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WIN $10,000 TRIP TO JAPAN

ISSUE 26

A U S T R A L I A ’ S C O M P L E T E D I G I T A L L I F E S T Y L E C O M P A N I O N $7.95

WHY PLASMA BEATS LCD Get the facts before you buy

• Your speaker options explained • 6 designer systems sound-off

FREE DVD!

If Your Guide to Taking Better Photos is not present, please request a copy of the DVD from your newsagent.

AV RECEIVER CHECKLIST

How to make the right choice


Connect to a world of music from iTunes and the Internet Your iTunes library. Play your entire music library, like iTunes, that’s stored on a computer – not just what fits on your iPod.

Free Internet radio. Tune in to 25,000 Internet radio stations, shows and podcasts – free of charge and pre-loaded on Sonos.

Music services. Stream millions of songs and stations direct from the Internet to the rooms of your choice — no computer required. Just pick a room, find a song and touch play.


Only Panasonic lets High Definition escape your TV. Panasonic Blu-ray DiscTM Recorders let you record in High Definition to the internal Hard Drive or to a Blu-ray DiscTM*, allowing you to take your High Definition favourites wherever you go. You need never miss your High Definition TV programs again. The built-in SD Memory Card Slot lets you immediately view your precious High Definition or Standard Definition movies from your camcorder and your AVCHD video footage or JPEG stills from your Lumix digital camera on the big screen. All this without the need of a computer. Panasonic 2009 Blu-ray DiscTM Recorders support BD-Live and are compatible with VIErA Cast allowing access to YouTubeTM and Google’s PicasaTM. Panasonic Blu-ray DiscTM Recorders make recording, sharing and archiving High Definition on Blu-ray a breeze.

panasonic.com.au *Correct at the time of publishing. Only Panasonic lets you record in High Definition to the internal Hard Drive or to Blu-ray DiscTM. WARNING: The Copyright Act 1968 does not permit the unrestricted use of this recorder to copy films, sound recordings or broadcasts to any recording media. The Act only permits to copy broadcasts for private and domestic purposes in limited circumstances. Panasonic does not authorise any use of this recorder in any way which may amount to a breach of any law or the rights of any owner of copyright in film or broadcast. Blu-ray Disc and (logo), BONUS-VIEW, BD-Live logo are all trademarks of Blu-ray Disc Association. To operate VIErA Cast consumers must have a broadband connection with LAN connectivity. VIErA Cast does not support wireless networking. The unit is connected to the Internet when VIErA Cast is used, generating communication charges. Some content may be inappropriate for some PAN1105K_RW viewers. YouTubeTM and PicasaTM are trademarks of Google Inc.


CONTENTS OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

22

FOR ALL THE LATEST NEWS AND REVIEWS ON GADGETS AND TECHNOLOGY, VISIT US AT

WE ALSO RUN LOADS OF COMPETITIONS, SO REGISTER ONLINE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN SOME FANTASTIC PRIZES.

WIN $10,000 TRIP TO JAPAN Turn to page 17 for details 4 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

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30

FEATURE Why plasma still rocks

22

Berlin show reel

30

Plasma remains the best choice for anyone looking for a superlative HD TV viewing experience, and Max Everingham counts the reasons why.

Home Entertainment reports from the IFA show in Berlin, where the world’s biggest electronic entertainment nameplates present their latest audio-visual delights.

REGULARS

34

Random play

6

Home entertainment news and product highlights.

You wish

26

Ultimate AV: Cinema Delux

66

Digital shack: Fit four fun

72

Gear log

76

Ear, eyes & thumbs

78

Time warp

80

If Gryphon Audio is the Lamborghini of the audio industry, the new Mojo bookshelf is its sporty compact. Enter the grand showpiece of Surround Sounds in Perth, where expert collaboration has created a luxe custom home theatre installation.

It’s rare to win a woman over to the ‘man cave’ concept, but it happened in this Sydney apartment and the results are spectacular.

40

A showcase of standout electronica.

Watch, listen, play. Max Everingham’s roundup of the best movies, music and games. A retrospective of milestone entertainment products and technologies. This issue: electrostatic speakers.

COLUMNS Guy talk

16

Tech corner

18

Channel Seven’s GadgetGuy, Peter Blasina, reports today’s technology trends.

BOX FRESH REVIEWED THIS ISSUE Bowers and Wilkins MT-25 Focal Dôme Pack 5.1 Jamo A 405 HCS KEF 2005.3 Mirage MX Mordaunt-Short Alumni Sony Playstation 3 Slim Sharp Aquos LC42D77X Western Digital WD TV Sony BDP-S760 Pioneer BDP-LX52

44 45 46 47 48 49 50 52 54 56 56

TV technology continues apace, with 100Hz, 200Hz and now 600Hz. Is it a case of more numbers, more better? Anthony Fordham explains sub-field processing.

HOW TO BUY AV power stations

34

The AV receiver is the most important device in your whole entertainment arsenal, and the latest models are bristling with power and features you shouldn’t live without.

Surround speakers – the basics 40 A surround sound system is critical to the home movie experience, but with the range of speakers on offer, what kind of setup you do you choose? We outline the approaches you can take and compare six systems that rate for style and performance.

Techlife: Moving pictures

Passively watch video, or go out and create your own with a startling array of camcorders, digital compact and DSLR still cameras.

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OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 5


RANDOM PLAY

Sharp TV gets six (stars) of the best Flat panel TV innovator Sharp has released details on its first ‘LED TV’, a name given to any LCD television that uses the more power efficient LEDs as a backlight source. The 40 inch LC-40LE700X consumes a measly 139 watts in full operation, with other energy-efficient credentials including lower heat generation and a maximum six-star energy rating. A claimed contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1 produces blacks that are deeper than DISTRIBUTOR

ever, according to Sharp, which will be of great benefit when watching movies at the TV’s highest resolution of 1080p, especially if you take advantage of one of its three HDMI inputs. Also featuring 100Hz frame conversion technology, a quick response rate of 4ms, SRS TruSurroundHD and improved bass, and capable of 24fps output for Blu-ray, the LC-40LE700X sells for $2999.

Sharp PHONE 1300 135 530 WEB www.sharp.net.au

Big little portable DVD player If you’re in the market for a portable DVD player, you’re probably going to be looking for units that you can watch without too much eye strain and with batteries that will last at least as long as the movie you intend watching. Enter the SDP92SKY from Toshiba, a portable DVD player that will handle DivX from disc or SD card, and go for three hours before needing a charge. Better still, though, is the large 23cm (9 inch) screen. Naturally, an AC adaptor and

incar power lead are included in the box if and, handily, the player sports a switchable audio-video input so you can have the screen double-up as a monitor for a camcorder, or even play it through a regular TV. It costs $399.

DISTRIBUTOR Toshiba Australia PHONE 13 30 70 WEB www.toshibaav.com.au

6 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER


Radio everything Squeezing DAB+, internet and FM radio capability into a single, attractive unit, the Ikon from Revo is due for release in Australia in November. Operated via the large, 9cm (3.5 inch) colour touchscreen in the top centre of the unit, the Ikon takes advantage of connectivity to your Wi-Fi or wired LAN to stream radio broadcasts or digital music files – the latter via your PC or docked iPod. Boasting ‘room filling’ sound courtesy of speakers that combine the best of flat-panel NXT speaker, as well as conventional, technology, the Ikon’s class-D amp chucks out 30 watts of power. Revo calls the Ikon the “most exciting digital radio in the world” and it may prove so. It’s certainly a versatile regular and digital radio, charges your iPod or iPhone, streams from your PC, has RCA and optical outputs, includes a digital alarm clock with sleep and snooze functions and is bundled with a remote. It costs $699. DISTRIBUTOR

Bush Australia PHONE 1300 131 072 WEB www.bushaustralia.com.au

Sony spins a home theatre cocoon Taking a cue from the popular ‘cocooning’ theory of everyone retreating into their homes to enjoy home entertainment, Sony has introduced three new DVD home theatre systems, all featuring DVD upscaling to 1080p as standard. With an emphasis on ease of setup and operation, the systems all include the ‘USB play and record’ feature, allowing owners to hook up their various MP3 players or devices, as

well as Bravia Sync. The 5.1 DAVTZ200 system ($599) is the entry-level model, featuring four identical, small speakers, plus sub and centre speaker, while the next step up is the DAVDZ590K ($899), adding two tall rears into the mix and kicking out a combined 850 watts. The DZ590K also offers auto calibration and compatibility with Sony’s ‘S-Air’ wireless RF tech, so you can dispense with cables to the rear speakers. Top of the new range is the 1000 watts DAVFZ900W system ($1499), with four tallboy speakers, S-Air included and, like the middle system, a charging iPod dock.

DISTRIBUTOR Sony Australia PHONE 1300 137 669 WEB www.sony.com.au

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 7


RANDOM PLAY

This amp’s on toroids

power transformers feed juice to the amplifier channels. The modular construction of the P777 ensures good channel separation, claims Arcam, and heat sinks and twin fans cool this massive amp. Described as an “ideal partner for the Sitting pretty at the high end of the AV performance scale, AV888 processor”, Arcam has comprehensively tested prethe new seven-channel P777 amplifier from Arcam is production units to ensure that the amplifier will do justice to destined for serious home theatre installations. Employing all the expertise garnered over three award-winning decades, both movies and music, with both toroid transformers feeding the all-important centre channel for voice. The P777 comes Arcam has made 1600 watts of total power available to drive in black or silver finishes, costs $8998 and, at 31kg, weighs even the most demanding speakers. The all-aluminium build keeps operating temperatures low while twin 1500 VA toroidal more than your teenage child. DISTRIBUTOR Absolute Audio Video WEB www.absoluteaudiovideo.com.au

Sorry, can’t do anything about the smells

Shut out the unwelcome sounds of crying babies, boastful frequent flyers and farting neighbours on your next flight to Los Angeles with Sennheiser’s new brace of noise-reducing travel headphones. Loaded with the company’s trademarked NoiseGard 2.0 technology, Sennheiser claims the PXC 310 and PXC 310BT will reduce background noise by up to 90 percent, which sounds like a Godsend to us. Duofol diaphragms and neodymium magnets produce great sound and a frequency DISTRIBUTOR

response of 15 to 22,000 Hz, according to the company, and the onboard apt-X Bluetooth codec (only in the BT model) brings wireless to the private party between your ears. And don’t worry if you actually want to speak to the girl in the next seat – a push of the headphones’ TalkThrough button cuts through the anti-noise generation of the headphones and selectively channels voice so you can hear her! Lithium polymer batteries power the ‘phones and they fold up for easy carriage.

Syntec PHONE 1800 648 628 WEB www.sennheiser.com

8 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER


RANDOM PLAY

Widescreen for your ears Expert UK outfit Bowers & Wilkins is promising ‘widescreen for your ears‘ with the introduction of its Panorama‘ surround sound audio solution for flat screen TVs. The single speaker secretes nine drive units in its slim, aluminium body, with five of those drivers dedicated to producing the best possible centre speaker performance, according to the company. All are separately enclosed, powered by six class-D amps and, together, knock out total power of 175 watts. The technology derives from B&W’s reputed 800 series loudspeakers and is equally at home with stereo or surround sound, says the speaker maker. Inputs include optical digital, coax and stereo analog, but no HDMI as B&W doesn’t believe you should be ‘messing around‘ with video cables. It costs $2999.

DISTRIBUTOR Convoy International WEB www.e-hifi.com.au

LG TVs twice as nice LG strikes a serious blow in the battle against motion blur in LCD TVs with its new range of LH50series TVs, incorporating 200Hz technology. Dubbed ‘TruMotion 200Hz’, the now usual 100Hz is doubled by a flashing backlight that produces what the company calls “actual black frames” for vastly improved contrast levels and sharpness. Capable of displaying 1080p at 24fps for Blu-ray at its best, and employing Clear Voice II technology for optimum voice reproduction, the whole of the LH50 front panel acts as a sounding board for the invisible speakers, complementing the onscreen action. Available in five screen sizes (32, 37, 42, 47, 55 inches) and boasting several energy-saving ‘Smart Energy Saving Plus’ features (including an ‘off’ button!),

the LH50 will play HD DivX content and supports USB 2.0 devices. Prices range from $1799 to $4799.

DISTRIBUTOR LG Electronics PHONE 1800 542 273 WEB www.lge.com.au

10 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER


Is this the

Best Headphone in the World?

The story of the Sennheiser HD 800 began with a dream: of developing headphones that go way beyond conventional equipment to become music phones, or even perfect sound phones. The dream of creating a hi-fi device that sounds as brilliant, clear, and undistorted as if you were sitting right next to the source. The dream of creating an acoustic experience more incredible than anything ever heard through dynamic headphones: in spheres that no other category is capable of reaching - right there where perfection begins.

With a wide range of over 100 in-ear, compact and full size headphones, varying in price from twenty to twenty-five hundred dollars; choosing the correct model to suite your individual lifestyle, comfort level and budget is assured. As for the audio reproduction, rest assured that superb sound and hours of enjoyment will be experienced from the first time they are used. www.sennheiser.com.au For more information please contact: Australia: Syntec International Free Call 1800 648 628 New Zealand: Syntec International Free Call 0800 100 755

myspace.com/sennheiser Become a friend today!


RANDOM PLAY

Packet home theatre

Yamaha’s YHT-AU series covers everything from a simple AV receiver to a full-blown, 665 watt 7.2-channel home theatre system, with the whole line-up benefiting from HDMI, the company’s automatic speaker calibration system and ‘Compressed Music Enhancer’ technology, which optimises the playback of compressed digital music files. Just don’t try to make sense of its model naming system. The entry YHT-592AU (RX-V365) is a single AV receiver with HDMI switching, while all other units include HDMI repeating functions for HD audio via bit stream or linear PCM. The first package, the YHT-392AU ($999), is

a 5.1 channel, 525 watts pack; the YHT-492AU ($1499) adds two speakers and 110 watts of extra power plus an iPod dock, whereas the YHT-592AU ($1299) favours floorstanding front speakers and less power. The YHT892AU ($1999) introduces Blu-ray playback with 7.1 HD audio; the YHT-992AU ($3499) adds binding posts and Pure Direct tech, and the flagship YHT-1092AU ($4499) is the 7.2 behemoth, providing 665 watts total power, video upscaling to 1080p and second-zone capability. You’ll find loads more information on the website at: www.yamahamusic.com.au/av

DISTRIBUTOR Yamaha PHONE 1300 739 411 WEB www.yamahamusic.com.au/av

Wireless cans – times three Making their debut at the recent IFA show in Berlin, the three new wireless headphone sets from Sennheiser use 2GHz lossless transmission technology – dubbed ‘Kleer’ – to provide the highest quality wireless audio in your home, according to the company. The transmitters are very small, with the unit for the R160 (pictured, $350) tiny enough to be used with an MP3 player or phone. Styled in black, silver and anthracite, the headphones house dynamic transducers with neodymium magnets that produce a frequency response of 18–21,000Hz and sound pressure level of 110 decibels. The Kleer technology claims a signal-to-noise ratio of 85dB and will transmit up to 100 metres for the high-end model, the $560 RS 180 (up to 20m for the entry-level RS 160 and 60m for the RS 170, which is priced at $450. The lower two models are ‘closed’ type units, while the RS180 is ‘open’ and aimed at ‘sound purists’. DISTRIBUTOR Convoy International WEB www.e-hifi.com.au

12 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER


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Whether you’re looking for a system for your home theatre room or an iPod® dock for your kitchen, Yamaha has the perfect solution for you. From AV receivers to hi-fi components and portable audio units, Yamaha offers you the latest in audio technology. Yamaha. The perfect solution.

www.yamahamusic.com.au

1300 739 411


RANDOM PLAY

Sound all around for your PC Apparently aghast at the prospect of PC users sitting in the same place, Logitech has released a suite of computer speakers with ‘omnidirectional acoustics’. Ready to rock with either Mac or PC, the new systems feature front- and rear-facing drivers in each of the satellite speakers. Couple those with the downfiring subs, and you’ll be surrounded by sound however far you stray from your office chair. The $200 Z523 is the big daddy model, with 40 watts emanating from two satellites and one subwoofer, controls right on the speakers for easy access, and dual RCA and 3.5mm ports for connecting headphones, MP3 or DVD players and games systems. The Z323 ($150, pictured) is a 10 watts step-down model but otherwise the same, whereas the Z520 ($250) and Z320 ($130) just bring the love in stereo, dispensing with the sub and throwing out 26 watts and 10 watts respectively — perfect for a laptop. All systems come in a smart, glossy black finish. DISTRIBUTOR Logitech PHONE 1800 025 544 WEB www.logitech.com

LG ditches the PC Everyone seems to be eager to share their private lives over the internet, and the new HD digital video recorder from LG is set to make that even easier. Integrated Wi-Fi and DLNA compatibility pushes the PC back into the spare bedroom, because the LG MS400 series HD DVRs allow users to stream and watch YouTube directly on their TV, access and download photos on Picasa and watch MKV and DivX content, upscaled to 1080p. But the

DVRs also record TV in HD in a snap, thanks to twin high definition television tuners working to an 8-day EPG and 250-500GB of hard drive space, depending on the model, complete with the excellent ‘pause live TV’ and timeshift functions. You can even connect an additional, external hard drive via USB, so you’ll never run out of storage space. The 250GB LG MS408 costs $849 and the 500GB LG MS409 costs $999.

DISTRIBUTOR LG Electronics PHONE 1800 542 273 WEB www.lge.com.au

14 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER


GUYTALK

It’s all in the numbers of bits

T

hose hoping to enjoy super-fast internet access care of the Australian Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) may have a little while yet to wait. The $43 billion system, offering up to 100Mbps, is scheduled to be phased into 90 percent of Australian homes over a period of eight years. But a taste of what it might offer is being launched in Tasmania, and as Robbee Minicola, the CEO of Hybrid TV says, it “is not about faster web browsing, or quicker emails. It is about high resolution video content delivered… onto the television”. Hybrid TV is the company behind Tivo in Australia, so it is all about high definition video. As it happens, Tasmania is the perfect place for the trial because chunks of it are serviced by the TasCOLT network, which has optical fibre to the home, and thus a potential for very high speed. Called the ‘Hybrid SmartStreet Project’ it aims to act as a testbed for the delivery of high value video content, including TV programming and recent release movies. Participants are those already connected by optical fibre to the network, and the service will be provided to them via Tivo personal video recorders.

When you’ve spent thousands on a sound system, do you really want to limit its performance right at the very front end by using MP3 music? To date, internet-delivered video has had major limitations and it all comes down to how thick the pipe is between your home and the source of the video. That is, how many megabits per second of data can flow. A typical broadband connection these days in Australia, usually some variation of DSL, has a rate of between 0.25 and 8Mbps, with most being towards the lower end. In practical terms, sustained throughput is usually lower than the nominal rate, especially at the higher end of this range. If we take 1Mbps as some kind of average, what does that provide? Let’s compare it with SDTV. Most digital TV stations run at between 4 and 6Mbps for SDTV. That’s pretty much the range for DVD as well. Standard definition TV looks dreadful at 1Mbps.

16 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | DECEMBER 2009/JANUARY 2010

That’s why YouTube videos are so small on your computer screen. On the high quality 52 inch LCD in your lounge room… well, it simply isn’t worth it. Of course, SDTV and DVD both use the MPEG2 compression system, and things have moved on since then with the likes of VC1 and MPEG4 offering higher quality for lower bitrates. But not that much. So for decent quality SDTV, a reliable throughput of 4 or 5Mbps is needed. And HD? In Australia, HDTV in 1080i format runs at about 12Mbps in that older MPEG2 format. This is a practical minimum for reasonable HD quality. By contrast, Blu-ray titles are rarely encoded with an average of less than 15Mbps, and the average is typically around 22Mbps. We have seen titles averaging as high as 37Mbps! Incredibly, some deny that bitrate matters. In the UK, the BBC HD Service recently reduced its bitrate from 16Mbps to just under ten. Its head actually insisted that any perceived differences were simply the preconceptions of those who claimed that the picture quality had diminished (see link below). Back in the real world, getting TV quality video over the internet, even in standard definition format, requires a lengthy download time. Depending on the length of the programming, you may get to play it back an hour or several after you start the download. The new CASPA video on demand service, also delivered via the Tivo, is an example of this. For HDTV, the same goes except that the time taken for the download is even longer. A truly high speed internet connection will allow actual video on demand, of the kind where you choose a program, select your payment option, and are watching the show within a couple of minutes. As some lucky householders in Tasmania are now discovering. Within the next few years, the rest of us may have the chance to join them in their wider choice of high quality programming. n Link to BBC idiocy: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ bbcinternet/2009/11/points_of_view_and_hd_picture.html

The GadgetGuy™, Peter Blasina, is the technology reporter for Channel Seven’s Sunrise program, appears regularly on other network programs and is broadcast weekly on various national radio stations. Peter has a commercial agreement with HybridTV.


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Wacom, the maker of Bamboo tablets, is giving you the chance to win a $10,000 trip to Japan for the Cherry Blossom Festival in April 2010. The prize includes: • Return flights and transfers to Tokyo, from an Australian capital city. • Five nights accommodation in Tokyo, arriving for the spectacular Cherry Blossom Festival, one of Japan’s most brilliant cultural highlights. • A day bus tour around Tokyo to soak up the best sights of the city. • VIP tour of the Wacom facility in Saitama where you’ll learn the secrets of what makes Wacom tablets so unique. • A Japan rail pass providing unlimited bullet train travel to other famous cities, such as Kyoto and Osaka. • Spending money!

