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Home Theater Components Got It Going On

The sales performance of home theater audio components spiraled down last year, but their audio performance continues to hit new highs.

Dolby Virtual Surround and Dolby Headphone will appear in more components here at CES, as will Dolby Pro Logic IIx and the ability of receivers to upconvert composite and S-video to component video (and back down in the case of some Sharp components). On top of that, multichannel Windows Media 9 decoding will put in its first-ever appearance in a receiver here at CES in the Pioneer booth.

Dealers will also find audio components that sport home-network capabilities and cosmetics intended to complement the styling of flat-panel TV displays.

In other developments:

  • Denon will return to high-end multichannel component separates, including a preamp/processor.
  • Harman Kardon will show a receiver with built-in line doubler.
  • And Sherwood will bring the opening price point for a 6.1-channel Dolby Digital EX/DTS ES receiver to an everyday $149.

Here’s what you’ll find:

Denon: The company will return to the high-end multichannel separates market at the end of the first half with a preamp processor, DVD transport and seven-channel digital amp. They’ll be displayed in mock-up form. Shipments are targeted for the second half, joining a separate AM/FM tuner and two-channel integrated amp.

A separate dealer agreement will be required.

Details weren’t final, but the company hopes to include universal DVD decoding in the preamp processor, which would be connected via digital cable to the DVD transport using digital 1394 or proprietary digital Denon connection. The preamp processor would also feature video upconversion of composite and S to component, DVI switching, and multizone multisource capability.

The company is targeting A/V enthusiasts, custom-install consumers, and post-production facilities that have previously purchased Denon receivers to demonstrate music and video to clients.

Also new: a $1,200-suggested replacement receiver, the 7×120-watt AVR3805. It’s due in March in black or silver as part of a plan to offer more components in a choice of the two colors.

The 3805 will be the company’s third receiver with Dolby Pro Logic IIx, joining the AVR5803 (which began shipping with IIx as a running change) and the AVR5803, which gets DPL IIx and HDCD as a running change beginning in January. Current 5803 owners can get a $100 hardware/software kit to add the two features.

The 3805 is also Denon’s second receiver with composite- and S-video upconversion to component. It also brings proprietary Denon Link digital connection to a much lower price point. The connection transports DVD-Audio signals in the digital domain from Denon DVD-Audio players. The Link hasn’t been approved yet for SACD transport, but once a license is obtained, models in the field might be upgradable via a software download.

The 3895 also adds auto setup and calibration to adjust speaker phase, level, time delay, speaker size, and via an eight-band parametric equalizer, frequency response to compensate for room acoustics. An optional, purpose-built $80 microphone is needed.

In the spring, Denon plans its first two receivers with 1394 input to transport DVD-Audio and SACD streams from similarly-equipped DVD-Audio and SACD players. Yamaha, Sony and Pioneer also feature 1394 inputs on select receivers.

DTS: The company’s latest upgrade of Neo:6 processing will appear in multiple receivers. The upgrade delivers simulated surround sound from high-resolution 96kHz sampling-rate sources. The technology appears in Yamaha’s RX-Z9 US, Pioneer’s VSX-59Txi, and Denon’s AVR5803AKU.

Neo:6 derives a full-frequency 5.1-channel experience from matrixed surround soundtracks and from such stereo sources as FM radio, stereo TV audio, and CDs. It also upconverts stereo and Dolby Surround sources to 6.1 channels.

Harman Kardon: The company will expand its selection of receivers with A-Bus distributed-audio capability, slots for adding digital AM/FM tuner as a running change, and the Dolby Virtual Speaker and Dolby Headphone technologies.

Also new: the AVR 7300 receiver, the company’s first with built-in line doubling of analog video sources to 480p progressive scan, Faroudja video processing, and upconversion of composite and S-video sources to component-video output.

The 7×100-watt 7300 features A-Bus, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Virtual Speaker, Dolby Headphone, proprietary Logic 7, HDCD, and MP3 decoding. It also features DVD-Audio/SACD bass management and software and firmware upgradability. Pricing and availability weren’t disclosed at press time.

