Pioneer Elite PRO-1140HD Plasma Television/Monitor Distributor: Pioneer Electronics of Canada, Inc.,
Distributor: Pioneer Electronics of Canada, Inc.,
A company that still beats the drum for plasma while others cut and run, as our temporary prime minster would say, Pioneer has certainly made its statement in the quality of picture offered, and the progressive improvement since the introduction of these big screen flat panels. Price points have dropped at retail, though not quite so quickly as those of the competing technologies, for example, LCD, which has made a big charge in its various iterations by the different manufacturers, most recently Sharp, with its Aquos series. The Pioneer Elite PRO-1140HD TV/monitor is therefore a statement product in quality, if not in price, from Pioneer Elite.
What is it about new video technologies that brings out the naming skills at electronics companies? In the PRO- 1140HD we have (according to the web site spec sheet): “Redesigned Deep Encased Cell Structure to improve brightness, image accuracy and panel efficiency”; “New Emissive Layer for deeper blacks and increased brightness of images”; “New and Improved Red and Blue Phosphors creating a brighter, purer and wider color space, improving the overall HD experience”. Other areas of improvement include “enhanced contrast, color and reduction in light reflection on screen”, and “Wide Viewing Angle of 160 degrees…with no color shift or picture distortion”.
And then there’s “VIDEO PROCESSING TECHNOLOGY”: My favourite’s “ACE IV - (Advanced Continuous Emission) for reproduction of billions of colors and improved greyscale rendering in dark picture areas”. It’s closely followed by “Advanced Pure CinemaTM with 3: 3 pulldown so that film-based material on DVD, videotape or even regular TV will match the smooth and natural reproduction seen in a movie theater”. And then, “Intelligent Color Enhancement adjusts picture for realistic depiction of hues and detail such as skin tones.”
I quote these in particular because of some of the things I’ll have to say about these areas of performance in the PRO-1140HD. There are also 4 settings of both Digital and MPEG noise reduction, Block Noise Reduction, and “Digital CTI - Color Transient Improver”. There’s probably also Digital CSI to do further forensics on picture quality, but perhaps I somehow missed that in the poop sheet. I’ll wait for Marg Helgenberger to explain next Thursday.
But getting back to basics after this foray into creative electronic semantics, we find that the PRO-1140HD is a WXGA display with a resolution of 1365 by 768 on a 50″ diagonal 16 x 9 ratio screen, that is said to come with detachable side speakers (not provided for review). So, in basic specs, it is in the 720p camp, while its $8000 sibling, the PRO-FHD1 offers 1920 x 1080 in an identical size 1080p display. Our now vintage reference Elite PRO-710HD RPTV is 1920 x 1080 also, but in a 64″ interlacing (i) format, so the PRO-1140HD falls directly in between the two, with the added promise of its video enhancement circuitry.
Should be interesting.
It’s a while since we’ve spent much time with an HT receiver. Though they’re still ubiquitous in homes these days, we’ve concentrated more on the higher segment of the market, but during these last few years we’ve periodically charted the course of such very useful technologies as auto room EQ, made popular not only by Pioneer, but also by Yamaha, Denon, and others.
The TX-84TXSi is the current top model with all the goodies including the EQ, XM satellite radio, and…”ADVANCED MULTI-CHANNEL STEREOPHONIC PHILOSOPHY . I kid you not…well, I am just kidding about the “101″: ”
“Working closely with AIR Studios sound engineers in the UK and George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch in the U.S., Pioneer has employed revolutionary processes in order to take your home sound system to the level of a professional sound studio. Professional sound engineers always start with three principles to achieve high fidelity recording and replay: quality reproduction, precision reproduction, and artistic reproduction. Pioneer adapted this professional procedure so that Pioneer Elite A/V receivers would recreate unprecedented audio fidelity in your home. This includes the best available audio components, measuring and calibrating the system with a microphone, and final sound tuning to preserve the original emotion of the content.”
”ADVANCED MCACC - MULTI-CHANNEL ACOUSTIC CALIBRATION”
“The world’s first fully automated calibration system, the MCACC provides a studio quality, multi-channel listening environment by making delicate adjustments to neutralize the sound field of the listening space.” And here we have, according to the web site, “3-dimensional compensation. In addition to speaker distance, sound pressure level and frequency response, the Advanced MCACC applies ‘time axis’ in measuring the listening environment’s acoustic characteristics and in applying frequency response compensation. This enables the system to distinguish between direct sound and room reverberation, resulting in even more precise, minute adjustment for human ears.” And, thankfully, “you can manually fine-tune the frequency responses of individual speakers according to taste.” So I guess I’ll just sit back and let the MCACC do its thing, in this case, with a high end Monitor Audio Gold Series speaker array. More on all this soon.