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HOW TO ENTER

To enter, go to http://bamboo.gadgetguy.com.au, register and then participate in the forum. (You can also follow the links to the forum from www.gadgetguy.com.au/bamboo/) Ask a question, answer a question, or make a comment on someone’s post - it’s up to you how you participate! Every post you make on the forum is an entry in the competition, and the best post will be judged the winner. Details on how to enter, as well as competition terms and conditions can be found at http://bamboo.gadgetguy.com.au/announcement.php?a=1, or by clicking the Competition heading on the main page of the forum at http://bamboo.gadgetguy.com.au. The competition is open to all permanent residents of Australia and there is no limit to the number of entries a single person can make. Remember though, this is a game of skill, and entries will be judged on their quality, not quantity.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 17


TECH CORNER

More numbers, more better

T

here are nights when I wake sweating from a terrible nightmare in which I’m a signal-processing engineer stuck in the middle of the 20th Century, trying to work out the standards for CRT TVs. NTSC, PAL, 60Hz, 50Hz, 29.97 frames a second... the horror, the horror. The worst part of the dream is knowing that the choices I make back there in the ’50s and ’60s are going to affect a whole new generation of completely different TV technologies in 2009. We have entered a new and dangerous phase in the Battle of the Hertz. Some pundits might say the age of the plasma TV is past, and LCD (and eventually OLED, maybe) is destined to completely replace it. But it’s not going without a fight. A big numbers fight. Panasonic, Samsung and LG now have plasma displays boasting a ‘600Hz subfield motion’. Yes you read that right: 600Hz. Why, the best the competitors have been able to do so far is 200Hz! These TVs must be at least three times better, right? Well, that’s not an entirely straightforward question to answer, but it’s definitely the catalyst for some of my more disturbed techbased dreams of late. Math wonks will of course immediately recognise that 600Hz is a ‘magic number’ when it comes to TVs. Here’s why: modern flat panel TVs have faced a constant struggle to display a variety of sources in a perfect frame-by-frame ratio. This is because NTSC TV runs at 60Hz (or more accurately 60 fields per second interlaced... or 30 frames a second... or 29.97 frames a... never mind) and PAL runs at 50Hz. Blu-ray movies, as we’ve had hammered into our brains by now, run at 24Hz – though this is usually referred to as 24 frames a second.

“WHERE 600HZ BECOMES USEFUL IS WITH THOSE OTHER FREQUENCIES: 60HZ FROM NTSC, AND 24 FRAMES A SECOND FROM BLU-RAY” 18 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

A quick break-out note on 50Hz here: there’s a difference between the frame rate of the moving image on the display, and the frequency at which the display runs as an appliance. Because our AC power alternates 50 times a second, that’s why Aussie TVs are 50Hz – and to match this, TV in Australia is broadcast at 50 frames a second. You can run your TV in 60Hz mode – your NTSC DVDs will look good, but your Aussie free-to-air broadcasts may exhibit some oddities when scrolling text, due to the 50Hz signal being converted to 60Hz by your TV. Confused? Welcome to the nightmare. The problem with these three numbers – 60, 50 and 24 – is that none of them divide into each other. The best fit is 24fps and NTSC – a ratio of 2.5:1 is neat enough to use a system called 3:2 pulldown. Hit up Wikipedia for a long and not slightly tedious explanation of how this works. So why is 600 a magic number? Because 60, 50 and 24 all divide equally into it. No matter what kind of signal you give a 600Hz display, it can simply multiply individual frames to create a smooth, flicker-free image that runs at the correct speed. Explanation finished, everyone back to their own beds? Not exactly. It never gets to be that simple. These 600Hz TVs don’t actually refresh their image 600 times a second. In fact, they’re still 50Hz or 60Hz sets, depending on the country they’re sold in. Plasmas use a system called the ‘subfield’ where the same image is repeated. In traditional displays, this is done eight times a second. Why? To eliminate ‘phosphor lag’, or colour artefacts caused by the individual cells in the plasma grid switching on and off. Until now, most plasmas have had a 400Hz subfield frequency: which is why each image is flashed eight times a second. A 600Hz TV ups this to 12 times a second, for a 50Hz signal. Where 600Hz becomes useful is with those other frequencies: 60Hz from NTSC, and 24 frames a second from Blu-ray. When playing an NTSC signal, the subfield flashes each frame 10 times a second. And when playing BD, 25. Does this result in a smoother, more realistic image? Does it do the same thing as 100Hz, 120Hz and 200Hz image interpolation circuitry? Not really. But with Blu-ray in particular, more field updates (instead of forcing the TV to only update the image 24 times a second) should provide a more solid image on plasma. But if you were to cock a cynical eyebrow at this exciteable marketing speak (more numbers, more better!) why, we probably wouldn’t chide. A final note: the subfield applies only to plasma displays: you won’t be seeing 600Hz LCDs – at least, not in 2009. Next year? Who knows. Kilohertz? Gigahertz? The nightmare continues... Anthony Fordham


HIGH DEFINITION HAS NEVER BEEN THIS BIG. THE EPSON TW3500 PROJECTOR. MASSIVE 120" IMAGE. FULL 1080p HD. 36,000:1 CONTRAST RATIO. Epson, the world’s number one in projectors, brings you a huge new home cinema experience – with an image that’s an unbelievable 3 times bigger than the average flat screen TV. It uses less power than Plasma or LCD TVs and features a wide range of connectivity options (including twin HDMI inputs). So with the TW3500, your High Definition viewing experience will now be even larger than life. For information on our 1080p HD projectors call 1300 130 194 or visit epson.com.au

TW4500

TW5500


WHY PLASMA STILL ROCKS

20 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009


P R O U D LY S P O N S O R E D B Y

Why plasma still

Plasma remains the best choice for large-screen high definition TV viewing, and Max Everingham revels in reminding us why.

Even so, you might want to read a little further as we bust open these plasmic old wives’ tales, because to hold faith any longer in these myths is to cheat yourself of an incredible – nay, the incrediblest – viewing experience possible on a TV.

f plasma still rocks, why don’t I ever hear anything about it? we hear you ask. Walk into any of the big chain electrical stores these days and you’d be forgiven for thinking that your only option when buying a large-screen high definition TV is LCD. There’s a reason for that. In fact there are several, but performance isn’t one of them. We’ll touch on the main reason a little later in this article but, for now, be assured that plasma still rocks because, centimetre for centimetre, it’s still the best choice for anyone looking for a superlative HD TV viewing experience, whether you want one for movies, videogames or sport. And despite the lower profile, those in the know are buying them in the thousands. Samsung reckons that, in the US, 50 percent of HD TVs over 50 inches are plasma – that’s half of all sales, and around a third of 40 inch-plus sales. You probably don’t believe us. That’s fine. Like Betamax over VHS or film-based SLRs over digital cameras, the popular choice is not necessarily the superior choice and, in fact, plasma shares this same, odd stigma of being better but not more prevalent in homes. Largely, this is due to number of misconceptions – ‘plasma myths’, if you like, which may once have been as true of plasma as saying the ‘Made in Japan’ sticker was a reliable indicator of low (yes, low) quality 50 years ago. But like all good commonly held beliefs, times change and they are now utter hogwash. I should declare that I used to work for a company that made plasma televisions, but there are two reasons why that shouldn’t upset you now. Firstly, I no longer work for them or have any dealings with them (they finally saw sense) and, secondly, the company in question, Pioneer, has stopped making plasma televisions entirely. That’s a terrible shame, because the company made the best consumer displays in the world and it’s entirely our fault, because not enough of us bought them. And by ‘our fault’, I mean ‘yours’, because I bought two.

Let’s start with one of the most enduring myths about plasma TV, especially when unfavourably compared with LCD, and that’s lifespan. The common belief is that plasma TVs fade. The reality is that all TVs fade, based as they are around various methods of producing and manipulating light. LCD TVs are as susceptible to losing brightness as plasma displays – the same goes even for good old fashioned ‘tube’ tellies – but the good news for either display type is that it takes a very, very long time for this to happen and affect your viewing pleasure.

I

LONG LIFE

“It’s still the best choice for anyone looking for a superlative HD TV viewing experience, whether you want one for movies, videogames or sport.” To put this concern into context, with the new G10 Series NeoPDP Full HD TVs from Panasonic (starting at $2749 for the 42 inch TH-P42G10A), it’ll take 100,000 hours of continuous use before the brightness level is even halved (let alone fades away to nothing). And to put that context into a better context, that’s just over 34 years of having the TV on for eight hours a day, every day. And if you sit on your arse for that long every day for over 30 years, then you’ll have bigger problems to worry about than a slightly dimmer TV set at the end of it.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 21


WHY PLASMA STILL ROCKS

With wider viewer angles, plasma provides better pictures, with no fall-off in brightness for those not seated directly in front of the screen.

Many LCD models integrate 100Hz or 200Hz technology, which improves motion performance but introduces other picture artefacts. Plasma is excellent with motion, straight out of the box. (Sony Z4500 LCD TV pictured.)

P R O U D LY S P O N S O R E D B Y

WON’T GET BURNED You’re not going to keep your HDTV for 30 years and you’re not going to leave it on the same, static image for a week without changing channel or turning it off, are you? No? But that’s exactly the fear addressed in the second myth, with ‘burn-in’. Again, just as with brightness loss, burn-in – where a ‘ghost’ image remains visible onscreen even when the channel is showing completely different content – can occur on any type of television, regardless of the technology used. Those displayed in airports, even on regular ‘CRT’ TVs, often did this, and despite protestations to the contrary (from people who make them, usually), even LCDs can suffer from this effect, although the provenance is different and it’s referred to as ‘image persistence’. To be fair, the burn-in phenomena it has its roots in truth, as early generations of plasma televisions did suffer from image retention when over-zealous sports fans would leave their TVs on all day and night showing the cricket on Channel 9, or not wanting to miss a single ball from Wimbledon, finding the logos of the TV channels hovering phantom-like in the corner and stubbornly refusing to ‘go into the light’. But the good news now is that new plasma displays are nowhere near as susceptible to this kind of image retention, thanks to a continual evolution in the type, composition and mix of gases used in the technology, as well as active, post-sale

features that work to reduce or eliminate any possibility of burnin, even when a static image remains display on the TV. Plasma manufacturers legitimately claim that, in any event, permanent image retention is now a thing of the past. Additionally, TV stations all now deploy ‘faded’ versions of their logos, eliminating the main culprit in one fell swoop.

WATT’S UP, WATT’S DOWN So before we get on to the real benefits of the plasma format, let’s just slay another sacred cow; power consumption. Despite the regular cranking of alarmist reporting from disgracefully sensationalist populist TV programming, large screen TVs are not sucking up electricity like lounge-based, localised black holes and spinning your household into grief with the bank manager. In reality, for a number of years now, both LCD and plasma televisions have actually been some of the lower consumers of electricity in your home when it comes to large appliances, and every year they’re becoming more and more energy efficient. This is especially true of the ‘standby power’ issue that has gained so much currency of late: even the two-year-old 127cm Pioneer LX508A plasma TV I have at home uses only 0.4 watts of power on standby. That’s far less than a 2009 46 inch LCD TV from a certain leading brand uses, for instance. But even in full flow, displaying moving imagery, sound and everything, an average large-screen TV is still seriously outpaced in the power-eating stakes by your air-con, refrigerator, washerdryer and microwave, and won’t add much more than 50 bucks per year to your power bills – in other words, less in a year of

NEW, NOT OLD Contrary to popular belief, plasma is a considerably newer technology than LCD. LCD technology is way, way older than you – yes, you, reading this. While plasma tech was invented in 1964 and the first color TV came out courtesy of Fujitsu in 1992, the theory establishing LCD as a viable technology was recorded in the late 19th century, pioneered by Friedrich Reinitzer in 1888, with the first active-matrix LCD display produced in 1972 – a full 20 years before plasma.

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Neo Contrast The new Neo Plasma range incorporates an improved panel production process and the new Real Black Drive system. This pre-discharge control system combines with Neo Plasma technology to achieve next-generation black reproduction with a cinema-like 2,000,000+:1 Dynamic contrast ratio.

Neo Colour Neo Plasma offers the equivalent of a full 6,144 steps of gradation assuring smooth, rich image expression. This superb gradation performance means that even the most delicate shades of colour are accurately conveyed. Neo Technology is available on the new Panasonic Z1, V10, G10 and G15 Plasma Series.

Panasonic’s Neo Plasma is the next generation of TV. Neo combines breakthrough revisions in three critical areas – materials and processes, discharge gas and cell design, circuit and drive technology. The result is twice the luminous efficiency of previous displays, thinner design, lower power consumption and a whole new world of image quality.

Neo Speed 600Hz Sub-field drive Neo Plasma delivers Full HD motion and still images with 1080 lines of resolution. For even greater clarity Panasonic’s unique imageanalysis technology optimises frames to display fast-action scenes in Full HD resolution.

The New Panasonic Neo Plasma Series

*At thinnest point.

Yet its beauty is far more than skin deep with a collection of outstanding features like wireless convenience that make the VIErA Z1 possibly the most desirable Full HD flat screen ever. WirelessHD™ transmits Full HD 1080p pictures and sound – without wires or signal loss. A revolution in both technical and design terms, the Z1 with WirelessHD™ gives you many more location and installation possibilities within your home.

Neo Plasma technology has delivered our most refined Plasma TV yet. Ultra slim (25mm*) and elegant with its specially designed detachable speakers, you’ll love the Z1 at first sight.

panasonic.com.au

Neo Plasma is television at the next level.

Like the rest of the VIErA TV range, the Z1 can also playback High Definition photos and video from its SD card slot.

The New Z1, the Ultimate Neo Plasma


WHY PLASMA STILL ROCKS

P R O U D LY S P O N S O R E D B Y

BUY WISE A good retailer will ask you a series of questions after you’ve expressed your desire to buy a large flat screen TV and they should be focusing on issues such as where you’re going to put the TV (size of room, height of TV, furniture placement, etc), what the ambient light is like and what you watch most – in other words, ‘where’ and ‘how’ you watch TV, not how much money you want to spend. (This is kind of like asking “How would sir like to pay for that?”, where the obvious and most intelligent response would be “Actually, I’d rather not pay for it at all, thanks”, or “I’d like to give you a pile of last week’s grass cuttings in exchange for this splendid TV, thanks all the same”. No reason not to be polite.) So-called ‘specialist’ audio-visual stores are therefore a really good port of call. They’re often a little more expensive than the large retail chain stores, but they’ll certainly provide a better service and the staff will be more knowledgeable. This may sound controversial, but bitter experience actually tells us that it’s about as risky as saying that the Earth orbits around the Sun. And not even pricing is standing in your way. To get one of the better performing LCD TVs over 50 inches in size, you’ll be paying around $4500. You can get a comparable plasma TV for a grand less.

entertainment than you probably spill every Friday night out with your mates. The latest power-related innovation in plasma TVs means that the units can not only turn themselves off when not in use, but can turn anything else off connected to them (DVD player, PVR, etc), so if power consumption still keeps you awake at night, be sure to check the tech specs before you buy.

THE GREAT BLACK HOPE

New frameless designs help give plasma an aesthetic edge, and in LG’s PQ60 serves to eliminate distracting reflections from the picture onto the bezel.

So let’s imagine you’ve seen the light and it’s provided by plasma: what benefits do all those little gases bring? Well, the Big Kahuna is picture quality. Plasma, unsullied by backlighting issues that challenge LCD, produces deeper blacks and detail and that is not a contested fact. It also produces more natural and vibrant colours and does not suffer from motion blur, the last admirably tackled in LCD but not removed entirely by 100Hz or even 200Hz technology. The newest plasma screens from Samsung and Panasonic feature something called 600Hz subfield processing. This isn’t the same as 100Hz or 200Hz interpolation circuitry – which creates new lines of picture information between the original lines to give the appearance of smoother image – but a system that increases

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Plasma makers continue to innovate: Samsung’s Series 8 models come with Medi@2.0 solution, which provides widgets for directly accessing specified internet sites, and are preloaded with an updatable library of games, recipes and exercises.

the number of times (from 8 to 12 per second) an image is flashed onto the plasma’ pixel grid. The result is an even more solid image, especially on Blu-ray material.

LOVE IN MOTION The enjoyment of what you’re watching is further enhanced in plasma thanks to faster response times and a wider viewing angle. ‘Response time’, while not wishing to get over technical, is the time taken for a picture element to change from black, to white, to black again. In other words, how quickly the display reacts to changes. With plasma, response times are negligible, with virtually instantaneous switching, but with LCD televisions, even the fastest are measured at 4ms, and the average is between 6-8ms. The effect is that anything that moves rapidly across the screen can appear blurred, as the circuitry fails to keep pace with the changes that are happening on screen, leaving residual images as it struggles to catch up. As mentioned, the 100Hz and 200 Hz technology in newer LCD panels aims to combat this, but it’s surely better not to have to fight at all, and this is where plasma has the advantage.


TAKING A WIDER VIEW Viewing angle may not be a big issue if you’re watching your 66cm television in your CBD studio flat on your lonesome, but if you like to invite a crowd round to watch the Sex in the City reruns over a few chardies, those sitting off to the side would notice seriously compromised images with significantly less vibrant colours if you’ve chosen an LCD TV; whereas with plasma, everyone sees the same quality, with a practically 180-degree sweep offering equally good image reproduction. Not to mention that with a 127cm (50 inch in old money) HDTV in your lounge room your posse is all going to need to be sitting at least two metres from the telly (many people’s eyes are bigger than their bellies here, and they buy screens that are too large for the room), the viewing angle can still be quite important.

CONTRAST The numbers quoted by over-enthusiastic (or under-informed) PR people are reaching ridiculous levels these days, but even contrast ratios are better with plasma. Ignore any mention of ‘dynamic’ and ‘full on/off’ contrast measurements that yield absurd and useless numbers, and look at static contrast ratio. Savvy LCD makers don’t even put these specifications up on their websites, making direct comparison tricky for the average Joe, but for a more reliable and less excitable truth, it’s worth noting that the ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) calibration folk, while self-appointed experts, nevertheless know their stuff when it comes to HDTV picture quality and generally swear by plasma over LCD.

ROCKING REASONS TO BUY PLASMA • • • • • • • •

30+ years lifespan under normal use Superior fast motion performance Nearly impervious to burn-in Deeper blacks and more natural true-to-life colours Larger sizes cheaper than equivalent LCD Wider viewing angle Constant innovation improves performance Not the energy bogeyman everyone thinks

Matt Pearce, Product Manager, TV, from Panasonic Australia sums it up for us: “Superior motion picture resolution, contrast, colour and viewing angle combine to make plasma the best choice in large screen TV viewing”. The upshot is that, if you’re a fan of fast-moving action – and if you’re male, that means practically everything you watch – then plasma is going to really do it for you.

NIGHT AND DAY Plasma and LCD are both great. But retail salespeople will rarely, if ever, give you accurate, unbiased advice that is personally suited to your situation. And that is what you’re after, because very often the choice between the two technologies is partly, or even wholly, made for you. If your lounge room is only three meters square, for instance, you’re probably going to want to look at a TV smaller than 107cm or 42 inches, which would suggest you consider exclusively LCD (plasma isn’t made in the smaller screen sizes). But if you don’t, you’re going to want to consider plasma over LCD, given the better motion handling, deeper blacks and higher contrast ratios, and bigger, better-value screen sizes

Plasma makers have introduced power saving modes to reduce energy consumption. Panasonic’s ‘Intelligent Audio Standby’ switches off like-branded Blu-ray or DVD players connected over HDMI, for instance, and Eco Mode sees the TV adjust brightness to suit ambient light conditions.

INNOVATION Plasma manufacturers continue to innovate – Panasonic’s NeoPDP concept basically gives you even better performance with much lower power consumption. All Panasonic’s 2009 Viera plasma HDTVs have improved energy efficiency and feature the new energy star rating label as part of the voluntary labeling scheme. Says Panasonic’s Matt Pearce: “Consumers can be confident that they are making an environmentally responsible choice when purchasing a Panasonic Plasma TV.” They’re making them even thinner, too, with the flagship, 54 inch Z1 NeoPDP model featuring 1080p wireless HDMI Full HD technology but still only being one inch thick! Samsung is providing sets connected to the internet, and LG is making them increasingly beautiful with their ‘borderless’ designs. There’ll always be fans of both technologies, there’ll always be fierce competition – and that’s all good for us, the people who lay out the cash – but don’t dismiss plasma until you’ve had a really good, close look at it. n

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OBJECTS OF DESIRE

MOJO

LOUDSPEAKERS A bandoning its distinctly aquatic line of product nomenclature for the folk-magic allure of ‘Mojo’, stereo aficionado and highly regarded European audio provider Gryphon Audio Designs has produced a smaller line sporting an innovative concave-front baffle structure. Designed that way to “achieve true time alignment” and reduce reflections, according to Gryphon, the new Mojo speakers are set to work their magic on customers who are serious about their music but are looking for something a little more colourful than the sombre hues of the company’s massive Atlantis, Poseidon or Trident reference floorstanders. A self-described audiophile who got into the high-end audio business “by accident”, Danish graphic arts graduate and now Gryphon CEO, Flemming E. Rasmussen always puts audio performance before his professional love of design. Rasmussen found success by putting his money where his mouth is, such as in producing integrated amplifiers that were nevertheless ‘high-end’; a descriptor that Rasmussen believes is a matter of performance, not merely price, as retailers would have it. And, with the compact Gryphon Mojo, he’s doing it again, dismissing other companies that claim to offer time alignment using cheaper and inferior components in their designs. Rasmussen’s mantra, that ‘design must follow function’ is embodied in the new speakers. The clean lines and quite industrial design of the Mojo system belie its incredible performance, not to mention the high price tag. But, as an expert who wants his company to be regarded as the ‘Lamborghini of the audio industry’, Rasmussen is undeterred by cheaper competitors.

