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GROUP TEST 

 

DOLBY PRO-LOGIC SATELLITE SYSTEMS

 

1 . PACE MSS-1000  £400 (inc. 60cm dish)

Over the past year the MSS-100 has become a top seller and rightly so, this was the very first satellite receiver to feature an on-board Dolby Pro Logic surround-sound decoder, and 4-channel amplifier, in one box. It also has twin smart-card slots, two dish inputs, a 250-channel tuner, Wegner Panda 1 stereo noise reduction  and a positioner interface for a motorised dish, making it an able multi-satellite receiver, in addition to being one of the best specified Astra systems on the market.  

 

In spite of all that it’s very easy to use, with a well thought out menu-driven on-screen display that shows channel number and name, favourite channels and, if required, access to detailed tuning information and adjustments. The tuner is pre-programmed, with all of the English-language Astra channels occupying the first 20 slots, and they’ve also been grouped together into categories (films, sport, news, children etc. ) for rapid selection. All of the channel allocations can be re-organised if required. Other handy features include a four mode ‘sound shape’ or tone control, sleep timer and 8-event/28-day VCR timer. There’s also a reasonably secure parental lock, activated by a 4-digit PIN code, that can be applied to individual channels and the set-up menus.

 

However, it’s the Pro-Logic decoder that sells this receiver, and the fact that it can be used as a core component in a home cinema system, processing surround sound and stereo audio from other sources, such as a NICAM VCR. The built-in amplifier drives the front stereo and rear surround speakers directly; speakers are not included in the price but Pace offer a Wharfedale package as an option for an extra £150, though any reasonably competent speakers will do. If the fairly modest amplifier (15 watts per channel) proves inadequate there are line-level outputs for all of the main channels, (plus a centre-front dialogue channel), for feeding to an AV amplifier. The centre-front channel can be piped to the TV’s own speaker, alternatively one of the surround sound outputs can be configured as a centre-front channel.  As well as full-blown Dolby Pro-Logic and Dolby 3 channel the processor has additional output modes that simulate surround-sound effects, these are designated studio, club, cinema, concert, stadium and cosmos; don’t expect too much, and you won’t be disappointed...

 

On-screen performance is excellent and even normally noisy channels like UK Gold come in loud and clear. Stereo sound is very clean, there’s some background hiss but it’s by no means intrusive. The Pro-Logic decoder is quite capable, and once set it manages to resolve and localise detailed sounds without too much effort. For small to medium sized set-ups it does really well, it’s flexible, easy to use and set-up,  though it has to be said that the built-in amplifiers lack guts and it really needs to be connected to a beefy AV amp to do justice to the more spectacular effects.

 

PLUS:

A neat and generally well-designed one-box solution for surround sound. It looks smart and it is easy to use. The specification is sensible rather than flashy,  it’s solidly built -- British too --  satellite AV performance is spot-on and the price seems very fair, considering the cost of buying surround-sound components separately

 

MINUS:

Surround sound performance is a bit lightweight, the on-board amps lack the power to make you sit up and take notice. The simulated surround effects are best described as a novelty, one which quickly wears off... Using it as the centrepiece of a surround sound system can become complicated and/or involve a quality compromise

 

Picture quality:            ****

Sound quality:            ****

Build quality:              ****

Ease of Use:               ***

Features:                    ****

Value for money 95%

Pace telephone (01274) 53200

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

 

* Twin smart-card slots means no more getting up to swap cards for subscription channels. The centre button opens the hinged flap and ejects both cards for easy access, (though they’re still connected); the flap closes automatically when the button is pressed a second time

 

* The small dial on the right side of the front panel has a variety of functions. In normal use it steps through the channel memory. It can also be used to adjust the output volume and change selections on certain items shown on the on-screen display

 

* The highly informative display panel contains a ten-character alphanumeric readout which shows channel name as well as number, plus a variety of other mode and status indicators. The display also shows the surround and sound processor mode, parental lock and how many smart cards are in use

 

* As remote handsets for satellite receivers go this one isn’t too bad, at least the buttons aren’t all the same size. The labelling is clear and frequently-used functions are quite well identified

 

* The back panel looks worse than it actually is. The bank of spring-loaded connectors on the right side are for the speakers right and left front speakers and two rear surround speakers. The phono connectors beneath are line outputs for the stereo and surround channels, and the centre-front dialogue channel

 

* The four SCART connectors on the back panel are for connection to the TV, a VCR, auxiliary device (laser disc player etc.), and an external decoder or dish positioner. It also has two LNB inputs, making it a reasonably well qualified multi-satellite receiver

 

SPECS BOX

Features: 250-channel tuner, Wegner-Panda 1 stereo noise reduction, Dolby Pro-Logic surround-sound decoder, pseudo-surround processor, pre-settable sound ‘shape’ (tone control...), on-screen display with on-line help, 8-event/28-day VCR timer, sleep timer, parental lock, pre-settable contrast and OSD background colour, channel scan

Sockets: 4 x SCART AV/decoder/positioner, 4 x speaker outputs, line audio out, centre-front line out, rear surround line out, 2 x LNB inputs, UHF aerial bypass, mains

Power handling 2 x 15 watts (front stereo), 2 x 15 watts (rear surround)

 

 

2. AMSTRAD SRD2000 £ 380 (inc. 60cm dish)

The SRD-2000 marks a distinct move up-market for Amstrad, and it’s the first real competition for Pace who until now have been the only company to market a satellite receiver with Dolby Pro-Logic surround sound. This is also happens to be the first satellite receiver to be ‘digital-ready’ with an output socket for connection to an external decoder; hopefully Amstrad haven’t jumped the gun as the detailed specifications for future digital video systems are still being decided.

