For its 2011 lineup of AV receivers, Pioneer has gone Apple in a big way. The four new models, introduced at a press event in San Francisco, range in price from $249 for the VSX-521 to $549 for the top-of-the-line VSX-1021.
To various degrees, depending on model, the receivers incorporate a high level of compatibility with iDevices from Apple, including iPhone and iPad, with no external dock required. All four feature at least 110 watts per channel (120W per in the VSX-1021, all measured at 1kHz and 8Ω) using traditional class-AB amplification. The two lower end models sport 110W x 5 and the top two are equipped to drive 7 channels. Among their features are compatibility with today's most widely used audio formats (including Dolby Pro Logic IIz's height-channel option), 3D pass-through via multiple HDMI 1.4 inputs, and Pioneer's proprietary MCACC room calibration. All of the new units are Bluetooth-ready (with the addition of an optional adapter).
When we reviewed Pioneer's flagship Elite DV-09 DVD player in our September 1998 issue, it blew us away so much that it garnered an Editors' Choice award (see the February 1999 issue) as the best DVD player we had reviewed up to that time. This opinion has not changed in the intervening months, but at $2000, the DV-09 is more than many home-theater fans can afford (or justify) for a DVD player. The Elite DV-05, introduced earlier this year, provides many of the features and most of performance capabilities of the DV-09 at a more affordable price.
The new DV-09 is Pioneer's first DVD player in its Elite line. More than simply an upscale version of a standard Pioneer DVD player, the DV-09 was built from the ground up to be a flagship product. It's also the first DVD player I've seen to have been certified under THX's DVD-player certification program (see sidebar, "THX DVD Players").
At first glance, Pioneer's new flagship universal DVD player bears a close physical resemblance to its predecessor, the DV-47Ai. And like the earlier model, the new DV-59AVi also includes two i.LINK (IEEE1394) Advanced Resolution Digital Audio Interfaces. These are designed to carry the digital DVD-Audio and SACD high-resolution audio datastreams to select Pioneer receivers—and, perhaps, to other IEEE1394-equipped products, though cross-manufacturer compatibility is not guaranteed.
Pioneer Elite's DV-79AVi "Universal" DVD player ($1,000) won't play HD DVD and Blu-ray discs, but it does play nearly everything else on a 5" consumer disc format. A glance at the specs tell you what formats it's designed to handle, though with all such players there will be exceptions. For me, it never hiccupped with any DVD-Video, CD, CD-R/RW, DVD-Audio, or SACD discs I threw at it. For the present, I don't speak either DVD-R/RW or MP-3/CD-ROM, so I did not check either format, though the player is specified to handle them.
Price: $5,000 Highlights: Blacks to die for • Precise color and excellent resolution • 72-hertz operation on film-based sources for judder-free motion • Video processing could be better
Once More, With Feeling
My review schedule is starting to look a bit like the Pioneer Channel. But timing is everything. Pioneer is introducing a boatload of interesting new products, including the newest KURO flat panels. These include the upcoming Signature Series KURO monitor plasma models. Pioneer says these models will offer enough adjustments to inspire video calibrators to set up shop in buyers’ homes. “Will calibrate for room and board.”
Manufacturers of flat-panel plasma televisions have been refining the technology for years. But Pioneer has been particularly successful at it. In the past, the company made some of the world’s best rear-projection CRT sets, and it knew that great black levels are the foundation of a great picture. That philosophy has paid off over the years, particularly in recent-generation KURO sets.
Price: $7,000 At A Glance: Pricey, but offers unsurpassed image quality • No tuners or audio system • Last of the breed
The Last Hurrah for Kuro?
As I was finishing up this review, word arrived that Pioneer will exit the video display business. The economic climate, Pioneer’s premium prices, and the increasing market share of LCD displays combined to create a perfect storm that the company could not overcome. Pioneer panels will continue to be available through the end of 2009, including the Elite Signature Series monitors.