“AS AN EXPERT WHO WANTS HIS COMPANY TO BE REGARDED AS THE ‘LAMBORGHINI OF THE AUDIO INDUSTRY’, RASMUSSEN IS UNDETERRED BY CHEAPER COMPETITORS” 26 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER

Finished (ironically) using a urethane paint developed for use in Mercedes Benz cars (with even smarter, custom auto paint jobs available to order), Gryphon has built to achieve the lofty goal of ‘perfect phase at all frequencies at all times’ rather than a more mundane, and usual, price point. Accordingly, the Mojo houses components chosen for their performance rather than their cost – the crossover, for instance, uses Duelund Coherent Audio graphite resistors, Jensen capacitors, Jensen air-core paper/oil inductors and Germanmade low-memory, precision capacitors. It’s adjusted by hand and hard-wired using silver solder, exemplifying Gryphon’s commitment to using only the very best components and making for unparalleled audio clarity. All this in a pretty small form factor, just 20 cm wide, 42 cm deep and 52 cm high. Impressively, Gryphon also puts the two-way three-driver Mojo customer in the driver’s seat, almost literally, with the inclusion of an ultra-wideband Air Motion Transformer driver in the speaker, with resistors that can be switched to suit the specific acoustic peculiarities of the new home its owner has found for it. These range from producing a mild roll-off (–0.5 dB) to a neutral response (0 dB) or even a mild boost (+0.5 dB). Thanks to a pleated diaphragm, the large Air Motion Transformer produces a flat frequency response claimed to go beyond 38kHz but does so with only the smallest of motions, minimising the chance of distortion. For a company whose products are almost always black acrylic, the new Gryphon Mojo represents quite a daring step away in the design department without ever compromising the company’s utter dedication to providing their customers with high-end audio perfection. Just don’t ask them for surround sound.


Gryphon Audio Designs Mojo loudspeakers $27,000

Kedcorp Australia 02 9560 4855 www.kedcorp.com.au

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IFA REPORT

BERLIN SHOW REEL E

urope’s biggest consumer electronics show, IFA (full name: Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin) presents the latest in consumer technology, with the 2009 outing covering 121,000 square metres of exhibition space and attracting 228,00 visitors during the first week of September. It’s colossal, showcasing as it does a white-goods mountain of vacuum cleaners, fridges and coffee makers, as well as photo imaging and computing gear, and, of course, the latest in audio-visual delights from the world’s biggest electronic entertainment nameplates.

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Max Everingham reports the latest trends and technologies from the Europe’s biggest electronics show.

3D

This year, the show appears to have triggered an avalanche of bright-eyed optimism around 3D. Adopted as a major theme with the home entertainment crowd, apparently we’re all absolutely gagging to bring the 3D cinema experience we got with Bolt and Aliens vs Monsters into our own homes, although Philips cautions that future rollout “will depend on a 3D TV standard”. Given the scrappy manner in which rival manufacturers have approached these things in the past, setting a standard will


probably involve a long drawn-out process over several years, the establishment and breaking-down of liaisons and partnerships and a good dose of under-specced, overpriced and underdelivering initial product line-ups to further erode early adopter loyalties and scare off mainstream purchasers. Still. Before we crack on, and not even new for the show but, for me, the shining star by a long margin, we should introduce the Philips LCD TV Cinema 21:9. This will very likely frighten the uninitiated as they spy a really odd- shaped TV sitting proudly on a shelf in their local electronics store, but the Cinema 21:9 is practically a miracle. Why? Because it thumbs its nose at its more familiar 16:9 widescreen brethren and actually offers us all the opportunity to display our movies in the same 2.39:1 format as Hollywood directors use. But it’s risky, and unfamiliar, so miraculous because most companies wouldn’t even attempt to launch it. Already the recipient of a 2009 award from the EISA experts, Philips’ 56PFL9954H 56 inch (142 cm) Cinema 21:9 isn’t going to get another prize for its model name, but it is the very best choice so far for watching most Blu-ray & DVD movies as they were intended. And there’s a 3D model on the way. While Philips is a major big wheel in the European market it, of course, not longer markets televisions in Austrlaia. Don’t

expect to be seeing its 21:9 tellies in stores locally then, but if it catches on we might see the concept to arrive under another badge.

TELEVISIONS & PROJECTORS One of the main home entertainment trends of the IFA show this year was 3D. Hardly new, you might think, but one of the major proponents, Sony, launched its Real 3D system (as opposed to ‘fake 3D’, I suppose), that will bring 3D into homes by next year, so no longer just in cinemas. Decked out in special and not-at-all-silly glasses, movie and gaming is now rendered in three dimensions and Sony Corp CEO Sir Howard Stringer felt confident enough to make the rather optimistic observation that “3D is clearly on the way to becoming mass market”. And as if videogame fans needed another reason for non-gamers to poke fun at them, Sony is extending its new grand plan to PlayStation 3, promising that most, if not all future games would be 3D. Speaking of Sony, that company is no longer going to be the only one with an OLED screen on the market, because LG is in on the act with ‘The Object’, a 15 inch model (Sony’s is 11 inch) that weighs about 310 grams and is only 0.3cm thin. It’ll be expensive, but beautiful.

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IFA REPORT

But that’s not LG’s ‘big thang’ this year at IFA – that accolade goes to the ‘borderless TVs’ which, in the tradition of all grandiose marketing monikers, is not actually borderless, but as near-asdammit with a sleek surface stretching right over and across the screen created by a new injection compression process that looks like one big sheet of glass. Described as an ‘LED TV’ to get everyone excited about a brand new technology (it’s actually an LCD TV, with LED backlighting, as they all are), the 1080p SL8000 and SL9000 on display will see life in Australia as the SL80 and SL90 and LG promises that , soon, they’ll get rid of the join between bezel and screen entirely. If we’re really lucky, maybe LG will bundle the new LCD TVs with its Magic Motion Remote Control, clearly inspired by the Nintendo Wii remote, complete with gesture-triggered functions and the ability to manipulate an onscreen cursor with hand motions while you wave your hands madly about. Always putting in a great showing at exhibitions but not so regularly getting the love at retail, Sharp has shown a couple of LCD TVs boasting the lowest power consumption in the world, the Aquos LC-LE600E & LC-LE700E series televisions, available in screen sizes of 32–52 inches (81–132cm). Sucking up a fantastically measly 89 watts despite full LED backlighting and a dynamic contrast ratio of 2000,000:1, maybe it’s time to take Sharp seriously when you’re next shopping for a large screen HD TV? The LC-40LE700X is onsale in Australia now for $2999. Besides the gorgeous high definition ’Cinema 21:9’ LCD TV, Philips also showed a new 40 inch (102cm) Aurea model, updated for this year with 250 LEDs in a transparent bezel which lights up to match the onscreen imagery, plus Net TV functionality for web shenanigans. That’s 100 more LEDs than before. The ‘Active Frame’ looks glorious in operation, if not a bit gaudy, but the more exciting development, we think, is the two millisecond response time which, along with the onboard 100Hz ‘Clear LCD’ tech, could render the technical superiority of plasma in this regard a moot point. Philips is also throwing a newly-designed sliding, backlit, mouse-like remote control into the bargain and a matching Harmony Soundbar is on the cards, too. Operating on a more specialist end of the design scale, Loewe has included a really interesting gadget along with its media player, AudioVision audio system and Blu-ray machine,

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the MovieVision DR+ mobile video archive. An external 500GB hard disk recorder, essentially, the 190 gram MovieVision unit can be built into one of Loewe’s HDTVs, or used separately and is intended to be hooked up via USB to Loewe’s HD TVs to ‘archive’ programs, playback high-def content and, if you have the rights, archive encrypted recordings. The recorder can lay down a twohour HD movie in just 10 minutes and is priced at 300 of those quirky European Euro thingies. Phillips is still banging the wireless HD drum, thank goodness, and showed a transmitter/ receiver coupling that can send 1080p up to 20 metres at 30 frames per second. We’re getting there – no good for gamers yet, but probably actually some time this century now. In a frightening and somewhat depressing development, Samsung has made virtually everything it makes compatible with YouTube, so there’ll be no refuge from witnessing the moronic escapades of a bored world anywhere in your home. Happily, that’s not all the mighty AV innovator had to show, and among its amazing HDTV-bedecked stand lurked an excellent, if not immediately obvious, idea: the LED TV Couple. Yes, it’s an LED TV, yes there are a couple of them (good going so far, Samsung!) but the kicker is that one of the LED TVs is a hand held unit with 7 inch screen and integrated Wi-Fi 802.11n. Sold as a cute couple with a larger LCD/LED TV with dual tuners, one tuner sends pictures to the TV and the other to the portable screen in your hand. So one of you can channel hop, or browse the ‘Net, or stream content from a local PC or other


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IFA REPORT

connected device. Most marvelous and irritating of all, whoever’s in control of the mini TV unit can flick what they’ve found over to the main screen, instantly replacing what was on there before.

AUDIO German speaker specialist Elac put the beauty of its new, 187 and FS247 units on display at its home show and while the simple and elegant 187 series won fans with its down-firing bass functions, it was the FS247 range that stole most of the attention, thanks to some quite alternative ‘dresses’. The FS 247 De Stijl Edition, paying homage to the abstract De Stijl group of painters from the country of clogs, windmills and tulips, sports mirror images on left and right speaker of painter Elac’s FS247 Art Piet Mondrian’s funky red, white and blue and yellow design Edition features removable Composition. The FS 247 Art Edition, on the other hand, is no less motifs. eye-catching with a range of foil-based, removable motifs that Elac says have the added benefit of providing protection against scratches and splashes of errant liquids. Emphasising ease of operation and convenience, Logitech Squeezebox Radio wirelessly connects to any home 10/100 Mbps Ethernet network and combines the virtues of Wi-Fi radio with iTunes and digital music services. Controlled via a neat 11cm colour touchscreen, the Squeezebox will display cover art, artist and track info, Flickr and, horror of horrors, even integrates with Facebook so you can exchange recommendations and boast Logitech’s about your glamorous lifestyle to make others feel bad. Oh, Squeezebox actually, maybe just exchange music recommendations. Thank connects to photo-sharing goodness. Logitech’s Squeezebox site Flickr. Radio has an RRP of $US200.

BLU-RAY AND DVD Despite the slow take-up in the format, or perhaps because of it, plenty of Blu-ray players were on the show floor at IFA. Samsung

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was there with its horrid YouTube-connected machines, with a saving grace that they’re also compatible with the MKV open multimedia standard. Panasonic was represented by its sleek DMP-BD80EG-K player, but the big surprise entrant had to be Tohsiba. Wait, Toshiba?! Yes, former champion of the now all-but-defunct HD-DVD format, Toshiba’s now in the Blu-ray game with the BDX2000. This player is 1080p capable at 24fps and comes with BD live functionality out of the box. And if you still believe Toshiba – even after its BD player announcement – that you don’t need Blu-ray because a DVD player that upscales regular DVDs to 1080p is the same thing, well they had one of those too, showing the XD-E600 DVD player.

HOME NETWORKING Toshiba also showed off software that was basically a GUI (graphical user interface) concept destined to be homed in their laptop range and intended to make it a cinch to control interactions between home network multimedia equipment.

Toshiba’s first Blu-ray player.

The Toshiba Media Controller software is compatible with DLNA version 1.5 and uses the instantly-familiar ‘drag and drop’ procedure to shift music, video and other files around your network, from device to device. If it’s anywhere near as intuitive as Tosh is aiming to make it, this could be a real unique selling proposition to motivate punters to pick up their laptops. n


HOW TO BUY 34 When you want to get into home entertainment but need to learn more, our How to Buy section is the perfect starting point. Our expert advice and buying tips will help put you in the know before you venture onto the shop floor.

HOW TO BUY AV power stations

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Surround speakers – the basics

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As the device that takes the audio and video from all your sources and sends it out to your TV and your speakers, the AV receiver is the most important in your whole entertainment arsenal. We outline the features it should have.

The difference between so-so home movie viewing and mind-blowing entertainment is the difference a surround sound system makes. We outline the choices on offer and take six style systems to the test bench.

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BOX FRESH Bowers and Wilkins MT-25 Focal Dôme Pack 5.1 Jamo A 405 HCS KEF 2005.3 Mirage MX Mordaunt-Short Alumni Sony Playstation 3 Slim Sharp Aquos LC42D77X Western Digital WD TV Sony BDP-S760 Pioneer BDP-LX52

Moving pictures

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Don’t just watch movies, make them! Whether it’s for the web or the film festival, today’s camcorders mean capturing, editing and sharing video has never been easier or cheaper.

OUR RATINGS

The Home Entertainment star rating systemindicates how any given product compares to other products in the same category and price range. A $1000 product that earns a five star rating, for example, is not directly comparable to a $10 000 product from the same category – the ratings are specific only to the product category and price range of the product under review. Products are rated for feature set, performance, price and ease of use. Where stated, an ‘Overall’ rating is an average of these criteria. Poor

Fair

Good Excellent Reference

Performance Features Ease of use Value for money

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 33


HOT TO BUY

It’s the foundation of any serious entertainment set-up, so what are the must-haves in your next AV receiver? By Anthony Fordham

W

hen you’re assembling a home entertainment setup, there’s a lot of kit on your shopping list: display, Blu-ray player, HDD recorder, HDTV tuner, a set of surround speakers and a subwoofer. How on earth are you supposed to control all this stuff? Fear not: there’s one more device you need, and it’s the most important one in your whole entertainment arsenal. It’s the audio-visual receiver. Also known as a surround sound receiver, multichannel or home theatre amplifier, the AV receiver’s job is fairly easy to describe: it takes all your audio-video sources – DVD player, pay TV box, games console, PVR – and sends them out to your TV and your speakers. It’s a sort of super-adaptor: you plug everything into it, and the receiver sends the video out through a single cable to your TV, and the audio out through many cables to the speakers in your surround sound system. When you introduce an AV receiver to your setup, your TV’s remote won’t get much of a workout: volume and source

FEATURES TO LOOK FOR Whether you’re a first-timer or upgrading your existing AV receiver, look for these features: • 3x HDMI inputs - at a minimum! • Decoding for major surround sound formats, including new Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio Blu-ray • Auto room calibration • Video upscaling to 1080p • A headphone socket • iPod connectivity • CEC support • Network and USB connections • Second zone functionality

34 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

selection will be handled by the receiver’s remote, which also handles the selection of surround formats, audio processing, and video upsampling functionality. Broadly speaking, the AV receiver’s job has two important aspects: video and audio. Let’s take a look at both in detail.

VIDEO Most TVs have a limited number of video inputs, especially where HD is concerned. Remember, for HD you need to use HDMI or component cables. A good HDTV will have two or three HDMI inputs, and one or two component. An AV receiver, on the other hand, will have at least three of each, and may offer even more. This gives you lots of flexibility when it comes to adding sources into your stack: Blu-ray player, PVR, games consoles, a media server, whatever!

Central switching Selecting which one to use is simple: just hit a button on the AV receiver’s remote. The video signal from that source will be routed through the receiver to your TV.

SOURCE WITH NO-NAME, NO MORE When you have three HDMI sources and two component, plus your TV and tuner, it can get a bit confusing remembering which button to press for DVD! Fortunately, good AV receivers let you name your sources using the user interface. Receivers have a display on the fascia, showing the current selected source. Press HDMI 1 on your remote, and the display will show ‘PlayStation 3’. Unfortunately, the remote is still labelled ‘HDMI 1’. Remotes with adaptive labels are something we can look forward to for the next generation


P R O U D LY S P O N S O R E D B Y

Since the AV receiver can accept signals from all kinds of sources – both HD and SD – it’s important to connect it to your display using a cable that supports all possible resolutions. The best solution is HDMI. This is a single cable that runs from receiver to TV, and it supports full 1080p. What’s more, because HDMI is digital, you won’t lose any image quality between AV receiver and TV – important if you’ve spent big dollars on a good Blu-ray player!

Upconversion When it comes to video, AV receivers have one more trick up their sleeves: upscaling. Unlike the automatic ‘stretching’ of a low resolution image to your display by the TV’s own circuitry, the AV receiver adds image information, turning a 576i image into a 1080p one. It’s not as good as native 1080p from a Blu-ray player, but a good AV receiver will do an excellent job of upconverting, and results will impress.

AUDIO While an AV receiver is an extremely useful tool for video, where it really earns its keep is in the audio department. Indeed, receivers are primarily audio devices, and you can consider video functionality a very useful bonus. An AV receiver performs as the amplifier for all your music and movie needs, sending audio out to up to eight connected speakers and a subwoofer. If the built-in amplifiers don’t drive your speakers loud enough for your tastes, many AV receivers also provide a set of pre-outs for connecting more powerful amplifiers. The AV receiver is also what takes the stream of encoded data off a DVD or Blu-ray disc’s Dolby or DTS audio track and

TV GOES IN TOO What if your TV uses an integrated tuner? At first glance, you might think this means you won’t be able to use the surround features of your AV receiver for TV broadcasts, and will be stuck with the TV speakers. Fortunately, good TVs include audio outputs – ideally using an optical cable – which connect to your AV receivers ‘TV/Sat’ input. Then you select ‘TV’ on the receiver’s remote, and suddenly your TV is receiving and generating a 5.1 surround audio signal. Genius! decodes it for playback through your speakers. Being the centre of surround sound operations in a home entertainment system, an AV receiver must include both Dolby Digital and DTS surround support, as these formats are present on DVDs and all Blu-ray discs. Ideally, a receiver you buy today should also support the new high resolution versions of these formats, these being Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Available only on Blu-ray disc, these make for the ultimate HD audio experience.

Auto calibration An AV receiver is a complicated piece of kit, and as with all things audio, extremely subtle when it comes to setup. You could spend days trying to get the balance of five, six or eight speakers just right, so good receivers include an autocalibration function. This takes the form of a special stereo microphone you plug into the receiver. You then place the microphone in the

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HOT TO BUY

usual sitting position, and hit Go. The receiver will play a series of tones through the speakers (including some very odd thumping noises from the subwoofer!) and the microphone will measure the balance of how each sound reached it. Afterwards, the receiver will tweak its output to each speaker by a decibel or two, either up or down. As a result, the particular architectural oddities of your room are overcome, and you’ll enjoy a perfectly balanced surround experience.

POWER Speaking of output, AV receivers have a power rating, in watts. More watts typically equals a higher total volume (although your speakers will affect this), but power output is also about quality, not just noise. Generally, if your receiver offers 100 watts or higher per channel, it’s got the grunt necessary for a cinema-like audio experience. The neighbours will complain! Then again, if you’re into discreet late-night listening, you can make use of the receiver’s headphone socket. Yes, it bypasses the surround sound capabilities of the device and outputs a stereo signal, but it’s still a very high-quality signal, and you’ll still have all the benefits of switching between sources, video upsampling and the other conveniences of an AV receiver. Depending on the model, these can include iPod connectivity, with the ability to control the playlist and view artwork from your

“It’s a sort of super-adaptor: you plug everything into it, and the receiver sends the video out through a single cable to your TV, and the audio out through many cables to the speakers in your surround sound system” 36 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

P R O U D LY S P O N S O R E D B Y

GOOD FOR STEREO, TOO A home theatre receiver can also serve as a good stereo or – with a subwoofer connected its subwoofer (or LFE – Low Frequency Effects) output – 2.1 channel amplifier. Used as a stereo amplifier, most home theatre receivers can produce more power than they do when driving the five speakers in a surround setup, and many also have a Dolby Virtual (or equivalent) circuit built-in if you want the sense of surround, without a room full of speakers. With the AV receiver’s DSP (Digital Signal Processing) modes, it’s also possible to mix a stereo signal to multichannel surround, or force multi-channel into flat stereo. You can even have a multi-stereo signal, where both the front surround and rear surround act as mirrored stereo speakers, or send the same audio signal to all five speakers at once. TV using the AV receiver’s remote; a second zone function for listening to music from, say a CD, via a pair of speakers in one room while surround plays in another; a USB port for connecting a hard drive chock full of songs and photos to be enjoyed via your entertainment system; CEC control for controlling other devices connected over HDMI using just the AV receiver’s remote; circuitry for improving the quality of compressed music, and a network connection for receiving internet radio stations or accessing tunes stored on a remote PC.

FINAL WORD The power, surround support, convenience features and number and type of connections you’ll need from an AV receiver should not be determined by the system you currently have, but on the one you want. Shoot for the maximum your budget will allow in each of the above categories and you’ll land an AV receiver best able to feed your growing home theatre habit into the future. n


HOW TO BUY

38 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009


SURROUND SOUND SPEAKERS

SURROUND SPEAKERS THE BASICS When it comes to home cinema sound, true quality is in the ear of the beholder! Anthony Fordham presents a beginners guide to surround speakers.

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o matter how much you spend on an high definition television, and no matter how big your display, there’s a reason they call this technology AV for ‘audio-visual’. That’s because audio is easily half the high definition home theatre experience, and having an incredible audio setup can make all the difference between so-so home movie viewing and mindblowing entertainment. Only the very top-end flat panel televisions don’t include a set of stereo speakers, but all home cinema projectors are vision only. Yet even if your TV does have speakers, and you reckon they pound out sound pretty well, a standalone audio system will always sound better. The key to extreme audio is surround. Humans might have only two ears, but we’re still quite good at determining if the source of a sound is in front or behind us. We’re used to living in a world where sound surrounds us, and entertainment on a strictly stereo setup lacks that final immersive element. In your home, a surround sound system does what it says: it surrounds you with sound. It’s a more natural way to listen and it really draws you in to the action. In sports: the crowd will be all around you. In concerts: you’ll hear the music bouncing off the stadium’s rear wall, and feel the energy of the crowd. In movies: you’ll hear cars roar past you, and feel the real power of explosions in action movies. The best way to understand what surround can do for your system is to experience it: go in to a store and ask for a demo in one of their theatre rooms.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 39


HOW TO BUY WHAT IS SURROUND A surround sound system typically uses five speakers and a subwoofer (though you can have more). Each speaker in a surround setup has its own job, and needs to perform in a certain way to do it. Let’s take a look.

CENTRE The centre speaker is placed direct under the televisions to ‘fix’ audio to the onscreen visual action. It carries the majority of a movie’s dialogue, and it has to project sound in such a way as to make that dialogue crisp and not just audible, but comprehendible. And if your TV picks up a mono soundtrack, it will use the centre speaker.

FRONT LEFT AND RIGHT Two speakers are placed in the traditional stereo position, either side of the TV. These front left and right speakers will do the lion’s share of work in any surround setup, along with the centre. Since most action in a movie happens in front of the viewer, most sound effects are mixed to the left or right front speakers. The way the front surrounds interact with the centre will have a profound effect on how easy it is to understand dialogue.

