|Sony HD100 HDTV Satellite Receiver|
|Home Theater Media Servers Satellite & Cable Receivers/PVRs/DVRs/TiVo|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Thursday, 01 November 2001|
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I know, I have been teasing you, haven’t I? How does the picture look? Depending on the source, it looks nothing short of spectacular. Actually, "spectacular" isn’t a strong enough word. It looks phenomenal, fantastic, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, hopelessly amazing. The channels I found to provide the best picture were Mark Cuban’s HDNet sports network (channel 199 on DirecTV) and the terrestrial feed from PBS. The first hockey game in HDTV made me nearly weep. The actual TV direction wasn’t as together as the traditional broadcast, but who cares. The video was insanely resolute, smooth and clear. Even the mites on ice intermission show looked lifelike. As for PBS, I found myself one night suckered into a documentary about primates humping. Now you say that I’d watch anything hump on my TV and you’d be right. During one scene, these gorillas were going at it in a tree with a zoomed-in close-up (too close, if you ask me) of the action. In NTSC, the leaves on the trees swim in digital jitter and noise. In HDTV, it was crystal clear and as accurate as looking out your window. Don’t ask about the other details of the scene. I wasn’t watching that closely.
The colors available in HDTV from my HD100 are far more complex than you’ll ever get from NTSC, no matter what video processor you are using. The best example of this effect comes from one of the demo loops being shown on HDNet. An equestrian event in Indianapolis was shot in HDTV. The rider who wins the event wears the brightest orange jacket you have ever beheld. NTSC simply can’t reproduce that shade of orange, period. In HDTV through the HD100, the picture was bright, vibrant and stunning.
I found terrestrial feeds to be more suspect. PBS is a consistent winner, but there is a limit as to how much PBS any 27-year-old male can watch before he needs to be institutionalized. I was consistently disappointed by ABC’s 720P picture quality, despite raves from my HDTV owner friends. The screen geometry was way off and it never looked as good on my projector as images did from pre-recorded D5 digital videotape (played from master tapes on a $500,000 professional VCR), which companies like Vidikron had presented during trade shows in the past. CBS is the leader in HDTV content, with most of their shows upconverted to DTV feeds during primetime. I will say that you’ll pick the DTV version every time over NTSC, but it doesn’t even compare to native HDTV.
Why isn’t more content recorded and broadcast in HDTV? Cost. The cameras cost a fortune and that is only the start to the expense. Broadcast trucks, directors and so much more, all for basically no viewers. Monday Night Football lost its sponsorship for HDTV broadcast for just this reason. Does this mean that HDTV is dead in the water? Hell, no. The US government is still mandating a 2006 conversion to the digital format. Will it happen on time? It is unlikely, but with broadcast pioneers like Mark Cuban bringing mainstream sports like the NHL and National League Baseball League to HDTV, and CBS’ Mel Karmazin spending millions on making HDTV available to the masses early on, the future is looking good for HDTV.
I have covered quite a few negatives for HDTV and its connections so far because I want you to be properly informed about the medium in its current state. I am sure you’ll be happy to know the real deal before you get ready to make the investment and commitment to HDTV. The Sony HD100 is a kick-ass unit that in some ways is limited more by design specifications than by oversights on Sony’s part. One way that the Sony comes up short is the fact that, unlike the Panasonic HDTV receiver, the HD100 cannot output HDTV signal to be recorded by the select few HDTV VCRs on the market. I traded the recording option off for better menu options and ease of use, especially when compared to the Panasonic.
HDTV is not plug and play yet. As previously noted, it is possible to hook it up on your own, but you’ll note I called in the best custom AV installers in Hollywood to hook up my system. If you buy an HDTV system now, you are clearly an early adopter, with all of the performance advantages as well as the headaches that go along with being the coolest guy on your block. I recommend that you have your satellite or custom AV installer help you with the installation of your system, so that you can get to the joys of HDTV even faster.
Imagine that your next-door neighbor has just taken delivery of his new BMW M5 that he is so proud to tell you that he paid "only $15,000 over sticker" for. But when he and his wife come over for dinner and a screening of The Sopranos in HDTV, HE will be the jealous one. HDTV is not a performance enhancement for video nerds. This is a knockdown, drag-out ass-kicker for your eyes. Is there a lot of work, expense and patience involved in making your HDTV system work the way you want it to work? Yes, very much so. However, the payoff is getting better and better by the week. If you are so inclined, now is the time to jump on the bandwagon and get going with HDTV. I am very glad I did, despite a few headaches.
There are far more HDTV broadcasts on both the air and DSS than there were a mere six months ago, which is resulting in increasing market share. In Q2 2001, over 300,000 HDTV sets were sold. Rear projection 47-inch HDTV sets are selling for as low as $1,700 in national chains. The number of HDTVs is sure to grow at a significant rate as the general public realizes how amazing the picture looks on HDTV for TV content they actually care about. As this happens, there will be more reasons for networks to offer HDTV feeds for their audience.
The Sony HD100, despite its lack of recording options, is to me the best-looking and easiest to use HDTV tuner on the market. Priced at $799, it isn’t all you’ll need to get rocking with HDTV, but it is a good start. Once you get dialed in, you will be hooked big time. Just don’t e-mail to tell me it is my fault you are watching PBS documentaries about gorillas.