43 inches – I think I got away with it

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As promised, a review of my new AV setup. Well, partially new. I decided to retain the old Denon DVD Receiver just as a DVD player for now, and there certainly isn’t any point in updating the indestructible Panasonic VCR. But I wanted a new screen, an internet source, and (after much nagging from Mrs R, once she’d seen what was available) a speaker set which didn’t involve five boxes and a lot of cable.

For the screen, the forums told me that I could probably get away with something as large as a 43-inch, but that anything larger in a room four or five metres across would run the risk of being too large (in that you’d start to see the imperfections in the picture). When I started to do the research, the same product came up again and again and again: the Pioneer PDP-436, and in particular, the Pioneer PDP-436XDE version. It had everything: top performance, the ability to have it without useless speakers spoiling its lines, and a separate control box, reducing the cabling which would have to go to the screen.

In review, I’d say the screen totally lives up to its billing. It took a bit of setting up, and I was totally indebted to the fantastic Pioneer PDP Plasma Frequently Asked Questions at AVforums thread, contributors to which I will gladly buy a beer anytime. From there I learned of the importance of running it in (not mentioned by the manufacturer or the dealer), and the compatibility problems with the Sky HD box (only since acknowledged by Pioneer, and apparently unknown to the dealer at the time). All problems were solved, and after mounting the panel at the correct height (eye level when you’re sitting down, people!), it has a resounding wow factor. We got the electrician to put a power socket on the wall behind the screen, leaving just a single HDMI cable to bury in the plasterboard. Look Mum, no wires!

As mentioned earlier, the new AV setup meant that it was out with my treasured Mission 5-speaker system, and in with a more suitable “one box” alternative: the Yamaha YSP-1000. I needed some convincing, even after reading the reviews, but it didn’t take long to realise that this is the way ahead. The technology involved in simulating rear speakers is fascinating (it was developed here in Cambridge!) and more to the point, it works. People turn to face the rear wall and look puzzled: just where are those hidden speakers? You don’t get a better sound from the one box than you would from a 5-speaker system, but you do get a level of neatness which I’d never have expected to see – very important in a domestic environment!

Two more items to mention: I added a Mac Mini to give us internet access. It’s rather cool to have DVD on input 1, Sky TV on input 2, VCR on input 3, and the internet on input 4. It’s probably been more of a talking point than any other part of the system really, and I’ll do a separate blog entry about this. Finally, I managed to keep the enthusiasm going for one last piece of research: a universal remote control. I’ve not always been sold on these, because you end up pressing so many buttons changing them from acting as one remote control to another, it’s easier to use the pile of dedicated devices. But the Logitech Harmony 880 takes a different approach, where you set soft buttons to represent “activities”, such as “turn the TV on” …which would turn on the screen, the speaker/amp and the Sky box all in one. It isn’t perfect, but you can gradually tweak the settings, and after a few iterations I’m nearly there. It’s definitely an improvement on several remote controls, although not perfect.

And Mrs R did make a contribution to the system, to ensure it wasn’t an all-boys’ affair: the rather nice black acrylic unit, which came from John Lewis. Perfect in every way, I’d say. Typical.

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