REAR LEFT AND RIGHT The rear left and right – or surround – speakers mirror the stereo pair either side of the television, but at the back of the room. Ideally, these are positioned at the seated viewer’s ear-height and behind the viewer’s line of sight. These speakers provide the immersive ingredient to any surround setup. While most of the action will come from the front, secondary audio like crowd scenes or environmental noise (birds, ocean, wind etc) will be pumped through the rear, putting you in the scene. Elements of the soundtrack are also often mixed through the rear too, for extra immersion.

SUBWOOFER The five speaker channels provide the detail, but the sub provides the impact. Big, thumping bass hits you where you live, and sucks you further in to the action. It all provides the all-important bottom end for music, giving any performance that extra level of presence. What’s great about a sub is that your ear can’t tell where bass comes from, so you can place it anywhere. The role of the subwoofer can’t be understated either. It might be a big ugly box, but it’s worth having there: the extra bass lets you literally feel the action.

THE 2.1 ALTERNATIVE If you’re looking at a secondary audio system, or you have a very cramped entertainment space, a 2.1 system could be for you. This is a traditional stereo setup, typically employing satellite or bookshelf speakers, but it includes a subwoofer to beef up the bass. It’s not surround, but it is way better than the sound you’ll experience from the speakers built into your television. you need five speakers and a subwoofer positioned around your listening room. Dolby Digital and DTS have evolved since they first appeared more than ten years ago, and there are now dozens of different acronyms and versions and numbers and labels. Some iterations offer up to 7.1 channels of surround and require eight speakers in your living room, but good as this is, the sound is not high resolution sound; it’s actually less than CD quality. When it comes to high resolution surround sound, there are two audio standards that are important for the very best experience: Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Found only on Blu-ray, these are as good as the original studio masters – accept no substitutes! There are others with ‘HD’ in the name, but these two offer the very best quality. Previously, audio for movies was heavily compressed, similar to your MP3 player or iPod. This was so it could fit on a DVD. With high-capacity Blu-ray now in the market, the latest Dolby and DTS formats now offer multichannel audio at a much higher bitrate – and that means even better quality.

Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio deliver up 7.1 channels of high resolution, audiophile-grade surround from Blu-ray movies.

Of course, to support that quality you need a speaker system that can do it justice. Let’s look at the main options.

SPEAKERS - THE OPTIONS Worried that your lounge room just won’t work with four, six or eight speakers in it? Don’t worry, there are a number of options, at a number of price points!

SURROUND SOUND FORMATS Speakers are not, of course, the source of surround, but rather the last stop in a chain of equipment that unlocks the multichannel soundtracks found on TV broadcasts, videotapes, DVDs and Blu-ray discs. There are more than a dozen surround sound formats, but the two most common you’ll encounter are Dolby Digital and DTS. Both were invented for commercial cinemas (DTS stands for Digital Theatre System) but have since made the jump to your living room. Both formats provide 5.1 channels of sound and have been around since DVDs were first introduced. To enjoy sound from all these channels

40 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

Home theatre in a box provides instant, easy-to-setup surround. (Panasonic SC-PT870, with wireless rear speakers pictured.)


SURROUND SOUND SPEAKERS

1. HOME THEATRE IN A BOX HTIB is the complete one-stop surround sound option, providing all six speakers, plus an electronic component that decodes surround and sends it out to all the speakers. This unit typically integrates a DVD player, CD player, AM/FM radio and – sometimes – even TV tuners. The latest add Blu-ray playback. It’s an all-in-one system that may not offer the quality an enthusiast looks for, but which is extremely easy to set up.

2. SOUNDBARS Don’t like the idea of a lounge room full of speakers and cords tripping people up? Soundbars are a radical alternative to conventional surround speakers. Instead of five big speakers and a subwoofer, soundbars have as many as 35 tiny speakers all working together in a single slim cabinet designed to mount

beneath a flat panel TV. And the incredible part is they literally use ventriloquism to bounce audio off flat surfaces in your house to make it sound like there are speakers behind you. The latest models may include a DVD or Blu-ray player, a subwoofer, plus connections for an iPod.

WIRELESS ’ROUND THE BACK One thing that isn’t awesome about a surround system is the cords. They can trip people up, they’re awkward to work around doorways, and just plain messy! Fortunately, a number of surround sound packages use wireless technology for the rear speakers. They still need to be near a power point, but they don’t connect to the front of the room with wires. Convenient! Wireless rear speakers are generally restricted to home theatre in a box-type units, so you will have to deal with cables if you take the component route. It’s often worth having an electrician run cables up the wall and through the roof space, that way no one will trip! Make sure to use good quality cable with thick insulation, and maybe place some rodent baits in the roof, just to be on the safe side!

Designed to pair with flat panel televisions, soundbars can create the sensation of surround sound, without the need for a room full of speakers. (Samsung BD8200 pictured.)

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HOW TO BUY

Single-brand surround sound packages may feature identical speakers, such as those typical of a subwoofer/satellite system, or a mix of floorstanding, bookshelf and satellite speakers. (PSB Imagine family pictured.)

3. PICK’N’MIX If you don’t want to - or can’t afford to – buy a complete surround speaker system at once, you can assemble one gradually by, say, starting with the front pair, then adding a centre, a sub and the rear channels over time. If you already have a good pair of stereo speakers, you can also build a system from there, and many audiophiles take this path. This approach allows you to have big floorstanding speakers for the front, and tiny wall-mounted cubes or in-walls for the rear, and while you can pick and mix speakers from different brands, choosing speakers from the same brand or – better still – the same range from the same brand – will ensure your system is better voice matched, and performance matched. When it comes to serious sound, a custom surround package like this is hard to beat. You can mix and match speakers that suit either your particular room or your particular audio taste. Choosing speakers is no easy task: it’s important to audition them in a showroom, and it’s important to have a good relationship with your sales person so you can discuss your taste in movies and

music and which speakers that means you will enjoy the most. If you fancy yourself an audiophile, then you’ll enjoy spending hours in showrooms listening to different combinations of satellites, subwoofers and receivers. But if you’re just a person who wants something better than an all-in-one system from a single brand, auditioning can be tiresome.

4. SURROUND SOUND PACKAGES Surround sound packages are a ready-to-go 5.1 speaker package. The speakers can be satellites, bookshelf-sized or floorstanders

THE SHAPE OF THINGS The most basic shape of speaker is the floorstanding boxy column. A big box provides lots of room to house several drivers, and provides a solid enough footprint to keep the speaker stable. Unfortunately, you might not like the idea of having your TV flanked by giant monoliths, and huge rear speakers can often get in the way. Floorstanding speakers integrate several drivers to better reproduce all the sounds – high and low – in a soundtrack. (Yamaha NSF700 pictured.)

42 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

Most bookshelf speakers don’t actually fit onto bookshelves and require stands to raise them to ear height. The best models provide sound that is on par with floorstanders. (Mordaunt Short Mezzo pictured.)


SURROUND SPEAKERS

Inwall speakers take up no floorspace and keep all wiring out of sight, but are less convenient and more costly to install.

or a mix of all three, and compact subwoofer/satellite systems are also popular. Some packages also include an AV receiver, the electronics component that accepts Dolby and DTS audio and mixes it to each speaker as required (see story on p34). Balance is an important element of a surround package. Since each speaker does a different job it’s vital that they don’t inadvertently drown each other out. For instance, if you use hugely powerful front surround speakers either side of a relatively weedy centre speaker, dialogue will be extremely difficult to understand. Loud rear speakers will

There are smaller form-factors available. Bookshelf speakers have a smaller enclosure, but contrary to their nomenclature, most won’t fit into a bookshelf. Stands will raise the speakers to ear height (so that you can better here the mid and treble sounds), but, like floorstanding speakers, this takes up a chunk of floorspace. You can get

drown out quiet front detail. And an over-powered subwoofer will almost literally set your teeth on edge. The great thing about the packaged surround sound speaker option is that it’s been put together by experts – the speaker makers themselves or retailers – who already know how the individual components perform, and how they work as a group. And with subwoofer/satellite systems you can enjoy the benefit of a system that is not just designed to work together, but which is cosmetically matched. (Check out the following pages, where we review and compare six compact sub/sat systems that excel for both style and performance.) There’s one final, radical solution. You can mount the speakers into your walls. This involves cutting holes in your house and recessing speaker boxes within. It’s possible to completely disguise these speakers with acoustically-transparent coverings – the ultimate in stealth sound! Of course you need the right kind of house for this. Plaster walls with a cavity behind them are great, double-brick or cinderblock homes are less flexible. The best bet for architectural speakers is to install them during an extensive home renovation, while building that home theatre room you always wanted! You can also mount architectural speakers in the ceiling, though this only really works for rear and side surround speakers: your front speakers really do need to point directly at the viewer for the ultimate audio experience. n

Some packages include an AV receiver to decode all the sound and send it out to the speakers. (Yamaha YHT392 package pictured.)

wall-mount brackets for bookshelf speakers, or perhaps choose even smaller satellitetype speakers. These can be as tiny as a Rubik’s cube! The main issue with super-compact satellite speakers is that they rely on the subwoofer to provide not only the bass, but also to flesh out much of the mid-range detail that can’t be reproduced by their smaller drivers.

Satellites are a discreet sound solution, and need to be mated to a subwoofer for best performance. (Klipsch HD 300 pictured.)

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HOW TO BUY

BOWERS & WILKINS MT-25 T

he influential English speaker maker Bowers and Wilkins (B&W) is represented here by its MT-25 system. The ‘MT’ stands for Mini Theatre, which suggests something of compromise and plastic, but one glance at this system belied that. The five identical satellites particularly screamed quality, from the glimpse of the 25mm metal dome ‘Nautilus’ tweeter through the weave of the metal grille, through to the well-built stand. The satellites are bass-reflex units with a port on the rear to support the operation of the 100mm bass driver. The shape is interestingly sculpted, and the stand is attached with an adjustable ball joint so you can point the speaker in your preferred direction. If you like, you can have the centre channel satellite horizontal rather than vertical, and wall mounting brackets are included. Wiring the speaker up to the terminals in the stand was a tricky affair because of fiddly Allen head screws. You should be careful if you have digital amplifiers in your receiver because the satellites’ negative terminals

are connected electrically to the stands. Digital amplifiers have live negative terminals and may short out. The subwoofer is a 200mm unit in what seems to be a conventional box, but turns out to be a fully sealed enclosure. With decent power on tap and a moderate volume, this allows the unit to produce usable bass all the way down to 23 hertz, which is the best bass extension of the units reviewed on these pages. But the subwoofer was also good for high levels, and proved to be a good match for the satellite speakers. B&W seems to have mastered the art of producing excellent sound from small enclosures. There was plenty of volume available, despite the fairly low sensitivity of the satellites, thanks to their ability to absorb lots of power. For best performance, these satellites demand a receiver with decent power output. For stereo imaging, meanwhile, this system was rather like having a particularly fine set of full sized – and quite expensive – high fidelity loudspeakers in my office. Thomas Bartlett

“B&W SEEMS TO HAVE MASTERED THE ART OF PRODUCING EXCELLENT SOUND FROM SMALL ENCLOSURES” 44 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

SPECIFICATION Price: $2594 Warranty: five years (two years for sub) Contact: Convoy International (02) 9700 0111 www.e-hifi.com.au Features: 5 x Satellites: 2 way; 1 x 25mm metal dome ‘Nautilus’ tweeter; 1 x 100mm woven glass fibre cone bass/ midrange Frequency response: 80 to 23,000Hz +/-3dB Sensitivity: 85dB; Impedance: 8 ohms Power: 20 to 100 watts recommended; Subwoofer: 1 x 200mm driver; closed box Frequency response: 32 to 140Hz, -6dB at 23Hz Power amplifier: 200 watts Dimensions (WHD, Weight): 5 x Satellites: 114 x 243 x 172mm, 2.7kg Subwoofer: 260 x 260 x 330mm, 8.9kg Weight: 303 grams

PROS AND CONS True high fidelity sound Excellent stereo and surround imaging Strong bass Tricky cabling arrangement Stand is live to negative terminal RATINGS PERFORMANCE

FEATURES

EASE OF USE

VALUE FOR MONEY


STYLE SURROUND

FOCAL DÔME PACK 5.1 W

hereas KEF’s speakers (page 49) are ‘eggs’, each Focal Dome satellite speaker is more like half a small bowling ball. Finished in gloss ‘Diamond’ black they present a round face to the world. Their integrated desktop stands slide backwards so that, with the removal of the rubber cover and the addition of the supplied mounting plate, these satellites can be screwed to a wall. All five are identical, and each gets a full 25mm metal dome tweeter. This is ‘inverted’ (ie. concave rather than convex), as is Focal’s practice. The enclosures are sealed, yet Focal claims an average sensitivity figure of 88dB. To my ears that sounded about right, which was quite impressive. The subwoofer is also dome-like, with a 210mm downwards firing driver and a bass-reflex port alongside, the top looks like an extremely small astronomical observatory. No one will ever put a pot plant on this subwoofer. It is driven by a 100 watt ‘BASH’ amplifier. These save a lot of energy by varying their internal power supply to provide just enough voltage for that required at any moment for the signal. Clever stuff, and an economical way of providing high performance. Installation was a struggle primarily because of the fiddly Allen-key operated terminals in the bass of each satellite. Once done, though, the satellites made the effort well worthwhile. They produced truly high fidelity levels of

SPECIFICATION

detail and startlingly good imaging, both in stereo and surround. The results were highly tuneful with music, but with plenty of impact for movies, including with high resolution sound from Blu-ray. The subwoofer was solid and loud, but just a little uneven in its frequency response, emphasising the midbass rather more than the extremes. Want even more style? Consider the 850mm tall colour matched stands at $499 a pair. If this still isn’t enough, you can purchase optional colour grilles for the Dome speakers in blue, yellow or red at $25 each. The grilles are removable. But don’t pull them: rotate them slightly anticlockwise. Thomas Bartlett

“THEY PRODUCED TRULY HIGH FIDELITY LEVELS OF DETAIL AND STARTLINGLY GOOD IMAGING, BOTH IN STEREO AND SURROUND”

Price: $2999 Warranty: five years (two years for sub) Contact: Audio Marketing Pty Ltd (02) 9882 3877 www.audiomarketing.com.au Features: 5 x Satellites: 2 way; 1 x 25mm aluminium/magnesium inverted dome tweeter; 1 x 130mm bass/midrange Frequency response: 80 to 28,000Hz +/-3dB Sensitivity: 88dB Impedance: 8 ohms Power: 25 to 100 watts recommended amplifier Subwoofer: 1 x 210mm driver; bass-reflex Frequency response: 39 to 170Hz Power amplifier: 100 watts ‘BASH’ Dimensions (WHD, Weight): 5 x Satellites: 144 x 172 x 143mm, 1.9kg Subwoofer: 276 x 400 x 276mm, 8.2kg

PROS AND CONS Excellent satellite speakers Sparkling treble Excellent imaging Bass a little restricted and slightly peaky Fiddly speaker connections RATINGS PERFORMANCE

FEATURES

EASE OF USE

VALUE FOR MONEY

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 45


HOW TO BUY

JAMO A 405 HCS 5 J

amo is Danish, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that the styling of its system is rather Scandinavian, if a little fussy to my eye. It has essentially a black cloth look, with chrome-like trim and metallic grey end caps on all the speakers. Uniquely in this collection, the front and surround speakers are different. The only apparent difference between the front left and right speakers and the centre speaker was the location and orientation of the Jamo badge, and the provision of a three-legged stand for the two upright speakers. All three score two 75mm bass midrange drivers and a 25mm soft dome tweeter. The much smaller surround satellites lose one of the larger drivers and about 70 percent of their length. The surround channels also lose a couple of decibels of sensitivity.

Despite the stands, Jamo clearly intends wall mounting for these speakers since they all have integrated wall brackets that provide a degree of swivelling. The wiring arrangements are such as to try the patience of a saint, requiring the cable to be fed through an extremely small hole and then secured by spring clips. Only the thinnest of cables can handle this job. The subwoofer uses a 203mm downwards firing driver with some 200 watts behind it. Because of the challenging wiring arrangements, I ended up making an adaptor from my normal goodsized cables down to a small size that would fit into the spring clips (but not through the hole), leaving the end caps off. In a real installation, you will probably lose some power to resistance in thin cables. On surround movies the system did a fine job thanks to its ability to soak up quite a lot of power from my home theatre receiver. It went loud, cleanly. With surround music mixed to provide full immersion, the limitations of the surround satellites became apparent, with them running out of capacity at higher volume levels. Still, the imaging was good and the subwoofer offered plenty of Thomas Bartlett volume, if not much bass extension.

“ON SURROUND MOVIES THE SYSTEM DID A FINE JOB THANKS TO ITS ABILITY TO SOAK UP QUITE A LOT OF POWER FROM MY HOME THEATRE RECEIVER” 46 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

SPECIFICATION Price: $1699 Warranty: five years (two years for sub) Contact: QualiFi Pty Ltd 1800 242 426 www.qualifi.com.au Features: 2 x Front satellites, 1 x Centre: 2 way; 1 x 25mm Neodyn soft dome tweeter; 2 x 75mm bass/ midrange Frequency response: 100 to 30,000Hz Sensitivity: 86dB Impedance: 6 ohms Power: 80 watts short, 120 watts long term 2 x Surround satellites: 1 x Centre: 2 way; 1 x 25mm Neodyn soft dome tweeter; 1 x 75mm bass/ midrange Frequency response: 125 to 30,000Hz Sensitivity: 84dB Impedance: 6 ohms Power: 60 watts short, 90 watts long term Subwoofer: 1 x 203mm driver; bassreflex Frequency response: 40 to 150Hz Power amplifier: 200 watts Dimensions (WHD, Weight): 2 x Front satellites: 128 x 460 x 124mm, 2.5kg Centre: 460 x 128 x 124mm, 2.5kg 2 x Surround satellites: 128 x 128 x 124mm, 1kg; Subwoofer: 330 x 309 x 309mm, 9kg

PROS AND CONS Very good sound quality Strong subwoofer Good stereo and surround imaging Some volume limitations Awful cabling arrangement RATINGS PERFORMANCE

FEATURES

EASE OF USE

VALUE FOR MONEY


STYLE SURROUND

KEF 2005.3 B

ritish company KEF’s ‘eggs’ have justly become famous over the years for two reasons. One has been the elegance of the styling, while the other has been the sound. They haven’t stood still, with several updates, but they remain at core the same. Basically, oval faces on an ellipsoid enclosure, bass-reflex loaded. The drivers get the most out of the space, and enhance the natural ‘point source’ nature of small satellite speakers, by being co-located. To explain, the larger driver has a hole at its centre, in which resides the tweeter. This ensures that all frequencies are delivered down the same axis, eliminating path-length interference problems at the crossover frequency (which is 2.8kHz for these speakers). The subwoofer is compact, but not precisely tiny. It came with cloth covering four sides of its body, and a piano gloss top. Almost a pity to have to tuck it away in a corner, largely out of sight. This has a 250mm driver with 200 watts of Class D

power, and the cabinet is tuned by means of a passive radiator. Setting up was easy, thanks to the stands already fitted to the eggs. These can be moved to recessed mounting points on the backs of the enclosures, where they work as wall mounting plates. KEF also includes simple instructions for the settings to make on your home theatre receiver, which clarifies things for the novice. When it came to listening, it was clear that there was little compromise in sound quality with this system. In fact, it sounded more like a set of high quality floorstanding loudspeakers, thanks to the smooth frequency balance and the lack of any apparent distortion. In fact the system went nicely loud and the subwoofer was a brilliant match for the eggs, leaving no gap in the upper bass. Perhaps a touch more of the really deep stuff would have been nice, but that would add big dollars. Available in gloss black and matte silver, this is a classy Thomas Bartlett looking, great sounding system.

“IT SOUNDED MORE LIKE A SET OF HIGH QUALITY FLOORSTANDING LOUDSPEAKERS, THANKS TO THE SMOOTH FREQUENCY BALANCE AND THE LACK OF ANY APPARENT DISTORTION”

SPECIFICATION Price: $2299 Warranty: five years (1 year for subwoofer) Contact: Amber Technology 1800 251 367 www.ambertech.com.au Features: 4 x Satellites, 1 x Centre: 2-way; 1 x 19mm aluminium dome tweeter; 1 x 100mm bass/ midrange Frequency response: 80 to 27,000Hz +/-3dB Sensitivity: 88dB Impedance: 8 ohms Power: 10 to 100 watts recommended amplifier Subwoofer: 1 x 250mm driver; passive radiator with 1 x 250mm bass radiator Frequency response: 35 to 150Hz Power amplifier: 200 watts Class D Dimensions (WHD, Weight): 4 x Satellites: 130 x 198 x 150mm, 2kg Centre: 198 x 130 x 150mm, 2kg Subwoofer: 332 x 322 x 332mm, 12kg

PROS AND CONS Fine sound quality Excellent imaging Good home theatre volumes available Lacks the very deepest bass octaves RATINGS PERFORMANCE

FEATURES

EASE OF USE

VALUE FOR MONEY

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 47


HOW TO BUY

MIRAGE MX S

ometimes it must be difficult to come up with a name. Canadian speaker maker Mirage was already well known for, among other things, its ‘Nanosat’ speakers. The satellites in this package are substantially smaller than those, but where do you go if you’ve already used up ‘Nano’? If fact, the whole package was tiny. All five satellites and the subwoofer came in a carton smaller than at least one of the other systems’ subwoofer alone! The wineglass in this photo will give you a sense of the true scale of the system.. and it isn’t an unusually large glass. Small, indeed, and different in conception as well. Mirage has long been into diffuse sound using various techniques. This one uses a near vertically firing bass/ midrange driver, and a precisely vertically firing tweeter. Both have reflective surfaces above to direct the sound outwards in a full 360 degree circle. Also different: the tiny MM6 subwoofer. A cube of just 200mm on a side, it has a claimed 800 watts on tap for

its 165mm driver. The cabinet is loaded by two 165mm passive radiators. Why so much power? You need the raw voltage that goes with it to overcome the resistance of a driver operating in such a small space, not to mention that the level of EQ boost of the lowest frequencies must be prodigious. Let’s face it, this system should sound pretty poor. Instead it sounded wonderful. No, not as precisely accurate as the other systems here, but instead it had its own engaging character quite different from the others. The diffuse sound produced by the satellites actually enhanced both stereo and surround imaging, producing a more rounded effect than usual, with a nice touch of air that’s all too rare. Meanwhile the little subwoofer kept up with good levels of middle and upper bass, and occasionally delivered a gut rumbling surprise. It was not the strongest subwoofer here, but it was unbelievable what such a tiny Thomas Bartlett little thing could produce.

