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With backgrounds in computing, consumer electronics, hi-fi and home cinema, our reviewers are all established experts in their field.

The Reviewers…

The NEC 42-inch plasma screen.


KEIRAN POTTS
Kieran is now Deputy Editor
on Digital Home.
SAM KIELDSEN
Expert in consumer electronics, broadcast and home networking.
Sam writes for numerous technology publications.
RICHARD STEVENSON
Richard wrote for and edited ERT Weekly for nearly a decade.
MARC AMBASNA-JONES
Specialises in IT convergence and mobile technologies. 
ROB MEAD
Rob is highly regarded in the field of consumer electronics.
ALVIN GOLD
Alvin has specialised in hi-fi for more than 20 years.
IAN CALCUTT
Ian contributes to several home cinema and entertainment titles.
DAN GRABHAM
Dan is the technical
editor on PC Format magazine.

THE BEST DVD PLAYER EVER?

SUBERB SOUND AND VISION, EXCELLENT BUILD AND GOOD LOOKS:
THE LATEST DVD PLAYER FROM DENON WILL LEAVE YOU DROOLING.

“Pictures take on superlative levels
of vitality: the depth of field on
offer is simply amazing …”  


Click to enlarge
Denon DVD-A1XV

 Denon has launched the DVD-A1XV DVD player – and it’s a giant.
How big? Try 17cm high, 43cm deep and over 19kg in weight – or bigger and heavier than the same company’s AVR-3805 receiver.
So, why create such a monster? Denon’s aim is simple: To build the best DVD player in the world. To that end, it has endowed its new creation with easily the most extensive list of capabilities we’ve seen on any player to date. Simply put, the Denon has and does everything.
To deliver the best sound possible, the DVD-A1XV uses 24-bit/192kHz Burr-Brown DACs, high-capacity digital audio outputs and more – and it certainly is a terrific listen, with a scale and energy to its balance that’s always involving.?True, the stereo music balance is a shade smooth for our liking using the RCA outputs, but it’s also weighty, articulate and detailed. Of more interest, perhaps, is the performance from HDMI using multi-channel sound, and here the Denon excels, offering both real thump and ample detail.
However, the DVD-A1XV’s real trump card is its picture quality. Instead of the ubiquitous Faroudja deinterlacing and scaling sported by many players on the market, the DVD-A1XV uses an all-new system dubbed “Realta HQV”.
Designed to give the best picture from standard-definition DVDs, Realta HQV combines scaling from Silicon Optix with video ­processing from Teranex, a US firm renowned for its broadcast-quality image-enhancing gear.
 
Effectively, what you’re buying is the controllability of a stand-alone image processor with the convenience of having it built into the player. Of course, 720p and 1080i video is available as needed, but the Teranex processor can also be used to reduce visible grain on older DVD transfers, and all trace of “jagged” edges or motion-smearing.
And boy, does it work. We’re not sure if the Denon is “the best” (we’ll have to do a group test first), but it’s certainly fantastic. Pictures take on superlative levels of vitality: Edges are drawn with razor-sharp levels of precision and the depth of field on offer is simply amazing. The summary?
This is a fantastic player in every regard. It’s not cheap, but given what it offers, it’s a bargain.

Denon

DVD-A1XV | $5999
 

DVD PLAYER

FOR
Astonishing picture quality; excellent sonic performance; build, spec
and flexibility just awesome; good looks.
AGAINST
Okay, so it ain’t exactly cheap.
VERDICT
The biggest, the meanest and very possibly the best player ever.
It’s a real feast of cutting-edge technology.

SPECIFICATIONS
Video outputs: 2 x component, RGB Scart, HDMI, DVI-D, 2 x S-Video, 2 x composite video
Audio outputs HDMI: 2 x FireWire, Denon Link, optical, coaxial, 5.1 analogue out, stereo out
Decoding: MP3, WMA, HDCD, SACD, DVD-A, DTS, Dolby Digital
Dimensions: (HWD) 17 x 43 x 43cm
Weight: 19kg

GETTING CONNECTED
The DVD-A1XV is equipped to suit every system configuration you can think of. You can send audio digitally via HDMI, Denon Link, FireWire, coaxial or optical digital outputs – or you could decode your surround soundtracks (including movie sound) inside the player, and then transfer audio using 5.1 analogue outputs, as you prefer. Multiple sets of video output sockets allow for several displays to be connected, too.

