subwoofer along a side wall on the floor.

The Revel Performa F52 system makes quite a statement in terms of visual impact. The F52, C52, and M22 enclosures were finished in a lustrous maple veneer, with black rear panels and black, fine-mesh cloth grilles in front—creating a very sleek look designed to blend nicely into a variety of living spaces. The B15A subwoofer shared a similar aesthetic, and the S30 surround speakers were finished in black. The S30 is available only in black or white, with matching grilles. All of the other models are available in black ash, natural cherry, or maple.

A Closer Look
The F52 is a five-driver, three-way design that includes three 6.5-inch woofers that utilize the company's proprietary Organic Ceramic Composite (OCC) cone technology for rigidity and low weight. These are coupled with a 5.25-inch OCC cone midrange driver housed in its own subenclosure within the F52 tower. A proprietary 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter, housed in what the company calls the Constant Acoustic Impedance waveguide, reproduces high-frequency content. The enclosure is ported at the rear. There are two sets of gold-plated binding posts mated with shorting straps to facilitate single-wire, biwire, and biamped connections. There are also provisions for adjusting low-frequency compensation (Normal, Contour, and Boundary) and tweeter level (–1, –0.5, 0, 0.5, and 1 decibel). Floor spikes are included.

The C52 center-channel speaker is equally comprehensive. It has dual 8-inch OCC cone woofers, a 5.25-inch OCC midrange driver, and a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter housed in a Constant Acoustic Impedance waveguide. The rear input panel is essentially a duplicate of the F52's but differs in the inclusion of a placement-compensation switch, which offers flush-mount, stand-mount, and on-top-of-monitor settings.

Designed for wall-mount installation, the S30 enclosure features a high-output 6.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch metal dome tweeter on its largest panel. There are also two 4-inch full-range drivers on the enclosure's side panels. You can configure these enclosures for either dipole or monopole operation. I selected dipole, as I find this setting works best for most program material in many listening environments.

While I was using the M22s for rear surrounds, these enclosures can certainly function as front speakers in a somewhat more modest setup. The driver compliment uses a two-way design that includes a 6.5-inch cast-frame OCC cone woofer mated with a 1-inch titanium dome tweeter. There's a single pair of gold-plated binding posts, complimented by a placement-compensation control (flush or stand mount) and tweeter-level control.

The Performa line's B15A subwoofer is, without a doubt, one of the most highly configurable subwoofers available. The system provides comprehensive control over equalization (frequency, bandwidth, and level) with EQ in/out, plus high- and low-pass contour control with master in/out. There are settings for automatic-on/standby operation, as well as external trigger operation, whereby the subwoofer will switch between film and music contour-response settings—dependent upon whether it detects a steady 12-volt DC voltage (from elsewhere in the system). Furthermore, the B15A ships with an LFO test-signal CD to aid in the setup process.

For my evaluation, source playback equipment included an Onkyo DV-SP800 SACD/DVD/DVD-Audio player, Parasound's Halo C2 controller, and Sunfire's Cinema 7 amplifier. Kimber Kables fed the front and center-channel speakers, while Monster Cables fed the S30s and B15A subwoofer. XLO Electric cable provided signal to the M22s. The system was calibrated at 75 dB with a C weighting.

I auditioned my classical-music selections strictly in stereo—without the subwoofer. The first movement (Allegro) of Beethoven's Concerto No. 5 in E Flat, Opus 73 (Emperor) was delightful. I was particularly impressed by the F52's ability to handle vast dynamic changes. From pianissimo through fortissimo, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's performance was vibrant and highly detailed, and the subtlest nuances of the piano were evident.

Similarly, the first movement (Allegro non troppo) of Lalo's Symphonie espagnole, Opus 21, was inspiring. The solo violin exhibited a presence that is rare in all but the best-performing systems. The system presented the subtleties of Jascha Heifetz's bowing technique with aplomb. Pizzicato string passages sparkled—with just the right amount of bite to the pluck.

On both pieces, stereo imaging was highly detailed and exhibited an almost three-dimensional quality—enabling me to identify placement of various instruments quite easily. Center imaging was particularly impressive. On both the piano concerto and the Heifetz violin performance, I twice found myself checking to make sure I had not accidentally engaged the center-channel speaker.

Switching my configuration to a 2.1 setup for R&B, I listened to a number of tracks from Stevie Wonder's A Time to Love and Anita Baker's My Everything. The B15A subwoofer delivers what I consider to be an incredibly articulate, natural bass response right down to the lowest depths. This subwoofer is a terrific compliment to the F52s. Together, the system delivered vocal tracks that were big and highly intelligible, and the low-mid background vocoder tracks on Wonder's "Positivity" rang clear as a bell. Similarly, Baker's lush, soulful style came through as if she were right there in the room. Simply put, this loudspeaker combination gave new meaning to the term "smooth jazz."

For my surround music evaluation, I listened to an SACD sampler of film composer Jerry Goldsmith's Movie Medleys. While my system was configured for 7.1 surround, this is a 5.1 disc—so the side (S30) and rear surround (M22) loudspeakers received the same signals. During all of the selections, the entire frequency range was evenly represented—with crystal-clear definition at the high end, a full midrange presence, and low-frequency response you could easily feel. The Performas handled sweeping orchestrations from side to side and front to rear beautifully. By the time I concluded with "The Generals," I was ready to stand up and salute.

My surround movie experience was equally exciting. I auditioned selected scenes from The Incredibles—also in 5.1. This was where the C52 center-channel speaker, along with the S30 and M22 loudspeakers, really shined. The C52 did a wonderful job with dialogue and exhibited a real theater-type presence. Meanwhile, the S30 and M22 side and rear surrounds did wonders with the ambient effects. I heard echoes from seemingly everywhere, while nature sounds abounded. During the film's "Missile Lock" scene, filter sweeps danced throughout the entire soundfield with dizzying speed; and, when bombs exploded, the B15A subwoofer shook the room with conviction.

Final Thoughts
I've gushed about sound quality throughout this entire review, and, quite frankly, this system deserves every bit of praise. Like that CL600 coupe, however, performance has its price, and, with an MSRP of $17,583, this Performa setup is clearly not for the economically challenged. Aside from the price, there is an additional issue to consider.

These are demanding loudspeakers that require an equally capable power amplifier to do the system justice. When I backed down on the master level, I felt as though the system really wanted more juice. Thankfully, the Sunfire Cinema 7 had the muscle to handle this—although I could have probably benefited from more power. If in doubt, it's always best to have more power as opposed to not enough. My recommendation: Don't cut corners on your choice of amplifier.

With dramatic visual appeal, beautiful workmanship, and performance that offers a rich, natural sonic presentation with superb dynamic contrast and imaging, the Revel Performa F52 system delivers the goods. I say, if you've got it, flaunt it!

