In consumer electronics, timing can be everything. Take the Pioneer VSX-91TXH, the second of four models in the company's high-end Elite line. With such cutting-edge features as HDMI 1.3, onboard decoding for next-gen Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD soundtracks, analog-to-digital video conversion, and XM and Sirius satellite radio compatibility, the AV receiver would've been hailed as a breakthrough--if it had been released anytime before the middle of 2007. But just a few short months later, those same features are run of the mill for most mid- to high-end receivers. But the bigger problem is the VSX-91TXH's price: $1,000. Not only is it double that of the Onkyo TX-SR605--which delivers nearly the identical feature set--it makes it harder to overlook some of the Pioneer's foibles, such as its lackluster processing of analog video sources and the fact that it only has two HDMI inputs. In other words, the Pioneer VSX-91TXH is a fine receiver overall--it just needs a price cut to fare better in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
All AV receivers are basically big, black boxes, but Pioneer Elite receivers are distinguished by a glossy-black front panel that's accented by bright orange lights. That might sound a little tacky, but the VSX-91TXH manages to pull it off with class. The receiver also has a bit more button clutter than some of its more minimalist competitors--such as the Onkyo TX-SR805 or the Sony STR-DA5300ES--but it gives it a bit of a retro feel. Toward the top in the center is the LCD display, which is large enough to be read comfortably from about seven feet away.
The VSX-91TXH is 16.57 inches wide, 6.81 inches high, and 18.31 inches deep, so you'll need plenty of room in your AV cabinet to handle it. That said, the VSX-91TXH runs relatively cool, so it's more conducive to confined spaces than competing models such as the Onkyo TX-SR805, which tend to generate quite a bit more heat.
The setup menu on the VSX-91TXH is bare-bones. You won't find any of the fancy graphics featured on new Sony and Denon receivers, and it doesn't even offer the minimal graphical upgrade of Onkyo's new receivers. Instead, you're stuck with the blocky, white text on a black background that will remind you of the VCR era. From the setup menu, you can run the MCACC autosetup program, manually adjust your speaker, and configure your inputs. Like most other midlevel receivers, you can reassign inputs to your liking and rename them, although instead of a virtual keyboard, you're forced to scroll through every letter to make your choice. Pioneer is definitely behind the curve compared to the competitors in this regard, but keep in mind that once you go through the initial setup, you probably won't go into the setup menu that frequently.
The included remote on the VSX-91TXH, like all other AV receivers, is cluttered with buttons. For the most part there's decent button differentiation, as it's easy to find the volume rocker and the directional pad to navigate menus. On the other hand, there are a ton of secondary functions on this remote, so you'll be hitting Shift plus another button to do something as simple as select the HDMI 2 input. Put that together with the lack of backlighting, and you'll probably want to spring for a good universal remote in order to use it in a darkened home theater.
The VSX-91TXH's MCACC (Multi Channel Acoustic Calibration) is a surprisingly easy to use automated setup system. Plugging in the supplied measuring microphone automatically brings up the onscreen display in MCACC mode. Push a few buttons on the remote and the system automatically measures your speaker sizes as well as the speaker-to-listener distances (including the subwoofer); sets the volume levels of all of the speakers and the sub; sets the subwoofer crossover point; and creates a room/speaker-correcting EQ program to improve sound quality. The MCACC seemed to spend more than the usual amount of time sending test tones to our speakers, but at least we didn't have to move the mic to a few different positions in our room. We're not always happy with the equalization changes autosetup systems provide, but the MCACC's was truly beneficial.
Key features at a glance:
|Connectivity||Audio soundtrack capabilities|
|HDMI inputs||2||Passes Dolby Digital and DTS via HDMI||Yes|
|Component video inputs||3||Passes LPCM via HDMI||Yes|
|A/V inputs w/S-Video||5 (4 rear, 1 front)||Decodes Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master||Yes|
|Optical inputs||4 (3 rear, 1 front)||Video capabilities|
|Coaxial inputs||2||HDMI version||1.3|
|Selectable HD sources||6||1080p via HDMI||Yes|
|Satellite radio||XM and Sirius ready||1080p via component||Yes|
|Network audio||No||Upconverts analog sources||Yes|
|Phono input||No||Deinterlaces 480i via HDMI||Yes|
|Analog multichannel input||Yes||Selectable output resolution||No|
The Pioneer VSX-91TXH is a 7.1-channel AV receiver, and Pioneer rates its power output at 110 watts per channel. Similar to essentially every other receiver available, it offers a full selection of Dolby and DTS surround-processing modes. Like the vast majority of new midrange and high-end receivers, the VSX-91TXH also has onboard decoding for the newest high-resolution surround formats, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
Theoretically, the benefit of having onboard TrueHD and Master Audio decoding is that HD DVD and Blu-ray players can send these soundtracks to the receiver to be decoded, instead of the players needing onboard decoders themselves. At the time of this review, the first HD DVD and Blu-ray players capable of sending Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks in bit-stream format are just hitting the market. However, we won't know for sure if these players will work with the new receivers because Advanced Content flags on discs may prevent bit-stream output. The bottom line is we won't know for sure the real-world usefulness of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding until we get our hands on these new bit-stream-output-capable players. In the meantime, however, owners can be confident that having the onboard decoding is as much of a degree of futureproofing as exists in home audio at the current time.
Some--but not all--older HD DVD and Blu-ray players decode the Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks internally, then send the decoded signals to attached receivers via HDMI (in uncompressed linear PCM format) or multichannel analog-audio connections. The few players that can't decode the new formats default to the older DVD-standard Dolby Digital, DTS, or uncompressed PCM soundtracks available on the discs--so you should be able to get some sort of surround soundtrack.
To connect video components to the VSX-91TXH, there are two HDMI inputs, each capable of carrying 1080p high-def video along with multichannel audio. There are also three component video inputs for analog high-def signals, as well, and five AV inputs with S-Video for standard-def video.
There are some limitations on the video connections that buyers should be aware of. The VSX-91TXH cannot convert 1080p component video signals to the HDMI output. You can get around this by connecting the component video output to your HDTV--and this successfully passes a component 1080p signal--but you sacrifice the one-cable convenience that upconverting AV receivers were supposed to offer. (This issue is likely to affect only owners of older, pre-HDMI Xbox 360 models.)