|Is Convergence Finally Upon Us?|
|Home Theater Feature Articles Other|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Monday, 01 January 2007|
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Advances in Desktop Audio and Video
When I speak of desktop audio and video, I am not talking about those naughty clips of unsolicited smut you get from those websites that end in a “.DK.” QuickTime and Windows Media offer dramatically more robust audio/video experiences via a disc like a DVD or downloads/streaming media from the Internet, yet most PCs are very ill-equipped to handle any level of audio playback above the fidelity of the stock car audio in a 1972 Chevy Nova. Speaker maker X-HiFi is making inroads in selling speakers ($999 per pair) that are sexy and slim enough to fit on a music enthusiast’s desk, yet have punch and bass, thanks to a nice subwoofer (that goes under your desk), and an internal digital amplifier. As the pipeline to your computer gets faster and compression gets better, you will see more and more advanced AV content coming your way, including Internet radio, connections to your servers from remote locations and much more. But putting the entire package together is a challenge.
Video displays for computers, most notably LCD, now share many of the most popular technologies found in the most technologically advanced homes. Many of today’s computer monitors can reproduce HDTV. Certainly the Internet can’t effectively deliver streaming HDTV content. However, satellite can and so can digital cable, which many people use for their computer’s high-speed Internet connection. It will only be a matter of time before you can watch Monday Night Football right on your screen at work in HD. Video cards with stellar video output are still pretty pricey by today’s PC world standards. PC audio cards have pretty impressive processing abilities today. Some cards from companies like Creative Labs can make your PC play back DVD-Audio on your DVD drive, assuming you have a 5.1 speaker system hooked up to your computer. High-end home theater in a box systems from companies like Klegg give you the AV power you need to make your PC play killer surround sound right at your desk for music, video, gaming and more. Other PC audio cards and software, starting at about $1,000, amazingly allow you to do your own recording at a level that 10 years ago would have cost nearly a million dollars. Others swear by the video processing ability of “line doublers” and other video processing devices that run on a PC. Custom installers are still weary of selling such systems rather than, say, a Faroudja for fear of lock-ups. As stable as Windows XP can be, it isn’t fool-proof enough yet to avoid those late-night service calls that dealers hate. This is where convergence shows just how far it has to go.
AV Components Becoming More Like Computers
High-end audio is based mostly around analog products that were developed many decades ago. The art of audiophilia at the time was in finding the last level of performance from a component like an analog preamp or power amp. Most of the advances were made in analog design, like isolating jitter with a more stable CD transport or choosing a better transformer for a high-performance power amp. With the advent of home theater, the need for complex digital processing and switching made the preamp into something much more like a computer. Many a high-end company that missed this point slipped into irrelevancy, waiting for big orders for their latest stereo preamp from Asian markets that simply weren’t coming. Other more forward-thinking companies started looking for sources for “OEM” electronics that they could buy, modify and honestly repackage as their own. These companies are the ones that are slowly bringing the PC to the preamp. More and more, you are seeing computer-like connections on receivers, preamps and source components. You also find high-resolution HD video switching. You’ll find Ethernet connections that allow you to integrate your AV gear on your home network, allowing you automatic software upgrades.
Home Servers, Networks and DVRs
Ten years ago, the idea of having a server at home was reserved for the CEO of a Silicon Valley technology company. Today, home servers and home networks (both wired and wireless) abound. DVRs (digital video recorders) often act as servers for your TV shows and even your music when connected via an Ethernet cable to your network. With modern DVRs, you can watch the game you recorded in your theater from the TiVo in your workout room. What’s even cooler is that, on the best DVRs, you can log into your system and program your favorite shows from your office computer. If you realize you forgot to record Monday Night Football and you are sitting at your desk, you can easily log into today’s best DVRs and get that on the “to do” list for your recorder. The increase of interactivity and connectivity of your home theater system in the past few years is the first sign of convergence, but this is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, the feature benefit of what the PC world can bring to your home theater system is far greater for most users than a groundbreaking new tone arm for your 20-year-old turntable.