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Best Home Theater Products Of The Year - About.com - 2012

Check out what I thought was great in Home Theater for this past year


2012 was an interesting year for home theater. Despite the continued lackluster economy, and financial difficulty being experienced by some well-known consumer electronics companies, new products and innovations continue to be announced and introduced into the marketplace.

Having had a chance to get either and extended hands-on review opportunity, or extensive demonstration of home theater products in several categories during the past year, I have chosen my favorites for 2012.

1. The LG 84LM9600 and Sony XBR-84X900 84-inch 4K Ultra HD LED/LCD TVs

Sony XBR-84X900 (top) and LG 84LM9600 (bottom) 84-inch 4K UltraHD LED/LCD TVs
Photos provided by LG and Sony
Although there are only a couple of models available, there is not a significant amount of content, and the price is way beyond what most consumers have in their wallets, the big TV news this past year was the introduction of 4K Ultra HD TVs.

The LG became available in the U.S. market in late October, while the Sony has been on display at Sony stores and is available for pre-order for deliveries starting before the end of the year. You may be asking yourself, why the big deal about 4K Ultra HD, when most consumers are perfectly satisfied with either their current 720p or 1080p HDTVs and 3D is still in the process of getting establish in the marketplace.

It is all about progress towards the future, as TV screens get larger and larger (see my next entry on the Sharp 90-inch LED/LCD TV) and the need to provide a better 3D viewing experience, 4K ULtra HD provides a way to enhance both with four times the resolution of 1080p. As content delivery systems become available, more manufacturers get on board, and prices come down, 4K Ultra HD will become, in my opinion, a new standard in TV viewing.

For those reasons, I have picked both the LG 84LM9600 and Sony XBR-84X900 84-inch 4K Ultra HD LED/LCD TVs as my top home theater products of the year for 2012.
Official Product Page: LG 84LM9600
Official Product Page: Sony XBR-84X900

2. Sharp LC-90LE745U 90-inch LED/LCD TV

Official product image of the Sharp LC-90LE745U 90-inch LED/LCD TV.
Image provided by Sharp
OK, it's not 4K, but it is really big. With its 90-inch screen, the LC-90LE745U is the largest LCD TV available for consumers. However, even though this is a big set, it is only 5-inches thick (without the stand) and is a lightweight 140lbs. It also gets credit for being extremely energy efficient, with 150 watts (maximum 380 watts) of power consumption.

However that isn't all. Behind the screen this includes full array LED backlighting, 1080p native resolution, 120 Hz refresh rate, augmented with 240 Hz backlight scanning, and excellent contrast ratio.

Also, you can watch both 2D and 3D content. It also has full wired or wireless integrated network connectivity that provides access to internet streaming content, a full web browser, and even direct online tech support. You can even use the TV to make Skype video phone calls (camera required) - Now that's a really big videophone!

I couldn't ignore this TV in my home theater products of the year list, so here it is, at number two.
Official LC-90LE745U Product Page - Compare Prices

3. Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 5010e LCD Video Projector

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5010e Video Projector - Photo 0f Front View with Included Accessories
Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
A home theater isn't a real home theater without a video projector, and after checking out several this year, my favorite was the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5010e. The 5010e incorporates 3LCD technology, supported by 1920x1080 (1080p) native pixel resolution and a very bright maximum 2,400 Lumens output capability.

The 5010e offers several features that helped it garner a spot on this list. First off, its has a large center mounted lens, with a retractable lens cover that opens and closes automatically when the projector is powered on and off, a 3D viewing mode that also includes 2D-to-3D conversion, a Split Screen display that allows two sources to be shown at the same time on a screen, and the inclusion of a WirelessHD connection option for one HDMI source. Also, horizontal and vertical lens shift is included, in addition to the commonly available keystone correction function.

With its impressive light output, the projected images are bright for both 2D and 3D viewing, and can even be viewed in a semi-lit room.
Read Review - Product Photos - Video Performance Tests - Compare Prices for the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5010e

Also, this projector is available without the WirelessHD connection option as the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5010. Compare Prices

4. OPPO BDP-103 3D Network Blu-ray Disc Player

OPPO Digital BDP-103 Blu-ray Disc Player
Photo provided by Oppo Digital
I have picked two Blu-ray Disc players for inclusion my "product of the year" list for 2012, the OPPO BDP-103, and the Sony BDP-S790. Let's check out the OPPO unit first.

The BDP-103 features 2D/3D Blu-ray disc, DVD, SACD, DVD-Audio Disc, and CD playback. Also, with built-in network connectivity, can access media content from both the internet and DLNA-compatible connected PCs other devices.

This player certainly doesn't scrimp on connections, such as the inclusion of dual HDMI outputs, and a set of 5.1/7.1 channel analog audio outputs for use with compatible older home theater receivers that may not have Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD Master Audio decoders. This connection option has been removed from almost all other Blu-ray disc players available on the market.

