Pioneer introduces new Apple-focused A/V receivers

This week, Pioneer Electronics introduced its latest models of consumer audio/video home theater receivers, which the company described as “built for the Apple lifestyle” during a hands-on press briefing on Monday.

The line comprises the VSX-521 ($250), VSX-821 ($350), VSX-921 ($450), and VSX-1021 ($550). The top of the line model (1021) is the only one with an ethernet port, and includes a number of special features that the others don’t, such as AirPlay support, iPad remote control, Internet radio, and DLNA support.

All models except the 521 feature a front USB connection that can charge an iPod, iPhone, or iPad (cable included) as well as transmit audio, video, and photos through the receiver to your TV and speakers. The 521 just has a minijack input on the front for connecting your device. All models can also use the optional $100 Stereo Bluetooth Adapter with A2DP profile support to stream music wirelessly to the receiver from iOS or other Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Air Jam on the iPad.

The $550 1021 is the most interesting of the bunch. It’s the first from Pioneer to support Apple’s new AirPlay feature, which lets you wirelessly stream music, from an iOS device running iOS 4.2 or later or a Mac or PC running iTunes 10.1 or later, to a compatible device. In addition to playing the music, the 1021 can also display song info and cover art on your connected TV. The company says it will release eight AirPlay-compatible AV receivers in 2011, most in its Elite receiver line.

With the Bluetooth adapter installed, up to four users can pair their devices with the 1021 at at time, and use the free Air Jam iOS app to queue songs from their libraries to play through the receiver. The app also keeps track of all songs played, and you can go back and click to buy the song on the iTunes Store (if available) or to search YouTube for related videos.

iControlAV2's Finger EQ screen.

Using the free iControlAV2 for iPad app, you can control the receiver’s volume, bass, balance, room and settings (as well as compatible Pioneer Blu-ray players), and you can adjust EQ settings by dragging your finger across the iPad’s screen.

Both the Air Jam App and the iControlAV2 App require iOS 4.2 with iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G, iPad, iPod touch (2nd generation), iPod touch (3rd generation), and iPod touch (4th generation).

The 1021 also includes software to simply the set up process (unfortunately it’s Windows-only, but Pioneer told me it’s working on an iPad version, and hopes to create a Mac app as well). The Wiring Navi software walks you through a series of questions and then shows you exactly what you need to plug in and where. The Interactive Manual uses two-way communication between the software and the receiver, so pressing a button on the receiver or remote can take you directly to the page of the manual that explains what that function is and how it works.

With the 1021, you also get vTuner Internet radio support with access to more than 16,000 streaming stations.

All models feature HDMI 1.4a support and can pass 3D content from a Blu-ray 3D player or 3D cable or satellite broadcast to any compatible display. All models also support the HDMI 1.4a audio return channel (ARC) to send audio signals to the receiver from compatible TV tuners and online services built into TVs. And if you like to use the built-in speakers in your TV, there’s a new HDMI Standby Through feature to pass audio and video from a set-top box through the receiver without the need to turn the receiver itself on.

All models also support Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, but the 521 and 821 models can output 5.1 channels, while the 921 and 1021 are 7.1-channel systems.

The 521 and 821 models are available now, while the 921 should be available later in March, and the 1021 at the beginning of April.

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