“LET’S FACE IT, THIS SYSTEM SHOULD SOUND PRETTY POOR. INSTEAD IT SOUNDED WONDERFUL” 48 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

SPECIFICATION Price: $2199 Warranty: five years (three years for electronics) Contact: Powermove Distribution (03) 9358 5999 www.powermove.com.au Features: 5 x Satellites: 2 way; 1 x 16mm pure titanium dome tweeter; 1 x 64mm aluminium cone bass/ midrange Frequency response: 110 to 20,000Hz; Sensitivity: 87dB Impedance: 8 ohms Power: 10 to 100 watts recommended amplifier Subwoofer: 1 x 165mm driver; passive radiator with 2 x 165mm bass radiators Frequency response: 42 to 200Hz Power amplifier: 800 watts Dimensions (WHD, Weight): 5 x Satellites: 82 x 102 x 90mm, 0.7kg Subwoofer: 200 x 200 x 200mm, 4.6kg

PROS AND CONS Incredible room-filling home theatre sound from a tiny package Excellent imaging and with a fine airy sound A little dynamic compression and some loss of accuracy RATINGS PERFORMANCE

FEATURES

EASE OF USE

VALUE FOR MONEY


STYLE SURROUND

MORDAUNT SHORT ALUMNI M

ordaunt-Short is another famous English brand, and in a sense its ‘Alumni’ system is more traditional than some of the others in this sample. At least when viewed from the front, because they appear rectangular. Nonetheless the satellite and centre channel speakers curve towards a narrower rear, and they are finished in an attractive piano gloss black. The satellites each employ a full-sized 25mm aluminium dome tweeter and a 90mm CPC bass/midrange driver. This is a design – employed by Mordaunt-Short throughout its range – that eliminates the usual dust cap in the centre of cone, providing a smoothly curved surface from which to drive the air. The centre channel is similar, but a touch longer in its sideways orientation in order to fit two of the 90mm drivers. This one comes with a cradle to hold it on a shelf (it’s shape would let it rock to and fro otherwise). All five speakers have wall-mounting points at the rear, but do not come with mounting brackets. The subwoofer is a relatively conventional unit also. Bass-reflex loaded with a downwardsfiring port, it is in a non-descript box. Still, lack of style in a subwoofer is not very important. Just hide it in a corner where it isn’t immediately obvious. The 200mm driver has a 120 watt amplifier to drive it.

This is a much lower priced system than some of the others, and this was apparent primarily in one area: the system simply would not go as loud as some of the others. In part this was due to lower sensitivity of the satellites, and lesser power handling. I had 140 watts available to each channel, but there was no way these speakers were going to handle anywhere near this. At the more extreme levels they simply became stressed. But below that, they managed to produce quite convincing levels on surround sound and stereo both, and the sound was clean and very engaging. Most impressive was the subwoofer, which offered reasonable bass extension and quite high volume levels. Thomas Bartlett

CONCLUSION One thing was clear above all else from these tests: in modern speakers, style need not come at the expense of sound. All of these speakers delivered very good sound, and some of them, excellent sound. Most defied expectations by delivering not only good sound, but ‘big’ sound – the kind of thing you’d expect from large floorstanding packages. The most startling of them all was the Mirage system that, from its size, should have been good for no more than Mickey Mouse

SPECIFICATION Price: $1699 Warranty: five years (two years for sub) Contact: QualiFi Pty Ltd 1800 242 426 www.qualifi.com.au Features: 4 x Satellites: 2 way; 1 x 25mm aluminium dome tweeter; 1 x 90mm CPC bass/ midrange Frequency response: 100 to 20,000Hz Sensitivity: 86dB Impedance: 4-8 ohms; Power: 15 to 80 watts recommended; 1 x Centre: 2 way; 1 x 25mm aluminium dome tweeter 2 x 90mm CPC bass/ midrange; Frequency response: 100 to 20,000Hz; Sensitivity: 86dB Impedance: 4-8 ohms; Power: 15 to 80 watts recommended Subwoofer: 1 x 200mm driver; bass-reflex Frequency response: 35 to 200Hz Power amplifier: 120 watts Dimensions (WHD, Weight): 4 x Satellites: 108 x 176 x 145mm, 2kg Centre: 274 x 108 x 145mm, 3kg Subwoofer: 260 x 376 x 354mm, 15kg

PROS AND CONS Very good sound quality Strong subwoofer Good stereo and surround imaging Some volume limitations No mounting hardware included RATINGS PERFORMANCE

FEATURES

EASE OF USE

VALUE FOR MONEY

surround sound, but offered good frequency balance, astonishing bass performance and a unique imaging performance thanks to its omnidirectional satellite speakers. But all things are relative. Its performance was incredible for its size, but it was outperformed in most respects by the KEF system, which costs just one hundred dollars more. So there is a moral here: take style and size into account, for you must be able to live with your speaker system. But if all else is equal, larger is usually at least a little better.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 49


BOX FRESH

PLAYSTATION 3 SLIM

D

espite its actual performance, its lineup of games, the extra tricks it does, no console in history has been as maligned as Sony’s PlayStation 3. Too big, too loud, too expensive – the list of perceived wrongs is long and shrilly declaimed by a surprisingly large number of fervent online Sony-haters.

50 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

This then is Sony’s response: a slimmer device that does everything the original does, at a price point that, while still premium, at least makes it affordable for a larger number of gamers. But if you already own a PS3, is there any reason to upgrade?

FEATURES More than just a games console, the PS3 Slim is – like its fatter predecessor – both a high definition video player and media server. The internal 120GB hard drive allows the user to store HDMI output is provided but you need to supply the cable.


SONY PLAYSTATION 3 SLIM

music, videos and images in a wide (if not exhaustive) range of formats, and the Blu-ray optical drive opens up the world of disc-based 1080p entertainment. It’s a compelling package: there are very few BD-Live capable players on the market for much less than $499, and of course the PS3 plays games and enables online interaction as well. Sony’s continued support for firmware updates means functionality just keeps increasing: more formats are supported, and more features added with every passing release. While the PS3 Slim comes with a composite video cable and supports component output with a separate proprietary cable, really the only way to use it is with HDMI. It now supports full HDMI 1.3 and Consumer Electronics Control (CEC), so you can navigate the PS3’s interface using the remote from your Sony TV using Bravia Sync – obviously off-brand TVs and AV receivers can’t control the Slim. Supported video, audio and image formats cover most of the important bases, including AVCHD for highdef footage straight from an HD video camera, DivX from online, and H.264. Audio output is up to 7.1 channels and you can now upsample audio stored on the internal hard drive to 88.2kHz or 176.4kHz. And more significantly, the machine now bitstreams lossless TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks from Blu-ray. All the other good stuff remains: DVD upsampling, the PlayStation Store for all your trailers, demos, themes and other fripperies, an increasingly sophisticated photo album system... and oh yes, you can still buy games to play on it, if that’s what you’re into.

PERFORMANCE The first thing that’s noticeable about the PS3 Slim is the sound: it’s a much quieter device than its bigger brother. Especially once you’ve had a Blu-ray movie running for 40 minutes or so, the lack of howling cooling fans is most welcome. You’ve probably seen or heard reports that the PS3 Slim is slower than the previous PS3. That’s true, but only by the merest of seconds. Blu-ray playback takes very slightly longer to start once you hit play – the extra delay is easily worth the smaller, quieter and less-garish form factor. A note on Bravia Sync: using your TV’s remote to control the PS3 isn’t as awesome as you might think, because the remote doesn’t have all the necessary buttons to navigate the PlayStation Store and other parts of the interface.

Top view of PS3 Slim.

“THIS IS A SOLID IMPROVEMENT ON THE PREVIOUS PS3: SMALLER, QUIETER, AND MORE ABLE TO INTEGRATE WITH A RACK OF BLACK AV EQUIPMENT” However, your TV’s remote is great for watching Blu-ray, as the PS3’s dedicated media remote is still an optional ($50!) accessory.

CONCLUSION This is a solid improvement on the previous PS3: smaller, quieter, and more able to integrate with a rack of black AV equipment. Yes, the 120GB hard drive isn’t that impressive in this days of 1TB models, but you can still swap-in a bigger drive if you want one. The PlayStation 3 remains a compact and full-featured high definition entertainment system. Think of it as a wellbuilt Blu-ray player that also plays a bunch of pretty good games, and it’s easy to see the value at this price. Anthony Fordham

SPECIFICATION Category: Videogame console Price: $499 Warranty: 12 months Contact: Sony www.playstation.com.au Hard drive: 120GB Outputs: S-Video, component (cable not included), HDMI (cable not included), optical audio Inputs: 2x USB, Ethernet Wireless: 802.11g Wi-Fi adapter Optical disc support: BD-Live, DVD, CD Video support: MPEG4 SP, H.264, MPEG-4 AVC High Profile, AVI, AVCHD, DivX, WMV Music support: ATRAC, MP3, MP4 AAC, WAVE Linear PCM, WMA Image support: JPEF, TIFF, BMP, GIF, PNG Lossless audio support: Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio

PROS AND CONS More compact and understated Runs much quieter Cheaper than many full-spec Blu-ray players 120GB HDD seems ungenerous Still no remote or HDMI cable RATINGS PERFORMANCE

FEATURES

EASE OF USE

VALUE FOR MONEY

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 51


BOX FRESH

SHARP AQUOS LC42D77X L

CD is finally catching up with plasma technology in terms of image quality and value for money, however, only a handful of companies actually produce their own LCD panels. Other brands – from

“THIS AQUOS ALSO FEATURES AN ‘ECO MODE’ THAT DIMS THE BACKLIGHTING TO REDUCE POWER CONSUMPTION” 52 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

no-name badges to marques such as Bang & Olufsen and Sony – make their televisions from the panels that emerge from the factories of these companies, so you can expect some peace of mind when purchasing from one of the world’s original manufacturing experts. Sharp is one of these – as is Samsung, LG, Toshiba and Panasonic – with manufacture taking place inside Japanese, rather than Chinese, plants. A new manufacturing plant will come on line in China in the next couple of years to help Sharp meet increasing global demand for LCD panels.

FEATURES Sharp’s current Aquos range, including the LC42D77X, represents the company’s eighth generation, and like all previous generations, improves on that which has gone before. Better connectivity, better video processing, better presentation, better power consumption.


SHARP AQUOS LC42D77X

That said, it lags some of the competition for feature-set, bare as it is of fancy internet widgets, DLNA streaming, Ethernet, or USB ports and memory card slots and LED backlighting. The latter can be found in new models showcased at the recent IFA electronics show in Berlin (see page 28), with a 40 inch example from this new range now available locally for a premium of $500 on the LC42D77X’s $2599. What the LC42D77X does have is an onboard HD tuner, three HDMI inputs, full HD at 1920 x 1080 (24fps) video support and contrast ratio figures of 50,000:1. The panel also employs 100Hz Fine Motion processing, which is designed to smooth fast-moving images. Cosmetically, it looks great, finished in the usual high gloss black, but with an appealing blue tint to the bottom of the bezel. The supplied remote control is functional, but nothing out of the ordinary, and the onscreen setup menus are quite simple and self-explanatory to navigate. It took just a few minutes to tune the Sharp in and there are a good number of picture adjustments which you’d best set with the aid of a calibration disc, such as Digital Video Essentials. This Aquos also features an ‘Eco Mode’ that dims the backlighting to reduce power consumption. Released to market before the government’s energy rating scheme, it is not star rated.

PERFORMANCE High definition content – be it courtesy of its own built-in tuner or an external Blu-ray player – looked mightily impressive on this set. All-important black levels had sumptuous depth and solidity, while the colour spectrum was vibrantly and naturally rendered. Playing Transporter 3 on Blu-ray, the Sharp handled the fast action sequences well…. until we switched on the 100Hz processing. This actually made horizontal panning noticeably less smooth and produced a goodly amount of haze-like artefacting. Without it, the picture was more appealing, with a decent colour palette and plenty of detail retrieval. The Sharp managed to provide that ‘3D’ look to welltransferred Blu-ray material, and even classic transfers such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind showed tremendous vibrancy and detail. DVDs delivered at 576i and upsclaled by the TV’s internal circuitry were acceptable, and only marginally

“THIS VIEWING ANGLE ON THIS SHARP HAS ALSO IMPROVED ON EARLIER AQUOS PANELS, WITH MINIMAL LOSS OF CONTRAST AWAY FROM THE SWEET-SPOT CENTREVIEWING POSITION “ better when 1080p upscaling was handled by our reference standard DVD player, so Sharp’s video processing is on par with that of premium-level players. The best upscaling, however, can’t match native high definition material for quality, and this is what this set needs to really show its chops. Screen uniformity was also good – there were no noticeable backlighting issues and no discernable bezel light seepage. The viewing angle on this Sharp has also improved on earlier Aquos panels, with minimal loss of contrast away from the sweet-spot centre-viewing position. Less impressive was the onboard sound, which was thin and pinched even against the usual low standard we expect from television sets. Tone controls, SRS Surround and bass enhancement did not improve matters appreciably, and a partnering home theatre surround system is recommended if you intend any prolonged periods of viewing.

CONCLUSION This Sharp lacks some of the features of many screens at this price and size, but delivers a solid and enjoyable picture - provided you mute the sound. Nic Tatham

“ALL-IMPORTANT BLACK LEVELS HAD SUMPTUOUS DEPTH AND SOLIDITY, WHILE THE COLOUR SPECTRUM WAS VIBRANTLY AND NATURALLY RENDERED”

SPECIFICATION Category: LCD TV Price: $2599 Warranty: 3 years Contact: Sharp Australia www.sharp.net.au Image: LCD; 107cm (42 inch) diagonal; 16:9; 1920 x 1080 pixels, 450 cd/m2 brightness; 50,000: 1 dynamic contrast; 176 degrees V/H viewing angle Audio: 2 x 10 watts, SRS TruSurround XT, Bass Enhancer, digital amplifier Inputs: 3 x HDMI, 2 x component, 3 x RCA, 1 x S-Video, 1 x PC (D-sub 15pin), 1 x RS-232C Outputs: 1 x optical digital, 1 stereo RCA, x 1 headphone Features: HD digital tuner, analog TV tuner, Fine Motion Advanced 100Hz, 1080/24p, 60,000 hours rated backlight life, Aquos link CEC control, 7 day EPG Power consumption: 221 watts (0.5 watts standby) Supplied accessories: remote controls, manual Dimensions (WHD): 1020 x 709 x 277 mm (with stand) Weight: 19 kg (with stand)

PROS AND CONS Excellent HD 1080p images Modern, good-looking design Lacks networking features of competing models Poor onboard sound quality 100Hz mode artefacting RATINGS PERFORMANCE

FEATURES

EASE OF USE

VALUE FOR MONEY

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 53


BOX FRESH

WD TV HD MEDIA PLAYER W

estern Digital’s WD TV HD Media Player offers a simple way to view digital multimedia files – music, photos or video – direct to pretty much any TV. It’s not as fully featured or lust-worthy as a DLNA solution, but it does a cracking job of just getting the task done.

FEATURE Our first impressions of the WD TV were, it’s got to be said, not that positive. Specifically, the main unit is a tiny plastic box that looks rather cheap and shoddy. Connections are an interesting mix, with cruddy composite video sitting directly next to a full high definitioncapable HDMI port. Only composite leads are provided, so factor in the cost of an HDMI cable of you want to realise better quality images on your telly.

54 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

The WD TV’s main job is multimedia playback, and it does this purely through USB sockets on the side and rear that can accept any flash or USB-powered external drive. Not surprisingly, Western Digital would prefer it if you used one of its drives, but we had no problems with a range of units from various manufacturers. The provided remote is short, stubby and easily lost. The WD TV supports playback of photos, music and video, with a wide range of formats supported. On the video side,

HDMI and USB sit alongside nasty old composite video outputs.


WD TV HD MEDIA PLAYER

“THE REALLY NICE THING ABOUT SETTING UP THE WD TV IS THAT IT’S EXTRAORDINARILY SIMPLE” it’ll natively support MPEG1/2/4, WMV9, AVI (MPEG4, Xvid, AVC), H.264, MKV, MOV (MPEG4, H.264), MTS, TP and TS files with the capability to play back 1080p content. There’s no inbuilt DRM support, however, so you’ll need to use unprotected files only with it. Western Digital does provide ArcSoft Media Converter 2.5 to convert files to formats that the WDTV supports, but we still managed to find a few files in our collection the unit didn’t like.

PERFORMANCE The really nice thing about setting up the WD TV is that it’s extraordinarily simple. Plug it into your TV, plug it into the power and chuck a USB stick or drive into either slot, or both. Initial indexing can be a touch slow on some larger drives, but once that’s done the interface is well laid out and efficient.

At the same time, that very simplicity brings a significant drawback compared to other media playback devices. There’s no provision for Ethernet, so no streaming from DLNA compatible devices. While that dodges some network headaches, it does mean that absolutely everything you play back on the WD TV will have to be copied to a portable drive first, then carried to the WD TV for playback, connected, indexed and then finally played. It’s not a critical flaw – and for the asking price we’re not too concerned by it – but it’s worth mentioning.

CONCLUSION As a simple setup for media playback – whether it’s to show off your home movies and photos in the lounge room or push your files via sneakernet to a bedroom TV – the WD TV HD Media Player performs admirably at a Alex Kidman no-frills level for a no-frills kind of price. SPECIFICATION Category: Media player Price: $199 Warranty: 12 months Contact: Western Digital 1800 429 861 www.westerndigital.com Dimensions (WHD): 125.5 x 40 x 100mm Weight: 303 grams

PROS AND CONS Extremely simple setup Supports flash or external hard drives Remote works well No networking features Main unit looks and feels cheap RATINGS PERFORMANCE

FEATURES

EASE OF USE

VALUE FOR MONEY

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 55


BOX FRESH

PIONEER BDP-LX52 W

ith the BDP-LX52, Pioneer has moved to the correct side of the thousand dollar barrier for Blu-ray players, and at the same time produced a full featured unit, preserving the most important of Pioneer’s previous innovations.

FEATURES The headline feature for this unit is BD-Live, previously available from Pioneer only in the ultra-high end BDP-LX91. And of course

it also supports the Picture-in-Picture and Sound-in-Sound capabilities of BonusView. The unit includes a USB socket on the back, into which you can plug a thumb drive to support these features, including material downloaded via BD-Live from the internet. The player does all the things we expect of a modern Bluray player, such as delivering high definition digital audio as a bitstream to a suitable home theatre receiver. Or decoding all the new formats (plus the old ones) for slightly older home theatre

SONY BDP-S760 S

ony’s new BDP-S760 Blu-ray player is a premium model, and the first to appear with a feature that we think will become the norm over the next couple of years: Wi-Fi.

FEATURES Why Wi-Fi? Because the most advanced feature of Blu-ray is BD-Live, which allows the addition of new features to Blu-ray discs from the internet.

56 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

But how many of us have home network connections near our entertainment units? By including Wi-Fi, BD-Live can be provided without the need to rewire your home. Naturally this unit has plenty of other features, including another Australian first: a headphone socket. This is backed up with a ‘Surround’ processing circuit designed to give a sense of surround from the headphones. It has two USB ports. The one on the back is for persistent storage, required for some higher-level Blu-ray functions. The one


PIONEER BDP-LX52 & SONY BDP-S760 receivers. To make use of these capabilities, your receiver will need to be able to accept digital audio from a HDMI connection. The player does not have multichannel analog outputs, though, so if your receiver does not support HDMI audio at all, you will have to make do with standard Dolby Digital or DTS. The player can deliver full 1080p24 video, as well as upscale DVDs to 1080p output from HDMI (1080i from component video). One of the features unique to Pioneer is the ability to set the output resolution without having to stop disc playback and return to the setup menu. There are two dedicated keys on the remote for this purpose, and you can also choose ‘Auto’ and ‘Source Direct’ settings to provide a range of automatically chosen output settings.

PERFORMANCE As far as performance went, there were no surprises with this player. I was expecting great picture and audio performance from a Pioneer player, and it delivered it. And I was expecting a moderate amount of clunkiness, and it delivered that as well.

of the front, though, can be used for photo display, as can the networking functions of the unit from a computer with suitable server software running. Oddly, even though the unit will play MP3 music from a disc, it doesn’t support this from either USB or the network. Sony says the unit decodes all the new high definition digital audio standards, such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, meaning it will pair well (using its 7.1 analog outputs) with AV receivers that lack the latest decoders. If you own a recentmodel AV receiver with the latest HD audio decoders, it can deliver these formats as bitstreams for decoding at the other end. The player supports full 1080p output, including 1080p24 for DVDs.

PERFORMANCE The player was easy to set up. The slowest part for me was entering the WEP key since my network doesn’t support automatic registration, and even that only took a minute. Otherwise, the unit’s out-of-the-box setup wizard asked sensible questions and got it going correctly.

“I WAS EXPECTING GREAT PICTURE AND AUDIO PERFORMANCE FROM A PIONEER PLAYER, AND IT DELIVERED IT” So let’s deal with that first. This player is far, far slower than the fastest models currently available. It is slow to start up, and slow to load discs. Often when you press a remote control key it is slow to respond, and if you press again, the stored presses get replayed in a row, making the player do things you may not want.

BD-Live is delivered to the BDP-LX52 via a wired Ethernet connection.

