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REVIEW

 

PACE MSS290 Satellite Receiver

 

INTRO

Paceís latest mid-range satellite receiver has home cinema aspirations

 

COPY

Judging by the success of JVCís 3D Symphonic TV -- clutter-free Ďsurround-soundí without the wires and boxes  -- they seem to have hit a nerve. It appears Pace are trying to appeal to a similar audience with the recently launched MSS290, a snip at £230 (including 60cm dish). This mid-range Astra receiver has a multi-mode spatial sound processor which generates an enhanced stereo effect through a NICAM TVs own speakers; or it can be puffed up to a close approximation of full multi-channel surround using a pair of active speakers (or ordinary speakers and a stereo amp), placed behind the listening position. However, at that stage any convenience or cost advantages it may have over full-spec Dolby 3-channel surround or Pro Logic, begin to evaporate.  

 

The receiver is a familiar design, closely related to its stablemate, the MSS200. It has a 250-channel tuner with eight categorised favourite channel memories, 4-mode manual and preset sound shape (tone) control,  8-event/28-day VCR timer, parental lock and a single card slot. This lives behind a hinged flap on the left side of the front panel, next to four control buttons. On the opposite side of the fascia thereís a simple 3-digit channel readout, everything else is handled by a comprehensive menu-driven on-screen display, and controlled from a standard-issue Pace remote handset. Itís the same one they supply with all of their receivers, which means lots of tiny, poorly-labelled buttons, some of them do nothing at all...

 

Thereís a full compliment of AV socketry on the back panel, including an extra pair of line-outputs for the rear surround channel. The output is derived from rear-channel information on Dolby Surround encoded material, using a proprietary 3D sound matrix microchip. The decoder chip makes use of the Hafler effect -- the core technology in the Dolby Surround (Stereo) process --  where centre-front dialogue and rear effects channels are represented as the sum and difference in the phase, between the right and left stereo channels. The MSS290 untangles these signals from the stereo soundtrack of satellite broadcasts, and programmes on terrestrial TV, or movies on tape as well,  if the receiver is hooked up to NICAM VCR using a SCART lead.

 

Picture performance is good, our sample managed a near sparkly-free picture on UK Gold, confirming above average sensitivity. Colour fidelity is spot-on, and although thereís a small amount of noise in areas of high saturation, picture noise levels are generally very low. Stereo sound, with all of the effects switched off, is fine. Noise levels are lower than normal, bass response is on the light side but the sound is flat and uncoloured.

 

Spatial stereo sound -- using a Dolby Surround source --  is a big improvement on normal digitally-derived spatial effects. The soundstage extends some distance sideways from the speakers, with individual sounds very clearly focused. Itís not a very natural sound, but thereís lots going on, and its usually possible to find a happy medium by fiddling with the level control. Adding the rear channel makes a tremendous difference, comparable with Dolby 3-Channel in the amount of rear-channel information it resolves. However, it can be fooled and really complicated effects -- background noises in the Enterpriseís engine room on Star Trek TNG are one example -- caused the soundstage to collapse into a distorted heap. On more straightforward surround soundtracks it performed well, accurately localising most rear channel sounds, and with minimal bleed-over from the dialogue channel.

 

VERDICT

Plus: Good picture and sound performance plus a very fair price. Spatial sound is a cheap way of pepping up movie and TV programmes with Dolby Surround soundtracks, without the nuisance of extra cables and speakers. A capable mid-range receiver, easy to use and well qualified as a home cinema source component.

 

Minus: Spatial sound can be an acquired taste, itís busy and sometimes confused. 3D sound with the extra speakers and amplification ramps up the cost and complexity, coming dangerously close to pukka Pro-Logic systems, including Paceís own MSS1000. The remote control handset is a nasty piece of work, too many tiny, poorly labelled buttons

 

Features:             250 channels, 8 categorised channel memories, 8-event/28-day timer, sleep timer, radio screen blanking, parental lock (PIN coded),  4-mode sound shape (tone) control, 3-mode 3D sound system,  13 audio presets (Wegner Panda NR plus J17, 75uS or 50uS de-emphasis)

Sockets:             3 x SCART AV, 1 x LNB input (F-connector), line audio & rear channel outputs (phonos) RF bypass (coaxial), mains (Telefunken)

Dimensions:            360 x 266 x 63 mm  

 

Picture quality            9

Sound quality            8

Features                     8

Ease of use                 8

Build quality               8

 

Value for money 88%

 

Pace Micro Technology, telephone (01274) 532000

 

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

* Plain, simple cosmetics and a rather basic 3-digit channel display, not much to look at here...

 

* Thereís a single viewing card slot, itís behind a hinged flap on the left side of the front panel

 

* Itís that remote again! Unfortunately Pace supply the same horrible little remote handset with all of their receivers

 

* Three SCART AV sockets;  connect one of them to a NICAM VCR and you can get spatial and 3D sounds from off-air broadcasts and movies on tape

 

* Rear channel output phonos --  the same signal comes out of both plugs -- these line-level outputs have to be fed to a pair of active speakers, or ordinary speakers connected to a stereo amplifier

 

---end---

” R. Maybury 1996 2806

 

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