• Great imaging, with superb ability to handle wide dynamic contrast
• B15a subwoofer is highly configurable and exhibits extended, controlled bass response

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Revel Performa F52 Speaker System:At A Glance

Subwoofer: B15A
Connections: Left and right balanced and unbal- anced line-level inputs and outputs
Enclosure Type: Sealed
Woofer (size in inches, type): 15, metal cone
Power Rating (watts): 1,000
Crossover Bypass: Yes
Available Finishes: Natural Cherry, Black Ash, Maple
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 20.06 x 17.75 x 18.31
Weight (pounds): 110
Price: $3,295

These listings are based on the manufacturer's stated specs; the HT Labs box below indicates the gear's performance on our test bench. at a glance

Speaker: F52
Type: Three-way, tower Three-way, center
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, aluminum dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 5.25, composite cone
Woofer (size in inches, type): 6.5, composite cone (3)
Nominal Impedance (ohms): 6.5
Recommended Amp Power (watts): 50–350
Available Finishes: Natural Cherry, Black Ash, Maple
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 44 x 9.5 x 17.5
Weight (pounds): 88
Price: $6,498/pair

Speaker: C52
Type: Three-way, center
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, aluminum dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 5.25, composite cone
Woofer (size in inches, type): 8, composite cone (2)
Nominal Impedance (ohms): 6
Recommended Amp Power (watts): 50–350
Available Finishes: Natural Cherry, Black Ash, Maple
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 10.8 x 24.6 x 10.5
Weight (pounds): 40.75
Price: $2,499

Speaker: S30
Type: Two-way, monitor Two-way, monitor
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, aluminum dome
Midrange (size in inches, type):
Woofer (size in inches, type): 6.5, poly cone
Nominal Impedance (ohms): 6
Recommended Amp Power (watts): 50–350
Available Finishes: Black or White
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 12.5 x 14.1 x 8.3
Weight (pounds): 18
Price: $2,295/pair

Speaker: M22
Type: Two-way, monitor
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, titanium dome
Midrange (size in inches, type):
Woofer (size in inches, type): 6.5, composite cone (2)
Nominal Impedance (ohms): 6.4
Recommended Amp Power (watts): 50–150
Available Finishes: Natural Cherry, Black Ash, Maple
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 14.5 x 8.6 x 11.8
Weight (pounds): 24
Price: $2,200/pair

Ratings: Revel Performa F52 Speaker System

Build Quality: 96
• Excellent build quality with lustrous maple, cherry, or black-ash veneer finish
• Black front and back contrasts beautifully with veneer wood

Value: 90
• The Performa Series represents a considerable monetary commitment, but you certainly get what you pay for
• This system requires an equally capable power amplifier to achieve optimum results

Features: 96
• Dual sets of gold-plated binding posts with support for multiple wiring configurations on F52 and C52
• Balanced (XLR) and unbalanced connections on the B15A subwoofer

Performance: 98
• Smooth, enticing performance throughout entire frequency range
• Natural-sounding, extended bass response
• Has great imaging capability

Ergonomics: 94
• All enclosures have a solid, hefty feel to them
• B15A sub is highly configurable and ships with LFO test-signal CD for proper setup

Overall Rating: 95
The Revel Performa F52 speaker system benefits from first-rate components and painstaking attention to detail in their construction, providing a wealth of configuration options for maximizing system performance. While you can certainly spend more for a system, the socin difference would most likely be marginal, if apparent at all.

General Information
F52 Loudpeaker, $6,498/pair
C52 Center-Channel Speaker, $2,499
S30 Surround Speaker, $2,295/pair
M22 Surround Speaker, $2,200/pair
B15A Subwoofer, $3,295
(781) 280-0300
Dealer Locator Code REV

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Revel Performa F52 Speaker System:HT Labs Measures

L/R Sensitivity: 87.5 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

Center Sensitivity: 89.5 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

Monopole Surround Sensitivity: 85.5 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

Dipole Surround Sensitivity: 86 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

This graph shows the quasi-anechoic (employing close-miking of all woofers) frequency response of the F52 L/R (purple trace), B15A subwoofer (blue trace), C52 center channel (green trace), M22 monopole surround (red trace), and S30 dipole surround (brown trace). All passive loudspeakers were measured with grilles at a distance of 1 meter with a 2.83-volt input and were scaled for display purposes.

The F52's listening-window response (a five-point average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal and vertical responses) measures +1.44/–2.37 decibels from 200 hertz to 10 kilohertz. The –3-dB point is at 41 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 25 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 4.10 ohms at 2.2 kHz and a phase angle of –40.85 degrees at 208 Hz.

The C52's listening-window response measures +1.53/–2.03 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. An average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal responses measures +1.68/–1.68 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3-dB point is at 67 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 56 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 3.44 ohms at 351 Hz and a phase angle of –19.23 degrees at 48 Hz.

The M22's listening-window response measures +1.25/–2.42 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3-dB point is at 44 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 39 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 5.23 ohms at 177 Hz and a phase angle of –71.17 degrees at 80 Hz.

The S30's three-face averaged response in dipole mode measures +1.29/–5.30 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3-dB point is at 81 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 69 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 3.89 ohms at 186 Hz and a phase angle of –48.87 degrees at 96 Hz.

The B15A's close-miked response, normalized to the level at 80 Hz, indicates that the lower –3-dB point is at 20 Hz and the –6-dB point is at 18 Hz. The upper –3-dB point is at 270 Hz with the filter switch set to out and the contour switch set to Music.—MJP

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Sony DAV-HDX500 BRAVIA Theater System review

This Sony HTiB does the listening for you.

Sony may not have invented the Home Theater in a Box, but it's certainly gone a long way in perfecting the concept. Where most companies make just a couple of HTiBs, Sony has close to a dozen ranging from a cute "1000-Watt" system with a five-disc changer and bookshelf speakers costing $299 all the way up to a 780-Watt $1,999 package that includes floorstanding front speakers, wireless rear speakers, and a DVD/ CD/SACD player. With so many choices, we wondered, what could we get from Sony for five hundred bucks? They answered the question by sending us the DAV-HDX500 BRAVIA Theater System.

The DAV-HDX500 is an HTiB built around an all-in-one receiver/DVD changer that Sony generously rates as putting out143-Watts per channel (x 5) plus an additional 285-Watts for the subwoofer – but that's at 10% THD. The receiver/DVD changer includes an AM/FM tuner, auto speaker calibration, and an HDMI output with upconversion to 720p or 1080i. There are inputs for an additional A/V source, an audio-only source, and an optional XM satellite radio antenna. Two Digital Media Ports on the back allow you to connect Sony Digital Media Port accessories, such as a Bluetooth Interface ($80) or a Walkman cradle ($50), both of which are currently available. Future accessories will include an iPod Dock ($100) and a Wi-Fi Client ($200). That's a pretty impressive range of features and inputs for a sub-$500 HTiB.

For years, one of Sony's strong points has been the industrial design of the gear it makes, and this HTiB is no exception. Rather than incorporate a standard flat front faceplate that looks both boring and cheap, Sony chose to endow the DAV-HDX500 with a cool-looking, split-level front panel. The main display is visible on the recessed top half while the DVD drawer, transport buttons, and volume control are located on a silver strip that extends outward about half an inch. Although the buttons are small, they're spaced well enough apart from one another, making it very easy to operate the system without the remote control.