Speed wise, the unit was about middle of the field for starting up and getting Blu-ray discs playing – neither slowest nor fastest, and was a slight improvement over the previous series. You can speed up the wakeup time from about 25 seconds to about six seconds by choosing a ‘Quick Start’ option. This basically leaves the unit running the whole time, including the cooling fan if needed. A silly idea, in my opinion. Blu-ray picture quality was simply excellent, with smooth colours and clean playback. The BonusView PIP options worked well, as did the BD-Live. Okay, for obvious reasons I have a network cable near my system, but I used wireless anyway, and even though not optimally placed (the network diagnostics of the player suggested the signal strength was 30 percent), streaming some standard definition BD-Live video via the Transformers Blu-ray disc worked fine. The sound was fine. I generally had the unit deliver the audio as a bitstream to my receiver. When I switched to ‘Mix’ mode, to support BonusView PIP mixed audio, this also worked fine. It appeared to use the standard Dolby Digital and DTS cores buried in the high resolution audio formats.

Sony’s BDP-5760 has multichannel audio outputs and onboard HD decoding, so will pair nicely with non-HD AV receivers.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 57


BOX FRESH SPECIFICATION Category: Blu-ray player Price: $999 Warranty: one year Contact: Pioneer Electronics 1800 060 852 www.pioneer.com.au Outputs: 1 x component video, 1 x composite video, 1 x HDMI, 1 x stereo analog audio, 1 x optical digital audio, 1 x coaxial digital audio Other: 1 x Ethernet port, 1 x Control in, 1 x USB (rear panel), 1 x RS-232C system integration Features: BonusView, BD-Live, high resolution audio decoding, 24 fps output, Consumer Electronics Control (CEC – called ‘Kuro Link’) Supplied accessories: remote control, manual Dimensions (WHD): 420 x 832 x 287mm Weight: 3.6kg

PROS AND CONS

So, definitely clunky. But on the other side, you get enormous power and glorious performance. The picture quality was as good as it gets. And if you’re not quite happy, there is a bunch of picture tweaking options you can apply. I don’t recommend using most of those: better to set your TV correctly. But one of those options is ‘Pure Cinema’, which controls deinterlacing of interlaced Blu-ray discs and DVDs. With most Australian DVDs, setting ‘Pure Cinema’ to ‘On’ instead of ‘Auto’ increased performance from very good to perfect, making the player deliver every bit of detail available from the disc. The sound performance was entirely in the hands of the various home theatre receivers I used, since

I delivered it digitally. But the decoding worked well, delivering all channels at the full resolution. Your receiver will be the performance bottleneck, not the BDP-LX52. And there were nice little extras, like the single frame stepping both forwards and backwards on Blu-ray discs as well as DVDs (few players will do this for Blu-ray), and slow motion both ways.

CONCLUSION The Pioneer BDP-LX52 is a fine Blu-ray player for those who aren’t too impatient. You are unlikely to get better video or audio performance than this unit provides. That for me outweighs the unit’s clunkiness. Thomas Bartlett

Excellent Blu-ray picture quality Excellent DVD picture quality Full high resolution audio decoding Slowish, sometimes clunky operation RATINGS PERFORMANCE

FEATURES

EASE OF USE

VALUE FOR MONEY

SPECIFICATION Category: Blu-ray player Price: $729 Warranty: one year Contact: Sony Australia Limited 1300 137 669 www.sony.com.au Outputs: 1 x component video, 1 x S-Video, 1 x composite video, 1 x HDMI, 1 x 7.1 analog audio, 1 x stereo analog audio, 1 x optical digital audio, 1 x coaxial digital audio, 1 x 6.5mm headphone Other: 1 x Ethernet port, 1 x Wi-Fi, 2 x USB (1 rear panel for persistent storage, 1 front panel for JPEG photos) Features: BonusView, BD-Live, High resolution audio decoding, 24fps output, Consumer Electronics Control (CEC – called ‘Bravia Sync) Supplied accessories: remote, manual Dimensions (WHD): 430 x 70 x 246mm Weight: 3.0kg

PROS AND CONS

The headphone output worked well enough, although I found it a bit limited in maximum volume with movies (you adjust the level with a key on the remote control). The surround processing did not produce an especially convincing effect. I preferred the sound with this switched off. As usual with Sony Blu-ray players, there is no slow motion or frame stepping with Blu-ray, which I find irritating. On the other hand, I loved the remote

control’s ability to communicate with the player at extreme angles and ranges.

CONCLUSION Except for one thing, not a great deal has changed with this new Blu-ray player from Sony. But that one thing is a great thing: the Wi-Fi connection is a real advance in Blu-ray usability, opening up BD-Live functionality to Thomas Bartlett many more people.

Excellent Blu-ray picture quality Wi-Fi convenience for BD-Live Good DVD picture quality Full high resolution audio decoding Lacks some transport control conveniences Slower operation than present state-of-the-art RATINGS PERFORMANCE

FEATURES

EASE OF USE

VALUE FOR MONEY

58 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009


GEAR GUIDES FOR DIGTAL LIVES

THE

VIDEO MAKERS

CAMCORDER BUYERS GUIDE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 59


Moving pictures Whether its for viewing on the high definition TV or sharing on the web, there’s a video maker for every purpose, writes Byer Gair.

T

here’s been an explosion in the last 12 months of devices on the market able to capture digital video and stills. Suddenly, you can now shoot standard definition (SD), high definition or full high definition (HD) with a startling array of camcorders, as well as digital compact and DSLR still cameras. Just to muddy the waters even further, many camcorders can shoot top quality stills, even while you’re simultaneously recording video.

Standard Definition Talking strictly camcorders, the SD models are appealing with their low price, simple operation and small form factor. Many have high powered, stabilised zooms, often 60x or 70x or more in optical zoom power and can record stereo sound. Street prices can be as low as $400 for name brand SD camcorders and typically top out at around $900. Some offer 640 x 480 pixel resolution at 25 fps, comfortably viewable on a 4:3 TV set as well as any of the newer widescreen

STANDARD DEFINITION CAMCORDERS Canon’s Legria FS camcorders use SD/SDHC cards and have zoom lenses with 41x or 45x optical zoom power. The top model – the FS22 camcorder – has 32GB of internal flash memory, and all can shoot SD video as well as stills up to 1152 x 864 pixels. Prices range from $549 to $849.

JVC has attractively priced models that all take SD/SDHC cards (GZMS120R/120S/120A/130B). The optical zoom lens in each has 35x power. All models can shoot 832 x 624 pixels stills, and the GZ-MS130B model has 16GB of internal flash memory. One of the cheapest standard definition camcorders is Panasonic’s SDR-26 which accepts SD/SDHC cards, has a 70x optical zoom but does not shoot stills. It comes in three colours. It costs $439.

60 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009


CAMCORDER BUYERS GUIDE

“Just to muddy the waters even further, many camcorders can shoot top quality stills, even while you’re simultaneously recording video” tellies. Other models can capture in 720 x 480 resolution at 25 fps – an ultra-low budget method to shoot widescreen (16:9 picture ratio) video that is also viewable on 4:3 and widescreen TV sets.

Net-cameras The upper level SD camcorders will shoot the works: sports, hobby videos, school projects. They will also shoot smaller res video – like 320 x 240 pixel video – that is not web hungry. If you want to shoot video purely for web or email use, SD camcorders could be more than you need but, with the right software, you can easily edit your work, mess around with sound, titles, wipes etc – then save it to DVD or drop it onto the Web, converted to a lower resolution. If your target is web distribution you may be happier with Net-cams such as the Aiptek, Flip or or Samsung’s SMX-C14: cheaper, quicker and easier to use than an enthusiast’s shooter and perfectly adequate for videos you want to send to friends and rellies on the web.

Frame rates

Strictly speaking, high definition (HD) can be defined as a video picture having a vertical resolution of 720 pixels (or lines) or more. There are some camcorders able to capture 16:9 pictures at 1024 x 768, 1280 x 720 and up. When we get to full HD we encounter a video picture that can take advantage of the current widescreen full HD TV sets that display a picture composed of 1920 pixels across and with 1080 vertical lines (1920 x 1080). The exciting factor in all of this is that you can now shoot home video with consumer camcorders that, if operated with skill and care, can capture video and sound nearly indistinguishable from a top quality TV broadcast.

When looking at camcorder specs you’ll encounter figures that relate to the frame rate. Here we’re talking of the Australian PAL TV system. A camcorder may shoot at 25 fps with interlaced scanning, meaning that each 1/25th of a second is composed of two scan fields. This is often called 50i. Interlaced scanning draws the image field with intermeshed, alternating lines: 50 half fields every second, 25 fully intermeshed frames in each second. This delivers greater image resolution of a stationary scene but loses up to half the resolution and shows meshing artefacts if the subject moves. An alternative figure quoted can be 50p, with ‘p’ standing for progressive. This indicates that the video picture is composed of 50 separate pictures in each second.

The $719 hybrid SDR-H80-K has a 60GB hard drive and accepts SD/SDHC cards. The zoom has 70x optical power and the camcorder can take 640 x 480 pixel stills.

If you like the idea of DVD mini discs that you can pop into your DVD player after shooting, then Sony’s DCR-DVD650 model covers nearly all bases by using DVD media and Memory Sticks. The lens has 60x optical zoom power and it can shoot 720 x 576 pixels stills. $599.

High definition and full HD

Sony has a range of models that use Memory Stick storage, internal hard drives and recordable mini DVD discs to shoot SD quality video. Its DCR-SX40A camcorder, for example, has 4GB of internal hard drive storage as well as a Memory Stick slot; the lens is a 60x optical zoom and it can shoot 640 x 480 pixel stills. Price: $529.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 61


“Cost-wise, tape is cheapest but has the poorest lifespan; solid state reverses this scenario” to the capacity of the storage medium and the resolution of the video being captured. Cost-wise, tape is cheapest but has the poorest lifespan; solid state reverses this scenario.

The formats

Progressive scanning draws a full screen image in each 50th of a second. While regarded by experts as a better way to create a television picture, progressive scan demands more space on the recording media.

Many experienced amateur videomakers are still concerned at the situation with current video formats. They continue to have difficulty with the choice of adequate and suitable computer hardware as well as appropriate software for post-production. These people groan with pain as each new format or variation arrives on the scene with new camcorder model arrivals. However, if your video ambitions go no further than shooting enjoyable family, travel, sports or other videos — then running them at home on the tele in all their unedited glory and maybe saving your efforts on DVD to share with friends and family — your video experience will be uncomplicated.

The media Here it gets awfully confusing for the shopper eager to invest in video camcorders. The tape format that was first used to capture digital video was the Mini DV cassette. Cheap and cheerful but capable of storing quality video — even now! For example, Sony has camcorders that use Mini DV tapes and that shoot HDV format in 16:9 ratio. The resolution is 1440 x 1080i – not full HD but very watchable on a large screen. The same company still offers a hybrid DVD camcorder that uses small, recordable 8cm DVD discs; this unit also has the capability to record to Memory Sticks. There are camcorders that have internal hard drives, flash memory, SD and SDHC card storage, plus hybrid models that combine two storage methods. Recording times vary according

NET-CAMERAS Aiptek DV M2 captures video for the web at 320 x 240 pixels and costs just $99 (from Kmart). Samsung SMX-C14 has 16GB of flash memory and once connected to a PC can upload the video you want to share (on YouTube or social networking sites) at the touch of a button. It costs $350.

62 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

The Flip has enjoyed success in the US by virtue of its ease of use and portability, with the two new variants – the Flip Ultra and the Flip Mino – adding HD capture up to 720p. FlipShare software remains a feature, and makes it easy to organise, edit and upload recorded clips on video sites such as YouTube.

HIGH DEFINTION AND JVC has the Everio GZ-X900 full HD camcorder with a 5x optical zoom lens, a slot to take SD/ SDHC cards and the ability to shoot JPEG stills up to 3456 x 2592 pixels in size. Interestingly, it can also capture a run of six stills at a speed of 15fps. It costs $1999.


CAMCORDER BUYERS GUIDE

Another, more recent approach is AVCHD, which stands for Advanced Video Codec High Definition and indicates the arrival of highly sophisticated encoding techniques that enable hours – yes hours – of full HD video and 5.1 channel surround sound to be recorded to in-camera hard drives, in-camera flash memory or cards such as Memory Sticks, SD or SDHC media. AVCHD looks to be a stayer. Not content with this degree of compression, Panasonic recently broke out with a new flavour – AVCHD Lite – for recording 1280 x 720 HD video with some of their still cameras. I’ve shot video with this format and came away mighty impressed … no artefacts, no compression bumps.

Steady Eddie Camcorders certainly came of age when they began to install stabilising systems. At last! No more wobbly videos! The system to go for in current camcorders is optical stabilisation; this relies on sensitive gyros that ‘float’ some internal elements of the lens and present a steady image to the camcorder’s image sensor. There may still be some models on the market that use an electronic stabiliser system. Avoid these, as the image is inferior to that with an optical stabiliser.

However, there are times when even a highly sophisticated optical stabiliser won’t help. With the zoom lens extended at full stretch, even the steadiest pair of hands will not remove unsteadiness from the video picture. This is what can happen: the slightest hand movement will cause the stabiliser system to counteract it; then you counteract that correction … and you have a vicious circle.

“There are times when even a highly sophisticated optical stabiliser won’t help. With the zoom lens extended at full stretch, even the steadiest pair of hands will not remove unsteadiness from the video picture”

FULL HIGH DEFINITION CAMCORDERS Canon’s top full HD model — Legria HF S11 — has 64GB of internal flash memory and also accepts SD/ SDHC cards; by using the internal memory alone the camcorder could store nearly six hours of video. While the zoom lens has only 10x optical power it can shoot full HD as well as take JPEG still shots up to 3264 x 2456 pixels in size. You pay for these features, though, as it costs $2500.

About to land on our shores is Kodak’s Zi8 pocket camcorder, succeeding the successful Flip. It shoots full HD video with 1080 x 1920 resolution in the Motion JPEG format as well as JPEG stills, writeable to an SD or SDHC card and viewable via a 6.4cm LCD screen. The lens is only a digital zoom, so as you zoom in the picture blocks up. The big plus is its easy connection to Facebook or YouTube. Price: $TBA

Sony’s top model with full HD capability is the HDR-XR520V camcorder with a 10x optical zoom. The camcorder has a massive 240GB internal hard drive and can also use Memory Sticks. Stills can be shot at a maximum 2304 x 1728 pixels in size or, when shooting video simultaneously, at 2016 x 1134 pixels. The HDR-XR520V has an even more powerful feature in GPS tagging: turn on GPS and the camcorder will log the latitude and longitude position of every piece of footage (or still picture) you shoot. In playback, a map on the LCD screen shows where the footage was shot. Price is $2499.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 63


The most elegant way to avoid wobbly camcorder work is to place it on a tripod or firm support. That way you’re assured of steady video shooting … and besides, you can then operate the zoom with some degree of confidence and precision.

Three CCDs Most camcorders use a single image sensor to capture video — which is fine for most amateur video enthusiasts. However, picky and quality conscious camcorder users head for the top level camcorders — and pro camcorders — which employ three image sensors to capture the three color channels (red, blue and green) with each sensor recording separate red, green and blue information.

Movies’n’stills If you want to travel light and have a desperate desire to keep the clutter low it’s a good plan to carry a camcorder that can shoot decent movies as well as printable stills. Some camcorders will shoot small 640 x 480 pixel still photos. Too small! This will deliver a 10 x 15cm print you

make at home or have made for you at the local photo shop — but it will be unsatisfactory, look ‘grainy’ and be soft in focus. Look for a camcorder that can shoot stills at least 1200 x 1800 pixels in size to ensure a decent 10 x 15cm print. If you want to make A4 prints, look for a camcorder that can shot JPEG stills with at least 2200 x 3300 pixels.

Stills’n’Movies Digital still cameras are now chasing their movie camcorder mates in the video department by offering increasingly sophisticated degrees of quality. For a long time digicams have been able to shoot SD video (with sound) that could be run on the home television and even edited on the home computer. Now there are high quality stills cameras, especially digital SLRs (DSLRs) that can rival the talents of full HD camcorders. However be careful if you want to head down this track. Some cameras will only shoot video with the zoom and focus locked on the setting before you started rolling. n

DIGITAL SLR CAMERAS One of the first digital SLRs to ‘go video’ was Nikon’s D90 DSLR. While its 1280 x 720 pixel resolution is not full HD, the picture sits very well on a full HD 1920 x 1080 pixel TV screen. With this camera you must set focus, white balance etc before you start shooting, as AF, etc. is not operable after you start shooting. The running time is limited to five minutes at the top resolution and audio capture (mono) is only via the camera’s (inadequate) internal microphone.

64 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 can shoot full high-def 1920 x 1080 video at 25 fps and uses the AVCHD format, now seen in a large number of camcorders. Impressively, the camera can shoot video with auto focus in play and with total freedom to zoom. Added to this, the GH1 can accept a new Panasonic interchangeable, optically stabilised 10x zoom lens that makes the camera a powerful video and still camera par excellence!


ULTIMATE AV

CINEMA Delux An ultra-home theatre integrating Hollywood-grade equipment showcases the grand possibilities of cinema in residential spaces.

Photography by Ron Tan and Mark Jeisman. Copyright Surround Sounds, reproduced by permission.

66 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009


C

onceived from the start to be eminently practical as well as aspirational, one of the main requirements for the ‘Cinema Delux’ installation at AV specialist retailer Surround Sounds in Nedlands, Perth, was for customers to be able to imagine enjoying a similar system in their own homes. So while all the equipment is professional, commercial-grade gear chosen for performance and reliability against a reference standard of Hollywood film and music-mastering studios, the main function of the home theatre is to fully demonstrate what is achievable to potential clients making the move to full HD entertainment, and to be representative of what they can have for themselves.

“We wanted to show them the evolution of immersive home cinema,” says Mark Jeisman, chief designer of the theatre system and director of Surround Custom, which collaborated with Surround Sounds to bring this new theatre to life. It was an ideal pairing too as, between them, the CEDIA award-winning duo share vast experience in installation and integration work in the prestige new home and luxury shipping markets, making them no strangers to demands for the highest possible quality.

Out with the old… Replacing an impressive but ageing multi-tiered home theatre that had served the guys at Surround Sounds well for many years, the experts wisely hired in yet more experts to help

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 67


ULTIMATE AV

out. Butler Interiors, a Perth interior design firm, were tasked with providing cabinetry and interior decoration to the highest possible finish to achieve the essential ‘wow!’ factor for the build, working closely alongside the teams from Surround Custom and Surround Sounds. The old theatre room was gutted – only a single supporting wall remained of the previous structure – and a new room grew up in the space: a new timber floor, new ceiling and walls with double linings of high density fibre board and Gyprock and fabric-padded panelling throughout. Then every cavity was filled with acoustic insulation and, to cap the structure off, the team punched holes in every surface possible, to reduce resonance.

Not quite done with the walls, the Surround Sounds and Surround Custom teams wanted to surprise their customers with some surround spectacle of another kind, finally lining the walls with 180 metres of coloured LED strip lighting that can create a light show of over 16 million colours! Ready now for the heart of the installation, a Crestron 7.1 surround and control processor was installed to handle the audio and route the video from the three-chip Sim2 C3X DLP projector

CINEMA DELUX Electronic design and installation by Surround Sounds Pty Ltd and Surround Custom Pty Ltd 83 Stirling Hwy, Nedlands, Western Australia 6009 Ph: 08 9389 6900 Email: sales@surroundsounds.com.au Interior design by Butler Interiors Ph: 08 9271 4009) Surround Custom and Surround Sounds

68 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

Professional-grade Genetic speakers handle sound duties at Cinema Delux.


CINEMA DELUX

…A surround spectacle of another kind… walls with 180 metres of coloured LED strip lighting that can create a light show of over 16 million colours! way LCR speakers, flush-mounted two-way surround speakers and a 4x 12 inch Genelec subwoofer sitting on its lonesome on a separate, isolating plinth (although the Genelec LCR amplifiers are nearby on their own rack). Some speakers are also installed behind the screen and all are balanced to produce a striking sound stage and perfect tonal balance. A B&R 40RU equipment rack, hidden from view by cavity sliding doors and located at the back of the room, keeps everything tidy but also, crucially, accessible when it comes time for the demonstrations.

For those about to rock

The room is acoustically isolated by double linings of high density fibre board and fabric padded panelling.

with Schneider-Isco lens/Cineslide sled system. The projector, housed in its own ventilated enclosure, throws incredible images up onto the Stewart 158 inch Anamorphic Cine V Micro-perforated screen, producing a high definition, 2:35.1 Cinemascope picture and supported by true 7.1 HD sound. Oh, it will display in 16:9 too, if necessary. Relaying that sound is the 7.1 Professional Genelec Active speaker monitoring system. This comprises three, 15-inch threeThe SIM2 DLP projector throws a 2:35.1 images onto the cinema’s 158 inch screen.

