The Altec Lansing PT6021 system is particularly intriguing, because of its apparent orientation toward home theater use. With the popularity of the home theater or "media center" PC, I think this review provides a valuable chance to comment on the HTPC phenomenon and the role that PC speaker manufacturers could find themselves playing. I foresee a day when the home theater PC replaces the stereo or multichannel receiver as the "head" of the modern home theater system. In order for this revolution to take place, high-quality amplified speaker systems must be developed to supply the home theater enthusiast's demand for high-fidelity sound. In the world of home theater, powered speakers are a long way off from being the standard, though many current receivers already have preamp-level outputs (my H/K AVR335 included). The home theater market has been dragging its feet when it comes to powered speakers, but the rise of the HTPC provides what is, in my opinion, the perfect venue for the powered speaker revolution to take place, since most computers already depend on powered speakers. The HTPC-as-head-unit would integrate input signal switching, volume control, and CD/DVD playback into one unified audiophile-quality component.
Two things need to happen in order for this technology transition to take place. First of all, manufacturers like Altec Lansing who have already been producing powered speaker systems must develop new powered speaker products capable of delivering sound with extremely high fidelity and low distortion, patterned after the current crop of passive high-fidelity speakers or studio monitors in both style and functionality. This means high-quality drivers and substantial, elegant cabinets as well as powerful amplifier circuitry and intelligent processing. In order for the consumer to accept the new type of product, it must perform as well as or better than the competing product that uses the old technology. Luckily, powered loudspeakers do have something significant that they can offer in this area. Powered loudspeaker systems can integrate signal processing to impart ruler-flat frequency response and perfect phase alignment, among other things (like synthesized deep bass response). While some manufacturers have tried, the same active processing just can’t be accomplished elegantly with a separate receiver/amplifier. One problem facing powered loudspeakers is the question of how to distribute power to each of the loudspeakers, since each loudspeaker would have its own amplifier. One answer is to produce complete loudspeaker systems, with the amplifiers for each channel housed in the subwoofer, as already done by nearly every powered loudspeaker system with “.1” in its classification. The other option is to use a multi-conductor cable which integrates power and signal wires. Given the benefits of powered loudspeaker technology, the engineering challenges are chump change.
The second thing that must happen is that home theater PC manufacturers must ensure that their products are capable of handling all the tasks that a receiver originally would. This will require the sound card manufacturers to get in on the action and offer hardware infrared volume and source selection control, as well as input from several external sources in addition to the PC itself. The sound card should provide visual output to a small external display, such as a two-line VFD. This second point, however, is not as critical as the first one – the market is now ripe for high-quality powered loudspeaker systems to take over the tasks typically performed by a big, hot receiver unit. Once these products are in place, the home theater PC can claim center stage in the modern home theater.