The press release broke shortly before the big show--CES 2004. "Crystal View's New Sound-Art Plasma Display Loudspeaker Solution Features Snell Acoustics Technology." It was a lengthy title for certain, but the news was intriguing nonetheless.
Crystal View crept quietly behind the A/V scene for just a few short years. I had seen some nice products demo'd, but nothing that really put a flag in the ground.
Certainly Snell Acoustics, a company hailed for outstanding loudspeakers well into the "high end" classification, wouldn't rush into a relationship with just any company. To be honest, if it had been just about any other speaker company I would have laughed it off. But Snell? I was anxious to get a listen.
Without doubt, a pair of two-way Snell Acoustics speakers flanking either side of a 50-inch, 1280x768 native resolution plasma screen qualifies as "unique." Add to that a contrast ration of 1000:1 and an outboard video processor and things really start to get interesting.
Crystal View separates itself from competitors by using a staff of engineers and technicians who make good video better. This is achieved by Crystal View's commitment to calibrate each display and processor individually before it leaves the factory.
The CV-NNR1 video processor is an outboard unit with eight programmable inputs. This unit established itself instantly as the brains behind the glass. Obvious attention to detail and great care has been taken in its design. The unit is hefty and well built, featuring an array of BNC-type connections on the back panel.
The plasma display alone without the bezel is rather plain in appearance. And the bezel has no shape or unique appeal--not unlike a Fujitsu or Pioneer.
Adding the Sound-Art (Snell) Frame adds new life and purpose to the Crystal View CVP-50. Here again, the build quality is excellent with obvious care taken. The Sound-Art Frame flanks a pair of two-way D'Appolito speaker arrays. Each array incorporates two 5.25-inch woofers and a single one-inch aluminum cone tweeter.
The Sound-Art Frame itself is machined from a single piece of furniture-grade MDF wood. The speaker enclosures are lined using Snell's Quiet Box technology, in which inner and outer cabinet layers sandwich a damping layer of Noise Killer. The result is a higher level of structural integrity and refined low frequency response, even at higher volume levels.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
I received the review sample of the Crystal View CVP-50 plasma and Sound-Art Frame directly from the CES floor. While it was obvious that the plasma packaging had paid the price in being held by union-wage hands, the Sound-Art Frame arrived in a crate worthy of being para-dropped into my yard.
Unpacking the Sound-Art Frame became a test of strength and longevity for my Makita cordless and me. There really is no way to easily handle it with one person. We first retrieved the CVP-50 display and installed the frame onto it before hanging the unit on a wall in my living room using a Sanus Systems plasma mount.
The process was easy, but time consuming and relatively awkward at best. However, the components are quality and did not show the signs of reinstallation fatigue that I expected following the trade show.
I connected the Snell speakers to my Parasound HALO amplifier and began making the connections between the video processor and the display.
Soon the components came to life.
The remote supplied with the Crystal View plasma and that which is supplied with the video processor are not consistent with the quality and thoughtfulness of the rest of the components in the group.
The CV-NNR1 video processor was packaged with beautiful cables from Wireworld. A nice touch to be certain, but unfortunately not part of the Crystal View package. Because the processor had already been set up with the corresponding inputs and correct aspect ratios it was relatively easy to install. Walking through the processor and the menu screen of the display was as easy as one could expect. I did like assigning and labeling the inputs to my system identities. The process was quick and intuitive.
Overall, the installation was not very difficult, though I believe this is a custom-oriented product--not one you throw in the back of your pickup and drive home to install yourself.
The Crystal View CVP-50 plasma, processor and Sound-Art Frame are quite literally three reviews in one. The value to the consumer is that they are sold as a package at just under $17,000, and there isn't a shortcut taken on any one component in the group.
I tried to get myself into the methodology behind the Sound-Art Frame. Having Snell speakers in the package made the notion easy, but I was still a bit skeptical as to the performance of the sound.
I started first with some two-channel CDs just to get a feel for the audio performance. Immediately the Sound-Art Frame presented itself as a high-end speaker system with brilliant resolution and tight midbass. I pushed the speaker quite hard to see if I could get the frame to fail in the way of resonance--nothing.
The Snell speakers have an obvious affection for female vocals. I would argue that the midrange clarity on the Sound-Art Frame is unsurpassed by any small bookshelf speaker--especially one that disappears into the function of the display. The overall performance of the Snell speaker package could be summed up as uncanny. I simply did not expect the speakers to sound as large as they did with the image, depth and precision of any high-end, two-way speaker system. There were certainly no compromises when the Sound-Art Frame was designed.
It was difficult to remember that this was a plasma display review, not a speaker ensemble review. Sure, it is part of the package, but the audio performance was designed to enhance the video performance--right?
After watching Seabiscuit several times on various systems and including my familiarity of the cuts on my Runco PL-50 plasma, I had the perfect demo disc picked out. In one or two cuts, this movie can make or break any display.
The black levels were profound, with hues of deep red and flesh tones well-matched and honest. Watching the horses race around the track, the images held tight even with black shades meeting up to white. The Crystal View has a subtleness about it that I would not describe as soft, but rather transparent and refined.
Next I selected Finding Nemo. Nemo and Marlin (sad that I know their names and I don't even have children) were a brilliant orange that I am certain was banned by the NTSC. There was no sign of blooming, even directly against the white stripes, and for the first time I could clearly identify the black outline between the white and the orange even as they were swimming. This is a direct result of the quality outboard video processor.
At one point in the movie the young niece comes to get her teeth worked on at the dental office. When she started tapping on the aquarium glass, I immediately noticed fingerprints on the glass--brilliant!
The video performance from the Crystal View was on par with the best plasmas I have seen. This is clearly a company making a valiant effort to establish a foothold in the high-end video business. Crystal View is off to a strong start and now has a statement piece to help further the effort.
I do have a couple of concerns, however. For starters, Crystal View prides itself on video quality and servicing its dealers and customers, and yet none of their products has a warranty greater than one year. This may not be any different than many other companies in the plasma business, but the warranty certainly makes a statement.
Secondly, the Sound-Art Frame is outstanding and limiting at the same time. I would like to see a future generation that incorporates a center channel speaker into the frame and perhaps offers a matched pair of rear channel surrounds. (This is still a home theater industry, isn't it?)
Even though I pick at these points, this Crystal View product puts a clear flag in the ground. Every component is top notch and well-thought out, and the picture quality is the proof of obvious dedication to excellence.
CVP-50 HD Plasma Display
Screen Size: 50-inch
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Native Resolution: 1280 x 768
Contrast Ratio: 1000:1
Dimensions: 47-15/16"W x 18 1/8"H x 3 7/8"D
Weight: 121 lbs. (with frame)
CV-NNR1 Video Processor
Inputs: (8) configurable as S-Video, composite, component or RGB pass through
Processing: Motion adaptive deinterlacing with
automatic 3:2 or 2:2
Aspect Ratio: Programmable from 1.33:1 (4:3)
to 2.35:1 in steps of .01
Dimensions: 17"W x 3.5"H x 10"D
Speaker Array: D'Appolito
Frequency Response: 70Hz to 20kHz
Power Requirement: 25 to 150 watts
Weight: 35 lbs.
Finishes: Black gloss (standard)
Custom colors and real wood veneer available
Price: $16,995 with Sound-Art Frame