Though it seems a small part of the large market of DVD players, the universal, all-format player has gained a solid following and concomitantly come down in price. The DV-46AV is not only able to play just about all 5″ discs in their native audio or video resolution, but also handles all world DVD regional formats, thereby being doubly “universal”. With full audio D-to-A conversion, it’s a plug-and-play proposition, though, as I discovered, you need at the very least, a full 5- channel analog preamplifier to use it in an audio system, since it has no internal level control after its DAC stages. Without investing in a full HT preamp/processor, I’m not quite sure how I can fit it into my multichannel audio-only system, which has itself bloomed to 8 channels (!), but we’ll worry about that later, and perhaps look for a universal player with internal master level control.
But, back to the products at hand. I guess I’ll start with this source, the player, which, in addition to its all-zone performance, provides “a 18MB built in Pal to NTSC converter allowing for perfect Pal to NTSC conversion” [sic], according to an internet poop sheet. It plays not only the obvious formats, but also manages WMA, MP3 and DivX Ultra, plus a JPEG photo viewer. Outputs are manifold, with component, S-video, HDMI, and straight composite video, and, of course, all the audio channels in addition to Toslink and coaxial digital. All 6 channels of audio DACs are 192/24 and SACD capable, getting signal from a “Twin-Wave” laser pickup, with video processed by “PureCinema Progressive Scan”, “Super-Fine Focus Filter with 4: 4: 4 Video up-sampling”, and “108MHz/12bit Video DAC”.
For those acquiring the newest displays, the DV- 46AV upconverts video to 1080i or 720p resolution through its Digital Direct Pixel Drive, but only through the HDMI outputs; hey guys, component outputs can handle 1080p, too! There are 3 factory video settings for CRT, projector, or Professional, whatever that means.
User features include “High Speed Loading - Faster by 30%”, and “Advanced GUI (Graphical User Interface) and a “Setup Navigator that ‘walks you through’ all the set-up procedures.” All the other expected options are provided for Play, Resume, and disc access.
The first thing I liked about the DV-46AV was its compactness: It’s the standard 17″ width, but only 8″ deep, and 2 1/2″ high including feet. This means it’s easier to get at the ins and outs when pulling the unit out, and just to see them from above without going in behind. That’s important to me, with all the other A/V stuff I already have that’s 10″ to a foot or more deep. More thoughts on performance below.
Now to the display level, and have a look at the PRO-1140HD. Clad in shiny jet black, it provides no distractions around the screen, though this “blacker-than-black” frame does undermine one aspect of performance, as I’ll note.
But let’s start at the top. The picture of this umpteenth generation plasma is truly spectacular! It’s what all the women love (and they love plasma TVs best, in my experience). It’s bright and colourful, with excellent contrast, and superb detail in all areas of the screen, and all picture conditions. Speaking of conditions, it’s the extensive picture conditioning detailed earlier that does it. I was able to compare the 1140 to my PRO-710HD directly, and the two were very different display beasts, the latter more laid back, with blacker blacks and a more subdued film-like look. The plasma, on the other eye, was much more immediate and vivid, its processing highlighting darker areas, and evening out the picture’s contrasts. It’s a great TV for watching shows that are intentionally underlit, like the original CSI.
I spent a while running it through he various tests on Joe Kane’s Video Essentials DVD, and was intrigued by the stellar results. The 1140 does show blacker than black as a grey-scale element, but its true black is a little less so than the TV’s own physical frame, something you can’t quite get away from with plasma and some other fixed-pixel display technologies. But the balance of the overall picture, with its high contrast and vivid colours almost make one forget this given.
Vertical overscan shows just a little more than 5% over at top and bottom, which means some sports fans might find the screen-top box scores in baseball and basketball games only half visible. My 710 is worse in this regard, its designers opting for the extra-widescreen look. And I do notice that professional videographers are tending to fill the screen more than many set makers want you to see. The last time I was on an HD soundstage with my friend, the late Donald Jones (who was then continuity director on the series DOC), the framed monitor definitely showed the screen limits for HD pictures, but I guess that border’s since gotten a little bigger, especially in the vertical plane. So, for that true full screen experience, you’ll have to resort to a front projector, which usually does no cropping at all. You may also get funny lines and other stuff at screen top or bottom on old-style network feeds, as they use the vertical blanking area for data transmission.
You’ll never see that here, and it’s probably just as well. But what fills the screen of the Elite PRO-1140HD is of very high definition, pretty much the limits of this level of plasma, just a step below 1080p, and very much in step with anything that’s being broadcast today, and certainly ahead of current DVD technology. And with a picture this clean and sharp, you really won’t miss it when you get your HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player.
