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Best Home Theater Products Of The Year - About.com - 2011

A lot great home theater products were intro'd in 2011 - Check out my favorites

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2011 was an interesting year for home theater. Despite the lackluster economy, the consumer electronics industry was fairly upbeat as a host of new and innovative products were introduced. Two of the big categories were the increase of internet-enabled devices as well as the continued penetration of 3D TVs. Pinning down the best products turned out to be very difficult. That being said, check out home theater products in a variety of categories and price ranges that I have chosen as my personal favorites for 2011.

1. Sharp Elite PRO-Z5FD Series LCD TVs

Photo of the Sharp Elite PRO-Z5FD Series LCD TVs as shown at the 2011 CEDIA EXPO
Photo (c) Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
I had a chance to review several TVs, as well as getting some extended time checking out TVs at trade shows, and the one TV that impressed me the most was the new Sharp Elite Series LCD TV. This new TV series is the result of a partnership between Sharp and Pioneer to resurrect the engineering advances Pioneer had made in its former, much celebrated, but now discontinued, Pioneer Elite Kuro Plasma TVs, and bring that to the LCD platform.

Based on the opportunity I had to get an extensive look at the Sharp Elite Series during the 2011 CEDIA Expo, the product has definitely succeeded on several fronts. First off, the new Sharp Elite has the most impressive black levels I have seen on any LCD up to this point, and easily rivals most Plasma TVs I have seen, which traditionally out-pace LCD in this area.

Next is color rendition. The new Sharp Elite incorporates Sharp's Quattron 4-color technology (although the Quattron moniker is not used), where it really provides extra brilliance, especially with bright objects. Add 3D, internet streaming, and stylish design, this TV is a real head-turner. For more details, check out my previous report.

However, the price to obtain this performance in an LCD TV definitely requires some extra cash. The 60-inch PRO-60X5FD has a suggested price of 5,999.99, while the 70-inch PRO-70X5FD has a suggested price of $8,499.99. The sets are available via authorized dealers. Sharp Elite Product Page

2. OPPO Digital BDP-93 3D/Network Blu-ray Player

OPPO Digital BDP-93 Blu-ray Disc Player - Dual View
Photo (c) Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
There are a lot of Blu-ray Disc players on store shelves, but you won't find my top Blu-ray Disc player pick for 2011 at your local dealer, however, you can find it online directly from the manufacturer (OPPO Digital) or from authorized online sellers. It is definitely worth checking out.

The OPPO Digital BDP-93 is a 3D/Network Blu-ray Player that features 2D/3D Blu-ray Disc playback, SACD/DVD-Audio Disc playback, and compatibility with a host of other formats. The BDP-93 also features a Marvell QDEO Kyoti-G2 88DE2750 upscaling chip which provides excellent quality DVD playback. In addition, the BDP93 features NetStreaming from services such as Netflix and Blockbuster and can also access content from connected USB Flash, eSATA drives, or from a network-connected PC.

One important feature that is also included is Dual HDMI outputs. This enables the connection of one HDMI output directly to a 3D-TV, while the second HDMI output can connect to another 2D or 3D compatible display or to supply a separate audio signal to a non-3D compatible HDMI-equipped home theater receiver. To find out more, check out my Review, Photo Profile and Video Performance Test Results.

3. Panasonic TC-P50GT30 3D/Network Plasma TV

Panasonic TC-P50GT30 3D Network Plasma TV - Photo of Front View
Photos (c) Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
Although the Sharp Elite was the most impressive TV I saw this year, I had a chance to review the Panasonic TC-P50GT30 and also wanted to include it in my year-end list in the Plasma TV category. Featuring a 50-inch screen, the TC-P50GT30 can display 2D/3D images from Blu-ray, TV broadcast, cable, or satellite TV sources.

In addition, this set incorporates network media player capabilities, which allows direct access to both PC-based and online streaming audio/video content via wired or wireless internet connection. With the addition of a compatible accessory webcam, you can even make Skype video phone calls.

Getting back to the basics, the TC-P50GT30 has a 1920x1080 (1080p) native pixel resolution, 600Hz Sub Field Drive, 4 HDMI inputs, and a two side mounted USB ports for accessing audio, video, and still image files stored on flash drives. For more details, check out my Review, Photo Profile, and a sampling of Video Performance Tests.

This set also comes in three larger screen sizes - Compare Prices for the: 55-inch TC-P55GT30, 60-inch TC-P60GT30, and 65-inch TC-P65GT30.

4. LG 55LW9800 Passive Glasses THX-Certified 3D LCD TV

LG 55LW9800 Passive Glasses THX-Certified 3D LCD TV
Photo Courtesy of Pricegrabber
3D has been hyped (or over-hyped - depending on your perspective), over the past two years, but this year, another approach to viewing 3D on a TV has been introduced that is less expensive for consumers, and the LG 55LW9800 is the best example of this approach.

