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Elite A/V Receivers Bulk Up With Features

New York — Pioneer’s new four-SKU Elite A/V receiver series is changing with the times.

The receivers, MAP-priced from $650 to $1,500, include Pioneer’s first two receivers to up-scale video sources to high definition, up to 1,080i, and first four to pass through 1,080p video. The new series also expands iPod controls to three SKUs from two, and XM Satellite Radio controls to four SKUs from two. The Elite series also gets Neural Surround decoding for the first time to deliver select XM Satellite Radio channels and select analog and digital FM broadcasts in discrete 5.1-channel surround.

To control iPods through three Elite receivers’ onscreen display and remote, Pioneer includes a single iPod connection cable. The company also launched an iPod dock for connection to any A/V receiver. That dock, also priced at $100, generates an onscreen display for use with any Pioneer receiver and comes with its own remote.

iPod controls in Elite receivers now start at $950 MAP.

In its mainstream Pioneer series, meanwhile, the company expanded its selection of XM-ready A/V receivers with Neural Surround decoding to two SKUs with the addition of a $499-MAP model to complement a $299 model shipped earlier this year.

“In another month, we’ll know the timing of” the launch of Pioneer A/V receivers that control outboard Sirius and XM tuners, said senior marketing VP Russ Johnston. However it won’t be this year. Pioneer’s contract with XM, he noted, doesn’t necessarily mandate a two-year wait period between the launch of Pioneer’s first XM-ready receiver and the launch of its first Sirius/XM-ready receiver.

In other audio introductions, the company:

–unveiled an home theater in a box with automatic room EQ for use with the Xbox 360 game system. It offers Xbox cosmetics and remote control of select Xbox functions at $499 MAP.

–launched a bookshelf speaker pair whose cabinets are made from oak barrels in which malt whiskey was aged. The whiskey-soaked cabinets are said to offer superior resonance properties. Pioneer said it has no plans for a joint-development project with rival JVC, which offers sake-soaked woofers in select speakers. The Pioneer speakers, to be sold only on the Pioneer web site, retail for $800/pair.

–launched a top-end EX speaker series that, in a 5.1 configuration with subwoofer, would retail for about $20,000.

In another development, the company said its Blu-ray disc player, like Sony’s model, will support only the mandatory Blu-ray surround-sound codecs, which are Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 and 5.1-channel PCM up to 192kHz with 24-bit resolution. The player doesn’t pass through Blu-ray’s optional surround formats, which are Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD, 7.1-channel PCM, Dolby TruHD and DTS HD Master

As with the Sony player, mandatory surround-sound soundtracks can be delivered digitally to the audio decoders of an A/V receiver via the player’s HDMI output, 5.1 analog outputs and digital S/PDIF output.

Delivery of optional codecs through an HDMI output awaits availability early next year of HDMI 1.3 silicon, which could appear in high-definition disc players and A/V receivers as early as the summer of 2007, said Johnston.