|RCA DTC 100 HDTV Receiver|
|Home Theater Media Servers Satellite & Cable Receivers/PVRs/DVRs/TiVo|
|Written by Kim Wilson|
|Sunday, 01 October 2000|
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As a dissatisfied cable TV user for many years, I can tell you that it only took about 10 seconds to fall in love with satellite. What a treat to watch every program from local to cable broadcasts without snow and other annoying visual interference. The audio is more robust and the stereo mixes are finally apparent. With stereo programs, it’s possible to engage Dolby Pro Logic on my decoder for a wide variety of shows broadcast in Dolby Surround. Better yet, some premium movie channels broadcast in Dolby Digital.
As with any source device, the audio quality is really dependent on the audio system. Since my system is reference grade, watching TV is now just as enjoyable as popping in a DVD. All broadcasts from local stations to premium movie channels provide 16-bit CD quality audio and upconverted 540p video.
The real pleasure was the DTC100’s ability to receive HDTV programming. Only two stations are currently available via DIRECTV, one HBO channel and a special DIRECTV channel. The HBO HDTV channel is the same feed as the HBO West Coast channel, so I could A/B the two and compare. Is there much difference? Let me just say that not once in all my demonstrations (both for industry folks and average citizens) has anyone said, " Let me see that again." Instead, the general response is open-mouthed, awestruck expressions of disbelief.
Non-HDTV broadcasts look fantastic until you make the comparison. The HDTV picture is at least twice as bright. Images just pop, creating a 3-D appearance that makes everything on screen look like it’s just outside your window. Color saturation is deep and rich with an accuracy and stability in those usually hard-to-adjust shades of red and yellow.
The other satellite channel plays a wonderful demo loop during the day with clips from movies and past sporting events. At night it plays movies and concerts on a pay-per-view basis.
Every Sunday night I am in front of the Princeton to catch the HBO HD feed of ‘Sex & the City’ and ‘Arli$$.’ The latter has this fantastic opening sequence with sports clips that is so astounding, I suspect they originally shot the real events using an HDCAM. I am not a sports fan by any means, but watching sporting events in HD is so much like being there that it is addictive. I am strongly considering the additional purchase of a TERK antenna so that I can view the Olympics in HD.
I’m now a HDTV junkie. I need more programming, badly. The good news is that DIRECTV is about to ink a deal to have a Showtime channel, as well as several hours of the Discovery Channel in the high-resolution format, effectively doubling their HD programming.
Aside from HDTV programming on DIRECTV (the only satellite service available for the DTC100), over 200 channels of movies, sports, music, news and information are provided, plus 31 commercial-free Music Choice audio channels and a slew of pay-per-view movie choices every day.
The DTC100’s on-screen menu is easy to navigate and is used for everything from setting up the system to accessing channels. The program guide from DIRECTV provides channel, program titles and detailed program descriptions for five (or seven) different channels covering a two-hour time window. Arrows indicate programs that started before or ended after the current time shown on the grid. Printed program guides are obsolete, as you can see what’s coming on later by scrolling forward and even getting a description of the program to determine if it sounds interesting or find out if you’ve viewed it already. Compared to the older RCA receivers the new menu is much improved and far more graphically pleasing. Personally, I had no trouble moving around but I would say some of the setup and even the guide menus can go down several levels. When my in-laws were in town they kept getting lost when accessing the guide, making me realize as I explained to them the multi-button process for the fifth time that the menu was far from intuitive. A lot of buzz is surrounding the upcoming Sony HDTV receiver, and many folks I know including AudioRevolution's own publisher are waiting anxiously for it's release mainly due to the design of its menu.
I made mention earlier that the DTC100 upconverts non-HDTV sources on high definition displays as 540p. Now if you were paying attention you know that is an unusual scan rate. Most non-HDTV sources are more commonly upconverted to 480p. The fact that RCA chose 540p for the DTC100 is not surprising as that is a scan rate they've adopted for their own progressive scan TVs. Using the Princeton AF3.0HD was a real advantage as some of the artifacts associated with this odd scan rate were easily compensated. For instance, at 540p there is a picture reduction of 7%, causing images to look shorter and plumper. Moreover, the picture strangely shifted toward the right. In both cases I was unsure of whether it was the display or the receiver but with some research I discovered it to be the receiver. Now this isn't a huge problem as long as you have a set that compensates for these oddities. Unfortunately, there isn't a list of the best TVs to use with this receiver though it is obvious RCA is hoping you will use theirs. If the Princeton is any indication, I think you'll be safe with any TV that has geometric and aspect ratio control.
Compared to the average satellite system, which can either be free with programming or cost around $100 to $150 with installation, the DTC100 and the oval DIRECTV PLUS dish are considerable investments, making the cost of entry for a couple of HD programs on satellite fairly substantial. If you want more programming, you’ll have to add a separate HDTV antenna for off-air broadcasts.
Assuming you consider the cost of the HD satellite system inconsequential, there is another matter to reflect on… the appropriate display monitor. The Princeton AF3.0 direct view TV that I used for the DTC100’s evaluation runs in the area of $4,000, and that’s on the low side. PTVs can run well beyond $10,000. The good news is that, if you use the DTC100 HD Receiver, the TV only has to be HDTV-capable and does not require its own tuner, translating into a lower-cost set.
When friends are about to purchase a TV, they ask me whether they should get HDTV. Essentially, I tell them the current situation of limited programming and the high cost of entry. However, I emphasize that HDTV is the future of broadcasting. So, depending on the friend’s present budget, I might suggest getting at least a HDTV-capable set so that a set-top box set-top box (HD tuner) can be added at a later date. The other option is to spend as is now comfortable, with the knowledge that in just a few years’ time, this set will also probably be replaced.
By the same token, if you've been contemplating a move toward satellite I suggest spending the extra money for an HD receiver such as the RCA DTC100 ($699) and any elliptical HDTV dish (about $200) even if you plan to wait a bit longer before upgrading to an actual HDTV display device. The DTC100 is
a superb all-around receiver for local, analog and digital programming via a wide variety of signal sources (antenna, cable, and satellite). Use it now as a standard satellite and off-air receiver, and when you upgrade to HDTV all you have to do is change the connection between the DTC100 and the new HDTV monitor using the VGA output. Moreover, you won't have to have your dish removed and replaced with a HD class of antenna. Just keep in mind the need for a display device that can handle the DTC100's uncommon scan rate.
Not only am I a junkie, I have become HDTV’s newest advocate. If you wait another year or two before jumping onto the HDTV bandwagon, there will surely be significantly more programming and cheaper electronics, but you’ll also be missing out on the best images you have ever seen in the privacy of your own home. If it’s in the budget, you have to go for it.