Colours are bang on and beautifully pure and saturated, with only the slightest hint of chroma noise on the red raster signal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen better colour purity in a video picture than this! I did see a fair bit of twinkle in the bouncing ball Snell & Wilcox resolution patterns. But overall resolution was very high and consistently so, with few artifacts beyond the slight bit of motion jiggle predicted by the S&E ball. And that is a good deal less than you often see in film pictures, what I call the “wagon wheel” effect, where they seem to turn backwards, a film artifact that is only eliminated by higher frame speeds (the same could be said for video).
All in all, this is a monitor that will please and excite all viewers except rabid videophiles and those professionals needing to see all the visible warts in their work. The PRO-1140HD produces such a superb picture that it is truly better than the real thing after all the correction and compensation. Of course, you can dial out some of this, but then it isn’t nearly as exciting and eye-catching.
Turning again to the versatile DV-46AV, we find the provider of the perfect pictures of colour bars, geometric patterns, and the like, seen on the plasma screen to be technically a very good DVD player by implication or re-creation, whatever, and its video performance has already been raved about elsewhere, so I’m going to concentrate here on its sonic attributes. It plays just about every consumer optical disc you can imagine, so I put a pile in front of it, including DVD-Audio, SACD (mostly multichannel), and cherry picked a few other formats to fill things out.
A good start seemed Bela Fleck’s down-home sitaround with his bluegrass buddies, The Bluegrass Sessions, Tales From The Acoustic Planet, Volume 2, (Warner 9 47332-9) wherein the musicians are situated in almost an acoustic circle, with banjo at left front, mandolin left rear, bass centre front, steel-string guitar at right front, fiddle a little more like right side, and dobro at right rear. I reviewed it a couple of issues ago in Super- Sounds, and some great players are heard, including Jerry Douglas, everybody’s favourite dobro man. The sound here is intimate, without any reverb, and has a softness that is delicate to reproduce, without a lot of edge on the instruments: they’re defined more by space than sharpness.
Both space and instrumental timbres were well articulated by the 46 (through the receiver), and I found the listening easy and a nice collection rather than a crowd of surrounding sounds, the solos moving smoothly rather than bouncing back and forth, and the sound quality very natural, if a bit subdued. This is one record I like to turn up. Very nice.
Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now (Warner 9 47620-9), features the more-than-lush string arrangements of then husband Larry Klein, and they do get in the way, especially bathed in surround ambience. But a couple of tunes do work, old Mitchell hits revisited, A Case Of You and the title tune having just the right combination of regret-in-clouded-and-coloured-memory, blue-and-gold tinged insight, the poignant lyrics almost thought aloud.
Quite a soundscape is presented, and again it works in DVD-A, this player able to bring clarity through the bar’s dim lighting and smoke. It all makes me think of Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours.
Turning to classical, a Mahler 2nd seemed in order, that here by the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta (Teldec 4509-94545-9), this one offering lots of visual graphic add-ons as well as a very big symphonic sound. There are pictures to watch in a kind of period art show, as well as related views, such as the cover of a score for Des Knaben Wunderhorn behind the Urlicht section.
Here I found that the ability to control the centre and rear channels (at the receiver) helped in making the soloist a little less highlighted, and to increase or decrease the sense of front-to-back depth in the orchestral soundstage, something of an extra unanticipated, if expected, bonus for fine tuning the listening experience.
The Mahlerian scale could certainly be appreciated in my home theatre system in multichannel, and I know this depth will increase when I’ve completed the transformation of the pure audio system in the other room to discrete multichannel, something I’ll chronicle in future. The 2nd had all its majesty as sampled here, and the clarity of the DVD-A format, as well as the power of the massed musical forces, was well conveyed by the DV-46AV.
With SACD multichannel I decided to start with a classic, Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue (Sony Columbia/Legacy CS 64935). Now, I’ve compared the 2-channel with the surround previously, so I’ll just recap by saying that the addition of spatial information between centre left and right in addition to the real (actually recorded) centre channel in the original master is a major bonus in bringing us into the recording studio with Miles, Cannonball, Coltrane, Evans, Chambers, and Cobb…oh yeah, and Wynton (Kelly, not Marsalis), too.
Again, the front depth can be varied by subtle adjustments of centre level, as can the balance of bass and trumpet. Nicely natural ambience has been added for the rears, which can give you more of that famous New York Columbia 32nd Street studio where the sounds created ranged from Mitch Miller and Mathis to Miles, Glenn, and Dylan.
You can hear quite a bit more of Cobb’s brushwork and ride cymbal in the 3-channel original, too, as well as the ambience around the saxes and trumpet. In sum, it’s a more complete listening experience, even the flutter on the analog tape machines more audible, just as it is in the early Dylan SACD reissues.