Debuting at this past 2011 CEDIA EXPO, the 55-inch LG 55LW9800 is a THX-certified 3D LCD TV that uses passive 3D glasses. Incorporating LG's FPR 3D system, full array LED backlighting, and 480Hz screen refresh rate, the 55LW9800 provides excellent image quality for 3D, considering the use of passive glasses. LG is definitely to be commended for providing another option for consumers to enjoy 3D, but there is a trade-off.

On the positive side, the glasses are more comfortable, less expensive, require no power, and the TV come four pairs of 3D glasses, rather than requiring an optional purchase (although you can buy more). In fact, you can use the same RealD glasses that are used in many 3D-equipped movie theaters.

However, there is a loss of video resolution when switching from 2D to 3D (although this is an issue that is being hotly debated between the active and passive proponents), as well as visible horizontal lines and some jaggie artifacts that may be noticeable if you sit too close.

On the other hand, in addition to 3D, the LG 55LW9800 also incorporates Smart TV functions, with the ability to access a variety of network and internet-based content, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, and MOG.
Read My Previous Report - Official Product Page

5. KEF T205 Home Theater Speaker System

KEF T205 Home Theater Speaker System - Front View - Grills On
Photo (c) Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
There are literally thousands of speakers and speaker systems on the market, making it impossible for a single reviewer to listen and provide an authoritative opinion each one. However, I do get a chance to check out a lot of speaker systems during the year, and the KEF T205 is one that really deserves a spot on this list. With the T series, KEF demonstrates that they can present speakers with great style without sacrificing sound quality.

The T205 combines extremely flat and slim main and surround speakers with a slim profile compact subwoofer. The speakers in the T205 system can be either table or wall mounted, and are a great match for wall mounted LCD and Plasma TVs.
Review - Photo Profile - Compare Prices

6. Aperion Intimus 4T Summit Wireless 5.1 Speaker System

Aperion Intimus 4T Summit Wireless 5.1 Speaker System
Photos (c) Aperion Audio
Although the KEF T205 was my favorite speaker system I heard this year, I want to also give a shout-out to Aperion Audio for finally getting their long-awaited Intimus 4T Summit Wireless Speaker System to market. I have had a chance to hear these speakers several times during their development stage and they sound great. However, it isn't just the sound that makes them worth considering, but the fact that they are wireless.

The main problem with wireless speakers up to this point is that they are confined mostly to either low-powered AC or battery-operated speakers for portable use, or in modest home-theater-in-a-box systems that are really not suitable for a higher-end home theater environment.

To meet this challenge, Aperion Audio and Summit Wireless have teamed up on both a 5.1 and 7.1 channel wireless speaker system that meets the needs for full home theater application. For all the details, read my overview of the new Aperion Intimus 4T Summit Wireless 5.1 Speaker System.
Note: As of 2013, this product has been discontinued.

7. Optoma HD33 3D DLP Video Projector

Optoma HD33 3D DLP Video Projector - Front View
Photo (c) Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
Although LCD and Plasma TVs get all the hype, the video projector market has exploded in the past few years with an increasing number of a affordable units that actually deliver pretty good performance.

I saw several great video projectors throughout 2011, and have chosen the Optoma HD33 as my choice for the annual best-of-the-year list. For its modest $1,500 suggested price - this projector really delivers.

The HD33 provides 2D and 3D viewing utilizing DLP technology, supported by 1920x1080 (1080p) native pixel resolution, 120Hz refresh rate, and up to 1,800 lumen output capability. The HD33 also provides an easy-to-use plug-in RF 3D synch transmitter (each pair of 3D glasses requires a separate purchase). 2D and 3D image quality is great, especially when projected on a large screen.

However, even if you aren't a fan of 3D, or you want to wait before investing in the glasses, the HD33 projects great 2D images as well. Whether jumping into video projection for the first time, or replacing and older projector, consider the Optoma HD33.
Review - Photo Profile - Video Performance Test Results - Compare Prices.

8. Anthem MRX700 7.1 Channel Home Theater Receiver

Anthem MRX700 7.1 Channel Home Theater Receiver - Photo of Front View with Accesssories
Photo (c) Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
Home Theater Receivers have the task of tying your home theater system together. They provide the central connection and routing for all your source components, as well as your speakers, TV, and/or video projector. In fact, increasingly, a growing number of home theater receivers also incorporate internet and network streaming functions. So, which receiver was the best of 2011? Needless to say, it was a tough choice, so I decided to choose two - one high-end unit and one mid-range unit.

On the higher-end of the home theater receiver spectrum, the best overall unit I had the chance to check out this year was the Anthem MRX700.

The Anthem MRX700 Home Theater Receiver everything you need in a high-end dedicated home theater receiver, starting with sturdy build-quality, beefy power supply, and a well-laid out connection panel. However, even if you are a novice, the MRX700 is as easy to setup and operate as many lesser-expensive units.

