Bang & Olufsen's 85-inch plasma: 3D at $1,000 per inch

Bang & Olufsen's supremely luxurious entry into the 3D market, the updated 85" BeoVision 4-85, made its U.S. debut today. Appropriately enough for a set that retails for $85,000, it had actually appeared first before a Moscow audience a few weeks back, but this was the first chance S+V - or anyone Stateside - had to lay eyes on the unit.

B-O-85 Perhaps the biggest 3D plasma available to the, er, average consumer (Panasonic's 85" Professional Series unit, for example isn't sold through its retail channels), the BeoVision 4 brings the expected convenience features and Danish design flair you'd expect from B&O to the 3D TV party. Motorized stand, Beo6 remote with integrated LCD display, custom colors to taste - it's a product beyond the means of most, but like many of Bang & Olufsen's flagship products, there's a sense in which it's meant to be aspirational. B&O America president Zean Nielsen mentioned that a significant percentage of the company's high-end customers are wealthy snowbirds who are outfitting multiple homes, a market for which this kind of product - beautifully designed, delivered as a package by a specialist retailer with a nationwide network offering sterling service, and just audiophile enough - probably makes perfect sense.

DSCF9805The set (which employs a proprietary active-shutter system based on XPAND's technology) was demonstrated using Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk - perhaps a bit of an odd choice given its IMAX heritage and the fisheye perspectives employed in the river-rafting sequence we watched - but the effect of an 85" set - displaying 3D at 1080p - is impressive. The plane-breaking effects (rapids breaking over the nose of the raft in particular) were...well...immersive. Contrast is as good as you'd expect from a high-quality plasma set, and the deep shadows of the Grand Canyon showed off some impressive blacks. An Oppo BDP-95 did the heavy lifting of Blu-ray playback; B&O don't market a Blu-ray player of their own.

I must admit that the 2D demo (meant primarily to highlight the set's integration into a surround system built around BeoLab 5 powered mains and BeoLab 9 surrounds), using omnipresent pop-fusion trumpeter Chris Botti's In Boston live set, didn't blow me away, but I'm not in love with those speakers. The overall system had no problem reaching ear-splitting levels, and the built-in BeoLab 10 had no problem hanging with the 5s and 9s. That said, the picture looked great: Botti's tux was sharp in all senses of the word, the bassist's deviations from Simandl technique on upright were rendered in stark clarity, and Steven Tyler's wardrobe was reproduced in all of the frightening glory he probably intended.

Glasses-bandoThe massive, anodized aluminum–encased set - all 359.6 pounds of it - rests on a similarly massive motorized stand (the whole package weighs just north of a half ton), which raises and lowers the screen from a floorbound rest position and conceals an integrated BeoSound 10 center-channel speaker, which emerges gracefully from beneath the screen as the motor lifts the set to viewing height. The stand also allows 20° of pan in either direction, and 4° tilt forward or backwarded (you can also order the BeoVision in a wall-mount configuration, but you'll have to give up the motorized adjustability). The actuators used have built-in sensors that automatically stop the stand from parking should they encounter an obstacle, preventing you from crushing an unwary guest's foot. Active-shutter glasses aren't included, but you can buy as many as you like through Bang & Olufsen at $149 each.

Plasma displays, as product manager David Zapfel pointed out, fade with age; not an issue, necessarily, for a commodity consumer item, but a significant issue for an $85K investment (unless you happen to be the sort of consumer who's buying a set just to entertain your stable of lap giraffes) To offset the aging process, B&O's Automatic Colour Management system is included: a tiny camera-bearing robotic arm, concealed above the center of the screen, emerges every 100 hours of use to calibrate the device. No user input is required (though you can run the routine as often as you like) Estimated lifespan with the use of the system is in excess of 60,000 hours.

Remote Either way, you can't just head over to your local Bang & Olufsen dealer and walk out with a new set. Purchasing requires a visit from the B&O custom install team, who'll carry out an assessment of the structural strength of your floor and walls; following the visit you'll go over a multi-page checklist with them detailing the installation options. The set comes in your choice of colors from the company's finish palette - silver, black, red, blue, dark grey, or gold (with matching remote, of course) - since if you're forking over this kind of cash, you want it to match your couch and curtains. Installation requires experts - read piano movers - but any of B&O's 50 US showrooms can arrange and manage the process.

If 85" isn't big enough for you, Nielsen promises a 3D update for the company's BeoVision 4-103 by early summer. Yes, that's 103" - too big to make it into standard elevators (the 85" just fits), so you may want to hire a chopper to have it airlifted to your penthouse.

- Michael Berk