Elite, Pioneer's designation for its flagship audio and video components, definitely looks the part. Finished in a gleaming, high-gloss black, the A/V receivers were designed to match Pioneer's gorgeous plasma TVs, and in this case, the beauty is more than skin deep. The receiver's Faroudja HD Scaler converts lower-resolution video signals up to 480p, 720p, or 1080i resolutions over the receiver's HDMI output, and there's audio and video switching (to as high as 1080p resolution) for three HDMI sources. We were happy to see the VSX-82TXS comes with the most advanced automatic speaker-calibration technology we've seen from Pioneer. The receiver's massive signal-processing capabilities will mostly be of interest to buyers who enjoy tweaking the sound to the nth degree. About the worst we can say about this dream machine is that its somewhat overly complex menu system may intimidate novices. But considering that it's widely available for more than a third off its $1,200 list price, we suspect there will be plenty of home-theater enthusiasts willing to master the learning curve. Like all Pioneer Elite components, the VSX-82TXS receiver is finished in high-gloss black--that is, there are no silver/platinum versions available, at least not in the United States. The velvety smooth rotation of the control knobs and the large, orange front-panel LCD readout make it a stand-out design in a field of humdrum receivers. Since most of the lesser used controls reside under a flip-down door, the receiver's clean lines are broken only by the input selector and the volume control knobs. Befitting its high-end model status, it's a bit bigger than most receivers; it measures 16.6x7.3x18.2 inches (WHD) and weighs 35.1 pounds.
The remote's single-line LCD and keypad design resembles the units packed with Pioneer's midprice receivers; the dearth of backlighting on this high-end model was something of a disappointment. Despite being jam-packed with lots of buttons, you have to use a shift key to access inputs and other controls. (As always, we'd prefer to invest in a more full-featured universal remote control anyway.)
We've consistently praised Pioneer's MCACC (Multi Channel Acoustic Calibration) as one of the most accurate and easiest to use systems. It's still accurate, but since Pioneer has loaded on more and more processing, it's not as blessedly simple as it used to be. That said, the basic approach is intact: plug in the supplied measuring microphone, bring up the onscreen display, then push a few buttons on the remote, and the MCACC will then automatically determine your system's speaker sizes, speaker-to-listener distances--including the subwoofer, set the volume levels of all of the speakers and the sub, set the subwoofer crossover point, and create a room/speaker correcting EQ program to improve sound quality. In addition to the MCACC, the VSX-82TXS offers Phase Control, Standing Wave, and X-Curve Control to further fine-tune the sound of your speakers and room acoustics. These signal processing capabilities will mostly be of interest to buyers who enjoy endless tweaking. True, you don't have to take advantage of those features, but the sheer complexity of choices may intimidate novices. We're pretty sophisticated, but when we attempted to perform the manual speaker setup, the program stopped us in our tracks. With the VSX-82TXS you're required to do the autosetup, and after that, you're free you make manual adjustments.
The problem with all the extra sonic processing is that it's too easy to get it wrong and wind up with subpar sound. The dense, multilayer menus may confound even experienced home-theater mavens. For example, we struggled to get the VSX-82TXS's video upconversion to HDMI to work, until we found the solution on page 66 of the user manual. Funny, the factory default video-conversion setting is on, but at some point we must have accidentally turned it off. As we said, the VSX-82TXS is a complex beast. The Pioneer VSX-82TXS's seven 130-watt channels are a little more powerful than average for a receiver in this price range, and since it's THX Select 2 certified, you're assured the power rating is genuine. The receiver packs all of the standard surround processing modes from Dolby and DTS. Pioneer's Ultra Digital Core Engine 2 uses a third-generation Sharc-EX chipset from Analog Devices and a 48-bit Freescale DSP processor to ensure audiophile-grade sound quality.
Connectivity offerings are exceptional, surpassing the offerings of many significantly more expensive preamplifier surround processors. Considering its vast capabilities, the VSX-82TXS rear panel is model of organization. You'll find three HDMI and three component-video inputs, plus another seven composite and five S-Video A/V inputs (including the front-panel set). The receiver's Faroudja HD Scaler converts lower-resolution video signals (composite, S-Video, and component) up to 480p, 720p, or 1080i resolutions over the receiver's HDMI output; you can set the resolution to your choice.
That impressive video connectivity suite means you can have as many as a total of six native high-def video sources (the three HDMI and three component inputs are assignable), plus a selection of upconverted high-def from the composite and S-Video inputs. And because these video streams are all sent through the HDMI output--and the Pioneer's onscreen display is available at all resolutions via HDMI--you get a seamless high-def experience that requires using only a single input on your HDTV. Moreover, HDMI sources--including the PlayStation 3 as well as Blu-ray and HD-DVD players--can pass audio and high-def video over the same HDMI cable, including 1080p video and multi-channel LPCM audio.
There are plenty of non-HDMI audio inputs as well. You'll find two sets of analog stereo inputs (in with an in/out tape loop), plus a dedicated phono input for a turntable. The 7.1-channel analog input can be used with HD-DVD, Blu-ray, DVD-Audio, or SACD players. You also get seven digital audio inputs: five optical--including one front-panel input--and two coaxial, as well as one optical output. The 7.1 preamplifier outputs can be used with a separate power amplifier.
You can connect your iPod player with the included cable, and the receiver will display your iPod's menu and allow full control to play audio with the remote; to view photos and videos, you must use the iPod's own controls--a standard restriction we've seen on all iPod docking solutions to date. If you prefer a more solid solution, Pioneer also offers an optional IDK-01 dock for iPod users. To take advantage of the VSX-82TXS's XM Satellite Radio capability, you need to buy a Connect-and-Play antenna ($50) and a $13-a-month XM subscription. The Pioneer will also decode XM's HD Surround channels.