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Plug and Play Home Theater? Print E-mail
Friday, 19 March 2004

When you buy a new Apple iMac everything is plug and play. This means the process of setting the computer up and making it really sing is so simple – any idiot (including me) can do it. And for this reason Apple has been able to carve a nice niche in the unbelievably competitive and technologically advanced PC market. Thanks to the unpredicted success of DVD and the growing popularity of HDTV, the home theater industry is prospering. Despite the growth of the industry, the complexity of an average audio-video system is getting out of control for most consumers who don’t boast an electrical engineering degree. For example to hook up a universal DVD player (one that plays DVD-Video, SACD, DVD-Audio and about every other disc format known to man) you currently need eight total cables. This includes six analog interconnects for the audio (because the record companies think you might steal their music in higher resolution thus refuse to adopt a widely accepted digital transmission format) and one analog video cable for the video (likely a component video cable and another digital audio cable for the non-DVD-Audio and SACD soundtracks on CDs, DVD-Video discs and beyond). If you have one of the latest players you might even have a DVI digital video output which would be a ninth cable to dangle from the back of your player. If you are confused - I don’t blame you. This is about as far from plug and play as you can get.

There is hope in the video-HDTV world where a new encrypted format has just been adopted called HDMI. With this computer like connection, you can link HDTV video components together with one nifty cable. The idea is brilliant – you keep digital video signals in the digital domain all the way until they get to your digital video display device (plasma, projector, LCD etc…) The problem is practically every video monitor, receiver and AV preamp are not HDMI compatible. In a year or two this will be less of a problem but for now, you really have to work to make your video system connect digitally. The reward is a fantastically beautiful picture thanks to not having to degrade or mangle your video in conversions from digital to analog and back to digital again.

While home theater in a box (HTIB) is a popular concept at the entry level of home theater there is still a lot more connections and programming needed to have your system make you truly happy. In coming years, higher end AV companies will likely adopt the general idea of HTIB for their components with the kind of ease of use you find today with an iMac. Between now and then, consider the idea that your AV system is only as good as its installation, programming and calibration. While it can cost you fractionally more, the idea of hiring a respected local dealer or CEDIA custom installer is often an excellent idea to make your home theater jump through hoops in ways mere mortals simply can not.


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