Reviewer's Choice Awards Page 3

Panasonic DVD-RP91 DVD-Audio/Video Player (original review, September, "DVD in the Fast Lane") They say a dog is a man's best friend, but a DVD player has to run a close second. So if you're in the market for one, pay the extra money for a player that leads the pack. With its DVD-Audio and DVD-RAM playback, MP3 decoding, progressive-scan output with 2:3 pulldown (so video derived from film will look its best), Panasonic's DVD-RP91 ($800) can easily become your new best friend. What matters most about this player is its stunning video performance. Well-mastered DVDs look fantastic, and if the video transfer isn't so hot, you can use the player's video-adjustment menu to touch things up. Watching standard 4:3 aspect ratio DVDs on a widescreen HDTV monitor isn't a problem in progressive-scan mode - an aspect ratio control ensures that they're displayed without any of that annoying horizontal stretching. Move over, Bowser, and make room for the DVD-RP91. Panasonic USA, 800-222-4213 - Al Griffin

Boston Acoustics VR Series Home Theater Speaker System (original review, May) The Boston Acoustics VR Series 6.1-channel speaker array ($3,429) impressed me mightily with its smooth, well-balanced sound, powerful dynamics, and unrestricted range. In other words, it could play loud as hell without serious limitations. The ultra-slim VR975 power towers displayed the kind of vocal nuance, bass punch, and clean upper end I usually hear from high-end speakers that cost substantially more. (Their dramatic good looks don't hurt, either.) The midrange from the VR920 center speaker was almost as good, and - thanks to its true three-way layout - the sound didn't change much as I moved away from the sweet spot. The quasi-dipolar VR-MX surrounds and the bipolar VR-M/EX back surround can provide a pleasingly diffuse sound field for movies or, if you prefer, a more directional effect for music. If any speaker system costing nearly $3,500 can be called a tremendous value, this one can. Boston Acoustics -, 978-538-5000 - Daniel Kumin

Onkyo TX-DS696 Digital Surround Receiver (original review, July/August 2001) The TX-DS696 receiver ($830) would be worth your money just for Onkyo's usual strong multichannel amplifier performance, well-designed remote control, and accurate, noise-free Dolby Digital and DTS playback. But it also features the first implementation of Dolby Labs' Pro Logic II Music and Movie processing, which produced impressive 5.1-channel playback from an unexpectedly broad range of stereo music recordings as well as stereo and Dolby Surround movie soundtracks. The TX-DS696 lacks decoding for 6.1-channel Dolby Digital Surround EX and DTS-ES soundtracks and amplification for one or two back surround speakers. I suspect, though, that the number of people ready to add extra speakers to their setups is still relatively small. For everyone with 5.1-channel playback firmly in mind, Onkyo has delivered an excellent receiver at a fair price. Onkyo USA -, 800-229-1687 - Daniel Kumin

Dell Digital Audio Receiver (original review, January, "The PC/Stereo Connection") What?!? A computer peripheral receiving an esteemed Reviewer's Choice Award? What's the audio world coming to? Well, actually, the audio world is coming to join the computer world. Convergence is alive and well, and the Dell Digital Audio Receiver is a prime example of just how satisfying this marriage is going to be. It connects to your PC via an Ethernet or HomePNA local area network (LAN) and selects, decodes, and plays MP3 or WMA music files residing on your computer's hard drive. In other words, your computer provides the music while the receiver provides remote access and playback over speakers or headphones. Sure, at low bit rates, MP3 files won't win any fidelity awards. But the receiver's fast LAN connections can handle transmission of even high bit-rate files, so you can enjoy CD-quality music anywhere in your home. What?!? Your home doesn't have a LAN? Please - get with the program! Sonicblue -, 408-588-8000 - Ken C. Pohlmann [Dell no longer sells the receiver, but the same product, with different styling, is available from Sonicblue as the Rio Digital Audio Receiver, $299 with netword card, $249 without. - Ed.]