ISF, Speakers, TVs

Is it wise to evaluate ISF technicians when it comes to the calibration of a mid-priced plasma or LCD? I live in downtown Denver, and there are so many techs listed on the ISF site, I cannot find much insight there.

I will be buying my gear from Ultimate Electronics here in town, and they offer a calibration service, though at $300, it seems a bit pricier than I remember. Reading about the number of judgment calls required to get good results during calibration in some of your reviews prompted this inquiry.

Isaac Bouchard

You are correct that TV calibration involves a few judgment calls, so trying to ascertain the skill of a particular technician could be important. On the other hand, much of the process is objective, and anyone with an ISF or THX certification has met certain criteria in terms of knowledge and judgment, so I would be relatively confident of anyone with either of those certifications. And $300 for a full grayscale calibration is actually quite reasonable these days—I've seen fees as high as $500. If the Ultimate Electronics tech is ISF or THX certified, I'd probably go with them because they are more likely to know the ins and outs of the specific products they sell.

Speaker Shopping
I'm looking for a 5.1 speaker system to add to my Samsung 40-inch LCD TV and Sony STR-DG820 A/V receiver. Preferably, I'd like to stay under $1000. Most of the systems I see are HTIBs and usually include an upscaling DVD player and/or receiver. I already have a receiver and a Sony PlayStation 3 to play DVDs and Blu-ray.

The two main options I've focused on are the Aperion Intimus 4B Harmony SD system or the Klipsch Synergy Quintet III system with a Klipsch Synergy SUB-10 subwoofer. Which of these systems would you recommend, or is there another product that would be better?

Chris Prokopiak

We haven't reviewed either of these systems, but Ultimate AV reviewed the Aperion Intimus 5B system, and reviewer Steve Guttenberg liked it a lot. In that review, he said that the 4B system gives you 80 percent of the 5B's performance for half the price. Klipsch also makes great speaker systems, such as the HD Theater 500 for only $600, though reviewer Mark Fleischmann was unimpressed with the subwoofer.

Other good speaker systems in the slightly over-$1000 range include the PSB Alpha B1 and Mordaunt-Short Alumni. My personal choices among these would be the Aperion, PSB, and Mordaunt-Short.

Go Bigger
I'm in the market for a 1080p plasma or LCD TV between 50 and 55 inches; my preference would be plasma. A Blu-ray player will have an HDMI connection to the TV for watching Blu-ray and DVD movies. The TV will not have any connection to either cable or satellite; it will be used strictly for movie watching. What would you suggest for a budget of $3000-$4000?

Also, if I'll be watching mostly Blu-ray and DVD movies on a good-quality Blu-ray player (e.g., Pioneer BDP-320 or Panasonic DMP-BD60), what specs really matter?

By the way, the living room is 12x14 feet and the viewing distance to the TV will be about 10 feet.

Antonio Giaccio

At a seating distance of 10 feet, you could go even larger to 60 or 65 inches. I agree that plasma will generally provide a better picture. You can probably still find a 60-inch Pioneer Kuro plasma within your budget—on Amazon, for example, I recently saw the PDP-6020FD 60-incher for $3700 (it was $5500 list). I must add that I've seen a lot of complaints about Pioneer plasmas buzzing audibly, but I've never experienced this myself during reviews.

As for a Blu-ray player, one of the specs that matters to me is the ability to internally decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD to PCM and send that via HDMI to the A/V receiver. Another is an Ethernet port that lets you update the firmware online. I don't care about multichannel analog outputs or BD-Live, though that is pretty standard these days. In my experience, Pioneer Blu-ray players have been frustratingly slow, while Panasonic players are very highly regarded.

If you have a home-theater question, please send it to

Richard Reid's picture

We admire the Sony XBR8 LCD with its LED backlight and deep blacks and lower power consumption, but we keep reading about viewing angle limits with LCDs. Just moving one seat cushion to the left or right of screen center, and the color, brightness, and contrast are diminished. This viewing angle limitation inclines us toward Pioneer or to the new Panasonic plasmas due this year. Are LCDs that bad in this respect? Is there any prospect of newer LCDs with a viewing angle equivalent to that of plasmas?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

I find the off-axis performance of virtually all LCDs to be problematic, though one seat cushion to the left or right of dead center shouldn't be too bad. But if you routinely have several people watching the TV, those to the sides will have a much less satisfying viewing experience than those in the center. This is one reason I prefer plasma over LCD. (Another reason—black level—is effectively mitigated by LED backlighting with local dimming, though these sets have a few problems of their own, such as losing tiny bright details like stars on an otherwise dark background.) I see little chance that LCDs will match plasmas in viewing-angle performance in the foreseeable future.

Kim F's picture

-> Isaac If you need a TV calibrated in Denver, do a quick search for Doug Blackburn. Besides being certified by THX and ISF, he's a respected professional in the calibration community, and lives in Denver.[I have absolutely no affiliation with Doug, I just respect his work]

Jarod's picture

Antonio, I have a Pioneer Kuro PDP-5020FD, which is basically exactly the same as the 6020 except that its a 50in and not a 60in, and it does not have the buzzing that some people have experienced. I know many people who have the same set and they also don't experience the buzzing. I love my Kuro in every way and the picutre quality is amazing! Do as what Scott has said and get a PDP-6020FD from You will not regret it.

Russell Pettit's picture

I have a Sony KDS-R60XBR1 SXRD rear pro. , it is 4 years old. Last year I started to get purple colors in the shadows, when it is adjusted with DVE disc. I can get rid of them if I adjust the contrast or brightness down, but then everything is very dark. I have just purchased the OPPO BDP-83 and have used the Spears & Munsil disc to adjust the video. It now has blue colors in shadows. Is the bulb getting to week or is the iris not working correct. Thank you for any help you can offer. Russell