Good for anything you throw at it, the Surround Sound team are able to demonstrate everything from Blu-ray movies, HD Foxtel and television, through to PlayStation 3 games in high definition. There’s a Kaleidoscope movie server system dishing out favourites for any prospective buyer, and even an Apple TV unit, chock full of content to sample up on the big screen. All this gear is complemented beautifully by the sumptuous interior created by Butler Interiors. Centre stage are the two ‘burnt orange’ chaise longue-style reclining seats, finished in leather and placed proudly on a dedicated podium right in front of the screen. Behind this showpiece seating is an equally radical white leather sofa on another elevated platform that could seat an entire family. But they won’t be thinking about how comfortable it is, as they’ll still be dazzled by the motorised Star Trek-style door at the entry and blown away by the introductory light show, powered by Clipsal C-Bus and DMX control. And that’s before they even switch the home theatre on! A showpiece installation like this needs to be shown off, of course, so everyone can experience just how good home theatre can be when you go to the experts for advice. And it seems to have worked. For ‘wow!’ moments, it’s hard to beat the praise of a fellow AV professional. At the official launch of the Cinema DeLux, ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) calibrator Aaron Rigg declared the new theatre to be “the best facility of its kind in the country.” Better still, says Jeisman, “we even impressed the Bowers & Wilkins regional manager when he saw it on a recent visit – and we don’t even have anything from B&W in the room!” Job done, we think. n

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 69


CEDIA CEDIA INSTALLER DIRECTORY

WANT A CUSTOM INSTALL? Make sure you use a CEDIA CERTIFIED PROFESSIONAL and have peace of mind. CEDIA members specialize in the planning, design, supply, installation and concealment of automated electronic systems for the modern, intelligent home. They can install anything from multi-room audio and home cinema systems to complete home networks and sub-systems which intelligently control lighting, HVAC and even garden areas. For more information go to www.cedia.com.au

ACT Millennium Audio Visual Unit C, 66 Maryborough St. Fyshwick ACT 2609 02 6162 3330 www.mav.com.au Sound Advice Australia 21 Molonglo Mall Fyshwick ACT 2609 02 6280 8777 www.soundadvice.com.au

NSW Advanced Entertainment Systems Unit 14 12 Cecil Road Hornsby, NSW 2077 02 9477 3377 www.aesonline.com.au Andrew Parker Custom AV Installations 5 Honeysuckle Place Kellyville, NSW 2155 02 8824 7177 www.andrewparker.com.au Audio Connection 455 - 40Parramatta Road Leichhardt, NSW 2040 02 9518 3000 www.audioconnection.com.au Audio Connection (Caringbah) 381 Port Hacking Road Caringbah NSW 2229 02 9518 3000 www.audioconnection.com.au

Castle Integrated Media 372 B Military Road Cremorne NSW 2090 02 9953 8037 www.castleintegrated.com.au CHM Electronics 138 / 2 - 18 Buchanan Street Balmain NSW 2041 02 9566 2570 www.chmelectronics.com CONNEXIONS (NSW) Pty Ltd 19C Grace Ave Frenchs Forest, NSW 2086 02 9453 2766 connexions@cnxns.com.au Custom Home Electronics PO Box 564 Hamilton, NSW 2303 02 4940 0409 jefferson@customhomeelectronics.com.au David Leisk Electronics 25/1 Short Street Chatswood, NSW 2067 02 9882 3733 www.davidleisk.com.au E.C.S. Services Pty Ltd 22 Forestwood Cr West Pennant Hills, NSW 2125 02 9871 4061 www.ecss.com.au EBM Systems PO Box 1865 Hornsby Westfield, NSW 1635 02 9029 9245 www.ebmsystems.com.au

Audio Connection (Drummoyne) 137 Victoria Road Drummoyne NSW 2047 02 9561 0788 www.audioconnection.com.au

Electronic Environments 1 Lansdowne Parade Oatley, NSW 2223 02 9585 1233 www.electronicenvironments.com.au

Audio Solutions 1133 Botany Road, Mascot, NSW 2020 02 9317 3330 www.audiosolutions.net.au

Eris McCarthy Home Technology PO Box 8099 Tumbi Umbi, NSW 2261 02 4389 1990 www.erismccarthy.com.au

Audio Visual & Security Unlimited 5/686 New South Head Road Rose Bay, NSW 2029 02 9371 2052 www.audiovisualunlimited.com.au

Harvey Norman Commercial Home Automation Systems 15 - 21 Atkinson Rd Taren Point, NSW 2229 02 9710 4321 www.hncommercial.com.au

Audio Visual Lifestyle 86 Merewether Street Merewether NSW  2291 02 49 635304 avlifestyle@exemail.com.au Automated Innovation Unit 2, 51 Pacific Highway Bennetts Green NSW 2290 02 49 484812 www.automatedinnovation.com.au AVD Australia Pty Ltd 55 Atchison Street St Leonards NSW 2065 02 9906 2424 www.avd.com.au

Home Control & Audio PO Box 1324 Sutherland NSW 2232 02 9528 0071 www.homecontrolandaudio.com.au Infra Red Entertainment & Automated Interiors Ste. 2, 11 Albany Street St Leonards, NSW 2065 02 9439 6444 www.infrared.com.au

70 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER

Insound Pty Ltd 108 West Street Crows Nest, NSW 2065 02 9954 9122 tex@insound.com.au

Smart Home Solutions Unit 21 56 O’Riordan Street Alexandria, NSW 2015 02 9304 4700 www.smarthomes.com.au

Instinct Electrical PO Box 557 Dee Why, NSW 2099 02 9938 3188 www.instinctelectrical.com.au

Sturman Electronics Pty Ltd 443 Crown Street West Wollongong, NSW 2500 02 4226 6690 www.sturmans.com.au

Intelligent Control Systems ‘ICS’ 13/3 Apollo Street Warriewood, NSW 2102 02 9999 0766 www.icsonline.net.au

Sydney HiFi ASV PO Box 150 Mascot, NSW 2020 02 9578 0118 www.sydneyhifi.com.au

IntelliStream PO Box 4018 Kotara East,NSW 2305 02 4957 8820 www.intellistream.com.au

Sydney Home Cinema Pty Ltd PO Box 6072 Narraweena NSW 2099 0413 397 256 www.sydneyhomecinema.com.au

JFK Audio Visual L3, 18/81-91 Military Road Neutral Bay NSW 2089 0414 434 535 www.jfk.com.au

TJA Communications PO Box 300 Seven Hills, NSW 2147 02 9838 4622 www.tjacom.com.au

Jory Home Systems Pty Ltd 6 Morrisey Way Rouse Hill, NSW 2155 02 9836 5132 www.joryelectric.com

The Directors Chair Sydney Tenant 6, Level 1, Rear 290 Botany Road Alexandria, NSW 2017 1300 652480 www.thedirectorschair.com.au

Len Wallis Audio 64 Burns Bay Road Lane Cove, NSW 2066 02 9427 6755 www.lenwallisaudio.com

The Silent Butler 57 Himalaya Crescent Seven Hills NSW 2147 0416 153 433 www.thesilentbutler.com.au

Life Style Store Pty Ltd Unit 8 - The Junction, 2 Windsor Road Parramatta, NSW 2150 02 9683 7222 www.lifestylestore.com.au

Tomorrows 430 New South Head Road Double Bay NSW 2028 1300 880 840 www.tomorrows.com.au

LovemyTV PO Box 3320 Sutherland, NSW 2234 0439 888 113 www.lovemytv.com.au Matrix Audio Visual Services 22 Palm Street St Ives, NSW 2075 02 9440 0282 bradley@matrixaudiovisual.com.au McLeans Smarter Home Entertainment Cnr Minto & The Entrance Roads Long Jetty, NSW 2261 02 4333 3545 www.mcleans.info Neutral Bay Hi Fi 89 Spofforth Street Mosman, NSW 2088 02 9908 1285 nbhifi@bigpond.net.au New Fidelity Pty Ltd 392 Darling Street Balmain, NSW 2041 02 9818 2333 www.newfidelity.com.au Nova Comm Pty Ltd 8 / 280 New Line Road Dural, NSW 2158 02 9651 6430 www.novacomm.com.au Onetouch PO Box 3002 Balgownie, NSW 2519 0437 649634 mick@onetouch.net.au OPOC Solutions Pty Ltd 1 Campbell Avenue Normanhurst NSW 2076 02 9489 0906 www.opoc.com.au Pacific Hi Fi 62 Macquarie Stree Liverpool NSW 2170 02 9600 6655 www.pacifichifi.com.au

Zeale Group P.O. Box 1196 Albury NSW 2640 02 6041 1484 www.zealegroup.com.au

QLD Audio Dreams Australia 17 Lillypilly Place Mooloolaba, QLD 4557 07 5444 8122 www.audiodreams.com.au Auztech Industries Pty Ltd PO Box 4368 Logenholme DC, QLD 4129 07 3806 3133 www.auztech.com.au AVTEC 12 Buckle Court Sinnamon Park QLD 4073 07 3279 6353 www.avtec.com.au Custom Install PO Box 1250, Spring Hill, QLD 4004 07 3277 9823 www.custominstall.com.au Digital Brilliance PO Box 981 Buderim QLD 4556 07 5445 2180 www.digitalbrilliance.com.au Electronic Interiors Brisbane (Formerly Toombul Music) 2 / 180 Northgate Road Northgate, QLD 4013 07 3266 2533 www.einteriors.com.au Electronic Living 14 Smallwood Place Murarrie QLD 4012 1300 764 554 www.electronicliving.com.au Fi Audio Video 3/3 Gibson Road Noosaville, QLD 4566 07 5455 6300 www.fiaudiovideo.com.au


Harvey Norman Home Automation PO Box 5935 GCMC Bundall, QLD 4217 07 5584 3128 joe.blair@au.harveynorman.com

SA

Interior Sound and Vision PO Box 1093, Niddrie, VIC 3042 03 9336 7643 www.isvinfo.com.au

Northam Home Cinema 5 Oliver Street Northam, WA 6401 08 9622 5198 bevanautopro@westnet.com.au

Inteverge Pty Ltd PO Box 2501, Kew, VIC 3101 0409 178 076 www.inteverge.com

Surround Custom Unit 3, 83-85 Stirling Highway Nedlands, WA 6009 08 9389 7755 www.surroundsounds.com.au

TAS

Smart Systems Pty Ltd 0Church Street, Hawthorn, VIC 3122 03 9818 8006 www.smartsystems.com.au

Surround Sounds Unit 3, 83-85 Stirling Highway Nedlands, WA 6009 08 9389 6900 www.surroundsounds.com.au

Nation Technology Level 1, 2 Trotters Lane Prospect, TAS 7250 03 6343 0655 www.nationtechnology.com

Steve Bennett Hi Fi 174 Ryrie Street, Geelong, VIC 3220 03 5221 6011 www.sbhifi.com.au

Ultimation 488 Scarborough Beach Rd Osborne Park WA 6017 1 300 880 544 www.ultimation.com.au

Look & Listen 6 Ascot Street Murarrie QLD 4172 1300 765 322 www.lookandlisten.com.au

Soundtech Integrated Systems 262 York Street Launceston TAS 7250 03 6331 9900 david@soundtech.net.au

Tasman AV Pty Ltd 6 Hood St, Collingwood, VIC 3066 03 9416 2255 www.tasmanav.com.au

Vince Ross Audio World 162 Stirling Highway Nedlands, WA 6009 08 9386 8144 www.vinceross.com.au

In Sight & Sound Pty Ltd 125 Shamley Heath Road Kureelpa, QLD 4560 07 5445 7799 www.in-sight.com.au

VIC

WA

NZ

Advanced Lifestyle Solutions Pty Ltd PO Box 360, Niddrie, VIC 3042 03 8307 5618 www.advancedlifestylesolutions.com.au

AVARNTI 1/ 325 Harborne St Osborne Park, WA 6017 08 9443 1288 www.avarnti.com

ALETRO Ltd PO Box 9680 Newmarket, Auckland +64 9 307 1238 www.aletro.com

Audio Trends 10 Argent Place Ringwood Vic 3135 03 9874 8233 www.audiotrends.com.au

Digital Interiors 319 Hay Street Subiaco, WA 6008 0417 921 223 www.digitalinteriors.com.au

Automation Associates PO Box 109722 Newmarket - Auckland +64 9 377 3778 www.aa.net.nz

Cableman Pty Ltd Level 1/1227 Glen Huntly Road Glen Huntly, VIC 3163 03 9572 8900 www.cableman.com.au

Douglas Hi Fi Enterprises Pty Ltd 401 Murray Street Perth, WA 6000 08 9322 3466 www.douglashifi.com.au

Liquid Automation P.O. Box 300753 Albany Auckland 632 +64 9 444 2440 www.liquidautomation.co.nz

Carlton Audio Visual 164 - 172 Lygon St, Carlton, VIC 3053 03 9639 2737 www.carltonaudiovisual.com.au

ECA Systems Unit 2/13 Clark Street Dunsborough WA 6281 1300 858 897 www.ecasystems.com.au

Smartline 37 Cracroft Street, Waitara, Fitzroy New Plymouth 64 6 754 6771 www.homenet.net.nz

Custom Home Theatre PO Box 963 Berwick VIC 3806 03 9796 2617 www.customhometheatre.com.au

Electronic Interiors WA 125 Burswood Road Burswood, WA 6100 08 9472 4800 www.einteriors.com.au

Encel Stereo - Richmond 84 Bridge Road, Richmond, VIC 3121 03 9428 3761 www.encelstereo com.au

Essential Cabling 1 / 6 Chullora Bend Jandakot WA 6164 08 94141961 mcairns@arach.net.au

Frankston Hi Fi 450 Nepean Highway Frankston, VIC 3199 03 9781 1111 www.frankstonhifi.com.au

Frank Prowse Hi-Fi 6-14 Glyde Street Mosman Park, WA 6012 08 9384 1362 www.frankprowsehifi.com.au

Hidden Technology P.O. Box 1084 Altona Meadows 3028 03 8685 8544 www.hiddentechnology.com.au

Hillstone Communications PO Box 599 Kalamunda, WA 6926 08 9293 3621 hillstone@westnet.com.au

howdoi.com pty ltd 6a / 4 Rocklea Drive Port Melbourne, VIC 3207 03 9646 9116 www.howdoi.com.au

Home Cinema Systems 2 / 18 Port Kembla Drive Bibra Lake WA 6163 08 9434 5556 www.homecinemasystems.com.au

IBS Audio Visual Pty Ltd 43 Dalgety Street Oakleigh VIC 3166 03 9568 2800 www.ibsav.com.au

Intelligent Home Automated Solutions 25 Wittenoom Street East Perth, WA 6004 08 9325 7775 www.intelligenthome.com.au

Impact Electrics 3 England Street Bentleigh East, VIC 3165 03 9209 8140 impactelectrics@optusnet.com.au

Light Application Pty Ltd 78 Erindale Road Balcatta WA 6021 08 9240 6644 www.lightapplication.com.au

Integrated Technologies Australia PO Box 570, Kilsyth, VIC 3137 03 9761 8700 www.integratedtechnologiesaustralia.com.au

Lynx Integrated Systems Unit 5 / 74 Kent Way Malaga WA 6090 sales@lynxis.com.au

HomeTech Systems Pty Ltd PO Box 979 Nerang QLD 4211 07 5502 0760 info@hometechsystems.com.au Home Theatrix - Bundall 56 Ashmore Road, Bundall, QLD 4127 07 5531 7244 www.hometheatrix.com.au Home Theatrix - Murarrie Unit 11 Nautilus Business Park 210 Queensport Rd Murarrie, QLD 4172 1 300 555 270 www.hometheatrix.com.au

Power Integration 9 Senden Crescent Manly West QLD 4179 1300 797 468 www.powerintegration.com.au Star Home Theatre 17 Trenton Street Kenmore, QLD 4069 07 3701 5288 www.starhometheatre.com.au Stereo Supplies Gold Coast Mail Centre PO Box 6817, Gold Coast QLD 9726 07 5531 7955 www.stereosupplies.com.au The Big Picture 14/96 Gardens Drive Willawong QLD 4110 1300 799 734 mskehan@thebigpictureav.com.au The Directors Chair Brisbane 3 / 49 Jijaws Street Sumner Park, QLD 4074 07 3376 7065 www.thedirectorschair.com.au Todds Sound & Vision 1 308 New Cleveland Road Tingalpa, QLD 4173 07 3907 7777 www.todds.com.au Videopro Level 1 1062 Ann Street Fortitude Valley, QLD 4006 07 3250 0000 www.videopro.com.au Visiontronics Unit 1/7 Endeavor Drive Kunda Park QLD 4556 1300 306 893 www.visiontronics.com.au Visual Focus 16 Clifford Street Toowoomba QLD 4350 617 4632 0402 www.visualfocus.com.au

Harvey Norman Mile End PO Box 288 Torrensville, SA 5031 08 8150 8000 www.harveynorman.com.au Sound & Vision Studio 237 Greenhill Road Dulwich, SA 5065 08 8364 4000 www.sv-studio.com.au

Sound Advice First PO Box 12-145 Christchurch 8002 +64 3 379 9416 www.soundadvicefirst.com Soundline Audio Ltd Box 2650, Christchurch 8002 +64 3 379 5695 www.soundline.co.nz Soundline Audio Ltd Capital Gateway Centre, 56 Thorndon Quay Wellington +64 4 471 0542 www.soundline.co.nz The Listening Post 657 Victoria Street Hamilton +64 7 839 0135 www.listening.co.nz Strawberry Sound 90 Falsgrove Street Christchurch +64 3 379 8477 www.strawberrysound.co.nz Strawberry Sound 21 Bath Street Dunedin +64 3 477 7742 www.strawberrysound.co.nz

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 71


DIGITAL SHACK

FIT FOUR FUN When the walls came down and two Sydney harbourside apartments were distilled into one that required four separate entertainment spaces, it was a case of ‘divide and deliver’ for Audio Connection. By Justin Worthy.

72 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009


I

f you’re fortunate enough in life to have achieved the ‘Man Cave’ double whammy of designating an entire room in your house to become a dedicated home theatre room and having the cash to kit it out with all the equipment you need for the job, chances are you’re also going to have a heap of admiring mates crowded around you and vying for an invite to your place when it comes to grand finals time. But while getting all that together is no mean feat, the owner of this article’s featured home theatre installation has achieved the Holy Grail: convincing the missus that multiple rooms are required in order to accommodate the boys toys! In fact, this story goes one better than that. Always representing a difficult conversation at best and outright confrontation at worst, the blocky, ugly and outright massive nature of home theatre boxes has meant walking a tightrope of domestic bliss since man first ventured into the electronics store and saw all that was good. So imagine how good it must feel when the person driving a massive refurbishment of your home

Martin Logan Passage and Ticket inwall speakers spread the movie love.

to turn it into an AV-lover’s paradise is your good lady wife! That’s what happened in this Sydney apartment at Pyrmont Wharf, as the enlightened lady called in the boys from Audio Connection in Drummoyne – Peter Wilson, project

“Speaking of careful choices, perhaps the greatest challenge of the build was finding the right screens in the smaller sizes required” OCTOBER/NOVEMBER | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 73


DIGITAL SHACK

“The four Integra AV receivers easily handle the separate entertainment spaces, Peter says, pumping surround sound throughout the luxury apartment” manager and salesman, installers Ari Georgiou and Joe Vartuli and Nathan Vlotis on keyboards (actually, the programmer) – after the walls of two adjoining apartments were ripped out to make one large living space. With her husband watching on in approval, the Audio Connection team remodeled the place so that four completely different installations could take place! Completing the job quickly and efficiently over just a couple of days, project manager Peter Wilson was able to work with what he describes as a “builder with a keen eye” to ensure that provision was amply made at the outset for all four large, high definition screens, cables, controllers, connection points and the impressive total of 26 speakers. With the renovation essentially built around the plans for the home entertainment systems, Peter and his team had the benefit of encountering few, if any, obstacles to their work, with only an initial compatibility check on some of the pre-existing wiring.

Black to basics: Pioneer’s 60inch Kuro plasma takes centre stage in this Pyrmont Wharf apartment.

CHALLENGES Space, as in any apartment, can be an issue, particularly with an installation of this magnitude. As such, the greatest challenges faced by installers Ari and Joe was finding a compact home for all the equipment – solved with an Altronics equipment rack that took all the gear and fitted neatly into the very limited cupboard space available – and squeezing in the LCD TV in the bedroom. The ingenious and whisper-quiet Ultralift Mercury system presented the perfect solution here, with its specifically narrow design fitting snugly into the small available space in the ceiling and tilting down when activated. Job done!

GEAR CHOICES With a $110,000 budget for the project, the Audio Connection fellas were able to choose precisely the equipment they wanted for the job. With an emphasis on build quality and ease of use so that, says Peter, “neither of the owners had to take a university degree to operate the system”, components such as the Pioneer KRP-600M 60 inch plasma Kuro screen and BDP-LX71 Blu-ray player represented top-drawer, future-proof choices that would not be beaten any time soon in the performance stakes. The four Integra AV receivers easily handle the separate entertainment spaces, Peter says, pumping surround sound throughout the luxury apartment and affording all degree of flexibility for the sound sources.

74 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

Speaking of careful choices, perhaps the greatest challenge of the build was finding the right screens in the smaller sizes required – for the lounge area, the kitchen and the master bedroom – given how shallow the cladding was throughout. Happily, the search was over when Samsung came riding to the rescue, with the LA40A750 and a brace of LA52A850 LCD televisions. Otherwise known as the ‘slim sensations’, these 44.4mm deep 52 inch beasties allowed the installers to fit all the screens flush with the walls. Deciding on the speakers was equally straightforward, once the team had convinced their client that the speaker system she’d selected for the rear home theatre room wasn’t right (their ‘Eureka’ moment!). Instead, the Martin Logan ‘Passage’ and ‘Ticket’ series inwall speakers won out on both aesthetic and sound performance grounds. Controlling the whole shebang was an even simpler decision, notes Peter, given the incredible ease of use and clear, simple user interfaces of the Control4 controllers, remotes and amps. Four of the SR250 remotes are dotted around the joint, programmed by Audio Connection’s Nathan, along with a neat Control4 colour touchscreen unit for the boss – there’s even a Control4 iPod cradle hooked into the system so the owners can share the Apple love around from whichever room they find themselves in.