Speaking of the remote control, the one included here is unfortunately typical of most Sony system remotes. It's filled with tiny buttons, many of which do double duty and therefore have double labels. Using it may be an engineer's delight, but it's an average Joe's distress. It's long, feels awkward in your hand, and the only TVs it will operate are compatible Sony models. This is not a family-friendly remote control.

The five-disc DVD changer is a front loading type, not a carousel. The video output can be upconverted to 720p or 1080i, and the image quality with DVDs is consistent with those I've seen in the $150 range. The time it takes to change discs is a bit longer than you'd experience with a carousel. It's pretty noisy when changing discs, but you won't be listening to music while the mechanism is operating anyway.

The front left and right speakers are two-way monitor-types. They're skinny, tall, and look high-tech when used with the included pedestal stands (thin silver tubes with large, flat, circular bases). They can also be mounted on the wall where they'll look like most other plasma-matching, on-wall speakers.

The center channel, in contrast, is tiny – so much so that it looks like it doesn't belong with the system. Whereas the main speakers are over 33-inches tall and almost 4.5-inches wide, the itty bitty center speaker is under two inches tall and only 15.25-inches wide. Put two stacks of three DVD cases side-by-side, and you'll have almost exactly the size of the front face of the center channel – although the speaker is only about half as deep (approximately 2.5-inches).The rear speakers are small, too, but not so much so that you'll do a double take when you first see them. All the speakers are silver with black metal grilles. Like the fronts, the center and rears can be wall-mounted using keyhole slots.

The size of the subwoofer is about average for an HTiB in the same price range and has a cabinet that's predominantly black with a silver trim ring around the front and a black metal grille that cosmetically matches the other speakers. There's a large port – with a thin silver ring around it to highlight the fact that it's there – on the front of the sub. The metal grille, by the way, is especially nice to have on the subwoofer since it's going to live down low where toddlers are amazingly adept at finding things to push, pull, prod, and poke. That metal grille will certainly save the bass driver itself from damage, but I think Sony made a mistake by not similarly protecting the port which is big enough to make a great hiding place for Hot Wheels cars, half-eaten crackers, and maybe the family gerbil.

Setting up the system is incredibly easy. Sony uses special color-coded speaker wire connectors on the back of the receiver/DVD player, so you plug those in and connect the wire with the matching color at the end to the appropriate speaker. Since the amplifier for the subwoofer is in the receiver/DVD player, there's no power cord to plug in. That's nice because it means you can place the sub anywhere that looks good, sounds good, and/or you can easily run the speaker wire to. Unfortunately, since the system doesn't include a low-level subwoofer output or the ability to set the system's processor/crossover to "no subwoofer", it will be hard to upgrade the speakers later on if you get the inclination to do so.

After the speakers are in place, you connect the included microphone to the jack on the front of the receiver/DVD changer. In the calibration menus, you can choose from several different system configurations ranging from the standard three-front-and¬-two-back (plus subwoofer) arrangement to one that has all the speakers lined up on the front wall. While that's a thought sure to make any true home theater lover sick, I give Sony credit for including it since for some people that might be the only way they can set up the system. After that it only takes the automatic circuitry a couple of minutes of pops, clicks, and thumps before it's ready to go.

I found the calibration routine to be pretty accurate when it came to setting the delays as well as the volume levels. With the exception of the tiny center channel, I was almost ready to say that the dawn of a new era in the HTiB world was about to begin. That was before I sat down to do some serious listening to the system.

Don't misunderstand. When compared to most of what's on the market in the under-$500 range, the DAV-HDX500 is a solid contender when it comes to performance. It's just that, in my opinion, Sony has made the same mistake that almost all companies do with their HTiBs: they scrimped on the sound quality of the speakers.

The center channel offers a clue. It's just too small to do the job the way it really ought to be done. Because it, and the rest of the speakers, can't handle much in the way of bass response, the subwoofer is crossed over at a frequency that's high enough to make it easily localizable in the room. (One way to minimize this, of course, is to set up the subwoofer on the same wall as close to the main speakers as you can.) The bass is a bit boomy, but it's as good – and maybe a bit better – than what you'll hear with other $500 HTiBs. No, it's not going to knock you out of your chair, but you'd have to spend $500 or more just on the subwoofer for that kind of experience.

The main speakers tend to resonate a bit in the vocal range giving them a slightly hollow sound. It's not so noticeable with movies, but it became more obvious with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's Live concert DVD. The highs are a bit aggressive, which can put you slightly on edge when you're watching a movie like Monster House that has lots of high-frequency creaks and cracks. On the other hand, the cannon bombardment scene early in Master & Commander and the circle of drums scene in House of the Flying Daggers were both reproduced very well with a nice sense of space.

All things considered, especially the price point, I've got to give the DAV-HDX500 pretty high marks relative to its competitors. It's a fun system to use (except for that blasted remote), and the auto calibration makes getting the best sound possible out of the system as brainless as possible. It looks good, and if you're a Sony TV owner, it'll look especially nice next to your TV. I wish the speakers sounded a bit better, but that's a common knock against HTiBs, anyway. All in all, it's a good value in a one-box system.

Article Continues: At A Glance »

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Sony DAV-HDX500 BRAVIA Theater System review:At A Glance

At A Glance Sony SS-WS74 Powered Subwoofer
Drive Unit: 6.4", bass reflex
Power Rating: 285-Watts
Dimensions (WHD): 8.75" x 15.6" x 13.9"
Weight: 14.4 lbs.
Sony SS-CT72 Center Speaker
Type: single-driver, one-way 1.2" x 2.4" cone driver, magnetically shielded
Impedance: 3-ohms
Dimensions (WHD): 15" x 1.9" x 2.5"
Weight: 1.1 lbs./ea.
Sony SS-TS74 (Front Speaker)
Type: three-driver, two-way with two 2.6-inch mid-bass drivers and one 2-inch tweeter, magnetically shielded
Impedance: 3-ohms
Dimensions (WHD): 4.4" x 32.6" x 3"
Weight: 5.1 lbs./ea.
Sony SS-TS72 (Surround Speaker)
Type: one-driver, one-way with one 2.6-inch driver, magnetically shielded
Impedance: 3-ohms
Dimensions (WHD): 3.75" x 8.75" x 3"
Weight: 1.6 lbs./ea.
Sony DAV-HDX500 AV Receiver/DVD Changer
Power Rating: 143-Watts x 5 into 3 ohms
Processing Modes: DD, Dolby ProLogicII Movie/Music, DTS-ES/Discrete/Matrix/Neo:6, DTS 24/96, Neural Surround, Digital Cinema Sound
Video: One component and S-Video, two composite
Audio: One each coaxial and Toslink optical digital audio, two analog stereo
Video : One each component, composite, S-Video, and HDMI
Audio: N/A
Playback Formats: DVD-Video, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, DVD+R DL, CD/CD-R/CD-RW, JPEG, MP3
Upconversion: 720p, 1080i
System Price: $499.99

Manufacturer Information
Sony Corporation
(877) 865 SONY

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Samsung DVD-V9650 DVD Player/VHS Recorder review

Teasing the high end while still embracing the previous generation.

