New Home Cinema Review
My previous system was a Panasonic 37” HD-ready TV and a Denon S-301 2.1 speaker system.
After two years of reading WHF magazine, and after a lot of help from this forum, I eventually took the plunge around 5 weeks ago and upgraded the whole system to the following (buying from Sevenoaks Sound & Vision in Brighton):
•Panasonic TX-P46GT30B plasma TV (included free 5 year warranty and free 2 x 3D glasses)
◦Duronic PLB123M Extra Slim Wall Bracket (Amazon)
•Panasonic DMP-BDT110 Blu-Ray Player (free with TV)
•Onkyo TX-NR609 AVR •Monitor Audio R90 HD10 5.1 speakers:
◦4 x R90HD for front and rear satellites (white) ◦R180HD centre (white)
◦R370HD subwoofer (black)
•Speaker cables: ◦QED Silver Anniversary XT for fronts/centre ◦QED Micro for rears. •QED subwoofer cable
•Optical cable (from Sky+HD to AVR) from Amazon (around £10)
•HDMI cables from Amazon (around £10 each)
•AVR Rack (under TV in photo below): ◦Atacama Europa 6.5 SE Equipment rack stand base unit ◦Atacama Europa 6.5 SE Equipment rack stand 135mm
•DLine Magnolia Cable Covers Conduit in 16mm x 8mm (for speaker cables) & 30mm x 15mm (for cables coming from TV) bought from Amazon.
PLASMA TV: Panasonic TX-P46GT30B I agonised for ages over size: 42” versus 46”.
The two main seating positions are around 3 metres from TV and the choice of the 46” was absolutely the right decision. Initially, when it was wall-mounted, I thought it looked too big, but within a day or two it all looked just fine (a 42” would have been too small). I think I could have got away with a 50” but have no regrets on my selection.
Also, my previous TV was on a stand and it sat into the room somewhat, but with wall-mounting the new TV it just doesn’t look over-big and fits in perfectly. It is a very stylish looking TV with a thin bezel surround compared to last year’s models, and very slim (specs say 60mm depth, but in reality the wall mount fixes onto the slimmer section of panel that is 37mm, providing an overall depth of just 70mm from the wall).
Be aware that although it looks great having it mounted closer to the wall, it does mean that you have to plug in the cables before lifting it into position onto the wall-mount bracket (power, aerial, ethernet, satellite, HDMI). Although you can get to the HDMI from the side, it is best to route and cable-tie it into position first, something that cannot be done after it is wall-mounted.
Also, do not get a very expensive HDMI cable that is thick and not very pliable, as it will stick out slightly from the left side. Before I come to picture quality, the all important reason for buying a TV, I do have the internet connected and while I can look at BBC iPlayer and YouTube, etc, it isn’t really something I will use much.
I have Sky+HD, so tend to record everything I want to see, so not much use for it really. It set up the TV using Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray Edition DVD. I used the ‘Normal’ TV setting and didn’t feel the need to go into the advance setup, so simply adjusted the brightness, contrast, colour and sharpness. For me the picture quality is outstanding, especially when playing a blu-ray DVD (Batman Begins for example). Detail is as good as I could possibly imagine, colours are very natural, and deep blacks are the norm – fantastic all round. SD viewing is very good, but as usual it can depend on the source, but generally very good.
Upscaled DVDs look surprisingly good from a good quality DVD transfer (Spiderman is a good example), although this could also be a factor of the Panasonic Blu-Ray players upscaling qualities (see below)! I do not have Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) on and see no problems with motion at all, and I watch a lot of football. The one thing I do have switched on is C.A.T.S., as on the old TV I had it set up for daytime viewing, so at night I found it was always a bit bright (laziness stopped me from changing the setting at different light levels).
With the new TV and C.A.T.S. turned on I find it is just the right brightness level during daylight and night time viewing, with a noticeable shift in brightness/contrast between the two – all done automatically, which is very convenient and appears to work fine. I have no brightness fluctuation issues and no buzzing noise from the screen. FreeSat pictures in HD are excellent and very similar to the Sky HD transmissions.
I do not have Freeview HD in my area yet, so cannot compare, but the normal SD channels appear very much the same between FreeSat and FreeView imo. Sound is quite good for TV speakers, although I have a separate sound system so do not use the TV sound for general viewing. 3D viewing appears very stable and very effective in what it does (Avatar, being the only 3D DVD that I have for now).
I wear glasses and I found that the medium size 3D glasses that came free with the TV fit well over them and are very light. Having said that I cannot say that 3D is something that I will be viewing a lot of, as I prefer to sit back in my recliner when viewing a movie and relax; something that cannot be done when wearing the 3D glasses, as you need to be sitting face-on. Also, with a great Blu-ray transfer like Avatar I find that watching it in 2D is just as satisfying, if not more so (with 3D I find myself being distracted by ‘looking’ for the 3D effects). I am glad that I didn’t have to pay for the 3D glasses!
