2012 Top Picks of the Year

Well, here we go again—time for another round of the best of last year’s best. As you’ll see (and forgive the old cliché), it was a year that was more evolutionary than revolutionary, but we were delighted to see the cost of excellent HDTVs and projectors continue to come down while the quality of some emerging categories, like soundbars, started to come up. And we enjoyed relishing those few special products that, with the benefit of hindsight, seemed to rise up just a little higher than the other TPs we identified and recommended throughout the year. As before, each of the items that follow has its own reason for being here, whether it’s a notable technology advance, overall great performance, or amazing value. The picks represent the 2012 calendar year, which covers reviews done in the March 2012 through this February/March 2013 issue.—Rob Sabin

Flat-Panel HDTV

Sony XBR-55HX950 3D LCD HDTV
Last year, you had to spend more than $5,000 on our HDTV and overall Top Pick of the Year, the Sharp Elite HDTV, to get an LCD flat panel that a serious videophile could live with. This year, Sony gets honored for the beautiful image quality of its XBR-55HX950, a $3,500 set whose full-array, local-dimming LED backlight delivered even deeper blacks and more shadow detail than our beloved Panasonic VT50 series plasma—the year’s best TV until this Sony wandered into our lives. Throw in an ultra-bright and largely ghost-free 3D experience (provided you purchase the Sony 3D glasses intended for the company’s PlayStation 3 display and not those recommended for this set), and you’ve got a TV anyone on our staff would proudly brag about.
$3,500, sonystyle.com
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Panasonic TC-P65VT50 3D Plasma HDTV
As in years past, Panasonic’s plasmas continued to deliver the best performance of just about any television out there, and the top-of-the-line VT50, priced at $3,700 list for the jumbo 65-incher, is an eye-poppingly good set that enjoys the deep blacks, outstanding light uniformity, and wide viewing angle absent from most LED LCD models. The ST50 series, which is two notches down in the line but retains most of the performance found here, is an even better value (see our Value picks). But for the purist on a budget, this is the one to buy.
$3,700, panasonic.com
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Projectors

JVC DLA-X70R 3D D-ILA Projector
Our staff has been partial to projectors based on liquid-crystal-on-silicon display technology, or LCOS, thanks mostly to its native ability to deliver deep black levels and high contrast. That puts JVC and Sony, the two primary LCOS proponents, high up on our list of brand recommendations. Sony’s $25,000 VPL-VW1000ES 4K-resolution projector is a wonder to behold and was officially released in 2012, but it isn’t eligible for honors here because we reviewed it early and recognized it as a 2011 Projector Top Pick of the Year. The other real keeper in the projector category for 2012 was JVC’s outstanding DLA-X70R, an excellent value at $8,000 and a breakthrough in its own right thanks to e-Shift 4K technology, which uses some fancy tricks to quadruple the number of pixels on the screen compared with a regular 1080p display to virtually eliminate the screen-door gridlines between pixels. JVC also added other great new features, including a lens memory function that eliminates the need for an expensive extra lens for viewing anamorphic content on a wide 2.35:1 CinemaScope screen. For this and its many other fine attributes, the DLA-X70R easily deserves a Top Pick of the Year honor for the projector category.
$8,000, jvc.com
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JVC DLA-X30 3D D-ILA Projector
We tested a number of good Top Pick budget projectors in the under $4,000 price range last year besides this one, including BenQ’s W7000 and Mitsubishi’s HD7800D, both DLP models that cost $500 less. Each had its strengths—the BenQ delivered superlative 3D images, for example, and DLPs generally tend to put out very sharp, bright images. But this entry-level JVC delivered by far the deepest blacks and best 2D viewing experience in the mix for what amounts to a bargain-basement price.
$3,500, jvc.com
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Source Components

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Oppo Digital BDP-103 Universal Blu-ray 3D Player
Blu-ray players have become such a cheap commodity that it’s an almost surreal experience to unpack something like Oppo Digital’s new BDP-103. Between the superlative build quality and superb video and audio performance, this piece just imbues pride of ownership. Oppo’s latest upgrades include some great new features, among them 4K upscaling to future-proof it for the upcoming 4K displays, and a couple of HDMI inputs (along with dual HDMI outputs) that allow you to use the unit’s excellent video and audio processing for your legacy components. You can also stream content from your mobile phone via the MHL-compatible port. Oppo remains the player of choice among our reviewing staff, and the BDP-103 is an investment that’s almost guaranteed to improve the image quality of any system and bring a smile to the face of any enthusiast.
$499, oppodigital.com
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Dish Hopper HD DVR
Dish really pulled out the stops when it rolled out this new DVR system, which includes the Hopper master DVR and the Joey slave unit that extends functionality to secondary rooms. The biggest breakthrough is PrimeTime Anytime recording, which automatically stores eight hours of programming across the major networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox) every single night for a week. And you can still record individual shows on other networks. Then there’s the library of streaming content from Blockbuster and that commercial skip feature that landed Dish in hot water—and court—with the networks. The Hopper was one of the coolest new products to emerge from CES last year, and it deserved the attention it got—even without the live baby kangaroo brought in for the launch.
$10 per month DVR fee, dish.com
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A/V Receivers

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NAD T 787 A/V Receiver
We seem to tick off a lot of you readers by reviewing and then having the audacity to actually like stripped-down AVRs that lack some (or many) of the latest features offered by the mainstream manufacturers. Case in point was the NAD T 787, a $4,000 receiver that really thrilled our high-end reviewer Michael Fremer with its obviously superior sonics and superb build quality (which includes a future-proof modular design for the input/output jacks and surround processing circuitry). In a world where even the best mainstream AVRs seem to be getting lighter and cheaper, this 55-pound behemoth is the real deal and what we’ve come to expect—but rarely get anymore—in great audio components.
$4,000, nadelectronics.com
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Pioneer Elite SC-68 A/V Receiver
We hate to be redundant after giving a Top Pick of the Year last year to Pioneer’s SC-57, the first of the brand’s receivers to offer its late-generation and quite good-sounding D3 Class D switching amplifier topology. This year’s flagship, the SC-68, made a similar impression on audio editor Mark Fleischmann, who found its muscular sound commanding and the first-of-its-kind 32-bit asynchronous USB DAC a refreshing new feature for an AVR. It’s about as fully loaded as a receiver can get, and at $2,500, you really get your money’s worth.
$2,500, pioneerelectronics.com
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