Long Beach, Calif. - Pioneer will make 3D-ready HDMI 1.4 inputs/outputs, Dolby ProLogic IIz post processing, proprietary Pioneer Front Wide post processing, and a stereo Bluetooth option available in its A/V receivers (AVRs) for the first time.
The capabilities will appear in all models in the company's mainstream series at prices starting at $229 street price. The features don't yet appear in the company's Elite series of AVRs.
The features will appear in two 5.1-channel AVRs shipping in March to April and in new 7.1-channel AVRs, whose details will be announced later this week. The 5.1 AVRs are the $229 5x110-watt VSX-520-K and $299 5x110-watt VSX-820-K.
With the launch of the AVRs, decoding of all Blu-ray surround formats drops to $229 from $299, and $299 remains the starting price for an AVR with Apple-certified iPod/iPhone-controlling USB port and included USB-to-iPod/iPhone cable. The port, which captures the digital PCM output of an iPhone or iPod, eliminates the need to buy an add-on $99 dock to dock an iPod or iPhone to an AVR to play back its stored audio and video content.
The USB port also delivers playback of audio and video stored on USB sticks and other-brand MP3 players.
The new technologies and price points, along with other new features planned for new 7.1-channel AVRs, will help Pioneer maintain the momentum it enjoyed last year, when its AVR sales grew in units and dollars despite industry wide double-digit unit declines, said marketing manager Dave Bales.
Record growth in sales of Pioneer receivers priced less than $500 "was a direct result of our enhancements to convenience and connectivity options expected from Apple users," he said. The enhancements included the 2009 addition of iPhone certification to its front-panel iPod-controlling USB ports.
Both new models connect to an optional $99 stereo Bluetooth adapter to stream and reproduce music from iPods and iPhones connected to a stereo Bluetooth dongle and from the iPhone 3GS, which features embedded stereo Bluetooth. Bluetooth connectivity will "be big from here on" because of the popularity of the iPhone 3G S and the proliferation of smartphones, particularly Android-based phones, Bales said.
3D-ready HDMI 1.4 ins/outs will also become a primary must-have feature now that 3D content and 3D-ready displays are becoming available, he said.
In both 5.1 AVRs, the HDMI 1.4 output does not support HDMI's audio return channel (ARC) function, but it remains to be seen if the feature will be available in any of the new 7.1 AVRs to be announced this week.
The $229 model features three HDMI 1.4 inputs, and the $299 model features four.
Dolby ProLogic IIz, which adds two front-height speakers to a typical 5.1-speaker setup, will be especially popular with gamers, but for any consumer, it will deliver a more life-like surround experience and offer an easier installation solution than many back-surround speaker installs, Bales said. For the same reason, the inclusion of proprietary Pioneer Front Wide technology may prove popular with consumers. Front Wide technology adds an extra pair of horizontal-plane front speakers to expand the width of the front soundstage, where adding additional speakers is often more practical, Bales said.
To use either post-processing technology with the two 5.1 AVRs, consumers must opt for an add-on two-channel amp or powered speakers.
Both 5.1 AVRs feature proprietary Advanced Sound Retriever and Automatic Level Control. The former enhances the sound quality of two-channel compressed-music sources, and the latter evens out volume fluctuations when switching between two-channel audio sources and TV channels. It also levels out volume differences when a TV program transitions to a commercial.
The $229 model also features front-panel mini-jack input.
The step-up 5.1 AVR adds Sirius-ready port, a text-based onscreen display, four HDMI inputs and the iPod/iPhone USB port. For the first time, Pioneer is adding front-panel iPod/iPhone control button to its iPod/iPhone-controlling AVRs. The button, near the port, lets users choose between controlling their iPod/iPhone from the portable devices' controls or from the AVR's front panel controls and AVR remote. The control button's function was previously available only on a harder to find remote-control button.
The step-up model also adds the company's automatic multichannel acoustic channel calibration to compensate for the deleterious effects of a room's acoustics on the system's sound quality.