|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 think it is fair to say the Sony HD100 is the most anticipated product in the short history of consumer HDTV. While RCA was the first to market with their $699 DTC 100 DSS and terrestrial receiver, this wasn’t exactly embraced as the most friendly AV component. Sony continually promised that the HD100 was just around the corner, with all of the convenience and performance we expect from the Japanese giant. It was significantly more than a year after we first saw the RCA box in stores that the Sony HD100 was available to the buying public. I purchased one of the first units and held onto it until my HDTV system was completed six months later.
The Sony HD100 is both a DSS receiver and a terrestrial TV tuner. Of course, it receives HDTV signals from DirecTV, as well as many over-the-air channels. As you may have heard, digital TV reception is hit and miss even in cities with digital service. Much like a digital cell phone (as opposed to the good old analog phone), there is very little margin for error with an HDTV signal. You either get it or you don’t. In my case, I lucked out. I live atop the West Hollywood Hills in a corner unit condo that has an eastern exposure. My installation technicians, with very useful help from the Terk.com website to determine potential signal strength based on zip code, were able to install a Terk TV55 powered antenna, which I used expressly for terrestrial HDTV signals. I was able to pull down CBS, NBC, KTLA, ABC, FOX, PBS and others from transponders on Mt. Wilson. As we set up the unit, the Sony HD100 quickly was able to show us the signal strength out of the unit. We were pulling numbers in the high 80’s (on a scale of 1 to 100), which was as high as the Simply Home Entertainment crew had seen in L.A. to date.
For DirecTV HDTV and NTSC feeds, you need to connect to a dual LNB satellite dish. This is an elliptical dish with two coax connectors on it, as opposed to the round dishes that have only one. You need two runs of coax wire from the dish to your receiver, but connection is pretty easy. The hardest part of making the system work was cleverly and safely installing the Terk TV55 antenna and getting power to it. Another trick is programming an input on your video system to take an HDTV signal. This can be a whole new ballgame if you have a traditional CRT projector, which will likely require a visit from your video guru. For rear projection big screen, tube and plasma HDTV sets, it’s easiest to get your HDTV to look right on your screen. Select the correct input (component video), assign that one the HDTV feed, and you are in the game.
In my case, I had much more work to do during setup of my HD100, considering that I was an early convert to the D-ILA fixed pixel digital projection trend. I needed to assign an input and then try to adjust the screen geometry so that the picture fit properly. Using the Faroudja NR Series Scaler, made specifically for D-ILA projectors, I was able to get the HDTV picture to look correct on the screen. In theory, you can try the menus on your projector for this purpose, but they were awkward to use for me out of the gate. The screen geometry problem isn’t the fault of the HD100. You can blame the local channels, which consistently screw up the terrestrial feeds dependent on the source. HBO, channel 509 on DirecTV, is guilty of similar sins, with HDTV up-conversions that range from washed-out to spectacular. At this point, you have to accept a little of this annoyance when getting into HDTV. Remember, it is really early, but it is worth the work.
The next big issue to consider when setting up a Sony HD100 receiver is how you can switch from traditional NTSC video inputs (line doubled or not) and HDTV. The problem is, most AV preamps, including my Proceed AVP, don’t have HD-quality video inputs or switching. This is a gigantic problem, especially because modern systems are getting more and more component (that’s very high-quality red, green and blue, which are separated but packaged in one video cable) video sources. Here’s a quick list of potential component video sources: your HD receiver, the component video out of your progressive or non-progressive DVD player, your Dish Network HDTV DSS receiver, Playstation 2, Microsoft X-Box and/or an Escient DVD Jukebox. This comes to six component inputs if you go crazy on sources and insist on using component video. The maximum amount of component video switching capability you can currently find in a preamp is three or maybe four inputs. Many have no component inputs at all. One option is using an Extron switching box, which is the choice of most custom installers. Personally, I used the HDTV passthrough in my Faroudja scaler. Beware: not all component video inputs can pass an HDTV signal. Do your research when making an upgrade to your system. Another solution that is a little more cost effective than the $1,000 Extron switcher is a Key Digital switcher, which is priced closer to $500 but only switches two inputs into one output.
Once you have all of your component video sources connected, consider the ease of controlling these switches, along with the input on your video source. This was a $5,000 oversight in my case. With audio switching being handled by my Proceed AVP preamp, video switching being handled by my Faroudja and then another switch job needed at the projector to an HDTV1080I input, the cacophony of remotes has proven too much for me. I am investing in an RS232 control system from AMX to control my system via a hard-wired connection. There are simply too many hoops to jump through to make the system easy to use. If you have a more modern AV preamp, these problems are somewhat avoidable. In my case, I had to put my money where my mouth was. To date, I have yet to install the AMX system, but I look forward to getting it ready to go.
Okay, this is my last warning for this review. I must want to be clear – this issue is not about the Sony HD100, but rather the DirecTV specifications for receivers. By design, you cannot output both component and S-Video (or composite) video from the Sony HD100. You say, who cares? You do. How do you plan to feed your TiVo or ReplayTV with S-Video? You can’t, unless you physically unplug the HD100’s component connection, which sure as heck isn’t happening in my rack. My solution, based on the advice given by Simply Home Entertainment, was to buy a Sony SAT-T60 TiVo and NTSC satellite receiver specifically for my NTSC and DSS recording. I was never able to get the traditional NTSC picture geometry correct for DSS on my HDTV receiver anyway and I didn’t spend too much time worrying about it. Instead, I employed an SAT (in my case, for now, ReplayTV). For $260 plus TiVo service fees, the Sony SAT-T60 isn’t too expensive as necessary components go, especially when considering the issue of ease of use and recording your favorite TV shows.