|Halcro SSP-100 AV Preamplifier/Processor|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Wednesday, 01 November 2006|
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The Halcro SSP-100 is one of the most technologically advanced, full-featured audio video preamp-processors in the world. At $9,900, it is a relative bargain compared to other lofty competitors such as the Meridian 800 or Theta Casablanca, but it costs significantly more than the vast majority of processors currently on the market. The SSP-100 does everything you would expect of a full-featured audio/video processor and adds a video scaler, making it one of a few units in the world with this range of capabilities. I am not surprised that Halcro is one of the first manufacturers to offer this combination of features. Halcro, an Australian company, has long been known for their excellent amplifiers and cutting-edge digital amplification circuits.
The SSP-100 shares industrial design cues that run throughout the Halcro line, namely the use of ovals. If you view the unit from above, there is a prominent oval cap that extends approximately a half an inch past the front panel and three-quarters of the unit’s depth. This accent is about three inches from the left side of the unit. The front of the unit is a thick, satin-finished aluminum panel with the front of the oval creating a vertical line toward the left edge of its facade. To the left of the oval is the power button, LED power status light and IR receiver window. To the right of the accent line, the front panel is dominated by a large LCD screen that both displays menus and acts as a video monitor (for 480i sources). The screen has seven small buttons underneath and a large volume knob to the right. The bottom center of the front panel drops down to reveal headphone, microphone, USB and RS-232 connections. Overall, the front panel is clean and stylish; its simplicity hides the complexity and power of the SSP-100.
The rear panel hints at the SSP-100’s capabilities, with connections for 10 sources (six audio/video, four audio) as follows: four HDMI and component video inputs, six S-Video and six composite video inputs, four coaxial, two optical and AES/EBU digital inputs, 7.1 balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs, 10 pairs of stereo analog inputs, tape loop, record output, second zone output and auxiliary channel outputs. There are also IR inputs, remote trigger outputs, RS-232 and USB connections. In short, the SSP-100 has more connectivity options than any other processor I am aware of and should be able to handle the most complex of systems.
The Halcro comes with a nice LCD touchscreen remote that is both learning and programmable. The remote itself is a full-featured unit, which has rechargeable batteries, a docking station, cloning capabilities, backlighting, and is computer-programmable for total control of up to nine devices. Halcro sells this remote separately as well.
As you may have surmised by now, the SSP-100 is a powerful, full-featured processor with an array of both audio and video capabilities. The audio capabilities include automatic level and distance calibration, DTS (including Neo:6, ES-Matrix), Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic (II and IIx), THX (Cinema, Ultra 2 Cinema, Music, Games, Surround EX), THX Ultra certification, analog bypass on the 7.1 balanced input, preset trim options, “High Dynamic Bass” circuit, down-mixing, auxiliary channel management and adjustable lip sync. While that is definitely full-featured, it is the SSP-100’s slew of video capabilities that sets it apart in its feature set.
The Halcro’s video features are impressive; there are only a handful of other processors in the world that have a similar video feature set. The Halcro is one of the first processors to incorporate HDMI switching and processing with four HDMI inputs. The Halcro also has four component video inputs. With the plethora of component video sources out there today, I am surprised by how few processors have more than three component video inputs. There are six S-Video and composite video inputs included with the Halcro as well. Outputs include HDMI, component, two S-Video and a composite video without onscreen display, and one S-Video and composite video with onscreen display. Lastly, the Halcro incorporates a single composite video output for a second zone.
The SSP-100 can up-convert composite and S-Video to component video and HDMI and component video to HDMI; it can also perform de-interlacing and scaling up to 1080p. Halcro’s literature also states that the SSP-100 has brightness, hue and saturation control, luminance transition improvement, chrominance transition improvement and frame rate conversion.
Setting up a surround sound processor in a complex home theater is rarely simple. The SSP-100’s HDMI capabilities should reduce the number of cables necessary. Unfortunately, to fully utilize the SSP-100’s features, extra video cables need to be utilized. The front panel display accepts only 480 i/p signals, so unless your component and HDMI sources are set to one of those resolutions, you will need to run a separate S-Video or composite video cable to utilize the front panel display.
I will note here that I had two samples of the Halcro SSP-100. The first sample had the original firmware; the second sample had the newer, current firmware. The new firmware worked better with HDMI but was still glitchy. I have discussed this issue with Halcro and several other manufacturers and the general consensus seems to be that there is much variability within the HDMI standards. The still-developing HDMI standards let manufacturers say that their components meet the HDMI specifications, but unfortunately, this does not mean that they will all work together as they are supposed to do. Until the HDMI standards group gets their act together, HDMI will continue to be a hit or miss proposition. If you haven’t guessed already, the HDMI interface didn’t always work as intended. I give Halcro credit for releasing firmware updates, as HDMI continues to mature the firmware updates should increase reliability. HDMI 1.3, which will require new chip sets, new connectors, new cables and likely new firmware, promises a more reliable solution for HDMI in the future. For now, your HD sources are best run into your Halcro or any top-performing AV preamp via component video. Yes, this keeps you from 1080p, but that is only found on Blu-ray, and virtually every HDTV and projector that can do 1080p actually scales from 1080i to 1080p internally.
I connected the following sources to the SSP-100: Kenwood DV-5900 DVD jukebox, via component video and coaxial digital audio; Escient E2-300 music server, via S-Video, coaxial digital audio and analog stereo; DirecTV HD Tivo, via component video and optical digital audio; Velodyne SMS-1 via S-Video; Marantz DV-9600 and Toshiba HD DVD via HDMI, component and S-Video (so I could get it on the front screen). The cables I used were from Monster Cable and Accell.
I connected the SSP-100 via balanced cables to Halcro’s MC-50 five-channel amplifier. Krell’s Theater Amplifier Standard was also used to drive either Canton’s Ergo series or Monster’s THX speakers. I utilized the auxiliary channels to set up stereo subwoofers.