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Ghosts in the Machine

A Look at Technologies Driving New Iterations of AV Processors and Receivers

For integrators with clients who want to take their systems to the next level, AV processors—the neartwin of the AV receiver, give or take a few bells and whistles—is a great step toward increasing the sound and visual quality of their home theater

Marantz’s AV8003 Networking AV Processor includes all of the latest audio sources, an FM/AM/satellite radio tuner, and streams audio, video, and photos from a computer or NAS (network-attached storage) device to a home theater system. installations.

“For audio and video enthusiasts looking to get the best performance out of their home theater, the AV processor is one of the most critical components in the entire home theater,” noted Jack Shafton, Anthem’s director of sales and marketing. “If your main priority is performance, you are not going to leave video scaling and transcoding to a more limited internal device. An external, dedicated AV processor like ours provides much more functionality and performance.”

Whether it is an AV receiver or processor that your client yearns for, advance features matter, and manufacturers are pedaling fast to keep up with changing tastes.

Shafton’s point is borne out in the latest technological additions to turn up on AV processors in the past year alone. Beyond surround sound and basic video processing, HDMI connectivity, Blu-ray, and the rise of Internet media and computer networking have heavily influenced what features that newer AV processors and receivers incorporate.

“Now that the industry and the consumer has given the nod to Blu-ray, it is especially important that our products take full advantage of the capabilities of the new format,” said Kevin Zarow, vice president, marketing and product development for Marantz. “By incorporating HDMI 1.3 and the new high-resolution audio formats, such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio, the consumer can finally realize

Canada’s SimAudio has created the flagship MOON CP-8 that includes 7.1 channels with up-to-date HD audio and video decoding. the improved sound and picture quality that was promised when they stepped into the world of HD.”

Marantz’s AV8003, labeled a “networking AV processor,” is one embodiment of the progress Zarow noted. In addition to its ability to decode all of the latest audio algorithms (Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, etc.), its integration of an AM/FM/satellite radio tuner, and the M-DAX (Marantz Dynamic Audio Expander) that recreates the missing high frequency to improve the sound of MP3s, the AV8003 also streams audio, video, and photos from a computer or NAS (networkattached storage) device—via its rear panel Ethernet port—to a home theater system.

This not only seems like a logical step in wholehouse connectivity, but also an inevitable one with the rise of Internet and digitally driven media, and like Marantz, Denon has been paying attention. “In the past year we have really started to focus on the AV processor being the center of the networked home, allowing access to a host of media that was once confined to a PC or portable media player,” said Jeff Talmadge, director of product development and systems integration for Denon. “Internet radio, Rhapsody, audio and photo streaming, as well as those devices most associated with home theater, DVD and game consoles; integrated and controlled by a central device. This is the future of home theater and whole-house

Anthem’s AVM 50v features improved processing capabilities, additional HDMI inputs and the heralded Anthem Room Correction (ARC-1) system. entertainment.”

The force with which HDMI has hit the AV market cannot be underestimated. It’s rapid adoption over the course of the last seven years has been integral in the improvement of data transfer speeds and has led to vast improvements in audio and video connectivity, including the development and performance of high-definition components.

“We have also been aware that retailers and consumers would place extra emphasis and buzz for the conveniences that HDMI offers,” noted David Bale, audio marketing manager for Pioneer Electronics USA. “This has been no easy task as technologies as sophisticated as HDMI typically ‘trickle down’ from our higher-end models, based on economies of scale, cost, and a much slower consumer adoption rate; HDMI has been a bit of an exception to this rule.”

While it has paved the way for audio processes such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio to become standard on any AV receiver

Denon’s AVP-A1HDCI taps into networking possibilities with built-in Ethernet and Wi-Fi that gives access to music, photos, and Internet radio stations. or processor worth its salt, the influence of HDMI has led to the futureproofing of these components, including the anticipated utilization of Deep Color (for which there is no content available to demonstrate its ability to vividly expand a displays colors from millions to billions), greater, mind-blowing transfer speeds, and new HD lossless audio formats in the making.

