Diablog: Reading Tea Leaves

If I needed further proof of your insanity, it's on the side of that box you just deposited on the pile in our bedroom.

The Pioneer VSX-84TSXi carton?

Right. Look at this other box. It's the one my iPod nano came in. The front has a picture of the nano, the words "iPod nano," and the Apple logo. That's all, folks. Now look at your Pioneer V-sex-whatever box.


The side of this pretty big box is covered with logos and most of them don't make any sense.

They don't make any sense to you. To me, they tell a story, and each logo is a chapter of the story. Now relax, have some cocoa, and I'll explain.

Oh, I don't need the cocoa. The story will put me right to sleep.

Our story starts...

Excuse me. Our story starts with the "made for iPod" logo. What does that mean?

It means the receiver comes with a cable that has an iPod docking connector at one end, and at the other end, a plug that goes into the back panel of the receiver. Here, plug in your nano. Turn on the TV. Now turn the Pioneer's source-select knob till you get to "iPod." Bingo.

What happened to my iPod display? It's been taken over by a Pioneer logo and "OK to disconnect." Oh, I see! The iPod display has moved to the TV screen.

Exactamente. It's also on the front panel of the receiver, but the TV display has more lines of information. Either way, you can use the Pioneer remote to work the iPod, which is pretty cool considering that your iPod didn't come with any kind of remote control. There's also a "Plays Windows Media" logo, related to the receiver's USB port, for folks downloading in the alternate non-Apple universe.

To hell with them.

Let's move on to the front left corner where you'll see both "DCDi" and "HDMI" logos. For videophiles, they spell good news. This receiver takes incoming video sources, cleans them up with world-class DCDi video-processing circuitry, and outputs the enhanced picture through the right-up-to-date HDMI interface.

Enhanced picture? Didn't we solve this problem when we bought our HDTV?

Not entirely. Not everything we watch is high-def, not all of our signal sources are perfect, and bad things can happen to good signals, HD or not HD. Aren't you the one who's always complaining that flickering video artifacts give you a headache? DCDi was practically designed for your delicate eyes. Combined with the high-quality digital HDMI interface, it can make a mediocre DVD player and a mediocre HDTV look a lot better.

Well, how am I to know this alphabet soup means anything? Why can't these logos call 'em the Video Cleaner Upper and the Big Pipe?

Maybe engineers shouldn't be allowed to name things. Or marketing people think too much like engineers. They'd probably abbreviate your terms to VCU and BP...

...because acronyms fit more easily into a logo. Resistance is futile. What's this "DTS 96 24 ES Neo:6" logo at the bottom? It's the biggest one on the box. Does that mean it's the most important?

Not quite. That's actually a bunch of DTS surround-technology names mashed together. DTS is one of two major surround sound standard-setting outfits, the other one being Dolby Labs, represented by the similarly mashed-up "Dolby Digital EX Pro Logic IIx" logo at left.

Why must there be two of them? Sounds like they do the same thing.

Things. And they do, more or less. This is a battle for licensing revenue. Dolby got into receivers first, but DTS followed with a competing standard, and receiver makers were afraid to be left behind. So now all surround receivers have both families of surround decoding.

Which is better?

Some would argue Dolby is the dominant outfit, and I agree, having gotten two free trips to Dolby's hometown of San Francisco. But DTS has earned my admiration and support by taking me out to dinner a lot and sending me a free DTS-encoded DVD movie title every month.

You've really thought that one out. I'm impressed. What's this "THX" logo?

That's largely (though not entirely) a quality-assurance program. THX-certified products must meet a stiff set of performance benchmarks to earn that logo. For the consumer, that means pairing a THX-certified receiver with THX-certified speakers will result in a system that plans loud and clean and does other things well. While we're on the subject of coordination, the "SR+" logo indicates Pioneer's proprietary method of allowing components to talk to one another, so if you power down this receiver, it'll power down your Pioneer TV and DVD player at the same time.

What's with this "MCACC Advanced" logo? Is that a Big Mac reference? Has this receiver been certified by McDonald's too? You're making me hungry.

No, that's the, uh, Multi-Channel AcoustiC Calibration feature. When setting up the receiver, you can plug a little microphone into the front panel, and it will handle a lot of settings that otherwise would have to be done manually, like speaker size and distance. MCACC also listens to the room and corrects for its acoustic flaws, or at least tries. This is Pioneer's way of helping the newbies set up the receiver without having to read a book on the subject.

Sounds bad for business. Strip you of your ability to glibly explain complexities and you're just a fat bald guy on the road to nowhere. Oh, here's one I recognize: "XM," as in XM satellite radio.

Good catch. The "Neural Surround" logo is also XM-related.

Is XM the one with Howard Stern?

No, Howard's on Sirius. Finally, here are a couple of logos I hadn't seen till this receiver came through the door. One of them is "Controle de Phase." That's actually "Phase Control," but I seem to have photographed the Quebec-bound side of the box.

Truly the more elegant side. When's the last time you got to review a "recepteur audiovisuel a voies multi-canaux"?

Redolent of smelly cheeses and dusty bottles of Bordeaux. Now you're making me hungry. The Phase Control, Pioneer explained, "uses phase correction measures to make sure your sound source arrives at the listening position in phase, preventing unwanted distortion and/or coloring of the sound."

What's phase? Can you translate that into l'anglais?

When you accidentally wire a speaker out of phase, the drivers move in the wrong direction, leading to hollow and disembodied sound. More subtle phase problems are the bane of acousticians. Some of them use the term "time smear" because bits of the signal get staggered by microseconds as they reach your ears. Phase controls are pretty common in subwoofers.

If you switch on the Big MCACC and the Controle de Phase at the same time, do you get a Royale With Cheese?

I'll just ignore that. As for the "Air Studios Monitor" logo, apparently Pioneer has a deal with a famous London recording studio wherein Pioneer provides amps and other products tailored precisely to the studio's needs, and the studio pays back the favor with a logo that gives the receiver some high-end cred.

Sort of like DTS taking you out to dinner.

Maybe not quite that sinister.

Mark Fleischmann is the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater and tastemaster of Happy Pig's Hot 100 New York Restaurants.

Alan in Victoria's picture

Great,funny,informative article! The box reminds me of a modern race car, with logos and stickers plastered everywhere....