September 13, 2012

My AV Revival, The Building Blocks.

Let's face it, no matter how superb sounding our hifi can make music sound, I think sometimes we need some movies too. As you may have guess from the equipment list on my previous 5.1 AV set up, the system was sound performance biased. I admit that at the time, the sound sometimes gets bigger than the picture it self. However, given the prohibitive cost of good big screens at the time, the choice was obvious.

I decided to set up a more balanced 5.1 AV system this time, paying equal attention to sound and vision. The task is less daunting this time round, due to the falling prices of big screens, and the relative affordability of Blu-ray players now days, couple to the more mature HDMI hook up format, reducing cable needs dramatically.

As my AV ambitions are less demanding compared to my stereo aspirations, I decided to go the budget route, yet the AV system must not dominate the family lounge, but rather serves to gather the whole family together for weekend pop corn and movie sessions. The kids just love it!

The system component selection reflects my thinking, and must work with my existing Bose 5.1 speaker set up already installed previously, along with the Velodyne VX-10 sub woofer. The existing Bose 5.1 speakers comprises of the 301 Series II for front chanel pair, and VCS-30 surround and center chanel set. It's imperative that the AV receiver have enough power to rumble the Bose speakers!
Pioneer BDP-140 Blu-ray player

This Pioneer BDP-140 Blu-ray player will soon be replaced by the newer BDP-150 model. I am not sure at this point the specifications of the newer model, but it surely looks very similar to the BDP-140. This is the entry point for Pioneer Blu-ray players, but the picture and sound quality is anything but budget. The build is light weight, but like everything else from the Pioneer stables, it well screwed together and come with a remote of overly large button count, majority of which I'll probably never use. For playing DVDs, the BDP-140 has impressive picture up scaling quality, much to the surprise for many of my buddies who came to view my new AV set up. There are now quite a few Blu-ray players from other manufacturers priced below the sub RM$500/unit market, but I believe if you're serious about movies as much as I am, then the Pioneer BDP-140 is quite likely to be the minimum entry level, even if it's just paying a bit more for the extra quality. This player is not fussy about disc quality, and has so far only rejected two disc of the hundreds that I've fed it.
Denon AVR 1612 AV Receiver

The Denon AVR 1612 AV receiver is something of a dark horse, as I initially wanted the older AVR 1611 instead, because the older model had more power on specs. The newer AVR 1612, is a 5.1 chanel only receiver, but comes with Airplay function for Apple iPod users, which I've not used. The AVR 1612 also has Audyssey Multi EQ to make initial setting up a doodle, followed by further fine tuning for the 5.1 surround chanels. Again, the Denon is well built, if somewhat light weight, thanks to it's five chanel class D power modules coupled to linear power supplies, which means it runs supremely cool, even with the most demanding of movie sound tracks. What surprised me was the highly detailed, yet musical nature of the amplifier section when I played some 5.1 chanel decoded SACDs, fed by the Pioneer BDP-140 on HDMI 1.4 connection! The remote is again of the buttons overload variety, but comes with night reflective white buttons(which glows light green when in the dark) for those commonly used. I had one issue when setting up the Denon, is when I substituted the rather short(but rather thick) original power cord supplied, with one that was longer which I had previously used to power my PC, and the receiver struggled to cope with loud explosion scenes during movies. The sound was breaking up and pictures were jittery too. I believe the power current draw is high and a big bad(10AWG at least!) power cord would be needed to get maximum performance out of the AVR 1612. Oh... by the way, the KLIAV 2012 show just saw the launch of the Denon AVR 1613, which looks surprisingly similar too.
Samsung PN64D7000 Smart TV

I never really taught my budget would stretch this far, but a buddy on the up grade path made ownership of this Samsung PN64D7000 Smart TV possible. It's a pre-owned item, but well taken cared for and most importantly, it fit's my budget. It's a 64 inch plasma TV framed by rectangular glass at the seams design gives it a futuristic look. I must say this Smart TV does so many things, to the point that I sometimes feel it's smarter than me! Like for instance, Astro has an annoying habit of pumping up the volume during advertisements, that I always have to tone down the volume by remote when using my old TV. The Samsung Smart TV does exactly the same, but only automatically. The volume restores to it's original setting when the actual program continues after the commercials. Still on Astro programs, which I am using the oldest 1st generation Philips decoder(non HD subscription), yet the built in picture up sampling feature of the smart TV brings picture and sound quality bang up to the top. Again those whom have viewed my Astro program chanels were amazed that I am not subscribing to the HD chanels, based on what they've seen. The titanium satin finished remote is just as smart, as it's soft touch buttons lights up when one presses any button and the layout is rather intuitive. The smart TV also does 3D pictures with very vivid results, provided the optional active 3D glasses are used. I only have one 3D featured Blu-ray disc at my disposal so couldn't test more of the effects. My buddy has a habit of having all his displays, regardless if they are projector or screen based calibrated to ISF standards, which renders balanced tonal colours and very realistic flesh tones. Well calibrated ISF standard screens have an uncanny ability to render picture depth layerings and details with exceptional ease. Another thing to note is that one can sit relatively close(about 3 feet) to the screen, and still don't noticed the pixelated effects. The screen also has great blacks(in my opinion, second only to the once mighty Pionner Kuro screens) This makes movie marathon sessions possible, because the eyes do not suffer from fatique or stress. While at it, I noticed the screen runs only moderately warm, even after hours of use, which is a far cry compared to earlier generations of plasma screens. This Samsung Smart TV is the smartest move as far as high quality screen choice is concerned.

I proceeded to assemble the whole system and integrate the new components with the old Bose speakers. And the results?

Stay tuned to find out!

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