Speaking of Dolby and DTS, each was at the International Consumer Electronics Show last month to highlight its audio innovations. Dolby’s newer offerings include Dolby Volume, which controls volume levels across television channels and AV sources, and Dolby Pro Logic IIz, its newest matrix decoding technology designed to “add new dimension and spaciousness to home entertainment systems.”

Dolby Pro Logic IIz utilizes front height channels to create three-dimensional effects for a 7.1-or a 9.1-channel listening experience and is backwards compatible with Dolby Pro Logic IIx technology. The technology was shown off at CES in a prototype 7.1 AV receiver from Onkyo. The company’s popular lossless compression technology, Dolby TrueHD, which has seen integration in a host of AV receivers and processors, also got an airing, and is said to deliver up to 7.1 channels of surround sound and betterthan-DVD sound quality.

DTS also designs audio codecs for home theater components. Among the most recognized of these is the aforementioned DTS HD Master Audio, which includes speaker remapping. According to the company, sophisticated algorithms are used to electronically “re-position” speakers to get the best possible sound quality without having to augment the current speaker set up. All AV receivers, including the latest models from Sony, Denon, Marantz, and others, that feature the codec require that one of two come layout types be plugged into the receivers setup menu, and the algorithm does the rest.

THX rounds out the triumvirate of respected audio technology companies with its cache of technologies, including THX Re-EQ, which re-establishes the accurate tonal balance of cinema speakers within home theater speakers, and THX Ultra2 Plus, which aims to place the viewer in the middle of the surround sound playback of a film.

You can’t talk about AV processors without mentioning Faroudja. The integration of Faroudja DCDi (Directional Correlation Deinterlacing) technology into a unit means the elimination of image artifacts when a processor upconverts video by identifying all the moving edges in a scene and adjusting the angle of interpolation at each pixel so that the interpolation always follows the edge instead of crossing it. Having won an Emmy Award seven years ago, the technology has become something of a standard in many high-end AV receivers and processors, but it has its competitors including Silicon Optix HQV processing, which has been integrated into some of Denon’s and Integra’s latest processors.

Sound and video calibration is something of a science, and manufacturers have been trying for years to give installers an easy way to tweak these two elements. “The emergence of HD formats and advanced room correction systems like ARC [Anthem Room Correction] enable AV processors to do far more to improve audio performance than ever before,” noted Anthem’s Shafton, referring to the company’s room equalization system. ARC,

Integra ‘s DHC-9.9 preamp-processor is the first of its kind to utilize Imaging Science Foundation Fccc-certification to allow calibration of video signals. which aims to “correct the effects of a room’s boundaries and reflective surfaces on sound quality,” is now available in the company’s AVM40 and AVM50 AV processors.

While Anthem Audio chose the proprietary route, several manufacturers, including Integra, SimAudio, Denon, Onkyo, and Marantz, have turned to the relatively young audio signal processing company, Audyssey, and integrated its MultEQ technology into their units to handle audio distortion caused by room acoustics. The pro-grade feature promises room equalization within eight minutes and in three easy steps: (1) hook up the microphone, place it in the middle of the listening area, push a button, wait quietly while MultEQ pings each speaker with a special signal, (2) move the microphone to up to eight (32 in the Pro version) positions and wait for the speakers to be pinged again, and (3) MultEQ calculates a room correction solution for each

Pioneer’s Elite line of AV receivers include the SC-07, a 7.1 channel unit that features THX Ultra2 Plus certification. channel.

On the video calibration side, the Imaging Science Foundation, long in the game of calibrating displays, has taken the lead in setting guidelines and asserting standards for components that are linked to the latest HDTV screens. The company’s Certified Calibration Configuration (IFccc), which gives an IFC-certified technician access to a unit’s calibration menu to achieve optimal video quality, has been implemented for the first time in a pro AV processor: Integra’s DHC-9.9 Preamplifier/ Processor. Integra noted that “the use of these calibration functions, especially with HDMI, will result in simpler system configurations, reduced set-up time, and end-user systems offering optimal video performance while retaining the ease-of-use of HDMI switching.”

Llanor Alleyne ([email protected]) is managing editor of Residential Systems, based in New York City.