Secrets Best of 2010 Awards

Best Product Awards for 2010

The SECRETS Editorial Team is pleased to announce the Best of 2010 Awards. This year we have added some new categories for Media, so look for our awards in the Blu-ray, CD and Vinyl Recordings. And we have established a new award (it is so “Bad”, you will have to go to the second page to see it). The Editorial Team also wants to highlight the technologies that we will be paying attention to in 2011, so look for the “Technologies on the Rise Awards”.

Congratulations to all of our 2010 WINNERS!!

Two-Channel Speakers Bookshelf Speakers
Surround Sound 5.1 Speaker System Surround Sound Speakers
Compact Speakers Best Value 5.1 Speaker System
Mid-Price AV Receiver Best Value Receiver
Tube Preamplifier  High-End Power Amplifier
High-End Integrated Amplifier Integrated Tube Amplifier
Mid-Price Power Amplifier Best Value Multi-Channel Power Amplifier
Best New Cable Company Headphone Amplifier
DAC Calibration Software
Wireless Music Streamer USB Digital Audio Accessory
Universal Player Best Value Blu-ray Player
High-End SACD Player Best Value SACD Player
High-End Subwoofer Compact Subwoofer
Mid-Price Subwoofer Projector
Surround Sound Processor

Bad Ass Award for 2010

This year, we announced an award in a new category: “The Bad Ass Award”. It won’t necessarily be given out each year, but in 2010, the Paradigm SUB 2 tested so outrageously good, we decided it deserved the moniker, “Bad Ass.”

Bad Ass Award

Best Media Awards for 2010

New Vinyl Recording Vinyl Recording - Reissue
CD Recording  Blu-ray Movie Restoration
CGI Animated Blu-ray Live-action Blu-ray

Technologies on the Rise

Technologies on the Rise

One of the most talked-about technologies this past year has been 3D displays. Every manufacturer has introduced models that are compatible with the new Blu-ray 3D format as well as broadcast feeds from DirectTV on select sports channels. Some TVs even convert 2D material to 3D. Despite the large selection of products available 3D is still firmly in the category of emerging technology. While we at Secrets think it’s important to showcase cutting-edge products with Best Of awards, 3D TVs are not quite at a stage where they are worthy of special recognition.

LCD TVs in particular display image artifacts with 3D content that are too significant to ignore. The single display we reviewed, a Toshiba WX800 Cinema Series panel, did not perform well enough in 3D mode to earn an award. As a 2D television, it showed admirable performance in all testing but it was not a stand-out nor did it improve on existing tech. The addition of 3D did not make it a better TV than its predecessors or its competitors.

That is really the crux of the matter. We couldn’t come up with any winners in this category because the addition of 3D did not constitute an award-worthy advance in display technology. In the past panels like the Pioneer Kuro plasma were special because they raised the bar for video performance. At this point, 3D is a new feature but not an advance in imaging per se. We will watch this closely during the coming year and hope to have 2011 models in our theaters for review. I look forward to working with more displays and being able to make new and better observations from a broader frame of reference.

Chris Eberle, Senior Editor

Technologies on the Rise-Media Server

Media streaming around the home is a technology that is coming on strong for video and audio, as evidenced by our award for an audio streaming device this year in the Squeezebox Touch.  It is also an area that we have been keeping a close eye on and will be covering more in the future.  However, we felt that we were unable to award a prize for overall media streaming for a variety of reasons, and so we would like to explain this choice.

The first problem still facing media streaming is the lack of interoperability of content among devices.  If you purchase a Blu-ray player, all your movies will play, but depending on the device you purchase for media streaming, that might not be the case.  Netflix has seemingly become the one standard among all devices, though it can lack in quality compared to services like Vudu and the implementations among devices can vary widely in quality and ease of use.  Many companies that have setup media streamers have setup their own content, such as Apple, that is tied to their specific hardware, leaving you only one choice if you want that content.

Additionally, the task of creating your own content is still more complex than it needs to be.  Perhaps the most common format for films now is a version of h.264 compression for video, with AC3 for surround audio and usually in a container such as MKV.  Most devices support this format, but some might not support h.264 without certain flags enabled or disabled, or their AC3 handing might not work correctly, or many other issues.  The easiest solution is to simply rip a complete image of a movie you own (a .ISO) to your personal media server, so that your films are available in their original quality, with all the extras, but many devices don’t support this for fear of piracy.

In the end, while there are many devices that people can use to stream their audio and video content , we don’t see a clear winner in this category just yet.  Fortunately, there are many new products that look promising, and there will certainly be a lot more to come at CES and other events throughout the upcoming year.

Chris Heinonen, Senior Editor

Technologies on the Rise-Amplifier

Switching technology in audio amplifiers took a huge leap forward with the introduction of the Mark Levinson No 53 power amplifier. It performed so well, we think that this technology belongs on the watch list for 2011, as we expect other companies to also improve their versions of switching amplifiers.

John Johnson, Editor-in-Chief