I recently read somewhere that DVD's install base had eclipsed that of VHS, the former king of meat-and-potatoes home entertainment. I flashed nostalgically on DVD's initial toehold in rental outlets like Blockbuster and stores such as Suncoast, as well as its relentless growth to the point where VHS was relegated to a single shelf before disappearing altogether. I'm sure that recordable DVD still remains a runner-up to the ubiquitous videocassette—even though blank DVDs cost less than blank tapes and recording decks are at all-time-low prices. Still, for reasons that escape me, VHS just won't lie down, even though the consumer electronics coroner has pronounced it dead.
Catering to tape-faithful diehards, Samsung has an entire wave of assorted DVD-player/VHS-recorder combo units. Their top-end model is the DVD-V9650, the first upconverting DVD/VHS combi player from the company that introduced the original DVD/VHS combo going on six years ago. Right here in the second paragraph, let me make a few points plain. First, this model's recording is limited to VHS, meaning it doesn't record to DVD, unlike some other decks I've reviewed, as well as some other Samsung decks. There's also no way to record from DVD—copy protected or not—to VHS, as the deck is not wired internally for this purpose. It won't work even if you feed the DVD output to the VCR input, because the disc and the tape sections will not operate at the same time. And, while the deck offers DVD upconversion over HDMI, you can only connect the VHS output via composite or RF coaxial outputs, neither of which is an enticing choice for DVD output. (Interlaced/progressive component video and S-video outputs are provided, as well.) The bottom line is, you're going to need two different video-output cables to use both sources.

Video Snobbery (Just a Bit)
The last time I watched a videotape by choice was about two years ago, and that was something absolutely necessary for work that wasn't available in any other format. So, writing about VHS now feels oddly unfamiliar. I had to program the clock, of course, but this model thankfully doesn't endlessly flash "12:00." Samsung provides an Auto Clock feature to simplify setup. Under ideal circumstances, the clock might properly set itself. Otherwise, you can use the eight-step manual process, which depends upon your knowing which TV channels carry a time signal. It also requires a reboot. Samsung has added a TiVo-like Skip feature, a 30-second forward jump that you can use up to four times at once. There's also a Repeat feature, which takes you five seconds back at SP speed (15 in SLP), so you can catch missed dialogue and so forth. This deck doesn't support LP, the "long play" mode that is good for four hours on a standard T-120 tape. With its S-VHS Quasi Playback, the DVD-V9650 will play any S-VHS tapes you've accumulated over the years, albeit at standard VHS quality, or roughly 240 lines of resolution versus the 400 lines possible with true Super-VHS. This compatibility is something of a carrot to anyone with an S-VHS-C camcorder and a backlog of home movies.

The VHS picture quality is slightly better with this deck than I remember from other VCRs. With content from both home-recorded and store-bought tapes, an unfortunate screen-door effect plagued the picture. At times, a subtle darkness also rolled down the image, which might have been attributable to poor electrical grounding and not the player. The Auto Tracking locked on after about 10 seconds, and it ably cleaned up any major shakes and streaks. You can also adjust the tracking manually. Overall, for a composite video signal, the picture was not atrocious; if you have to watch VHS, you could definitely do a lot worse. The hi-fi stereo audio output was excellent, with fine separation and improved dynamic range versus linear audio, if your recordings offer hi-fi soundtracks.

The Latest in VHS: DVD!
VHS aside (it's on the right side, actually), this inexpensive little DVD player provides the modern-industry-standard HDMI output. It will output 480p and upconverted 720p and 1080i signals. You can set the HDMI resolution with the remote control and onscreen menus, or you can use the inconspicuous HD button that's almost lost among the VCR controls on the front panel. You can also set HDMI formats to match your display. The RGB Normal/YCbCr (4:4:4) mode is ideal for most TVs that accept HDMI input—delivering enhanced contrast and enabling superior color reproduction—while RGB Expand broadens the color and contrast range for connection to a monitor. Five available brightness levels allow you to fine-tune the picture to best play to your TV's strengths. There's also black-level adjustment, but you can only negotiate said blacks when the video output is in interlaced mode. In general, the upconversion isn't awful, but the introduction of a digital haze is definitely noticeable to the sophisticated eye. Frankly, I don't think upconversion makes the picture look much better, while the side effects actually make it look a little less natural than honest 480p. When I switched between certain DVD menus or worked with the soundless Faroudja Sage test disc, the DVD-V9650 continually reminded me that "HDMI Audio [is] not supported" in big white letters on the screen, a mildly annoying but unavoidable trait.

I used the Sage disc's line-twitter pattern to evaluate the field merge of horizontal lines in the alternating odd and even fields of each frame. After a one-second acquisition, all flicker disappeared from the lines, which appeared smooth and free of artifacts. The oscillating-pendulum graphic should illustrate the elimination of jagged edges in interlaced motion on progressive displays. Surprisingly, it remained smooth at all angles without jaggies as it swung, except for the instant when it stopped at the top of each arc. The actual edges took on a weird sort of glow. The random movement of the waving-flag test had minimal jaggies on only the most unforgiving flaps of the Stars and Stripes in this first real-world-video deinterlacing demo I conducted. In the following clip, the top edge of the hockey rink's glass looked clean and smooth for the most part during the panning shot of the ice. The moving-cross-hatch pattern evaluates inverse 3:2/2:2 pulldown, the deinterlacing of film-originated material; this suffered from continuous flutter during its diagonal journey across my screen.

There was definite feathering on the first example of mixed content—video text overlaid on film—although it wasn't the worst I've seen on this demo. The second clip, on the other hand, offered text that was clear as a bell. The final chapter of the Sage disc contains the tests for bad-edit detection and correction, so as to address breaks in the 3:2 cadence, a problem that commonly occurs when film is converted to video and edited. This can also lead to the feathering of images, but, here, the results were rock solid. To gain a fuller sense of the DVD-V9650's video performance, I ran the Sage disc over both progressive-scan component video and HDMI with virtually identical results. However, I did see a slight improvement to the smoothness of the top edge of the rink glass over HDMI.

This deck imparts a characteristic softness in the image processing of all content. Perhaps this was why I noticed less color banding than I've seen from some players on the difficult opening scenes of Superman at 480p. The problem was more noticeable with upconverted content, as was the twitchiness of fine textures on Superman and Master and Commander. Blacks were rather harsh, and, even with the brightness cranked up full, little picture information was revealed in the shadows. This being a Samsung DVD deck, it also offers multiple EZ View modes, including a vertical fit for flat 4:3 content within the 16:9 frame (with black bars on the sides). There's also a Zoom Fit enlargement, which renders the blown-up image only a tad softer.