HOW WE RATE THEM

EXCELLENT
VERY GOOD
  AVERAGE
    BELOW PAR
     DON’T BOTHER

Roku’s PC solution impress, too

The Roku Soundbridge M1000

The Roku network music player allows you to play tunes stored on or streamed from your ­computer through your hi-fi. Further­more, the M1000 has a ­display and remote control, which allow you to select tracks from your computer’s playlists via the unit’s display. It also has wireless potential.
A router is required to ­complete your network, so check online or on the list included with the SoundBridge that any existing ­hardware you have is compatibile or you’ll have to buy a new one.
The Roku needs your computer to have jukebox software installed on it in order to feed it music. There’s proprietary software supplied for this, but it works with iTunes or Windows Media Connect (both downloadable for free), so these are good choices.

The display on the Roku is large and clear, showing track details taken direct from your chosen software, while the remote control allows you to scroll through tunes and playlists. To stream internet radio simply drag and drop stations into a playlist on iTunes, which you then select with the remote.
Sound quality is excellent and we found little to complain about – the player did everything  in excellent style. If you’re looking to network your home for ­digital music, take a look at this Roku.

ROKU
SOUNDBRIDGE M1000 | $439.95  
 

NETWORK MUSIC PLAYER

FOR
Easy to use and control excellent sound; good compatibility.

AGAINST
It does require software such as iTunes or Media Connect.

VERDICT
Will do everything you hope for from a network music player in a stylish,
simple-to-use box that sounds great.

The clear display shows the same track   (IMAGE)
details as your computer software does.

AudioPro’s different way

Those Swedes know a thing or two about style, though those of you old enough to remember ABBA’s ­outfits might disagree a tad.
Still, no-one could dispute the style of the Swedish-designed Audio Pro Image 44 system:?in a class ­dominated by silver-finished  designs, this substantial system is essentially similar in overall shape to conventional speakers. Still, the ­gorgeous piano-black finish should certainly add to your pride of ­ownership, as should the build.
This is a well-matched package, with the same type of 25mm tweeter and 11cm mid/bass driver used throughout (with two sets of the ­latter in the fronts and centre ­channel, as you can see). The system is easy enough to drive, save for the Image 12 rears: at 4 ohms and 87dB/w/m, they might tax the ­modest amplification fitted to ­slimline surround receivers, though there should be no problems with decent “full-sized” kit.
We’re also rather impressed by the compact B1.36 active subwoofer, barring a few provisos. It complements the rest of the package very well, adding useful drive to balance whatever you’re listening to. However, decent low frequency response from the Image 44 front speakers (they reach down to a claimed 43Hz) means that the front-speaker soundfield is weighty even without  the sub.
This is a system that ­manages to avoid the midrange “hole” (also known as the “boom-tizz” effect) that often afflicts comparably priced rivals. It endows the gunfight scene at the finale of Collateral with real punch, providing genuine menace to each gunshot.
Any downsides? The most
obvious is that the sub can sound too slow with music, though you can opt to omit it from your stereo listening, as the front speakers are gutsy enough to cope. Otherwise, this Audio Pro is a fine alternative to its sub/sat rivals.

AUDIO
PRO IMAGE 
44 SYSTEM | $1200

MULTICHANNEL SPEAKER PACKAGE

FOR
Fine combination of sonic integration and midrange agility; hefty bass.

AGAINST
Subwoofer can sound a bit slow with music, although it’s fine with films.

VERDICT
Good-looking, well-made and a fine listen, especially for home cinema use;
a rival to sub/sat alternatives.

Creative’s package
is fair game

Creative  hasn’t strayed too far from the norm in terms of styling  with its ­latest seven-spea­ker, ­multi-media system. There are four identical black rears, two larger front loudspeakers and a new horizontal ­centre. The main unit doubles as the ­control ­system and subwoofer, while a wired remote control is connected for ­handling main and bass ­volumes ­separately. Colour-coded cables and connections made set-up easy.
So, how does it sound? Certainly in stereo mode, the powerful centre is clear and detailed. But when all the surround speakers work together, the sound lacks the same crispness.
With bass-heavy hip-hop, the sub barges into action in a slightly brash fashion, but timing and detail are decent enough, and clarity with less complex tracks is good. There’s also plenty of power in this system, with a claimed 20w centre and 24w sub – therefore, there’s plenty of scope for ­troubling the neighbours.
We did find the treble harsh at high volume. And if you give the T7900 a bit more to think about, by way of a more ­complex, layered track, it loses its polish: Bass dominates and the sound loses precision.
For gaming this system is pretty effective, providing the neces­sary power and timing to make Doom 3 go with a bang. If that’s your main ­purpose then check it out, but if you’re serious about music
look elsewhere.

