Another year, another roundup of 20 amazing products. Yes, for those of us who regularly write about and test the best that the A/V world has to offer, life can get pretty repetitive - until we step back from the test bench and take a look at the big picture. What we're seeing in our 2009 Editors' Choice Awards assortment is gear that ranges in price from around $300 on up to $85,000. That's a significant price gap, to be sure, but what's most interesting is that the same reviewer singled out both a $499 A/V receiver and an $85,000 projector for awards. Our group also makes it clear that you don't need to spend $85,000 on a high-end three-chip DLP light cannon to get an incredible home-theater experience; you can spend $7,999 on our 2009 Product of the Year and enjoy big-screen pictures with the deepest blacks of any video display on the market. Flat-panel TVs, too, continued to wow us with their exceptional performance in 2009. Even with the departure of Pioneer from the TV category, we were able to find both a plasma and an LCD model - each selling for under $3,000 - that manage to very nicely fill the void left by Pioneer's killer Kuro sets. Sound, of course, accounts for roughly half of what we do here at Sound+Vision, which means that plenty of speakers were in rotation throughout the year. Of these, we've selected six standout systems, priced from $1,000 to $16,000, along with a kick-ass iPod speaker dock and what could be the best buy ever in the history of subwoofers. Media streaming is becoming a huge part of how we get our entertainment - a development that's also reflected in our product roundup. Whether it's 1080p-rez movies delivered over the Internet to an external media receiver or to a Blu-ray Disc player, our list of outstanding products for 2009 has it covered.
2009 Product of the Year
JVC DLA-HD750 FRONT PROJECTOR
Anyone who's ever struggled to get a good picture from a video display will love JVC's DLAHD750. On a screen measuring 10 feet or less, this $7,999 projector can match (or, more likely, exceed) the picture quality of any competitor at any price. Yet all that's necessary to get that great picture is to select the THX mode and touch up the brightness, contrast, and color controls. It takes about as long as making an omelet - and is far more likely to come out just right. The DLA-HD750 delivers an extraordinary calibrated contrast ratio of 21,300:1 without relying on the crutch of an auto iris. No other projector I've seen delivers blacks so deep. Ardent videophiles will love the extensive gamma, noise-reduction, and colorpoint adjustments (although they won't like that the THX mode locks them out of many adjustments). When asked for my Product of the Year pick, I chose the DLAHD750 without the slightest hesitation. A new top-of-the-line model, the DLA-HD990, has recently replaced the DLA-HD750; it costs $2,000 more and, according to JVC, offers 40% higher contrast plus 120-Hz operation. - Brent Butterworth
2009's Best Video Products
PANASONIC TC-P58V10 58-INCH PLASMA HDTV
Awhile back, I was chatting with a Panasonic television engineer at an industry event, searching for words to describe the subtle but noticeable difference between the typical LCD and plasma TV image. The plasma, he offered, was more "organic" in its look, and all I could think was "Bingo!" I was reminded of this exchange recently as I tested the TC-P58V10 (see the review on page 56), a giant HDTV that manages to put a whole bunch of organic into a very affordable (for its size) $2,700 street price. Coming from Panasonic's much-lauded V Series (which includes 46- and 50-inch models as well), this set combines rich, deep blacks with very accurate colors, and with its THX and Studio Reference video presets, you'll get a picture that even a video geek could love, with virtually no adjustments. But it's the uncanny solidity and film-like texture of the TC-P58V10's image that really sets this TV apart from its LCD counterparts and gives it a wholly natural look. - Rob Sabin
SAMSUNG UN46B8500 46-INCH LCD HDTV
The year 2009 will be remembered as the one where Samsung sent its LCD TV line o to Weight Watchers. Of the many new models introduced, a good number measured under 11∕2 inches deep - a spec that lets us unreservedly tag them with the label "fl at TV." The technology that made this sizing down possible was LED backlights. Samsung put these in multiple series of its new LCD TVs, but only one, the 8500 Series, also came with local dimming to further enhance picture contrast. How much further? Well, the 46-inch UN46B8500 ($3,600) delivers deeper-looking blacks than any other local-dimming LED/LCD model we've tested so far. Beyond that, this set offers accurate, natural-looking color; exceptional video processing for standard-def signals; and an Auto Motion Pro 240-Hz feature that lets you independently adjust judder and blur reduction to smooth out or solidify film- and video-based programs on its 240-Hz display. Along with its suite of useful Widgets, including Yahoo! News, YouTube video, Flickr photos, and Blockbuster OnDemand, the DLNA-certifi ed TV can stream videos and photos from a networked PC. As with other LED-backlit LCDs, viewing angle is the 8500's main shortcoming: Once you slide out from a center seat on your couch, its stunning picture contrast diminishes. Outside of that, you can rack one up for Samsung and its sweet, slim TV. - Al Griffin
WOLF CINEMA DCX-1000i FRONT PROJECTOR
The DCX-1000i puts out a beam of light so intense you're almost tempted to try lighting a cigar in it. This $85,000 beast comes housed in a big, black enclosure that's designed to be built into a soft. It even has inputs and outputs for the cooling ductwork necessary to keep its 1,000-watt xenon lamp shining. The DCX-1000i can easily illuminate a 15- foot screen, and with its extraordinary maximum light output of 142 footlamberts, it's so bright you can use it with sunlight streaming in through the windows. A massive servo-controlled lens lets your installer set it up for any aspect ratio up to 2.40:1 - a setup we prefer to the less versatile add-on anamorphic lens that most high-end projectors use. Detail and color accuracy are superb, and for a projector this powerful, the black level is surprisingly deep. A long list of control features lets a talented technician achieve a nearly perfect picture. - Brent Butterworth
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