 

Of more immediate interest is the 300-channel tuner with all of the current Astra channels, and an assortment of stations from other satellites, pre-programmed into the receivers memory. Like the Pace MSS-1000 it has Wegner Panda 1 stereo sound, two card slots, and twin LNB inputs, though at the moment there’s no provision for a matching positioner, to drive a steerable dish. It’s very well equipped to handle external AV sources with four SCART sockets, plus a set of phono inputs for composite video and stereo audio. Other noteworthy features include an  8-event/1-year VCR timer, favourite channel memory, channel ‘flip’ (to quickly select a previously selected channel), tone controls, and a fairly basic parental lock, that disables the front-panel channel change function for designated channels.

 

Apart from power on, channel selection and pay-to-view authorise buttons on the smart-looking front panel, everything is controlled by an on-screen display, via the remote handset. Nothing unusual about that, except the handset is not especially friendly. Most of the buttons are rather small and not very well laid out, which makes life more difficult than it needs to be. All tuning parameters, including channel name, and allocation can be adjusted, and there’s good provision for multi-satellite operation.

 

The Pro-Logic processor has amplified outputs for right and left stereo, rear surround and centre-front channels, each rated at 25 watts.  It also has line outputs for each channel, plus one for an active sub-woofer.  Amstrad have put together a five-box JPW speaker package which they’re offering as an optional extra for £100. The decoder has built-in noise generator for setting the level of each channel, this can be sequenced, or each channel selected manually. In addition to Pro Logic the processor has settings for Dolby 3 channel, phantom centre mode and pre-settable treble and bass controls.

 

Picture quality is generally very good, the tuner has above average sensitivity and copes well with weaker channels. Noise levels are low, colours look sharp and well defined. The stereo sound channels have a flat, even response with only a modest amount of hiss. The Pro Logic decoder performs well, picking out intricate sounds, though dynamic effects tend to lack drama when heard through the on-board amps; connecting it up to an external AV amplifier and decent-sized speakers brings it alive.

 

PLUS: A remarkably flexible and versatile design, equally capable as part of a home cinema system, or as a multi-satellite receiver. Pro Logic performance is okay and picture quality is better than average.  It has good provision for connecting external components and -- if Amstrad have got it right -- it should be reasonably future proof

 

MINUS: It’s big and heavy -- for a satellite receiver. Some menu routines can be a little tricky to navigate and exit, if you get it wrong. The remote control handset is really horrible, the layout is careless; it has far too many titchy buttons and they’re packed too closely together

 

Picture quality:            ****

Sound quality:            ****

Build quality:              ***

Ease of Use:               ***

Features:                    *****

Value for money 97%

Amstrad, telephone (01227) 228888

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

 

* Amstrad have put a lot of effort into this one, the styling is smooth and individual. The flap on the right side opens to reveal two smart-card slots, buttons for up/down channel change and pay-to-view authorisation. The only other front-panel control is the on/standby button

 

* The main display panel shows channel name and number, as well as surround-sound mode and various status indicators

 

* Four SCART AV sockets and more phono connectors than you can shake a stick at; the top 3 three are yet another AV input. Below that there are line-level outputs for the main stereo, rear surround, centre-front and sub-woofer channels. The speaker outputs are handled by the bank of spring-loaded terminals.

 

* Two of the three connectors on the left side of the back panel are for the dish inputs, the third one is an IF output for an external digital decoder, let’s just hope Amstrad have got it right the rest of the industry standardise on this type of interface...

 

* How not to design a remote control handset! Far too many tiny, badly labelled buttons, and whatever happened to the layout of the menu cursor control?  Try figuring that one out in a semi-darkened living room

 

* It’s a surprisingly solid design. The quality of construction both inside and out is generally good. The larger than average ventilation grilles on the top panel are functional, so don’t cover them up, at full tilt it puts out quite a lot of heat

 

SPECS BOX

Features: 300-channel tuner, twin smart-card slots, twin LNB inputs, IF (digital ready) output, Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction, Dolby Pro-Logic/Dolby 3 surround sound, tone control, 8-event/365-day timer, on-screen display, parental lock, channel swap/copy, favourite channel memory

Sockets: 4 x SCART AV/decoder, AV input, 4 x speaker outputs, right & left stereo, rear surround, centre front, sub-woofer and digital sound outputs, 2 x LNB inputs, IF output, UHF bypass

Power handling 2 x 18 watts (front stereo), 2 x 18 watts (rear surround)

 

 

COMPARISONS -- WHICH IS BEST?

The two receivers have a remarkably similar price and general specification, moreover there’s almost nothing to choose between them on performance grounds; the SRD-2000 has a slightly punchier sound though both models benefit from connection to an external amplifier and big speakers, especially if they’re to be used in largish rooms. The Pace MSS-1000 has a more refined feel to it, and the Amstrad remote handset is a mess, but the SRD-2000 is marginally more flexible when it comes to using it with other AV sources, and the digital output offers some degree of future-proofing. On balance the SRD-2000 has a very slight edge but in the end both are worth considering as a simple and cost-effective alternative to full-blown AV systems, provided you’re happy to put video and surround sound ahead of traditional hi-fi facilities.  

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1995 2303

 

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