CREATIVE  INSPIRE
T7900 | $299 |
 
SURROUND SPEAKER SYSTEM

FOR
Loud, punchy bass and decent timing; good with games.

AGAINST
Quality suffers at high volumes and
crucially, with more complex sounds.

VERDICT
A good prospect for PC/gaming fans, though musically
a bit hit and miss. What do you expect for $299?

Not the best-looking or sophisticated speakers, but a good-value PC upgrade. (IMAGE)

Audiovectors lack a big bum

Sometimes “upgrade” can be a euphemism. In hi-fi jargon, the word not infrequently translates as “scrapping in favour of something newer and more expensive”.
Audiovector has a fitter use for the term, though. All the Danish firm’s speakers can be upgraded to use ­drivers and crossovers from superior siblings. Though this isn’t cheap, if the brand’s distinctive sound is for you, it’s a lot less extra­vagant than binning existing cabinets.
The Signatures are discreet to the point of blandness, but are painstakingly constructed from high-quality materials and present a soundstage that belies the size of the cabinets.
Tonally, they’re an acquired taste. If you’re a fiend for low-frequency ­wallop, they’ll be distinctly too polite and cerebral for your liking. There’s no shortage of eloquent bass communication, but it lacks potency – some recordings, such as the ­rejuvenated Chemical Brothers’ Gal­vanize, demand blood and thunder at the bottom end, and the Mi 1’s are simply not up for it.
Changing from the dedicated stands to Partingtons helps, but doesn’t by any means totally solve the
problem.
In all other respects, though, these are assured and dynamically accomplished
performers. They integrate information seamlessly, are blessed with a well-balanced and totally natural midrange, making voices intimate and conspiratorial, and they are crisp  throughout the frequency range. Under pressure, they remain poised and graceful.
If your taste in music invariably avoids the bombastic and you value an understated aesthetic, the Mi 1 Signatures could be right up your alley. They have sufficient talent to tangle with the class-leaders – and there’s that upgrade path mapped out, should your enthusiasm wane.

AUDIOVECTOR
Mi1 SIGNATURE| $3300|

STEREO SPEAKERS 

FOR
Supple, coherent and delicate sound; fine standard of build and finish.

AGAINST
A bit lacking in bass weight and impact; comparatively expensive.

VERDICT
Make a diverting alternative to the front-runner in their class, but the picture they paint is incomplete.

Though they may be too discreet, the Signatures are well-constructed from high-quality materials.

 

NEC screen a picture of stability

NEC’s new plasma screens come accompanied by claims that they’re “the brightest on the market” and offer a wider viewing angle than rivals.
Our 42XR3 review model doesn’t have the match of all others in terms of features. There’s no integrated tuner and Scart socket. But for a bit of extra money, you can buy it with these features included in the box.
As to connectivity, the 42XR3 is well-specified, although some buyers won’t need all the sockets on offer and others will be rather put out by the lack of a Scart.
While the introduction of all-digital inputs (as here, a plus point for the NEC) has some pundits
talking about “the end of Scart”, many potential plasma buyers still consider the Scart link to be an essential part of any home cinema system.
Taking a digital video connection from a Denon DVD-3910 DVD player’s HDMI output to the DVI-D input on the NEC results in a highly detailed and stable picture. It offers good depth of field and conveys visual subtleties in The Bourne Supremacy with ease.
The good news is that fine colours give an exuberantly lush, vibrant take on Star Wars: Attack of the Clones rich hues.
One weakness is a lack of black shade distinction.
The beach obstacles in Saving Private Ryan’s big battle scene look uniformly black, losing subtle graduation.
For the right buyer, the 42XR3 has plenty to offer. With 1024 x 768 resolution and a digital video input it’s futureproof, ready for HD developments. Even its stereo speakers do a job to match anything at the price.  Yes, there are minor picture flaws, and you must pay for the extras you need – but this screen is still well worth a look.

NEC
42XR3 | $5429|

42 INCH PLASMA SCREEN

FOR
Neat styling; excellent stability of picture; exhilirating colours.

AGAINST
A bit lacking in black shade definition; tuner not included in price, no Scart.

VERDICT                                  
Authoritative picture performance; worth an audition if the lack of TV tuner
and Scart input is OK with you.

It may have a name like an old boy-racer Ford but it’s a very good plasma screen.

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