Pioneer Elite VSX-49TX THX Ultra2 Receiver Page 5

The remote is customizable in all kinds of useful ways, but I'm of two minds about it. On one hand, it's clear, self-prompting, and easy to use with the supplied stylus. On the other, you have to select among multiple LCD "pages" to find the one for the component you want to control, which is an irritation when, say, all you want to do is quickly pause a DVD and tune in Car Talk on the radio. Still, its macro capabilities can cover many of your routine control needs, and you can rearrange the soft keys and relabel them with helpful names (up to 12 characters) to keep track of which does what.

Though several of the VSX-49TX's proprietary DSP modes, dubbed Advanced Cinema/Concert, were serviceable, none of them exactly rocked my world. Long-term, I believe I would end up using Dolby Pro Logic II's Music or Cinema mode for most or all non-5.1 programs, usually with the THX enhancements engaged. The receiver also incorporates Pioneer's multichannel Digital Noise Reduction, which might occasionally be useful with truly noisy sources, and a reduced-dynamics Midnight mode for low-volume listening that works on all sources, in all surround modes, not just Dolby Digital.

In sum, Pioneer's latest no-holds-barred digital surround receiver is fully able to compete with the multikilobuck, cost-be-damned designs from the other big-name brands. In fact, as the first flagship receiver to be certified as THX Ultra2, it has a bit of an edge (though it could be said that Ultra2 follows high-end trends more than it sets them). Either way, this is one hell of a receiver. If you have four grand or so to spend on a home theater control center, your choice just got harder.