So, who should buy Samsung's DVD-V9650? The answer is VHS loyalists who have a hard time facing the future (or the present) or those slow-moving folks who are finally, grudgingly making the transition to DVD but need a crutch to ease the journey. DVD and VHS quality exceeded my expectations at this ludicrously low price point, and there's plenty of customizability and most of the features you'd ever need.

  1. • DVD player upconverts to 720p/1080i via HDMI output
  2. • VHS VCR tucked in there, too, all at a great low price

Article Continues: At A Glance & Ratings »

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Samsung DVD-V9650 DVD Player/VHS Recorder review:At A Glance & Ratings

Video: Composite video (2), coaxial cable/antenna (1)
Audio: Analog stereo (2)
Video: HDMI (1), component video (1), S-video (1)(DVD only); composite video (1)
Audio: Digital optical (1), digital coaxial (1)(both DVD only); analog stereo (1)
Compatible Playback Formats: DVD, DVD-R/-RW, DVD+R/+RW, CD, CD-R/-RW, MP3, WMA, SVCD, JPEG, DivX (MPEG-4), VHS
Possible Playback Resolutions: 480i; 480p/720p/1080i (DVD)
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 2.3 x 17 x 10.8
Weight (pounds): 8.1

Ratingss: Samsung DVD-V9650 DVD Player/VHS Recorder

Build Quality: 88
• The mostly metal chassis endured slightly more abuse than I usually dish out
• The substantial innards also serve to dampen disc/tape operating noise

Value: 93
• A bargain even within the bargain category
• Tremendous functionality and lots of pleasant little surprises

Features: 87
• Generous array of video tweaks and front and rear inputs; many available outputs
• DivX certified for video on demand downloads from the PC

Performance: 89
• Despite a definite softness on all material, picture quality at 480p was respectable
• VHS picture quality was as good as could be expected

Ergonomics: 83
• The slim black box is designed to complement Samsung's latest HDTVs
• The front panel's Progressive and HDMI buttons seem to be an afterthought; rear panel is confusing

Overall Rating: 89
In the relentless march of technology, the prices of mainstream DVD players continue to plummet, while quality and features continue to advance, resulting in the DVD-V9650, an easily affordable deck that could actually impress.

General Information
DVD-V9650 DVD Player/VHS Recorder, $129
Samsung Electronics America
Dealer Locator Code SAM

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Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-70 Speaker System Review

This is a momentous time for Energy Speaker Systems. Until recently, Energy was one of several brands owned and operated by Audio Products International of Toronto, Canada. (The others included Mirage, Athena, and Spherex.) Now the API brands have been merged into Klipsch of Indianapolis, Indiana, creating a new fusion of Canadian design and American ownership. Energy has also moved their manufacturing to China, where they will have more control over parts, while achieving greater cost-effectiveness. John Tchilinguirian, the longtime lead designer for the brand, has moved on to independent consulting. That makes the Energy RC-70 towers, RC-LCR (serving as center), and RC-R surrounds partly a chapter from a previous tome and partly the first chapter in a new story.

Best Dressed
In the hierarchy of Energy's larger speakers, the Reference Connoisseur speakers sit between the bleeding-edge Veritas line and the more value-oriented C-Series. If you are looking for something less bulky, check out the similar but smaller RC-Mini monitor, the home-design-friendly Take Series, the Act sub/sat systems, or the three in-wall/-ceiling lines, the Veritas Custom, Reference Connoisseur Custom, and EAS series.

A couple I know recently decided to banish all vinyl-clad furnishings, including loudspeakers, from their home. Reference Connoisseur products would meet their standards, with real wood-veneer enclosures in warm cherry, darker rosenut, and black-ash finishes. Pull off the magnetically attached grilles, and you'll see a brushed-aluminum finish on the metal baskets that hold the drivers.

The RC-70 is the largest of the three new Reference Connoisseur towers. The RC-70 looks like a simple rectangular solid, but inside it has full-length bracing that's been computer-tweaked to prevent cabinet resonances from polluting the musical river. Its dual-rear-ported enclosure has enough depth to encompass sufficient volume to produce good bass and a front surface just wide enough to accommodate the girth of its 6.5-inch woofers.

With the inclusion of its 5.5-inch midrange driver, the RC-70 is the only three-way model among the three Reference Connoisseur towers. The woofer and midrange cones are both constructed of Kevlar. Energy specified the thickness and weave and also added a proprietary resin coating. In a move borrowed from the Veritas line, the 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter sits in a separate chamber to isolate it from vibrations.

Aside from the tweeter, the driver mix changes in the RC-LCR and RC-R. The RC-LCR is a left/center/right speaker, although, for this review, I used it only in the center position. Its dual 5.5-inch Kevlar-coned woofers are smaller than those in the towers. Flanking the tweeter in the center of the enclosure is a pair of 2-inch, aluminum cone midrange drivers.

There's no getting around the fact that the RC-70 and RC-LCR don't speak with precisely the same voice. Sticklers may prefer to match the front channels with three RC-LCRs to achieve perfect panning effects and the most even front soundstage. A system with five of them might arguably be the ideal surround system for music. (Steve Guttenberg used three in his Energy review in the June 2006 issue.) However, I didn't regret having two RC-70s in my listening room; it was a brush with greatness.

The RC-LCR's woofers and tweeter reappear on the front of the RC-R surround speaker, with two more of the 2-inch midrange drivers on either side of the enclosure. A switch beneath the grille lets you select between bipole mode (with the midranges in phase) and dipole mode (with the mids out of phase). Next to the switch is something quite rare—a dial that adjusts the output of the side midranges from 0 decibels (off) to 1 dB below the level of the front drivers. Silencing the mids turns the speaker into a monopole unit.

So, you have three options. Monopole operation is best for localized surround effects in the rear of the room (usually my preferred mode for surround music). Bipole operation offers what the manual calls a more "large" and "expansive" sound. And, finally, dipole operation is designed for an "even more expansive" and "even larger" sound. The choice is yours. I went with the dipole setting, as I prefer the fullest possible soundfield.

Second from the top in Energy's subwoofer line, the S10.3 has a 10-inch, front-mounted, hybrid-cone driver with two downward-firing ports. The driver substrate is polypropylene, with deposits of ceramic, glass, and mica to add stiffness. A patented Ribbed Elliptical Surround—which has construction similar to the tower's woofers—allows for excursions of up to 1.57 inches peak to peak. In plain English, you've got a cone that's strong and stiff, suspended in front with a piece of rubber that's strong and supple, being pushed and pulled a fair distance.

The sub's volume control is on its front—where it belongs—and its phase control is continuously adjustable between 0 and 180 degrees (many subs provide just a two-position toggle). If you prefer to set the crossover in your receiver, you'll want to take advantage of the crossover-bypass switch to prevent bass from being routed through two filters when one does the job. The finish is vinyl, not a genuine wood veneer.

