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Sunfire Home Theater Grand III Processor

When you need to rock your crib --and the neighborhood

Francis Vale

In case you weren't aware of the distinction, a home theater processor handles playback from multiple audio sources, including 2-channel stereo, multi-speaker surround sound for movies and next generation surround audio CDs, but, unlike a home theater receiver, does not have amplifiers to power speakers. And the Sunfire Home Theater Grand III processor is the company's latest spin on lease-busting home theater products capable of awing your jealous friends and terrifying small animals. Although you need separate amplification, the HTG III is a total solution for handling any CD audio or movie surround sound format now or in the future.

The HTG III does it all -- Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS Neo: 6, and even user-configurable all-speaker stereo. Forget momentarily what these confusing format names mean or do. Just know this: With the HTG III you can run a simple two channel stereo rig, or run up to nine speakers plus four separate subwoofers. The HTG III is the cornerstone for building your home Cineplex, with much better sound too boot. The HTG III even sports an AM/FM radio tuner when you need to catch your breath between Blockbuster Video runs. This processor also features the unique-to-Sunfire "Holographic" image circuit that delivers more life-like sound for two-channel stereo playback. Furthermore, if you have a pair of speakers in a second room, or zone, the HTG III can play can play stereo sound in the second room independently of what is playing in the primary zone -- movies in one, Mozart in another.

In a typical home living room surround sound setup you have left and right front speakers, a center channel speaker plopped on the TV, and two rear surround speakers, all mounted where they hopefully create an immersed in an audio soup bowl illusion. This you-are-there sensation is notoriously tough to pull off, even with all five speakers correctly positioned. So more speakers must be better, right? With the HTG III and an appropriately labeled DVD (Dolby Digital EX or DTS ES) you can add two additional speakers positioned on the back wall aimed directly at the rear of your head or placed on the rearmost side walls, bringing the speaker total up to seven.

The HTG III lets you go even further as it contains special outputs (driven independently of any DVD/ audio format) that drive two additional side speakers placed near the front half of the room, giving you nine channels in all. Now hang four subwoofers off the HTG III (the fourth is run off its own balanced XLR output) and badda-boom!   Kiss your apartment lease goodbye or wait for the neighborhood-summoned police to show up.

But creating Richter scale audio earthquakes in the living room is meaningless if processor sound quality is poor. And here is where the HTG III truly delivers. Bob Carver, the founder of Sunfire, is well known in high-end audio circles for his legendary products. It is this high-end product DNA that separates the HTG III from the rest of the processor pack. It doesn't matter if it's straight up stereo or nine speakers blazing in Wagnerian surround sound fury, the HTG III sounds stunning no matter what's pouring out its megahertz-beating electronic heart.

The HTG III and its straightforward setup menus, plus its most excellent remote (which is also easy to see in the dark--yeah!), will make your installation and speaker adjustments relatively painless, even for first timers. There is also a RS-232 port for hooking up a PC or home controller to operate all the HTG III functions and for doing flash memory upgrades. Finally, an IEEE 1394 (Firewire) port is on the unit's back for future expansion.

As with all processors and/or surround receivers, the seemingly endless connection possibilities on the rear of the HTG III make it easy to mess something up during installation. To avoid your speakers getting fried by a transient electrical blast ALWAYS turn the amplifiers off when changing connections around on the back of any surround processor.

The $3,495 Sunfire Home Theater Grand III processor will most definitely rock your crib.   For people who love both music and movies it's a gotta-have-it system. Available in a standard 19" width or a 17" width "Architect's Choice" version, the HTG III promises years of satisfaction without compromise or fear of overnight obsolescence.

Francis 's Verdict (five is the highest)

Install                  4

Ease of Use        4

Reliability           5

Expandability     5

Sound                 4

Overall Value      4

21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com

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