Rotel RSP-1098 A/V Preamp/Processor

Photos by Tony Cordoza Not too long ago, a loyal Sound & Vision reader wrote complaining that the "audio/video" preamps and receivers we regularly review are really just plain-audio components with a few video inputs and switching thrown in. Point taken. So here's an A/V component with some actual video: the Rotel RSP-1098.

Rotel's new flagship preamp/processor is fairly straightforward, with all the goodies you'd expect - Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES, Dolby Pro Logic II (DPL II), DTS Neo:6, and a good deal more. But its most obvious allure is staring us right in the face: a 7-inch color LCD screen occupying much of its front panel.

FAST FACTS

DIMENSIONS 17 1/2 inches wide, 6 1/4 inches high, 15 3/4 inches deep

WEIGHT 35 pounds

PRICE $2,999

MANUFACTURER Rotel America, Dept. S&V, 54 Concord St., North Reading, MA 01864; www.rotel.com; 800-323-2159

Why, you ask, would you need such a thing? After all, if you're buying an A/V preamp, you presumably have a somewhat bigger screen already for watching movies and TV. Well, for one thing, the front-panel display puts setup and operational menus right smack where you want them, in big, white block characters. For another, the display can also be set to show the currently playing video source - or a different one - in living, moving color.

The big Rotel's backside presents all the expected ins and outs - and then some - including four component-video inputs. Among the more notable extras are a quartet of individually assignable 12-volt triggers (useful for those assembling complex "smart" home theaters or multiroom setups) and a serial port for user-downloadable operating-system updates.

The RSP-1098 is one of the most flexible preamps I've come across. For example, you can assign which video and digital audio connections will become active when you select each of the preamp's eight "soft" input labels - V1 through V5, CD, TUN, and TAPE (all of the corresponding analog audio connections are fixed). You can rename each input with a seven-character label that appears in the onscreen display (front-panel or TV) whenever you call it up, though you'll still have to remember which remote-control key (V1, V2, . . .) corresponds to each of your names. You can also designate which surround (or stereo) mode is associated with a given input.

The Speaker Setup pages let you select crossover points individually for each channel or pair and give you seven choices from 40 to 200 Hz. Better still, you can set a different combination of these options for each of the major surround-mode families - Dolby Digital, DTS, Stereo/MP3, and Rotel's four Music modes. This seems confusing at first, but it makes sense. After all, you're more likely to want different bass-management arrangements for different playback modes than for different "inputs."

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