There are also some added connections, such as the inclusion of 3 USB ports, allowing connection of multiple USB devices, such as a USB flash drive and USB WiFi network adapter at the same time.

Another added connection option is the inclusion of two HDMI inputs - that's right, inputs. No, BDP-103 is not a Blu-ray Disc recorder. The HDMI inputs are provided for connecting HDMI-equipped source components that can take advantage of the BDP-103's video processing and upscaling capabilities. One of the HDMI inputs is also MHL-enabled, allowing for connection of MHL-compatible portable devices (such as a smartphone).

If all that isn't enough the BDP-103 also provides 4K video upscaling.

I just recently got my hands a BDP-103 review unit, and can definitely say that this player lives up to the OPPO tradition.
Review - Photo Profile - Video Performance Test Results - Official Product Page - User Manual

5. Sony BDP-S790 3D Network Blu-ray Disc Player

Sony BDP-S790 3D and Network Blu-ray Disc Player - Front View with Included Accessories
Photo (c) Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
OK, I already revealed that my top Blu-ray Disc player released this year is the OPPO BDP-103. However, in my opinion, it has a strong contender, the Sony BDP-S790. Although it doesn't have quite the feature package as the OPPO (such as offering HDMI inputs or multi-channel analog audio outputs), it still comes through in terms of video and audio performance and also deserves to be included on my 2012 "products of the year" list.

The Sony BDP-S790 is a surprisingly slim and stylish Blu-ray Disc player that provides 2D and 3D Blu-ray Disc playback, as well as excellent 1080p video upscaling for standard DVDs and internet streamed content. In fact, if you have a 4K Ultra HD TV, the BDP-S790 can also upscale both Blu-ray and DVD discs to 4K. Another added feature are dual HDMI outputs for easier integration with non-3D compatible HDMI-equipped home theater receivers.

The Sony BDP-S790 also provides network media player functions, including the ability to access digital media content stored on USB flash drives, iPods, and PCs, as well as stream audio/video content from the internet (wia buit-in ethernet or wifi). With the purchase of an optional compatible webcam, you can even make Skype video phone calls.

Also, the BDP-S790 is about half the size and price of the OPPO BDP-103.
Review - Photo Profile - Video Performance Test Results - Compare Prices.

6. Anthony Gallo Classico Speaker System

Anthony Gallo Acoustics - Classico Series - 5.1 Channel Speaker System - Front View - Grills Off
Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
As part of my job, I listen to a lot of loudspeakers, and, frankly there are a lot really great speakers, some good speakers, and also, of course, some not-so-good speakers. In the great speaker department, it is really hard to choose with is absolutely the best as room size, acoustics, the audio source and processing equipment, our ability to hear, and our subjective preferences all play a part.

However, taking all that into consideration, and what I had to listen to, I felt that the Anthony Gallo Classico series speakers deserve a spot on my best of the year list.

The Anthony Gallo Classico Speaker System I reviewed featured the compact CL-2 bookshelf speakers, CL-C center channel speaker, and CLS-10 10-inch powered subwoofer. The Classico series may look like traditional "box-style" speakers, but they incorporate innovative technology that you won't find elsewhere in this form factor.

These speakers provide excellent performance across the entire frequency range, providing depth and detail that is perfect for both movie and music listening, and can definitely hold their own against of a lot of even higher-end speaker systems. If you are considering a speaker system in the $3,000 to $5,000 price range, you have to give these a listen before you buy something else.
Read Review - Product Photos.

7. Martin Logan Motion Vision Sound Bar

Martin Logan Motion Vision Sound Bar - Front View - Grill on and Off
Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
One type of product that has made a real splash in the home theater market the past couple of years is the Sound Bar. Of the several sound bars I had the opportunity to check out this year, the most impressive as the Martin Logan Motion Vision.

There are several things that make this sound bar special. First, there is a separate amplifier for each speaker driver (for a total of seven), five channel audio decoding/processing, and both traditional cone mid-range/bass drivers, and Folded Motion Tweeters. These innovative tweeter provide faster response and more precise imaging for high frequencies, which really adds clarity to the audio listening experience.

For connectivity, the Motion Vision includes both analog and digital audio inputs, as well as Dolby Digital/DTS surround-sound decoding, and additional Dolby Virtual Speaker audio processing. The Motion Vision also incorporates both wired and wireless external subwoofer connectivity. However, one of the great things about the Motion Vision is that its built-in internal cabinet design, which includes two rear mounted ports, actually facilitates respectable bass output - you may find for you own preference, that you don't need an additional subwoofer.

With its $1,499 going price, the Motion Vision, is, admittedly, more expensive than most sound bars. However, before you settle on that bargain-priced sound bar option, definitely give the Martin Logan Motion Vision a listen - it is definitely worth your time.
Product Profile - Full Review - Product Photos - Compare Prices

8. Samsung HT-E6730W 3D Blu-ray Home Theater System

Samsung HT-E6730W Vacuum Tube Equipped Home Theater System - Front View
Photo © Robert Silva, Licensed to About.com
The are a proliferation of home theater-in-a-box systems available, but they are not created equal.