EQUIPMENT LIST Pioneer KRP600M 60 inch plasma TV Samsung LA52A850 52 inch LCD televisions (x2) Samsung LA40A750 40 inch LCD television Pioneer BDPLX71 Blu-ray player Tivo PVR/media hub Martin Logan Passage loudspeakers (x6) Martin Logan Ticket loudspeakers (x4) Definitive Technology Supercube III subwoofer (x2) Definitive Technology UIW64 in-ceiling speakers (7 pairs) Integra 8.9 AV receiver Integra 5.9 AV receiver (x3) Control4 16-channel power amplifier Control4 iPod cradle Control4 dual tuner Control4 HC500 system controller Control4 7 inch wireless touchscreen Control4 HC200 system controllers (x5) Control4 SR250 remote controls (x4) Ultralift Mercury in-ceiling screen lift Ultralift on-wall LCD brackets Altronics equipment rack Sennheiser RS140-9 wireless headphones (x2)

Total system cost: $110 000

Custom Installer: Audio Connection 137 Victoria Road, Drummoyne 2047 Ph: 02 9561 0788 Web: www.audioconnection.com.au

END RESULTS “Seeing the final product installed…and having an extremely happy client,” put the icing on the cake for project manager Peter, and it’s undeniably sleek and smart looking; something that Peter again attributes as much to the eagle-eyed builder on site as anything else, with his attention to detail. A quality finish throughout was capped off with black leather furniture fit for purpose, bought (very wisely) after all the equipment had gone in and the owner had had time to judge the mood of the place and get the right fit. With nothing left wanting in terms of initial equipment selection, neither Peter nor the owner feels the need for any upgrades “for the foreseeable future”; a truly enviable position to be in, as any home entertainment enthusiast can confirm! Using the space to watch two to three movies a week, and with the ability to section off one whole section of the large apartment now for guests, the owners believe they have the perfect pad: AV-friendly but not dominated by the installation; discrete, functional and classy. n

Control4 touchscreens handle AV operations throughout.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 75


GEAR LOG

LG-GD910 TOUCH WATCH PHONE

Beam us up! Sometimes, if you live long enough, you get to see the stuff of dreams realised. Enter LG with the ‘Touch Watch Phone’, the first ever 3G wristwatch phone to hit the market. Modelled by lovely Japanese ladies but more likely to appeal to the seriously ubergeeky Trekkie convention type, the LG-GD910 is a chunky timepiece that doubles as a quad-band, 3G phone with video calling capability. A built-in VGA (640 x 480) camera captures the images before transmission over the network using its 7.2Mbps HSDPA capability, and Bluetooth compatibility makes the gadget more palatable for those not wishing to appear to be whispering to their own forearms. The watch display is a 3.63cm touchscreen, producing a clear, stylish, control interface for the phone, organiser and other smart-phone functions, plus there’s even voice recognition and text-to-speech functionality. PRICE $2299 COMPANY LG ELECTRONICS PHONE 1800 542 273 WEBSITE www.lge.com.au

PIONEER AVIC-F310BT

New navi rather detached Rather disingenuously trying to discredit their wildly-popular portable GPS competition as ‘dashboard clutter’, Pioneer’s new AVIC in-dash navigation system is undeniably sexy looking. The 11cm (4.3 inch) WQVGA screen is detachable, so you can connect it up to your PC and download new data, contacts and tunes – just like those portable units. Cleverly, the proprietary ‘AVIC Feeds’ software allows users to create their own points of interest from Google or Whereis search results, and for corporate users working out their fringe benefit taxes, the unit will keep track of travel expenses and kilometres travelled. There’s Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free calling, 2GB of onboard memory with MP3, WMA and iTunes AAC compatibility, plus a USB port at the rear allows the connection of things like thumb drives and portable media players. Complete with AM/FM tuner, the 2-DIN dash opening means there’s a good chance it’ll fit nicely into your car. PRICE $1199 (excluding installation) COMPANY PIONEER ELECTRONICS AUSTRALIA PHONE 1800 988 268 WEBSITE www.pioneer.com.au

SONY PSP PORTABLE

Sony’s PSP diet results Already garnering attention for the wrong reasons thanks to extremely unfavourable pricing in Australia ($449!), the PSPgo is nevertheless an extremely attractive and capable portable media unit. Effectively a PlayStation in your hand, the new unit dispenses with the ill-fated UMD format and opts instead for all-digital downloading of games and other content via the online PlayStation store. Even with the beautiful 9.6cm (3.8 inch) colour screen and 16GB of onboard flash memory, the PSPgo is 43 percent lighter than the last PlayStation Portable model yet incorporates Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, as well as an M2 Memory Stick Micro slot and video out (requiring an optional cable). A single, sleek framed screen when closed, the PSPgo unit slides open to reveal a single ‘nub’ joystick and familiar PlayStation controls but still feels well balanced in play. Content is currently mostly PlayStation favourites, but there’s an interesting new ‘Digital Reader service for PSP’ launching later this year as well as ‘minis’, a new-format category of accessible entertainment. PRICE $449 COMPANY SONY AUSTRALIA WEBSITE www.playstation.com.au

76 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER


The GadgetGuy™ presents great gear and top tech for your digital life SAMSUNG ST500 & ST550

Look, I can see myself from here! The ultimate camera for the self-adoring, Samsung’s new ST500 and ST550 digital cameras embrace the adage that two is always better than one, with dual LCD screens on their tiny bodies. An innovative 1.5 inch LCD on the front of the camera makes it simple to align pictures for self portraits, and the 9cm (3.5 inch), 800 x 400 screen on the back shows you the final result in full glory. The 12.2 megapixel ST550 ($499) can also record HD video in a resolution of 1280 x 720p at 30 frames per second in H.264 format, has a 4.6x optical zoom and an HDMI connection means you can hook the camera directly to a high definition flat-screen TV to enjoy your handiwork immediately. Samsung’s ‘Smart Gesture’ functionality allows users to operate the camera using gestures to control the camera, a bit like the iPhone. The ST500 ($449) baby brother sports the same dual LCD screens and is virtually identical, bar the loss of video out capability. PRICE $449/$499 COMPANY SAMSUNG WEBSITE www.samsung.com.au

SHARP AX-1500JS SUPERSTEAM OVEN

Super heat for super health Combining ‘SuperSteam’, convection, steam and microwave technology into one unit, the Sharp AX-1500JS SuperSteam Oven is a 1450 watt counter-top cooker that wants to help you eat more healthily. Sharp’s SuperSteam cooking superheats steam to 300 degrees Celsius then throws it around inside the oven using convection, which can apparently crisp food without oil. So much heat delivered all at once results in quick cooking with less fat and salt, as the salt is absorbed by the steam and condenses out, according to Sharp, but retains the nutritional content of the food. Operation is simple via the LCD screen, with 42 preset programs for the most popular food. The oven comes with three cooking trays, plus a special ‘SuperSteam cookbook’ of 50 recipes for inspiration. PRICE $1649 COMPANY SHARP PHONE 1300 135 530 WEBSITE www.sharp.net.au

VIEWSONIC

Baby steps help your child’s future Looking remarkably similar to an iMac, the VPC100 from Viewsonic is an ‘all-inone’ PC with an 46cm (18.5 inch) LCD supporting a native resolution of 1366 x 768. The company’s first ever foray into computer territory, Viewsonic claims that the single-unit design of the VPC100 uses a lot less plastic and half the energy of a comparable separates system – so is earth-friendly – but still has everything you need. Powered by a 1.6GHz Intel® Atom N270 CPU and Intel GMA950 graphics chip, the computer comes with a 1.3 megapixel camera at the top of the screen and a built-in microphone to make videoconferencing easy. Microsoft Windows XP Home is pre-installed, and specs include a 160GB SATA hard drive, 1GB RAM, Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11 b/g wireless, an 8x DVD +/- R/W drive, four USB 2.0 inputs and four-in-one card reader. All up, then, the VPC100 amounts to about half the base iMac in terms of CPU speed, memory and hard drive space, but at $899 is also a fair bit less than half the price. PRICE $899 COMPANY VIEWSONIC PHONE 1300 100 100 WEBSITE www.viewsonic.com.au

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 77


EARS & EYES & THUMBS

Entertainment for wherever you are — from movie room to laptop to mobile phone, and from HDTV to podcasts, DVDs and downloads. Compiled by Max Everingham.

HIGH DEFINITION MOVIES

MONSTERS VS ALIENS With Susan Murphy (aka Ginormica) inspiring their description for a double-feature release on both DVD and Blu-ray, the ‘Ginormous Double DVD Pack’ out now from Paramount comprises both the excellent Monsters vs Aliens movie from Dreamworks and a new feature B.O.B.’s Big Break. The double whammy, served up in 3D and packaged complete with four sets of 3D glasses, thereby serves up a sequel of sorts to the main event, with Seth Rogen reprising his role as B.O.B., and accompanied by the star-studded cast of the original. Granted, it’s only an 11-minute short, but it’s a great free bonus and there’s even a 2D version of B.O.B.’s Big Break on the second DVD if you can’t stand wearing the paper glasses.

WATCHMEN

A great choice for a Christmas present for the whole family, there are only a couple of pieces of bonus content exclusive to the Blu-ray version, but the DVD and Blu-ray share a common set of extras and the list is very impressive, including a video jukebox, deleted scenes, karaoke singalong songs, a ‘paddle ball game in Monster 3D’ and various ‘sneak peek’ files (HD on the BD version). Well done, Paramount!

STARRING MALIN AKERMAN, BILLY CRUDUP, MATTHEW GOODE DIRECTOR ZACK SNYDER RATED MA 15+ SOUND DOLBY TRUEHD 5.1 DISTRIBUTOR PARAMOUNT

Venturing into the ever-treacherous waters of turning a big-boys’ comic (also optimistically known as a ‘graphic novel’) into a commercially successful film, 300 Director Zack Snyder has big cajones indeed. Treating the admittedly excellent original material with an almost unhealthy reverence, Snyder clearly sets out to achieve a degree of authenticity that would please, or at least appease, the legions of unwashed superhero comic fans, going so far as to hire a physics and astronomy professor onto the set as adviser. So what the devil is it, you ask? Well Watchmen is a tale about ‘costumed heroes’ – note the significant absence of the prefix ‘super’ here – relating what their real lives might be like when all the pomp and hyperbole usually seen in superhero stories like Superman is stripped away. As such, the comic book, created by British writer Alan Moor and illustrator Dave Gibbons, emerges as a peculiarly serious, dour, introspective and downright depressing work of fiction that nevertheless boasts a credulity otherwise mostly lacking in the genre. Violent, moody and brooding, Watchmen is strictly for grown-ups (not least due to the frightening and virtually constant on-screen presence of Billy Crudup’s virtual manhood), exploring as it does themes of moral ambiguity, vigilantism and the abuse of power.

KNOWING

STARRING REESE WITHERSPOON, SETH ROGEN, HUGH LAURIE DIRECTOR ROB LETTERMAN & CONRAD VERNON RATED PG SOUND DOLBY TRUEHD 5.1 DISTRIBUTOR PARAMOUNT

Demonstrating that there’s nothing as consistent as inconsistent behaviour, Paramount fails to ensure the provision of any exclusive bonus content for the Bluray version of the movie, although there is a number of vignettes and ‘webisodes’ – the latter pretty lightweight – on both disc releases. They suffer from some very haphazard editing, with several clips repeating across segments, but of these, the grammatically dubious ‘Mechanics: Technologies of Fantastic World’ is the most entertaining. This is largely thanks to the presence of the aforementioned physics professor, one James Kakalios, whose affable approach to discussing the ‘legitimacy’ of the various technologies presented in Watchmen is charming as well as fascinating. Allowing for what he calls ‘a one-time miracle exception’ to the laws of physics for each phenomenon, Professsor Kakalios goes through the fantastical stuff we see in the movie and decides whether each would otherwise be possible, subject to the laws of physics apart from that one exception. Dr Manhattan acquits himself well – he’s even blue for a very good reason, but we’ll let you discover that for yourselves.

STARRING NICOLAS CAGE, CHANDLER CANTERBURY, ROSE BYRNE DIRECTOR ALEX PROYAS RATED M SOUND DTS HD 5.1, DOLBY TRUEHD 5.1 DISTRIBUTOR ICON

Another sci-fi vehicle for Nicholas Cage, Knowing again casts the gloomy thesp in a role that stretches credulity to the limits, that of Professor John Koestler, astrophysicist and MIT instructor. Happily, Australian Director and part-time Ice Road Truckers extra Alex Proyas co-opts a couple of real-life professors of physics and astronomy behind the scenes to bring a certain veracity to the frankly bizarre onscreen proceedings, as well as recruiting fellow Aussie Rose Byrne in the pivotal role of Diana Wayland, a reluctant (aren’t they always!?) player in the drama that unfolds. Based on the enduringly popular ‘end of the world but one good man stands in the way’ concept with a similarly uninspired script to match, Knowing places all its eggs in a simple but shocking late-stage ‘reveal’: not the dreadful exercise in gooey and quite literally corny bathos that follows on the heels of Koestler’s heartwrenching decision and ends the film, but the significance of the last two letters in the cipher the film is built around. But one good idea does not necessarily a great film make and the over-use of badly integrated CGI to portray the various crowd-pleasing disasters makes it impossible to generate any empathy with the pitiful humans’ plight.

78 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009

The extras are paltry, with the DVD version getting only a Director’s commentary, and the Blu-ray versions (there is a steelbook limited edition, but the steel case is all you get for your extra four bucks) offering two short ‘making of’ featurettes. The only highlight of the first is Lara Robinson, who plays both current-day Abby and the ‘50s Lucinda, commenting that it was fun to play because Lucinda was “sad, and scary and weird” and then we cut to hair and makeup artist Lesley Vanderbilt, who takes scary and weird to a whole other level. The second feature, Visions of the Apocalypse is also dry but notable for the appearance of the two aforementioned professors of physics and astronomy who quite gleefully recount the various methods by which all life on our planet could be prematurely extinguished, reminding us that even if we avoid all those events, the end of the Earth is a ‘sure thing’ in about 5 billion years. Cheerful.


GAMES

WII SPORTS RESORT PLATFORM NINTENDO WII GENRE SPORT RATED G DISTRIBUTOR NINTENDO

Nintendo’s follow-up to the phenomenally popular ‘Wii Sports’ collection, Wii Sports Resort brings back a couple of favourites (like bowling and golf) along with ten brand new games, plus introduces a new level of control, with the addition of Wii MotionPlus. As is nearly always the case with any title that comprises a bunch of separate mini games, quality is patchy, with some sports far more responsive and fun than others. While there are those that require a little patience, but are worth taking the time to get the hang of so you can improve and enjoy them more, others feel and play like ‘filler’ to pad out the offering. Mostly, they fail because they’re just unwieldy and awkward but there are only really a couple like that and none of that matters if you loved the bowling in the last game because the new, improved bowling in this release is worth the price of admission on its own.

TIGER WOODS PGA TOUR 10 PLATFORM XBOX360 GENRE SPORT RATED G DISTRIBUTOR EA

The storm clouds are gathering over EA Sports and their propensity to release minor annual updates of their big sports titles at full price, in the form of critical dissent, but the masses still flock in their unconcerned herds to retail to buy them anyhow. And they’ll do the same with the new Tiger Woods golf title, despite this being EA’s worst offender by far in that regard. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 plays a really entertaining game of golf. The presentation is immaculate; EA Sports craft some great games and this is no exception, with great golfer animation, a huge number of play options and the mad degree of customisation available. There’s a strong emphasis on online play, which can be entertaining (particularly the simultaneous multiplayer option) and the inclusion of weather this year – a glaring omission from previous outings, given the critical role it can play in the real game – is really welcome, too. But the commentary is beyond dire, effects from the weather are inconsistent and, aside from a new course, it looks, plays and feels exactly like last year’s game. So we think that Tiger Woods PGA Tour represents a much better buy for gamers new to the series than anyone who’s bought and played the last couple of Tiger titles.

FIGHT NIGHT ROUND 4 PLATFORM XBOX360 GENRE SPORT RATED G DISTRIBUTOR EA

Much like with the ‘sport’ itself, you’re either going to love or hate this undeniably polished reproduction of boxing from EA. With an impressively deep career or, confusingly, ‘legacy’ mode, amazing graphical representations of the pugilists and their actions and reactions and quality production stamped all over it, this is classic EA Sports output. But that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to love it. For gamers who believe boxing truly is the ‘the sweet science’, you’re going to find a deep and realistic simulation here, where learning the ropes, pacing yourself and taking action at the right moment will pay dividends and see you well on the way to becoming a boxing legend, albeit virtually. For more ‘mainstream’ gamers, this paradoxically feels and plays like a button-mashing free for all where luck, as much as judgment, will win the day. Boxing is more familiar to people than UFC, so it’ll more likely be bought than the MMA game, but for our money, the combat itself is not nearly as good.

F2P browser games Years ago, it used to be the military complex that we’d hold accountable for invading and cluttering our beautiful language with seemingly meaningless acronyms: FOB, LZ, AA, SAM and even HALO. These days, the estimable task to maintain pollution levels rests with videogaming, where amusingly that last acronym also describes one of the industry’s most successful titles. But with the growth of broadband and subsequent proliferation of online entertainment options, the confusing letter clusters are coming thick and fast: MMORPG, MMORTS, MTX, MSG and F2P, to name a few. The prefix ‘MMO’ stands for ‘Massively Multiplayer Online’ and basically refers to any game that lots of people can play while connected together via the Internet, by the way, but we’re more concerned here with the last acronym, ‘F2P’. F2P means ‘Free to Play’ and it’s good news for any tightwads out there who fancy a bit of gaming but don’t want to pay for the privilege. These games are all free – whether they’re free for the first few levels, for you to sample, offer a free demo or, best of all, stay free the whole time you play, F2P is a burgeoning force in the videogames industry. One of the most popular forms is the ‘browser’ game – so called, because you only need a good old internet browser such as Internet Explorer, Netscape or Firefox, to access and play them. How easy is that?! From the very casual (Minesweeper and Tetris-style games) to pretty committed, or ‘hardcore’ (O-game, Runescape, QuakeLive, etc) and some soft and cuddly stuff for your kids in-between, free-to-play browser games are all the rage. Most use Java or Flash plugins but nearly all browsers self-install and update that kind of software these days anyway, or just require a couple of mouse clicks to sort it out. So if you can cope with that, you’re ready to get gaming. And it might surprise you who’s playing these F2P games – the main audience is described as ‘casual’, but in fact their gaming behaviour would suggest they’re anything but. For instance, 90% of regulars on one leading free-play website play for at least 30 minutes per session, with over 50% playing for over an hour each time, racking up over 10 hours a week. That’s pretty far from casual, to misquote Marcellus Wallace. And another thing – the majority of people playing on their PC are female and over 30 years old! Traditional games publishers have recognised this fast-growing area as a real money maker, of course, so they’re all in the game as well. Pogo.com from EA, Club Penguin from Disney (great for your kids!), PopCap, Big Fish, and so on. All these big guys offer free play on their websites with the aim, naturally, of sucking you in – or should that be ‘suckering’ you in – to pay for the full version of their games, or sign up to their ‘VIP’ level of the service, to get the cash rolling in. But despite this rather desperate and undignified land-grab in online gaming, you never have to pay if you don’t want to and there are some real gems out there for you to enjoy for free forever. Pogo.com has Scrabble and Monopoly, for instance, as well as card games such as Texas Hold ‘Em and popular pub games such as Chess, Checkers and Cribbage. PopCap offers some wildly compulsive titles like ‘Bejeweled’ and ‘Zuma’, as well as the mildly amusing ‘Plants vs Zombies’ concept. Big Fish hosts an exceedingly popular and quite diverting series of ‘Mystery Case Files’ games, turning the player into a sleuth for a day.

‘VARIETY’ CASUAL GAME PORTALS PopCap www.popcap.com Big Fish www.bigfishgames.com/ FANTASY ROLE-PLAYING Runescape www.runescape.com/ Free Realms www.freerealms.com/ zOMG! www.gaiaonline.com/games/zomg/ STRATEGY Travian www.travian.com.au/ Evony www.evony.com O-game http://ogame.org/ Ikariam http://ikariam.org/ SHOOTER Quake Live www.quakelive.com/ FOR KIDS NeoPets www.neopets.com/ Club Penguin www.clubpenguin.com/

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009 | HOME ENTERTAINMENT 79


TIME WARP

Big picture, the old old way I In between the venerable CRT TV and modern plasma or LCD TV, there was a briefly popular display technology called RPTV – the Rear Projection TV. To be fair, it hasn’t completely disappeared, but it will because just about everything it could do, plasma and LCD can do better. RPTV came about because people wanted a big TV picture, and you simply couldn’t get a big one with CRT tellies. Once we did see one glass tube TV that offered a standard definition 97cm widescreen picture. It was well over 600mm deep and weighed 92kg! It was not the least bit practical in the home. RPTVs first appeared in the 1970s, but you weren’t likely to see one of those in your home. They were too big, too bulky and too bad. Analog TV didn’t scale up very well to a large screen, so having a big screen in your lounge room gave you a fuzzy, noisy picture. We didn’t even have colour until halfway through the decade! However, in the 1980s and 1990s they became useful in clubs for showing sporting events to large numbers of people. As time went on, even analog TV gradually improved and smaller size RPTVs began to be viable. At a time when a large TV had a screen size of 66cm in 4:3 aspect ratio, a 110cm RPTV was impressive. At the same time, improvements in design allowed them to be thinner, so that they weren’t too bulky when pushed up against a wall.

“Finally, in the late 1990s the DVD arrived, followed soon after by digital TV. Only with RPTV could you enjoy a large video image with decent quality” 80 HOME ENTERTAINMENT | DECEMBER 2009/JANUARY 2010

Finally, in the late 1990s the DVD arrived, followed soon after by digital TV. Only with RPTV could you enjoy a large video image with decent quality. At this point the plasma display was just starting to appear, and cost tens of thousands of dollars, and the large screen LCD TV was still some years off in the future. For home theatre, RPTV ruled. So what was an RPTV? It was simply a projector in a box. It bounced its image from a mirror so that it struck the rear of a translucent screen. Its electronics flipped the image so that it looked the right way around to the viewers. But what kind of projector? Initially there was only the CRT projector: three glass tube CRT guns, one each for red, green and blue. Like regular TVs, these had the advantage of easily producing excellent levels of black, but they were rather weak. Since brightness was a problem, the translucent screen was designed to direct the light more or less directly forward. If you looked down at the screen from an angle, the picture was quite dark, so the vertical viewing angle was narrow. And in almost all cases, these were limited, like most regular TVs, to SDTV resolution. Later all the different front projector technologies migrated into the boxes of RPTVs: LCD, DLP, LCoS. Each had similar advantages and disadvantages to their front projection versions. In general, DLP gave better black levels and richer colours than LCD, but cost more and could generate the dreaded ‘Rainbow Effect’. LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) was just a bit too late to appear in more than a very few models. Brighter than CRT RPTVs, they could still get away with less powerful lamps than those used in front projectors, so they typically had a lamp life of 8000 hours rather than 2000. But even though newer designs reduced the depths of their cabinets to only 200 to 300 millimetres, in the end they could not compete with plasma and LCD panels, which start at 120mm and can now be as slim as 30mm. Valens Quinn


Profile for The Gadget Group

Issue 26  

Home Entertainment Australia's complete digital lifestyle companion

Issue 26  

Home Entertainment Australia's complete digital lifestyle companion

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