LONG BEACH, CALIF. — Pioneer will make 3D-ready HDMI 1.4 inputs/ outputs, Dolby ProLogic IIz post processing, proprietary Pioneer Front Wide processing, and a stereo Bluetooth option available for the fi rst time in its A/V receivers (AVRs).
The capabilities will appear in all five models in the company’s 2010 mainstream series at prices from $229 to $749 street price. The features don’t yet appear in Pioneer’s Elite AVR series.
The introductions also include the first two Pioneer AVRs capable of being controlled from an iPhone or iPod Touch app. The introductions also bring down the price of Internet radio to $549 and $749 from $1,700 in the company’s Elite series.
In the $749 model, Pioneer is also adding HDMI 1.4’s audio return channel (ARC) function for the first time to an AVR.
The full lineup includes two 5.1-channel AVRs: the $229 5x110-watt VSX- 520-K and $299 5x110-watt VSX-820- K. Three other AVRs, all 7.1-channel models, are the $399 VSX-920-K, $549 VSX-1020-K, and $749 VSX-1120-K, which adds THX Select 2 Plus certification. All models ship in March-April except for the $749 model, which ships in late spring.
The new technologies in the series will help Pioneer maintain the momentum it enjoyed last year, when its AVR sales grew in units and dollars despite industrywide 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 added. The enhancements included the 2009 addition of iPhone certifi cation to its front-panel iPod-controlling USB ports.
Like last year, the iPhone/iPod USB port starts at $299, with included USBto- 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 play iPod/iPhone audio and video content through an AVR.
The USB port also delivers playback of audio and video stored on USB sticks and other-brand MP3 players.
All five models connect to an optional $99 stereo-Bluetooth adapter to stream and reproduce music from MP3 players and smartphones with stereo Bluetooth. Bluetooth connectivity will “be big from here on” because of the popularity of the iPhone 3G S with embedded stereo Bluetooth and other smartphones, Bales said.
3D-ready HDMI 1.4 ins/outs will also become a must-have feature now that 3D content and 3D-ready displays are becoming available, he said.
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, he said. Front Wide 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.
Among the two 5.1 models, the $229 model features front-panel minijack input and three HDMI 1.4 inputs. The $299 5.1 AVR adds a fourth HDMI input, Sirius-ready port, textbased on-screen 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 function was previously available only on a harder to find remote-control button.
The $299 AVR model also adds the company’s automatic multichannel acoustic channel calibration.
With the 5.1 launches, Pioneer is reducing the price of decoding all Blu-ray surround formats to $229 from $299.
With the 7.1 launches, Internet radio becomes available at $549 and $749, having been available previously only in the high-end Elite series at $1,700.
To make Internet radio more affordable, Pioneer dispensed with the vTuner Internet-radio chip that accesses thousands of stations, and the company deleted Rhapsody’s music service. In their place, the AVRs feature 24 station presents into which consumers store Internet- radio URLs entered via a USBconnected computer keyboard.
To access Internet stations, the AVRs connect to the home network via wired Ethernet connection. If the port is connected to a wired/wireless router, users could also control the receivers from Wi- Fi-equipped iPhones and iPod Touches on which a free downloadable iControl app is installed. The app breaks up the portable devices’ touchscreen into four quadrants, each controlling different sets of functions. Touching one quadrant lets users adjust subwoofer and center-channel output by tilting the iPhone/Touch forward or backward. Another quadrant lets users control the front-back and leftright balance of a home theater system by tilting the iPhone forward, backward, left and right.
The $549 and $749 models also migrate the company’s proprietary Advanced Sound Retriever technology to Bluetooth stereo streams.
The $399 7.1 model features four HDMI inputs, and the two step-ups feature six HDMI inputs, including one front-panel input. The $549 and $749 models add two-zone A/V.