The MRX700 offers 7 channels of amplification that deliver real power that doesn't depend on inflated ratings to get your attention as well as excellent audio and video processing performance for your home theater setup. With HDMI 3D pass-through, analog to HDMI video conversion and 1080p upscaling, Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, Internet Radio, iPod connectivity, and Anthem's own room correction and speaker setup system, the MRX700 is definitely worth consideration. To find out if the Anthem MRX700 is the right Home Theater Receiver for you, read my Review, and also check out my supplementary Photo Profile and Video Performance Tests.

9. Onkyo TX-NR709 Home Theater Receiver

Onkyo TX-NR709 Home Theater Receiver - Photo of front and rear views with remote
Photo (c) Onkyo USA
What puts the TX-NR709 in the spotlight for 2011 is that it packs more than you would expect for the price. For starters, the TX-NR709 is THX Select2 Plus Certified and features 7 channels of amplification (110 Watts per channel at .08% THD) plus outputs for up to 2 powered subwoofers. Audio decoding and processing is provided for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as both Dolby Pro Logic IIz and Audyssey DSX processing. The TX-NR709 also has everything you need for video, including eight 3D-compatible HDMI inputs with up to 4K upscaling (provided you have a 4K display) using Marvell QDEO processing. Extra bonuses also include a PC monitor input, iPod/iPhone connectivity, Internet Radio, and two subwoofer outputs. For more details, check out my Onkyo TX-NR709 Product Profile.

10. Western Digital WD TV Live Streaming Media Player

WD TV Live Streaming Media Player - Photo of Front View with Included Accessories
Photo (c) Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
The internet has staked its place in the home theater landscape by bringing TV, movie, and music content from a variety of providers. However, to bring this content to your home theater, you need a TV, Blu-ray Disc player, or other device to reach out, get it, and stream it to you. The Western Digital WD TV Live is a network media player does just that, and more, making my choice for best Network Media Player for 2011.

The WD TV Live provides access to audio, video, and still image files from your home network. The WD TV Live features convenient WiFi connectivity that allows it to stream content from HuluPlus, Netflix, Spotify, Blockbuster On Demand, CinemaNow, and Pandora, as well as being able to access digital media content stored on PCs and media servers, for viewing on your TV or listening on your home theater system. In addition, the WD TV Live also provides 1080p video output resolution via HDMI connection. To find out if the WD TV Live would make a good addition to your home entertainment setup, read my Review and supplementary Photo Profile.

11. ThinkFlood RedEye Remote Control System

ThinkFlood RedEye Android App Screen Shots
Photo (c) ThinkFlood
2011 is the year when even iPhones and Android Phones have made major inroads into home theater. In addition to audio, video, and photo content, these phones can also be used as an easy-to-use remote control for your home theater system components. One of the most impressive examples of how this works is the RedEye Remote Control System from ThinkFlood,.

The system works with an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPod or Android phone in combination with with a downloadable iPhone app or Android App. The app is free with the purchase of either a RedEye or RedEye mini.

After the downloadable app is installed on either an iPhone or Android phone, the phones send remote control signals either via WiFi to the RedEye station, or via direct plug-in to the RedEye mini. The RedEye station and Mini then send standard IR signals to the devices that are to be controlled. The app enables control of devices individually or as group using an "activity" function (such as turning on your TV and home theater receiver when you want to play a Blu-ray Disc). Also included in the app is access to a real-time online program guide. To support the Red Eye system, an extensive online database provides remote control codes for thousands of devices. The RedEye staton also doubles as a charger/AC adapter for your phone.

If you have an iPhone or Android phone, this is definitely an app and remote control system to check out.

Download the iPhone or Android App.

NOTE: As of 2013, ThinkFlood is no longer in business. More information can be accessed on their Website.

12. Ben-Hur: 50th Anniversary Limited Edition - Blu-ray Disc

Ben-Hur: Limited Edition Blu-ray Disc Package
Photo (c) Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
All those home theater gadgets don't do you any good unless you have something to watch and/or listen on them. In fact, there is a lot of content available, DVD, CDs, cable, internet, etc..., but nothing shows off a home theater system than a really good Blu-ray Disc movie. With that in mind, my pick for best Blu-ray Disc movie release for 2011 is Ben Hur.

Warner Brothers has done an excellent job of both transferring this film to Blu-ray and packaging it with a excellent collection of supplements. Due to its long 226 minute running time, the film is spread across two Blu-ray Disc and is presented in its original 2.76:1 aspect ratio, which means you will see black bars on the top and bottom of the image. However, it is important that the film is viewed in its wide aspect ratio get the full impact of the epic scope of this film.

The color, detail, and sound quality are superb, despite the film's 50-plus year age.
Review - Compare Prices.

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