Thomas J. Norton

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Dec 09, 2014 0 comments
Somewhere in the dim past I wrote a blog on whether or not you might want to work with a custom installer in designing and building setting up your home theater or media room. In a random search through my computer files (as messy as any physical file system on the planet!) on a different subject I came across it again. It appears to have been written for one of the newsletter in the now defunct Stereophile Guide to Home Theater/Ultimate AV. In the hope that it might be as pertinent now as it was then (given a significant update), here it is again...
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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Nov 25, 2014 3 comments
Movie time has been in short supply at chez TJN recently. My home theater system is packed up for a pending long distance move. I’m down to a modest two-channel setup (Onkyo AVR, Revel Concerta M20 bookshelf speakers, no sub, flat screen HDTV) in my much smaller family room. Potential buyers can now see the former home theater as the living/dining space it’s supposed to be.

The HDTV in this smaller system...

Thomas J. Norton Posted: Nov 12, 2014 0 comments
Last Thursday Sharp Electronics introduced its latest Ultra HDTVs, along with a Wireless High Resolution Audio Player, at the Video & Audio Center in Santa Monica, CA.

The new AQUOS 4K UD27 lineup, available now, consists of two LCD models: the 70-inch LC-70UD27U ($3,600) and the 60-inch LC-60UD27U ($3,200)...

Thomas J. Norton Posted: Nov 11, 2014 2 comments

2D Performance
3D Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,500 (4 pair 3D glasses included)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Blacks, contrast, and shadow detail to die for
Lightweight
Minus
Not 4K
Cinema mode soft in default settings

THE VERDICT
This new LG is the OLED that videophiles have been waiting for, and an improvement over the 55EA9800 we reviewed last spring—with equal or better performance and, not least of all, a dramatically lower price.

Now that we’re about to turn the page into 2015, OLED HDTVs, so promising a year ago, appear to be at risk. The limited yield for OLED panels, resulting in a high retail cost, has driven most HDTV makers to the sidelines.

But not LG. They continue to vigorously support the technology. And with a current price of $3,500 for the new 55EC9300, they’re clearly tossing a Hail Mary into a market crowded with cookie-cutter LCD sets. At 55 inches (diagonal), this may be a relatively small set for the price, and it’s still just “Full HD” (the industry buzzphrase for 1080p sets). Whether LG scores a touchdown or gets intercepted remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that buyers will be the winners.

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Oct 28, 2014 3 comments

683 S2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
ASW 610XP Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $4,300 (as reviewed)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Soundstaging
Presence and immediacy
Tight bass (with subwoofer)
Minus
Top end a bit restrained
Limited subwoofer output
Pedestrian styling

THE VERDICT
It took some effort to get their best in my room, but these relatively affordable B&Ws ultimately came through with a big, immediate, and generous sound.

Bowers & Wilkins, aka B&W, has been in the loudspeaker game since the mid-1960s. I reviewed the company’s original 600 series for Stereophile Guide to Home Theater over six years ago, and I was impressed—even though I was listening to those speakers immediately after evaluating Revel’s high-end Ultima2 system. At less than 15 percent of the Revels’ price, the B&Ws couldn’t, of course, equal them. But they weren’t anywhere near embarrassed by the comparison. Now we have the 600 S2 models in house, ready to do battle. The Revels are no longer here, of course, so the 600 S2s will have to speak for themselves. We’re ready to see if they can.

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Oct 22, 2014 0 comments
The annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was held in early October in the Marriott Hotel at the Denver Tech Center. For at least the past 10 years this has been the biggest of the many audio shows now jostling for position around the U.S. Depending on who you ask, the Newport Beach (CA) show, held in June, is nipping at its heels but isn’t quite there yet.

Manufacturers (not to mention the press) must be tearing what’s left of their hair out trying to support all these shows, which now include RMAF, Newport, (northern) California, Chicago, New York City, Washington D.C., and Toronto. Let me know if I’ve missed one! And this doesn’t even include the trade-only CES (and, for some, CEDIA EXPO). For small manufacturers this is a major expense, and many of them only attend one or two. If they support two, it’s most likely they’ll include RMAF and CES).

Unlike many present-day audiophiles I keep one foot in the audio/video world of home theater and surround sound and the other in the 2-channel world of high-end audio. I regret that multichannel, even for music alone, remains anathema to many audio fans. As for film sound, for many that’s clearly the spawn of the devil...

Thomas J. Norton Posted: Oct 21, 2014 4 comments

2D Performance
3D Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $4,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Exceptional blacks and shadow detail
Excellent color and resolution
Impressive sound with optional subwoofer
Minus
Price
Small screen for 4K

THE VERDICT
Short of sitting very close, you’ll need a screen bigger than 55 inches to see the full benefits of 4K resolution. But the XBR-55X900B is, nevertheless, a champion in all respects, including one we didn’t anticipate: state-of-the-art edge-lit local dimming.

The XBR-55X900B is the smallest set in Sony’s X900B series, which also includes the 65-inch XBR-65X900B ($5,000) and the 79-inch XBR-79X900B ($9,000). Fifty-five inches is a relatively small size for achieving the maximum benefits of 4K resolution. But it’s also perhaps today’s most popular size for the principal home HDTV, so there’s no denying its market importance for Ultra HD as well.

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Oct 10, 2014 0 comments
Picture
Sound
Extras
In the first 15 minutes of Pompeii, I wondered if it was heading toward a mashup of Gladiator and The Horse Whisperer. But the horsey part turned out to be just a minor plot (such as it is) driver. The lead character had been a slave since childhood, begins as a star sword-to-hand fighter in a backwater Britannia arena, has a seething grudge against the Romans for killing his family, soon becomes a gladiator in Pompeii, pals up with another gladiator (a big African, natch), and together they score a major victory in the arena against a faux Roman army in front of a vile, powerful Roman senator. Sound familiar?
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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Sep 30, 2014 2 comments
The cartoon above is only one of many from cartoonist Charles Rodrigues (1926-2004), who contributed to this magazine in the 1970s and 1980s (the mag was then known as Stereo Review). A favorite audiophile parody of an equipment report from Stereo Review’s iconic reviewer Julian Hirsch states, “Of all the amplifiers I have reviewed, this was definitely one of them.” Nevertheless, we all enjoyed Rodrigues’ take on our then, as now, crazy business.

But the cartoon here also heralded a problem that has fallen on the high-end audio industry, a problem also shared, though to a lesser degree, by the home theater business: eye-watering prices.

Thomas J. Norton Posted: Sep 25, 2014 0 comments
Performance
Setup
Value
PRICE $2,049 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Superb color and contrast with room lights out
Lights-on viewing can be more satisfying than with a conventional screen
Minus
Don’t expect miracles: Lights-out viewing still offers a superior picture

THE VERDICT
No screen can provide a projector’s best performance in normal room lighting, but the Screen Innovations Slate takes aim at this goal and, though not scoring a bull’s-eye, comes closer than most.

The surest route to realizing a knockout, big-picture home theater is to install a separate projector and screen. Once you’ve experienced it, you’ll wonder how you were ever satisfied with a “tiny” flat-screen HDTV.

Up until a few years ago, the biggest obstacle to realizing that ideal was the price of a good projector. Today, however, you can buy an excellent projector for under $3,000, and although that’s not chicken feed, it’s within the reach of many serious home theater enthusiasts. But what was once a secondary stumbling block is now front and center: the need for a fully darkened room to wring the best performance out of that projector. With most projection screens, there’s little choice, and this has kept home projection a niche market.

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