The last blog detailed the Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player's surround properties. What about the Toshiba HD-A2? Dolby's Craig Eggers kindly explained that the player does feature both lossless Dolby TrueHD and lossy Dolby Digital Plus decoding and playback. They are exported through the HDMI jacks as PCM, not as a bitstream, so decoding cannot be done in a surround receiver even if it does have a decoder. But the PCM should still sound good. If you were thinking of using analog jacks to feed surround to an HDMI-less legacy receiver, you're out of luck. The HD-A2 does not have a full set of surround analog outs (just a stereo pair) so it can't export the signal that way. But the translated-to-PCM signal is re-encoded as DTS and sent through the optical output, which also of course handles regular Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. On the DTS side, the news is not as good. The Toshiba site cites "Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS support for up to 5.1 channels (DTS HD support for DTS core only)." So full 7.1-channel goodness is not available for Dolby's two new babies. And DTS's two new babies are reduced to the resolution of old-style DTS.
More than half a century of audio evolution has produced this modest box. Its grandparents are the high-end radios of the 1950s. Its parents are of the CD generation, a 1980s format increasingly viewed as archaic by the latest generation of listeners. And it accommodates the iPod, although it keeps the latest audio revolution literally at arm's length, in a separate docking device that plugs into the back of the system. The retrofit brings an already successful product family closer to being up to date.
Pioneer's new top-line receiver is the SC-09TX with 200 times seven watts of energy-efficient Class D ICEpower amplification and cool front-panel color LCD in lieu of the usual boring fluorescent display. It'll cost seven grand. Of course it has on-board decoding for Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, etc. Also new are three other models: VSX-94TXH ($1600), VSX-92TXH ($1300), and VSX-91TXH ($1000). And then there's the X-Z9 system ($1799), with SACD drive, PC streaming via Cat5, and specially designed speakers.
Among four new receivers from Marantz is the top-line SR8002 ($2450). Like several new receivers at the show, it includes on-board decoding for Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, and both versions of DTS-HD--a trend of which we approve! Look for it in October.
The Integra DTC-9.8 surround pre-pro is THX Ultra2-certified and features both the HQV Reon-VX video processor and advanced Audyssey auto setup and room EQ. Now available for $1600. Not as photogenic but possibly more exciting is the DHS-8.8 HD DVD player, the high-endish class act of the format for $1100 (November). Also saw the DSR-4.8 2.1-channel SACD/DVD-receiver, with 50 watts times two, and the DTR-8.8 receiver, with 140 watts times seven, built-in HD Radio, and several key features of the pre-pro ($2400, November).
The bad news is that none of four new receivers have on-board decoding for the new lossless and other Dolby and DTS codecs. The good news is that modular construction will allow updates for this issue, in perhaps a year, and others that may arise. If you don't plan to buy a Blu-ray or HD DVD player soon, and prize NAD's consistent performance and high value, one of these new kids may be the receiver for you. They include the T 785, shown, $2999; T 775, $2499; T 765, $1999; and T 755, $1299.
The Azur 340R surround receiver (center, $679) is a third-generation product from Cambridge Audio. It delivers 50 watts times five with two HDMI-in and one out (video switching only). Oh, and Cambridge is now offering a turntable!
Four new Escient media servers, including the VS-100 ($3999), now handle DVDs. You can also get paid downloads from Rhapsody and other outfits, run a photo show, and bask in the new user interface. A media server has to be copy-protection-savvy to transfer disc content to its hard drive, so Escient follows with interest the legal woes of Kaleidescape, whose own DVD server has sparked litigation by the studio-dominated DVD Copy Control Association.