PERFORMANCE

Operating the receiver took some experimentation because the features were spread out over several keys. An on-screen display is provided for the basic set-up function — this replaces the underlying video rather than overlays it — and two dedicated keys provide access to audio and video functions. These produce information only on the front panel display.

Pioneer VSX-920 AV Receiver

Auto set-up using Pioneer’s own Auto MCAAC system produced a lot more test tones than the norm, and it worked well, delivering a smooth sound producing a very accurate sound field. The receiver supports automatic audio delay with those displays which have this information programmed into them. If you are inserting a manual delay to line up sound and vision, note that Pioneer does it as frames (you can adjust in one tenth of a frame intervals up to ten frames delay).

Pioneer has included a bunch of fancy video processing features from no lesser name than Anchor Bay Technology into the receiver, including control over progressive scan conversion and picture noise reduction, though these mostly apply only to 576i video being delivered from an analogue source. HDMI inputs can be deinterlaced and upscaled, but for 50Hz material at least, this is only in a most rudimentary video style (bobbing, without any motion adaptive component), leaving still pictures jiggling up and down slightly, and all sorts of visible artefacts. Leave the video function set to ‘Pure’ to allow it to pass through unmolested.

The receiver doesn’t implement the Audio Return Channel provided for by the HDMI 1.4 specification, but it does support the usual Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) functions of HDMI. So you can use an optical digital audio cable to feed the TV’s sound to the receiver and generally control it through the TV.

The in-built internet radio worked well enough, but to deliver good value takes a fair bit of work from the user. That’s because it does not use a portal from which various stations can be selected, but simply has a list of 24 preset stations. If you find that Venice Classic Radio or KVSC 88.1 FM isn’t to your taste and you’d like to replace one or the other with an different station, the work commences. You need to find the url for the station that you want (e.g. ABC Classic FM is http://www.abc.net.au/streaming/classic/classicfm.m3u), select one of the slots, and replace the existing station with your preferred one. You can do this by using the remote control, or by typing on a computer keyboard plugged into the front USB socket.

Or you can enter the unit’s network address into a web browser on your computer. This brings up the list, so you can just paste in the addresses and hit the ‘Update’ button to make them take.

Of course, you have to find out the urls first, which isn’t always easy.

For the purposes of this review, Pioneer supplied its optional AS-BT100 Bluetooth adapter ($119). This plugs into the proprietary port at the rear of the unit and allows remote delivery of sound from a source device supporting the A2DP or AVRCP profiles for stereo music. I tried it out with a current model iPod Touch, and this worked quite well. The music delivered actually sounded quite adequate, given that it was compressed in the first place.

But if you have an iPod and you don’t need ten metres of portability, then you can just use the included cable to plug it into the front USB and composite video sockets. (The latter is only required for playing back videos.) Scrolling through lists involves the usual tedium with no shortcuts. But you may be able to switch using a key on the remote, or a dedicated key on the front panel, to ‘iPod Control’. This switches off the control and information feed between the units, handing over full control to the iPod’s own interface. Only the music keeps on coming.

At least, that’s what happens if you have an up-to-date iPod, such as the iPod Touch I used with Bluetooth. But my 5th generation iPod operation was limited (the pause and stop keys on the remote wouldn’t work) and the ‘iPod Control’ switch became inoperative.

The front USB can also be used for other iPod devices. In addition to music, it can display photo slideshows, complete with transition effects and background music, but the output resolution was only 576p, rather than 1080i or 1080p. The music player supported WMA (but not WMA Lossless), MP3 and WAV.

Brutally ignoring the impedance requirements of the receiver, I connected it to my system which has four-ohm speakers at the front and three six-ohm speakers for centre and surround. Despite running only five speakers, when I turned the level up very high (in order to test a particularly massive subwoofer), the amplifier emitted an almighty crack at one point in the movie soundtrack (OK, it was while the world was blowing up, but the crack wasn’t on the disc). I backed things back down rapidly after that.

I’d be inclined to look for higher sensitivity loudspeakers with sensible six to eight-ohm impedances to use with this receiver. Within those constraints, it sounded excellent.

One of the functions provided under the audio adjustment key, and given a dedicate key of its own, is the ‘Sound Retriever’ function. The other brands have something similar, and this function purports to “compensate for the loss of data upon compression”. In other words, to try to restore what has been lost in lossy compression. With the other receivers, the circuits are virtually inaudible in their effect. This one isn’t. It changes the sound very significantly in a way that is fairly unpleasant. It sounded as though high frequency boost was added, pushing forward the level of cymbals, adding a bit of zing, and sometimes sibilance to the human singing voice. It also seemed to bring up the lower midrange a little (in fact, the whole level was bumped up noticeably, but these areas more than others). It was splashy. And best switched off.