In anticipation of the arrival of 3D video playback Pioneer has launched five mid-priced receivers in the VSX line for 2010 that are fully 3D ready. The Pioneer VSX-820-K is positioned just above the entry level model and retails for just $299. Although this price may suggest some cut corners but surprisingly Pioneer has not compromised on the quality and performance and even included many features that you will find very useful, especially if you own an iPod or iPhone.
Latest Update: The Pioneer VSX-820-K is Now On Sale at Amazon.com
Design & Connectivity
Pioneer retained the sleek glossy black finish for the new VSX series. There’s a large info display in the center along with a row of buttons for tuner controls and speaker selection. To the left is the power button with the input selector below that and the large master volume on the right.
You will be glad to know that Pioneer has included playback and control features for the iPhone and iPod. This is indeed a very unique feature for new Pioneer receivers. A standard iPhone/iPod Direct Control port and a USB port is included on the front panel for this purpose, and a dedicated cable is included as well.
Also on the front panel is a standard phone jack, a mini 3.5mm jack for the setup mic, and a set of composite video and audio inputs.
On the back panel you get a good number of connectivity options. There are 4 HDMI inputs and one output, 2 component video and 4 composite video inputs, and 3 digital audio inputs – one coaxial and 2 optical. A pair or pre-outs are provided for front height speakers if you intend to use this receiver for a Dolby Pro Logic IIz setup. 5 pairs of speaker output terminals are conveniently located for easy connections.
There is also a connection port for an optional Bluetooth adapter (model: AS-BT100) which costs $99.
For a budget-priced receiver, the Pioneer VSX-820-K comes with an impressive set of useful features. It comes with the latest HDMI 1.4a specification which supports 3D playback with Audio Return channel (ARC). Power output is rated at 110 watts per channel which is identical to the higher models. On-screen menu has been upgraded to a nicer looking full color GUI. Sirius Satellite radio compatibility is available through a dedicated port, and auto setup is accomplished with Pioneer’s proprietary Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration system (MCACC) that takes into account ambient noise, speaker size and distance.
Here’s a summary of its features:
- 110 Watts output for each of the 5 channels
- HDMI ver 1.4a specification for next generation of 3-D video playback.
- Supports high-definition audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
- Dolby Pro Logic IIz adds front “height” channels for a more immersive experience.
- PureCinema processing for 3D noise reduction and Y/C color separation.
- Works With iPhone Certification – you can enjoy music with iTunes album art, movies, downloaded TV shows from iTunes, photos, web content such as YouTube. An included USB/composite video cable makes connecting your iPhone to share your favorite media easy – and your iPhone charges automatically when connected. Unlike other receivers, there’s no need to buy a separate dock. This included cable also works with most generations of iPod Classic, Nano, and iPod Touch. Pioneer’s iControlAVR (downloaded separately via Apple’s App Store) gives you total control over your home theater sound.
- Bluetooth Ready – you can add a Pioneer AS-BT100 Bluetooth adapter (sold separately) to release your music stored on your iPhone, Blackberry, or Android smartphone as well as other Bluetooth-enabled sources like laptops.
- Advanced Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration system (MCACC) provides a near studio-quality, multi-channel listening experience customized specifically to your listening environment.
- Advanced Sound Retriever (AIR) enhances audio playback of compressed audio such as WMA, MP3 and AAC to near CD quality sound. This technology also enhances the audio quality of SIRIUS Satellite Radio and can realize an upper limit frequency of 20kHz with compressed audio playback for surprising audio richness and clarity even from “lossy” digital audio sources.
- Auto Level Control equalizes volume level differences between tracks playing from an iPhone or iPod or during television programming.
Setup & Performance
Setting up the VSX-820-K is a snap. The manual comes with comprehensive instructions and information which makes it easy even if you have not set up a home theater system before. However, be aware that unlike the higher models in this series, the 820-K does not come with a video converter. What this means is that when you use component video cables or HDMI cables from the input device, the same cables should be used for connecting to the TV. You will also need to connect an extra RCA video cable from the receiver to the TV to access the OSD (on-screen menu display). (Refer diagram here or go to page 22 of the manual for more info).
The MCACC auto setup did a good job correcting the room acoustics. Frequency response across the audio spectrum was smooth. The bass output from the subwoofer was strong but not overpowering, which is a good thing.
The epic opening scene of the Star Trek blu-ray disc where the Federation Starship USS Kelvin was attacked, the low frequencies were deep while the main speakers produced a wide and enveloping soundstage, with wonderful clarity and dynamic range.
Picture quality in terms of color presentation was not as rich compared to higher models like the VSX-1020-K, but overall, the images had good details and resolution.
On the Cars blu-ray disc, color and contrast were sufficiently vibrant and film-like. Black levels were solid, and gray levels contained no signs of breaking up or pixelization. Christian Bale’s skin tones on The Black Knight were natural and the amount of detail present was remarkable in close-up shots.
For a feature rich 3D ready receiver below $300, the Pioneer VSX-820-K pushes the price to performance bar up a few notches. It does its job of providing an enjoyable home movie experience and is also well positioned for the future in case you want to upgrade your system to full 3D playback.
Actual user review:
• “After trying a Denon, and two Yamaha’s, I finally hit gold with the Pioneer VSX-820-K. This is a superb receiver in all regards. It produces clear crisp sound in all modes. There are no lip synch issues at all when linked to my HDTV. I had terrible lip sync problems with the Denon. It has all the features I need and more and has an excellent remote that is both intuitive and comprehensive. I use my receiver for CD’s, FM radio and my Samsung HDTV. I use DishNetwork for my TV programming.
The VSX series is Pioneer’s newest and includes several models all the way up to the 1120. However, when you read the specs, all these receivers have the same tuner and power plant. The higher the model number, the more numerous the features. But no increase in output. That makes for an easier buying decision. You don’t compromise power for features if you chose a mid range model like the 820 or 920. I noticed that the Denon and Yamaha receivers I tried were made in China. The Pioneers are made in Japan. I’ll go with Japan for high quality electronics every time. Pioneer has hit a home run with this new series of receivers.” – W.P.Dulmaine (USA)
•“Sound quality was good until I ran the Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration system. Then It became superb (don’t skip running it). This is a great receiver packed with features. although I consider to exchange it to the Pioneer VSX-1020-K Audio/Video Receiver for the upscaling and the ipod application. – JB Janchous (USA)
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