Vivadi Saturn 46 £8000

1st Feb 2005 | 00:00

Vivadi launches its new flat TV concept

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

A great, if not flawless performer




<p>Not native high-def</p><p>Slight picture twitchiness</p>

And now for something completely different: a plasma TV that's also a piece of designer furniture, a fully functioning PC, a DVD/CD player and also upgradable to meet whatever the future might throw at it! There's no doubt about it, ladies and gentlemen: newcomer Vivadi's idea for its debut Saturn plasma system is big. Very big. Not to mention envelope pushing and ambitious.

The Vivadi name and concept has been floating around for a couple of years. But it's only today, after seemingly endless delays while Vivadi tweaked things here, added extra bits there, and tried to sort out complicated licensing and supply deals, that the first fullyfunctioning Vivadi product has arrived. It goes by the name of Saturn, and appropriately, it looks out of this world.

The basic visual premise is simple: a cunning contrast between chic, curved wood finishes and bold, rectangular 'tech'. But that barely tells the story. The screen bolted on to the Saturn system can be any of four sizes: the 46in version available now (and reviewed here), with 42in, 50in, and possibly 61in screens due next year.

The wood sections are available in any of three finishes as are the grilles over the speakers. Vivadi says it will also take on bespoke finishes to suit any taste or décor - for a surcharge, of course. Aesthetic customisation on this level has been hitherto unheard of in the TV world, but given how much plasma TVs cost, it certainly makes sense.

There's even flexibility in exactly what Saturn proposition you buy. It can be purchased in three forms: the screen and stand only for £8,000 (for the 46in version); the screen, stand, 600W of amplification (via three three-channel amps) and built-in Media Gateway for £16,000; and the screen, stand, amp, Media Gateway and matching surround sound speaker system for £24,000.

And when I say the speakers are 'matching finish', I mean it. Floorstanding and stand/wall-mounted speaker options are available in the same combinations of standard finishes as the main TV or, designed on a bespoke basis. What's more, they can easily be switched between passive and active forms.

All this flexibility and I haven't even begun to get my teeth into the Saturn's most extraordinary feature: the optional (but you'd be crazy not to seriously consider it) Media Gateway. This is effectively a fully functioning, integrated PC, equipped with a twin-tuner Freeview receiver and built around Microsoft's eagerly-awaited Media Center operating system. The Saturn is currently the only plasma TV equipped with such a PC/TV convergence-aiding system.

Inevitably, the inclusion of the Media Center's PC sensibility instantly launches the Saturn's feature potential off the scale by normal TV standards. But before I delve into that, there's another key aspect of the Vivadi proposition I must cover: its upgradability.

Vivadi's approach permits you, theoretically at least, to upgrade the Saturn's features, specs and capabilities almost infinitely to meet anything new that comes along. If Vivadi believes a new feature's worth developing a module for, it'll develop it. And Vivadi says that in many cases, such feature modules could be added to your system by your dealer or even yourself, with no need to return your kit to Vivadi HQ.

In these times of endless format wars and technology that changes faster than you change your underpants, the idea of an AV system that can grow old with you, having new bits put in whenever necessary, has considerable appeal.

Feature wonderland

This system is not short of features. A single button on the Saturn's remote calls up the attractive Media Center interface, and from here reams of tricks can be accessed. Naturally internet surfing is available - via broadband or dial-up - along with other internet tricks such as live radio or video streaming.

Your internet link also lets the Saturn connect (during night hours) to a Microsoft server which uploads the programme info necessary to build a 14- day EPG for Freeview. As well as giving you more programme-spotting flexibility than the normal Freeview EPG (including keyword search), this Microsoft facility - presented in a style reminiscent of Sky Digital - is invaluable when it comes to recording programmes on to the Media Gateway's built-in 200GB hard drive. As with Sky , you can set a recording by selecting the programme off the EPG.

Pausing live TV and series linking is also possible - the limitation is that there's only one high quality recording setting, so you can't choose lower recording qualities to save HDD memory. But with 200GB to play with, this shouldn't be a problem. And if it is, the built in CD/DVD player is also a CD/DVD burner (DVD RW format), so you can burn info on to DVD to free up HDD space.

Your 200GB won't just be filled with TV recordings, though, since the Media Gateway also works as a sophisticated storage device for your CDs, digital still pictures and home movies. High definition enthusiasts might be disappointed to hear that there's no inputs on the Media Gateway to which you might add a high-def source, such as a JVC D-Theater DVHS deck. However, I can't stress enough how smoothly this interactivity works. Someday, I'm convinced that all TVs will work this way.

With the surfeit of features, it's easy to overlook the fact that this system is also a TV. Thankfully, images via the built-in Freeview tuners (there are two so you can record one channel while watching another) are very good. Vivadi's engineers have done a cracking job of suppressing traditional plasma nasties such as residual grey/green pixel noise and fizzing over motion.

Playing a DVD reveals that there's no problem with the system's onboard DVD player's MPEG decoding, as blocking artefacts and decoding 'twitches' are absent. Fine details from both the DVD deck and the screen are impressive, too.

PC origins

I did note some visual artefacts though. There's a slightly juddery look to motion, possibly courtesy of the picture's PC origins; colours can band a little; frame jumps can occur during DVD playback; and colours can lose some of their naturalism when things get dark.

But while this means the Vivadi isn't a world-beating picture performer, for once I don't feel it's worth getting too hung up. Why? Because of the whole scale of the Vivadi proposition. Its flexibility, upgradability and huge feature count relegate the picture to a smaller element in its overall appeal than normal. Even more pertinently, its upgradability means that provided you're willing to commit ongoing funds to keeping up with the technological Joneses, you should be able to continually improve the Saturn's performance.

NXT generation

I tested the Saturn's sound system using its active configuration, in a 5.1 system, with a pair of floorstanders (the world's first to use NXT flat-speaker technology based around six huge 'exciters') and two of the smaller, stand-mounted rears.

These speakers provide a perfect demonstration of the joys of NXT technology, painting a rich, cohesive audio landscape that envelopes you in the sort of convincingly 3D soundstage that characterises NXT technology's lack-of-point-source attributes.

There's also an immense amount of subtlety and detail available - I actually picked up background effects in some movies that I'd never heard before. The speakers' strengths are sufficient enough to make them worth considering for anyone wanting the full Vivadi designer solution.

With a system that's all about personal choice - almost to the point of obsessiveness - all we can do is applaud it for its ingenuity, confirm that it's a great, if not flawless performer, and leave you to decide for yourselves if the full Vivadi monty is a) to your tastes, and b) within the scope of your bank account. If the answer to a) and b) is yes, then we suggest you audition one pronto.

But be warned: once you've experienced the Media Center interface, going back to an ordinary TV is hard.

UpgradesTVComputingHi-Fi/audioDigital homeMedia Center
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