A preview of the hottest home theater products coming out in the spring of 2009.
The outlook: One of the biggest disadvantages to Blu-ray has been its lack of portability. While DVD players are virtually everywhere and portable DVD players are cheap, when you buy a Blu-ray Disc, you're typically limited to watching it in your home theater. The Panasonic DMP-B15 looks to address this; it is the first portable Blu-ray player, and it's also designed to be used easily around the house with a built-in stand.
The outlook: All of Pioneer's 2009 AV receivers score pretty well on the price-to-feature metric, but the VSX-819H hits the sweet spot with three HDMI inputs and onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. We're also looking forward to checking out the graphical user interface that's used to browse an iPod connected via USB--no expensive iPod dock required.
The outlook: Vizio is best known for its low prices on HDTVs, but the company is branching out into Blu-ray with the VBR100. The biggest selling point is the $200 price tag, and we were surprised to see 7.1 analog outputs available at the budget price.
The outlook: Panasonic released a bundle of home theater systems at CES 2009, but the SC-ZT1 is easily the best of the bunch. The SC-ZT1 is a wireless home theater system that uses the 2.4GHz band to send uncompressed audio to all four speakers. Like all wireless systems, you'll need to run a power cable for each speaker--so it's not completely wireless--but you won't have to deal with long speaker cables running all over your living room.
The outlook: The HT-BD8200 is the successor to last year's HT-X810T and the big upgrade is Blu-ray. Like the other models in the Samsung's '09 line-up, it's state of the art--both BD-Live compliant and with the capability to stream Netflix movies and the Pandora online music service. Other niceties include an iPod dock and the capability to stream audio from A2DP-compatible Bluetooth audio devices, such as music phones.
The outlook: The LG BD390 looks to be one of 2009's most fully loaded Blu-ray players, with onboard Wi-Fi able to stream Netflix, CinemaNow, and YouTube content in addition to the BD-Live extras found on Blu-ray Discs.
The outlook: Built by EchoStar, the Dish DuoDVR SlingLoaded ViP922 is a lot like earlier Dish Network DVRs such as the ViP622 or ViP722--but it's also got a built-in Slingbox that can transmit its programming to other PCs or smartphones, either within the home or anywhere in the world where you can access a broadband Internet connection.
The outlook: The TX-SR607 will be the first receiver to feature Dolby ProLogic IIz sound processing, which can expand existing 7.1 soundtracks to 9.1, routing some of the audio to "front high speakers," which are positioned above your standard front speakers. If nine speakers plus a sub seems overkill, you may be more interested that the TX-SR607 has six HDMI inputs--more than any other receiver in this price range.
The outlook: Your flat-screen TV looks awfully lonely mounted on the wall by itself--why not give it a companion? That, we assume, is the rationale behind the Samsung BD-P4600 wall-mountable Blu-ray player. The BD-P4600 looks to include all the features of its step-down sibling, the BD-P3600: Profile 2.0/BD-Live, Netflix and Pandora streaming, 1GB onboard memory, built-in Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, "Touch of Color" style accents, and--the big upgrade for 2009--802.11n Wi-Fi via an included USB dongle.
The outlook: The 5.1-channel system takes its design cues from last year's DVD-only LHT888, with champagne-glass front-tower speakers and smaller rears that can be connected wirelessly (obviating the need for front-to-back speaker wires in the room). In addition to the requisite integrated iPod dock, the LHB979 includes support for streaming from online Netflix, CinemaNow, and YouTube.
The outlook:Home-theater-in-a-box systems are often associated with tiny speakers and underpowered AV receivers, but Onkyo (like Yamaha) bucks the trend, packing its home theater systems with big, boxy speakers and component-grade AV receivers. The HT-S5200 is a 7.1 home theater system, with four HDMI inputs, full-size speakers, and Audyssey automatic speaker calibration.