In summary, I find the TV easy to set up, very stylish, the picture quality to be outstanding, and can find nothing negative to say about the TV. Simply the best TV I have ever owned!
BLU_RAY PLAYER: Panasonic DMP-BDT110 This is Panasonic’s entry-level 3D blu-ray player, and the only negative I can find is that visually it looks a bit flimsy and lightweight together with a lacklustre finish on the top panel; something that is noticeable as I have it sitting on my AV stand top shelf below the TV. Still, I cannot complain as it came as a free bundle with the TV!
Loading of DVDs is fast, while Blu-rays take a little longer, although much faster than I anticipated (this is my first BDP). No issues here. Picture-wise I have found blu-ray discs provide a luxurious quality to them, pin-sharp clarity, very natural colour pallet, and motion that is rock solid. Watching action movies like Batman Begins, or the Bourne Trilogy, has left me sitting back with a smile on my face and looking forward to watching my favourite movies all over again (updating some of my expansive DVD collection to Blu-ray as we speak).
DVDs look surprisingly good, with quality transfers looking almost HD-like, which surprised me as the WHF review mentioned that the upscaling of DVDs was not impressive. Maybe this would be more of an issue on a larger TV or a projector screen? Sound quality? Well, being that this is an entry level BDP I do not see any issue here as I have it set to ‘bitstream’ and have my Onkyo do the decoding. So, I believe that the sound quality in this configuration is more a factor of what is on the DVD and the AVR/speaker system rather than the BDP itself, which simply transfers a bitstream over the digital HDMI connection. I stand to be corrected, but I will leave the sound quality observations for the following section on AVR / Speakers.
AVR & 5.1 SPEAKERS: Onkyo TX-NR609 & Monitor Audio R90 HD10 The Onkyo setup using Audyssey 2EQ Full Calibration didn’t work too well. I tried it a few times, but ended up entering speaker distances (rears) and frequencies in manually. Once done I have kept Audyssey Dynamic EQ on and set the Reference Level to 0dB, and Audyssey Dynamic Volume set to ‘Light’. I assigned all the inputs/outputs for my setup, and even have my Wii connected with the Nintendo Component AV cable to connect picture and sound through the Onkyo no problem.
I have the HDMI output set to ‘Auto’. For the Listening Mode Preset (for the ‘BD/DVD’ & ‘CBL/SAT’ inputs) I have the input signal format for Dolby/TrueHD, DTS/DTS-HD & Other Multich Source set to ‘Straight Decode’, with every other input signal format set to ‘TV Logic’. I have the centre speaker above the TV and the fronts with 2.7m separation and 30cm higher than the centre and angled slightly downwards. The rears are mounted at ceiling/coving height with 4m separation and angled downwards and inwards towards the two main seating positions. See photos below.
The sound quality with the combination of the Onkyo and the MA speakers has blown me away. I have had all-in-one surround systems before, but this is far superior. I know the AVR isn’t high-end and that the speakers are ‘style speakers’, but for my environment in terms of rooms size and balancing how they fit in overall I am extremely satisfied with the sound. Especially when playing a blu-ray with HD sound, the difference really is quite amazing when comparing it to ordinary DD 5.1.
When watching an action movie or the likes of Avatar, and while I am extremely satisfied with the TV picture quality, it is the surround sound in HD that has lifted my viewing experience way beyond what I imagined and has far exceeded my expectations. There is no harshness and the depth, punch and clarity of sounds is quite amazing from such small boxes. To me the whole sound stage is involving, balanced, and so well controlled that the action on the screen comes alive and reflects everything that I am seeing without any hint of confusion. Dialogue is crisp and clear with the character of voices coming through. The system is also good with music, so where a movie has a strong soundtrack, or when playing a music DVD, I am more than happy. The speakers also look very good, and I am pleased that I could select the colour for each speaker, providing me with satellites and a centre in white that blend in and a subwoofer in black that compliments my other equipment.
GENERAL The Atacama AV stand looks great and really fits well with the TV, subwoofer, and the Hi-Fi rack that I already had. The Onkyo conveniently filled an empty slot at the bottom of the Hi-Fi rack to the right of the TV, so it all looks perfect to me. The only thing I might change in the future is a meatier and more stylish look BDP that would fit better on the Atacama top shelf.
Speaker and TV cables and how to hide them? I thought long and hard about chasing walls, which I really didn’t want to do at this time, so I took a chance and ordered DLine Magnolia Cable Covers Conduit in various sizes from Amazon, and I think they have helped the cables to become quite unobtrusive. I used the 16mm x 8mm in 1m lengths for the speaker cables, the 30mm x 15mm for the TV cables coming down, and a length of 60mm x 30mm that runs along the skirting behind the Atacama rack and the subwoofer to hide all the cables behind.
I’ve had a few nice comments from visitors saying how tidy it all looks, so a good alternative solution imo. Overall I am one very happy bunny! Here are some photos:
AVR in Hi-Fi RACK:
Sorry about the length of this review, but hopefully useful to some of you looking to upgrade. It also shows just how happy I am with my new set up!