Two new slim 7.1-channel receivers with digital amplification also get A-Bus and the digital tuner slot, joining two other receivers with the slot. The 7×120-watt DPR 2005 and 7×70-watt DPR 1005 HD incorporates the features listed above excluding the video processing features. Pricing and availability weren’t disclosed.

Jamo: The speaker company will become a one-stop home theater source with the launch of its first plasma TV to complement its recently introduced DVD-50 DVD receiver and plasma-friendly A3 and D4 speakers.

The 42-inch, 1024×1025-pixel screen features dual TV tuners with PIP.

JVC: The company will add a second THX Ultra2-certified receiver, the 7×120-watt RX-DP15V with multiroom/multisource capability. Four other new receivers consist of two 6.1-channel models and two 5.1-channel models. Details were unavailable.

Marantz: The new 7.1-channel SR8400 receiver will be the company’s second with Dolby Pro Logic IIx and upconversion of composite and S-video to component. It also joins a growing number of Marantz receivers with SRS TruSurround Headphone, which delivers a surround experience through any headphone pair. It will ship in March at around $1,500.

Meridian: The previously unveiled G series of 11 components, replacing an existing opening-price series, will be displayed at prices ranging from $2,875 for a CD player to $8,995 for a surround controller. The lineup includes a stereo receiver, a DVD-A/V transport, and a DVD-A/V player/preamp/tuner. Its built-in two-channel preamp/tuner can be used to build a two-channel A/V system. Both DVD-A/V devices connect to the G68 surround processor/controller via a proprietary multichannel-audio digital connection to create a multichannel audio system.

NAD: New home theater components include four new A/V receivers and the S170i s preamp/surround processor.

The four new receivers are the 7×110-watt T 773, 6×110-watt T 763, 6×70-watt T 753, and 5×50-watt T743 at suggested retails of $1799, $1399, $999 and $699, respectively. They’re all available.

The T 773 (previously called the T 772 but never shipped) is NAD’s first full seven-channel receiver, rated at 7×110 watts. All receivers but the T743 feature built-in second-zone capability with independent source and volume and a separate mini remote control. At $699, the T743 is NAD’s lowest-priced A/V receiver.

The top three receivers feature Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, DTS, DTS ES, DTS NEO:6, NAD’s 7.1 Matrix, Dolby ProLogic II, and NAD’s EARS circuitry, which extracts natural ambience in a stereo recording and redirects it to the surround channels.

Also new: the newly upgraded S170i A/V Surround Sound Preamp/Processor adds THX Ultra 2 certification and retails for a suggested $3,499.

Panasonic: The company will replace two digitally amplified receivers with new cosmetics to better match the company’s DVD players. Other improvements include larger, multicolor, multilayered display, A-B speaker switching, and front-panel composite-video inputs. Like their predecessors, they’ll feature Dolby Digital EX, DTS ES, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS 96/24 with no price change. The model due in March is priced at $299 and the June model is $399.

Sherwood: Four new receivers in the Sherwood lineup and a new Newcastle-series receiver will be introduced. The launch will bring Sherwood’s opening price point for a DD EX/DTS-ES receiver to a suggested $179 from $299.95. “Our research tells us that is a new low price for the industry,” said a spokesman.

The Sherwood receivers open with the $149-suggested RX-4105 two-channel receiver rated at 2×105 watts, both channels driven into 8 ohms with no more than 0.05% THD from 20Hz to 40kHz.

Next is the $179-suggested 6.1-channel RD-6500, rated at 6×100 watts and featuring DTS-ES Matrix and Discrete, Dolby Digital EX, DTS-Neo 6 and Dolby ProLogic II. It ships with a newly designed, 5-unit preprogrammed remote. It’s expected to retail as low as $149.95.

The RD-7500 6.1-channel receiver adds S-Video capability at a suggested $279.95 The RD-8500 6.1-channel A/V receiver adds component-video switching and on-screen display at a suggested $379.95.

The $499-suggested Newcastle receiver is the 6.1-channel R-765 with titanium finish. It features wideband component-video switching, on-screen display, 6×100-watts, DTS-ES Matrix and Discrete, Dolby Digital EX, DTS Neo 6, Dolby Pro Logic II, and preprogrammed remote with three macros.