As its exotic name implies, the Vivadi Saturn is anything but a normal TV. It's currently the last word in plushly-designed, extravagantlyfeatured plasma opulence - as you may vaguely remember if you read our review of this objet d'art back in February 2005.
Our feelings on the Vivadi back then were overwhelmingly positive except for one thing: the plasma TV at the core only had a native resolution of 852 x 480. In other words, it didn't natively support high-definition - a limitation that's naturally become more and more problematic in recent times as interest in HD has gone through the roof.
Appropriately, Vivadi has now sourced some HD glass and is in the process of relaunching its Saturn range. The new panel has a resolution of 1280 x 768. So we thought it was high time we revisited Vivadi and checked out the changes for ourselves.
Of course, this custom build doesn't come without a high price tag, but the package has gotten cheaper year on year. Although you can get a basic system comprising the screen, screen cabinet and built-in subwoofer for £7000, the key Vivadi system reviewed here - comprising the plasma TV, its console mount, a 'Media Gateway' component complete with built-in Microsoft Media Center PC, and surround sound audio decoding system complete with 70W x 6 amplification - is now down 25 per cent from £16K last time to £12K now.
Aesthetically things are no different, but that's hardly a bad thing. The main TV 'console' and huge, matching surround sound speaker system still look extraordinary; their combination of curved wood, eye-catching colour schemes, NXT flat-panel speaker design and sheer scale still generate a sense of awe as you behold them. The various colour combinations and schemes of these systems is immensely flexible, too, with Vivadi even offering a bespoke service if you wish.
The new Saturn's connectivity features the key introduction of not one but two HDMI inputs. Buyers who take the Saturn with the Media Gateway, as featured here, will probably use one of these HDMI inputs for the Gateway (which includes the DVD and hard drive recorder) and one for a Sky HD box. Surprisingly, though, while these two HDMI jacks are accompanied by a component video input, this isn't HD compatible, only taking 480p, 480i, 576p and 576i.
This means there's no analogue HD input, which means the Saturn can't call itself HD Ready according to the industry definition. However, Vivadi claims it consciously opted for a second HDMI input rather than an analogue HD input to give its high-end target market more digital quality and future-proofing, rather than simply satisfying a 'backwards compatibility' element of the HD Ready specs they believe is only really useful in the US. Owners of Xbox 360 consoles might care to disagree.
The Saturn's features list is still far too long to cover in full here. Suffice it to say that in the £12k system you get full builtin Media Center PC functionality and all the countless functions - multimedia file playback, HDD TV recording, CD ripping and library organising, internet access etc etc - that affords.
With so many features it seems almost churlish to wish for more. But I couldn't help but notice that the two digital tuners built into the Media Center system still don't support digital teletext or interactive services. Mind you, this is, of course, not Vivadi's fault but Microsoft's, for not yet delivering MHEG5 software for the Media Center operating system.
There's still no Sky functionality with the Media Center either - though rumours persist that discussions between Microsoft and Sky to resolve this are ongoing. In the mean time, Vivadi has included a 'hidden' compartment to hold your Sky box within the Saturn cabinet, from where it's fully controllable via a neat IR relay transmitter.
Picture quality is a big step up from the first-generation model. Detail levels are terrific. Seemingly every little pixel of picture data from a 'pure' (ie, not upscaled) HD source arrives on the screen intact, creating great texturing and a real sense of three-dimensionality. There's definitely an added level of sharpness, and particularly noiselessness, on the HD model vs the previous SD model. The picture is also brighter than of the previous Saturn iteration, instantly giving the picture greater drama and dynamism.
Out of the box, colours are very warm and vivid. The best performance came after calibration, which cooled things down. The HD panel had no trace of plasma's old-school problems with fizzing noise over moving objects.
Dark picture areas can suffer from a lack of contrast (235:1 after calibration) which can leave images looking a touch greyed-over and flat compared to the latest screens from Pioneer and Panasonic.
DVD playback from the DVD player integrated into the Media Gateway is noticeably better than last year, not least because the twitching issues have been resolved thanks to a new Nvidia graphics card, that allows 50Hz sources to be output in 50Hz, rather than first converting them to 60Hz.
Pictures look good from the digital TV tuner. Using HD panels can sometimes actually reduce the quality of standard definition TV sources, but here they're remarkably noiseless, sharp and smooth.
Vivadi's Saturn has definitely come of HD age. The Vivadi core values of extravagant design and endless features (including a modular, upgradable chassis) remain - but now they're teamed with a lower price and the added HD focus that a self-consciously and unprecedentedly 'future-proof' product like this deserves.