Finally, I listened to some modern surround SACD recordings, expecting the greatest spatial and musical fidelity, and was not disappointed in a recent Pentatone release of Mannheim music (PTC 5186 029 and 028), Sinfonias of Stamitz and Richter on 2 hybrid discs recorded in 2003 by the Polyhymnia team in the Hague, Holland. They used DPA and Schoeps microphones with their own custom stage preamps and mixer, the result a 5-channel recording (no sub channel) that is incredibly musical and lifelike, with a wonderful sense of the “kirk” ambience all around.
And here we’re wrapped in resolution and that means reality, if virtual, but just about as virtual as it gets (outside of gaming, of course). Another celestial ambience comes from “Kolifonia” (as the governator would say), a chapel in San Rafael in the presence of the composer, Arvo Part, his Missa Sillabica from the SACD, De Profundis (Harmonia Mundi 807182 Hybrid Multichannel). Here we have a great church sound of stone and space, and I boosted the rears about 2 dB for full effect. I’ve lived long with matrix ambience, which is real, derived from out of phase front, but, still, there’s nothing quite like discrete hall sound. The solo tenor’s delayed ambient return was very clearly heard here.
And as a last bit of discrete hall sound, I put on a Telarc released last year of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, in a nice, taut performance by the Cincinatti Symphony under Paavo Jarvi (SACD-60587 Hybrid Multichannel). There’s no Ansermet sloppiness here, just a tightly paced dance piece, which is what it is, with all the dynamics and angularity of the powerful puppet Petrouchka, “to the Russians what Pierrot is to the French, Punch to the English, and Pinocchio to the Italians”, according to the liner notes.
A bonus is the more intense power of The Firebird Suite, also in a well paced reading. This is one of those discs where the sound and the substance come together in performance and recording brilliantly, possibly one of the last great recordings from the team of Robert Woods and Jack Renner, now that the latter has retired. It’s SACDs like this that make multichannel a must for me! And, getting back to the subject at hand, the Elite DV-46AV is an almost perfect reproducer of these recordings at an amazing price for what it does.
I will, however, confess to be somewhat frustrated by its remote control ergonomics and button layout relative to that on that for my reference Elite DV-AX10: was it just me? The all-important Menu and Top Menu buttons just seemed to be in a foreign place to my thumb, and too small to boot, with the track up/down ones too far away, near the bottom. On the AX-10 control the former are grouped just above the cursor/jog area, with the latter just below, positioning I guess I’ve just gotten too used to. Oh well, just another change of habit for the aging dyslexic digits. We have another universal player on the way from the emerging Oppo brand, so we’ll soon see how that player compares ergonomically. Right now, this one is definitely the cat’s ass (and my AX-10 remote also works with it).
And last, but definitely not least (especially considering its bulk and complexity), we have the VSX-84TXSi, which I suppose we could call a “universal” receiver. I’ve outlined its philosophy and some features, without yet approaching its ins and outs and surround felicities. So, here we go.
There are dedicated A/V inputs for DVD/LD, TV, SAT, and Video Games, plus 2 DVD/VCR inputs, to cover the main conventional sources. As well, we see 5 HDMI A/V inputs, 4 optical ins, and 2 coaxial for digital, plus a USB for a PC source, plus RS-232, a special iPod jack, and another for XM digital. Also on the rear panel are 12V trigger and remote signal features I didn’t have time to explore. FM and AM antenna connectors are also provided. There are just 3 analog RCA inputs (slops to us ancients), and a single set of multichannel ins. There are also RCA multichannel preamp outputs and iLink connectors.
Surround systems supported are multitudinous (like the channels), with lots of “Dobbly” (Thanks, Spinal Tap!), dts, and THX, but I won’t go through them all, since it will only interest a freako tweako, but you can be assured of NEO-this and EX-that everywhere…NEO this, indeed! And if you really have a yen for Windows Media Audio 9 Professional, here it is. Have I articulated how I feel? Well, don’t get me started about THX in its infinite variety. In fact, I think I’m just about ready to sign up for Surround Format Variants 101 at the local community college! Except, I really don’t want to know. Period.
Am I all grumped out yet? Not quite. The VSX-84TXSi came without one of its remote controls, and the autocalibration microphone, a sample that had obviously been around, so any appreciation of the real benefits of that system will have to be gleaned from our last review of a Pioneer Elite AV receiver, the VSX-49TX in Volume 21 #2, where there are photos and descriptions of the whole process.
I’m sure it’s since been improved, and the myriad features and facilities of the 84 are more than a purist like me can tolerate, so, suffice it to say that I got very good sound out of the receiver, with plenty of power to spare, driving the more-than-excellent Monitor Audio Gold Series speaker system.
To sum up, the best of the current Pioneer Elite line of home theatre components are very good indeed, and work together with a synergy that can almost make you forget all the complicated setup and operational sophistication demanded. Amost….
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