The Devil and the Scrunts
The sound that emerged from this hodgepodge of speakers surprised me with its full, rich, easygoing nature. The forthright quality I've always associated with Energy was still there, but a voluptuousness that I had not previously heard from the brand joined it. With my usual 80-hertz crossover, the system generously ladled out lower midrange and upper bass, in contrast to many systems that thin out where the speakers meet the sub. The sub's bass response wasn't quite as taut as that of the speakers. It was more rounded and seemed to detach slightly, although it was also tuneful and performed well under stress.

Some movies pose challenges in dialogue delivery. With the DTS soundtrack of The Devil Wears Prada, fashion fiend Meryl Streep establishes a narrow dynamic range—from deadly sotto voce, down to a near whisper, and finally to an actual whisper. The RC-LCR's vocal delivery, like Streep's, was understated. (This was after I'd set the levels with an SPL meter, with the center channel 1 dB higher than the mains.) To compensate, I hiked the master volume. That enabled me to more easily catch dialogue while literally amplifying surround-rich material like parties, street scenes, and the violent thunking of expensive coats hitting a desk. If the RC-LCR was reticent, it was also commendably smooth, with no excessive sibilance or spit, and with nothing nasal or chesty in its character.

In Lady in the Water, the challenge was not vocal intelligibility per se, but the sheer strangeness of made-up words like "narf" and "scrunt." The center speaker delivered the Dolby Digital–ized consonants just precisely enough for my ears to hear them, but I still couldn't quite believe what I was hearing. When I switched on the subtitles, I saw that the equipment was accurate and that my ears had not been deceived. Then I could settle in and enjoy the whimsical story about an apartment house full of freaks, something the manager and staff of my building could easily relate to. The dramatic scenes didn't make the Energy speakers flinch, although the sound of an automated sprinkler suddenly erupting into all channels did make me flinch.

Miami Vice wraps its combination of action movie, film noir, and cheap, televisionlike visual language in a shroud of disappointingly conventional music and effects. The Energy speakers kept up with all of it, although that wasn't much of a challenge. The Dolby Digital soundtrack showed some early promise when synthesized musical pulses echo the rhythm of a just-concluded shooting. After that, things got dull. Still, to my way of thinking, any movie that features more than one song by Audioslave isn't a total waste of time.

The Sopranos, season six, episode one, features a loud blam that punctuates a key scene (and punctures a key character). The combined explosion from the subwoofer and speakers was suitably shocking.

The Universe and the Saint
BT stands for Brian Transeau, and his work, This Binary Universe, comes with two discs: a CD and a DVD with a DTS surround soundtrack. Naturally, I fired up the latter, and it rewarded me with mostly (but not entirely) abstract images that complemented the mostly (but not entirely) synthesized music. The RC-R surrounds made the most of the busy surround mix. "All That Makes Us Human Continues" was akin to wandering through a brightly lit, glass-enclosed rail station—like, say, Berlin's giant new Hauptbahnhof—while experiencing an inner crisis. The melody morphed from comforting to disturbing, then back again, while shards of light flickered on the screen. The ultimate effect was pleasant but not profound—more on the order of a nice sherry than a stiff single malt.

A piercing harmonica (is there any other kind?) kicks off track one of Robyn Hitchcock's This Is the BBC, a collection of studio-made radio performances dating from the mid- to late 1990s. As I walked from speaker to speaker, with the CD playing in Dolby Pro Logic II, I confirmed that the center was a little reticent compared with the left and right speakers, although none of them was either unduly bright or unduly mushy. This made the harmonica less painful, but it also blunted Hitchcock's edgy voice, slightly defocusing the music's emotional center and opening up the clean, dry BBC mixes. I got a better soundstage when I shut down everything but the two RC-70s. It reminded me that these two towers are as well balanced and satisfying as any I've ever heard in two-channel mode.

Recordings with multiple voices and complex acoustics practically beg for surround treatment, and that's what Bach's St. John Passion got from the Channel Classics SACD release with the Netherlands Bach Society. The performance used a one-voice-per-part arrangement, sacrificing the mellifluous character of a chorus for the specificity of individual vocal performances. There emerged an invigorating and moving contrast between the soundfield's soft, dark, enveloping enormity and the brilliant spotlight hitting each of the voices. The two-disc set includes a hardcover 192-page booklet with lyrics in English, Dutch, German, and French and a rich assortment of sacred artwork. It's expensive but worth it.

Great ideas, well executed, abound in this Energy Reference Connoisseur speaker system. The RC-70 towers provide a powerful combination of high performance, high value, high quality of construction, and understated elegance. As two-channel performers, they are monsters. In the RC-LCR, Energy offers an unorthodox driver array that would well serve every channel in a differently configured system. I loved the versatility of the monopole/ bipole/ dipole surrounds, and I developed a healthy respect for the sub. Wish Energy and their new owners luck—this remains one of the most fascinating brands in the speaker business.

* Audio editor Mark Fleischmann is also the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater (www.quietriverpress.com).

• Conventional on the outside; less so on the inside
• Voluptuous midrange and full, rounded bass
• The sub's driver is strong and stiff and is capable of large excursions

Article Continues: At A Glance & Ratings»

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At A Glance & Ratings: Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-70 Speaker System

Subwoofer: S10.3
Connections: Line-level (mono) and speaker- level (stereo)
Enclosure Type: Vented
Woofer (size in inches, type): 10, polypropylene-hybrid cone
Power Rating (watts): 200 continuous, 800 peak
Crossover Bypass: Yes
Available Finishes: Black Ash vinyl
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 17.33 x 14.14 x 18.31 Weight (pounds): 34
Price: $500

These listings are based on the manufacturer's stated specs; the HT Labs box below indicates the gear's performance on our test bench.

Speaker: RC-70
Type: Three-way, tower
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, aluminum dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 5.5, Kevlar cone (1)
Woofer (size in inches, type): 6.5, Kevlar cone (2)
Impedance (ohms): 8 nominal, 4 minimum
Recommended Amp Power (watts): Up to 250 Up to 200 Up to 125
Available Finishes (veneers): Black Ash, Cherry, Rosenut
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 39.88 x 7.75 x 15
Weight (pounds): 59.6
Price: $2,000/pair

Speaker: RC-LCR
Type: Three-way, L/C/R
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, aluminum dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 2, aluminum cone (2)
Woofer (size in inches, type): 5.5, Kevlar cone (2)
Impedance (ohms): 8 nominal, 4 minimum
Recommended Amp Power (watts): Up to 200
Available Finishes (veneers): Black Ash, Cherry, Rosenut
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 7.5 x 19.2 x 10.25
Weight (pounds): 24.2
Price: $600/each

Speaker: RC-R
Type: Three-way, surround
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, aluminum dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 2, aluminum cone (2)
Woofer (size in inches, type): 5.5, Kevlar cone (2)
Impedance (ohms): 8 nominal, 4 minimum
Recommended Amp Power (watts): Up to 125
Available Finishes (veneers): Black Ash
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 9.75 x 12 x 6.13
Weight (pounds): 13.9
Price: $300/each