The Samsung HT-E6730W is definitely one system to take note of. At a price of less than $1,000, you get a lot. At its core, this system incorporates a 3D-enabled Blu-ray Disc player and 7.1 channel audio system with thin profile front tower speakers, wireless surround speakers and subwoofer.

To add more value, the HT-E6730W also has built-in WiFi for access to a host of internet content via the Samsung Apps platform. You can also access content from your iPod/iPhone and other compatible portable devices.

In exploring this system, I found that the 7.1 channel aspect is not what you would expect. The system does not decode or transfer 7.1 channel encoded soundtracks. so any incoming 7.1 channel encoded material is decoded or transfered within a 5.1 channel output configuration. However, when you activate the HT-E6730W's "3D Sound" feature, the system adds two post-processed height channels that are passed to the tiltable speakers mounted above the front and left channel in the tower speakers, creating a 7.1 channel effect that emphasizes front height and overhead sound.

However, to really spice things up, this system also incorporates a vacuum tube pre-amp stage for the front left and right channels (using two 12AU7 dual triodes for those techies out there). This not only adds some warmth to home theater surround sound audio listening, but is great for two-channel audio CD listening.

For its unique approach to 7.1 channel and vacuum tube audio, I have chosen the Samsung HT-E6730W to be included in my "products of year" list for 2012.
Review - Product Photos - Video Performance Tests - Compare Prices

9. Sony STR-DN1030 Home Theater Receiver

Sony STR-DN1030 7.2 Channel Network Home Theater Receiver - Front View with Included Accessories
Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
I had a chance to get a hands on with several home theater receivers this year, and although most could have made this year's "products of the year" list, the one I thought was the most interesting was the sub-$500 Sony STR-DN1030.

What caught my attention, is that in addition to good core audio performance for the price as a result of its onboard Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD decoding, Dolby Pro Logic IIz audio processing, and clean-sounding amplifier section, the STR-DN1030 also includes both network and internet streaming access via either Ethernet connection or built-in WiFi. In addition, the STR-DN1030 takes it up another notch for its price class by also including wireless Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay.

The STR-DN1030 may be just the right choice for those that want a convenient way to combine the traditional home theater audio experience with all those new internet-enabled features and devices.
Review - Photo Profile - Compare Prices

10. Atlona LinkCast Wireless HD Audio/Video System

Atlona LinkCast Wireless HD Audio/Video System - Box Contents
Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
In the past couple of years there have been inroads into the "wireless HDMI" concept, which allows the wireless transmission of audio and video from an HDMI-enabled source, such as a Blu-ray Disc player or Cable/Satellite Box to a home theater receiver, TV, or video projector. However, the main limitation up to this point is that you have only been able to connect one wireless source to one wireless receiver.

However, this past year, Atlona, makers of professional and consumer audio/video switching and connectivity solutions, introduced a new advance in "wireless HDMI" connectivity, the LinkCast Wireless HD Audio/Video System. What makes this system different, and deserving of recognition on my "products of the year" list for 2012, is that it provides the ability to connect multiple source devices to your home theater system wirelessly, using WHDI technology, and switch between them.

The transmitters are about the size of a flash drive, and plug into the source device's HDMI output. Power is provided to the transmitter via a short, attached, cable that plugs into the source's USB port. The receiving unit is about the size of a portable hard drive and comes with a stylish stand. The kit comes packaged with the receiver and one transmitter - additional transmitters are available separately.

The system isn't perfect, as your source device has to be equipped with both an HDMI and USB port, and although the LinkCast system can transfer full 1080p 2D or 3D video, on the audio side, Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD Master Audio is not accessible, only standard Dolby Digital and DTS. This means that when used with a Blu-ray Disc player, the audio output is automatically downscaled to standard Dolby Digital or DTS bitstream for LinkCast wireless transmission.

However, that being said, the LinkCast system heralds a real advance in "wireless HDMI" connectivity by eliminating the need for long HDMI cable runs and clutter for up to five compatible devices simultaneously.
Review and Photos - Compare Prices

11. Honorable Mentions

Although the products listed above are my top choices for 2012 Products of the Year, there were additional products I reviewed this year that definitely deserve honorable mention. Click on each one for a review, photos, and additional info:

Panasonic TC-L42ET5 Smart Viera 3D LED/LCD TV

PSB Imagine mini Speakers with SubSeries 200 Subwoofer

Paradigm Cinema 100 CT Home Theater Speaker System

EMP Tek Cinema 7 Compact Home Theater Speaker System

Orb Audio People's Choice Home Theater Speaker System

Episode ES-300-SNBAR-40 Sound Bar Speaker and ES-SUB-CUB8-110 Subwoofer

GTL Sound Labs AE963 In-Wall Loudspeakers

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