Ratings: Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-70 Speaker System

Build Quality: 94
• Has well-braced enclosures
• Aluminum cone midranges in center and surround speakers
• Custom Kevlar woofers

Value: 90
• At this level of execution, the price is usually higher
• Draws on design of higher-end Veritas line
• Composite-coned drivers are not off-the-shelf parts

Features: 91
• Patented Ribbed Elliptical Surround technology
• The die-cast baskets are finished in brushed aluminum
• Sub has continuously adjustable phase control

Performance: 91
• Generous soundfield with abundant detail
• Clean mids and treble; nice bass
• Good dispersion

Ergonomics: 90
• Not the slimmest towers, but they produce real bass
• Wood veneer, not vinyl, in three shades on all but the sub
• Magnetically attached speaker grilles

Overall Rating: 91
Energy makes their transition to new ownership with a set of world-beating towers, a daringly designed L/C/R, and an extremely versatile bipole/dipole/monopole surround. The sound is smooth and natural, with good bass. A choice of three wood veneers will make these speakers fit into even the most elegant homes.
General Information
RC-70 Tower Speaker, $2,000/pair; RC-LCR L/C/R Speaker, $600/each; RC-R Surround Speaker, $300/each;
S10.3 Subwoofer, $500
Energy Speaker Systems
(416) 321-1800

Article Continues: HT Labs Measures »

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Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-70 Speaker System review:HT Labs Measures

L/R Sensitivity: 89 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

Center Sensitivity: 86.5 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

Surround Sensitivity: 82 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

This graph shows the quasi-anechoic (employing close-miking of all woofers) frequency response of the RC-70 L/R (purple trace), S10.3 subwoofer (blue trace), RC-LCR center channel (green trace), and RC-R surround (red trace). All passive loudspeakers were measured with grilles at a distance of 1 meter with a 2.83-volt input and scaled for display purposes.

The RC-70's listening-window response (a five-point average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal and vertical responses) measures +1.38/–5.19 decibels from 200 hertz to 10 kilohertz. The –3-dB point is at 68 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 48 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 4.44 ohms at 144 Hz and a phase angle of –31.74 degrees at 98 Hz.

The RC-LCR's listening-window response measures +1.25/–4.52 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. An average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal responses measures +1.06/–4.71 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3-dB point is at 57 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 52 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 4.05 ohms at 61 Hz and a phase angle of –25.52 degrees at 51 Hz.

The RC-R's three-face averaged response in dipole mode measures +1.62/–4.23 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3-dB point is at 73 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 64 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 4.95 ohms at 203 Hz and a phase angle of –42.64 degrees at 132 Hz.

The S10.3's close-miked response, normalized to the level at 80 Hz, indicates that the lower –3-dB point is at 24 Hz and the –6-dB point is at 23 Hz. The upper –3-dB point is at 111 Hz with the X-Over Mode switch set to By-Passed.—MJP

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Samsung HL-S5686W 56" DLP Rear-Projection 720p HDTV Review

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The rear projection big-screen TV market is hot. Consumers are discovering that the latest RPTVs can often beat plasma in picture quality and offer bigger screen sizes for much less money if hanging it on the wall isn't a priority.
Modern RPTVs are thin, light, and inexpensive compared to the CRT-based monsters of just a few years back. While you can still buy a CRT-based set, they've now been severely compromised in quality to fit into the low-end $1000-$1500 price range. Newer projection technology, such as LCD, LCoS, and DLP, has typically started at over twice this price and industry leading Sony SXRD and JVC HD-ILA sets continue to sell in the $4000 range and above.

For years this reviewer has taken issue with some of Samsung's design decisions and the resulting picture. But the HLS series incorporates changes that greatly improve picture quality at a price tag that's stunningly low—especially considering some of the remarkable features being offered. Could the HL-S5686W be the new leader in affordable giant-screen TVs? Can a 56", 1280x720 DLP HDTV with a "street price" that's under $2000 look good enough for an Ultimate AV blessing?

Notable Features
You'd be surprised how often a set is passed over by consumers because it won't fit within a given physical space. A notable recent example is the first generation of Sony SXRDs, whose width with their non-detachable speakers probably cost Sony thousands of sales. Samsung has designed the HLS series to fit where others won't. It's unlikely you'll find any other projection TV in a comparable screen size with such a small footprint.

Samsung's DNIe (Digital Natural Image Engine) video enhancement circuitry has been controversial with video experts since day one. It's been improved somewhat in this, its fourth generation, but the big news is that this for the first time in years it is completely defeatable in the user menu. In fact, it's turned off by default in "Movie" mode. While DNIe definitely isn't the evil some would have you believe, the fact that you can turn it off is a major step forward in flexibility.

Samsung's Movie mode also boasts an industry first. The color points for its primary and secondary colors are said to be different from those used for the other viewing modes, which are exaggerated and oversaturated. The latter is typical of most sets these days. Some people actually prefer the more vivid factory color to true color accuracy. With the HL-S series, you have a choice of which color space (accurate vs. exaggerated) to use. It's as simple as changing viewing modes.

(Because of the oversaturated colors of earlier Samsung sets, a few ISF calibrators have, for several years now, been using a special technique hidden within the firmware of Samsung sets to correct the color points. Video guru Joe Kane first took advantage of this technique for setting correct colors when he worked on the design of the Samsung SP-H700AE DLP Projector. But this technique requires special equipment, is not a normal part of an ISF calibration, and it's something that can't even be done at all with any competing set we know of.)

The HL-S single-chip DLP sets incorporate a faster color wheel, with five color segments for additional color accuracy and resistance to dreaded "rainbow" artifacts. In addition, the color wheel features an air bearing for longer life and noise free operation. An additional color wheel segment was part of HP's secret to good color (see TJN's recent review of the HP md5880n ). HP used a new, dark green segment while Samsung has chosen yellow and cyan.

The Samsung's connectivity is outstanding for any HDT, let alone one at this price point. Two HDMI inputs are supplied along with a pair of component inputs that will accept all four scan rates (480i/p, 720p and 1080i). A USB input makes photo viewing easy, and an RGB input is provided for PC monitor use. Unlike plasmas, DLP sets aren't at risk for static image burn-in and are safe for static computer images.

This is a native 720p set, and its inputs will not accept present or future 1080p sources. But HD-DVD and Blu-ray players should still look great on this set at 720p or 1080i.

Because video sources can vary somewhat, it's important on any display to be able to customize video settings (brightness, color, etc) for each source separately. Samsung dropped the ball a bit here. While each source can be assigned a video mode (like Movie), your video settings within that mode apply to any source using it. If two of your sources require different settings, you'll either have to make video adjustments each time you switch sources, or you'll have to assign one of the sources to another mode like Standard, Custom, or Vivid, all of which feature less accurate color fidelity than Movie.

The remote is new for Samsung and includes some of my favorite buttons—"Sleep" for those prone to fading late at night on the couch and "Still" for freezing the picture to write down that phone number for some irresistible TV offer. It's black though, and unlit, and hard to see in a room with dim lighting. I would have also liked a signal strength button to facilitate off-the-air antenna orientation. You have to go deep into the menu to find that feature.

Finally, the HL-S5686W includes both an analog (NTSC) and a digital (ATSC) tuner. But there is no CableCARD slot and only support for analog, not digital cable.

Viewing Impressions
Frankly, I didn't expect to be particularly impressed with this inexpensive DLP set, but the HL-S surprised me from the first turn-on. Vivid mode was, of course, the way the set started up when it arrived, and was "overdone" in every way (as it is with all sets I've checked fresh out of the box). But switching to Movie gave a smooth, natural looking picture that was a pleasure to watch.
At first, it was difficult to find much fault with the HL-S, but after firing up my reference 55" Hitachi plasma (1366x768 resolution) right next to it, several differences became obvious. Direct side-by-side comparisons are invaluable for accurately picking out strengths and weaknesses of displays. It doesn't work well in dealer showroom demos because the program material is controlled (and lighting isn't) and you probably won't have the ability to properly adjust the sets being compared.

First and foremost, and especially when compared to the best 1080p sets out there, the Samsung's HD picture is on the soft side and sometimes even slightly blurry when motion is involved. This is the case even with DNIe on, even though this feature does enhance detail. The softness is usually not a big deal. You might even think at first that the source itself lacks fine detail in trees, grass, and foliage moving in the distance. But the plasma was significantly sharper in fine background resolution in a direct comparison, particularly on camera pans.

This wasn't always obvious with much of my HD viewing and it wasn't a real issue for DVDs, which have much lower resolution. Still, if we're looking for weaknesses, this was the biggest one I could find. Over-the-air baseball in HD, shot from behind the pitcher, provided a consistent example. The detail of the grass at a distance was always slightly lacking, though Samsung's built-in digital tuner did look sharper than my reference tuner with an HDMI connection. The Samsung did have considerably better color accuracy than the plasma, which was nearly always noticeable.

The real surprise was in the smoothness of this Samsung's picture. Past Samsung models I've calibrated in the field have been plagued with artifacts, video noise, and dark scene posterization (blocking, or blotchiness in dark areas of the image). The HL-S was surprisingly artifact-free. And while in freedom from video noise the HL-S is not yet in the league with the latest (and much-more-expensive) 1080p JVC HD-ILA sets, the only time that video noise was beyond the capabilities of the set's only moderately effective Digital NR (noise reduction) to adequately control was in certain low light scenes. Drop Dead Fred was an especially troublesome DVD for the Samsung from a video noise standpoint.

DNIe, as mentioned above, has been considerably improved over the years. Samsung lists a variety of things this processing suite does. I mostly noticed a slight and welcome sharpening (but without the earlier versions' excessive edge enhancement) and a slight increase in gamma way down near black that served to enhance contrast (but without the severe black crush of earlier years).

Unfortunately, DNIe also intentionally allows the brightness (black level) to float a bit, rising on dark scenes and dropping on bright ones. This caused an annoying amount of contrast enhancement that was difficult to tolerate except on really substandard broadcasts in a brightly lit room. Adjusting the Brightness control to achieve an ideal black level always resulted in overly dark blacks and excessive contrast in bright scenes. DVDs generally will not look good at all with DNIe activated.

But fortunately you can't select DNIe in the Movie mode that's best for such program material anyway. Contrast that with earlier years when it couldn't be defeated in any mode. Samsung has been listening and responding to the complaints of videophiles. Maybe next year they will make DNIe's floating contrast enhancement a separately selectable option in the user menu.

Black level was fairly low and dark scene detail (Movie mode) was considerably better than my reference plasma and probably a match for even the Pioneer Elite plasma recently reviewed by TJN. Except for perhaps the Pioneer Elite, even plasmas with the best blacks can't usually match the Samsung's dark scene detail. Even the Panasonics, which sport the darkest blacks I've seen in all of plasma land, have a slight problem with posterization (ugly video "blocking") just above black, which can sometimes ruin the look of a dark movie. Overall, the Samsung's dark scene performance is still no match for the premium priced Sony SXRDs or the best CRT rear-projection sets of the recent past. But it was better than most plasmas and LCDs I've seen, and acceptable for movies in a dark room.

While the level of black is important, it sometimes doesn't tell the whole story. Earlier I mentioned that Movie mode had different color from the others. Unlike the CRT sets of old, modern displays can be designed with primary colors (red, green and blue—a mix of those three colors make the final picture) that are considerably different from industry standards. The current trend is to have oversaturated primaries in order to give a more vivid, colorful picture, even if the colors aren't accurate. We see the (unfortunate) result of this all the time in those dreadful lime green athletic fields and foliage that don't even resemble reality.

If you want an excellent example of this, check out any number of scenes in Jurassic Park III. Some foliage looks normal but there are certain shades of green in the forest that look positively phosphorescent on many sets. While the immediate result of an inaccurate green primary color is the annoying green, the effect of it extends (more subtly) to secondary colors as well, even including flesh tones. By providing a completely different factory setup for Movie mode, Samsung has let that mode capture the natural colors of the original source better than most of the competition. Now we're not talking night and day differences in color here, but you can certainly see it in the greens. Movie mode gives a natural color to foliage in Jurassic Park III (and grass playing fields as well), while the other modes bring in some of that awful lime tint. My only recommendation for Samsung here would be to allow users to choose color space for any mode instead of having it chosen for you.

The best HD picture I experienced was when using Samsung's on-board, off-the-air tuner, and even SD broadcasts often looked impressive. The tuner was very good both in its ability to pull in digital stations and in picture resolution, looking even sharper than my reference outboard tuner with an HDMI connection. The set allows different viewing modes for digital and analog stations allowing you to have completely different video adjustments for off-the-air analog reception. Channel surfing speed was slightly faster than average, though still not like older analog tuners.

In the world of bargain priced big-screen HDTVs, the Samsung HL-S5086W is a standout with exceptional performance in many aspects of its picture and no truly fatal flaws. It's bright, vivid, and colorful as you'd expect, but it can also be a highly accurate display device with the touch of a button for more critical viewing. While its picture can look a bit soft, especially with motion, the things that you notice most (color, contrast, artifacts) are done so well that the overall picture is really quite nice and belies the incredibly low price. Blacks aren't "inky black" but in spite of that, the set still does darker scenes pretty well. Add to that its space saving design and complete set of video inputs and you have the new bargain price leader that even a serious videophile could probably live with. I never thought I'd be praising a low-priced Samsung HDTV like this, but I've learned never to underestimate this company. They make dramatic improvements each year and are now a force to be reckoned with in HDTV.

Good overall picture with excellent color
Flexible, lots of inputs, yet low cost
Excellent built-in digital tuner
Fits into smaller spaces than other 56" sets

Slightly soft picture, especially when motion is involved
Black level only average
Can't use one video mode for all inputs with different video settings for each

Article Continues: Manufacturer's Specs

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