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One Cable Fits All Can Help Open HDTV and Surround Sound to Millions of New Consumers Print E-mail
Thursday, 20 July 2006
One of the major factors in the death of high-resolution audio formats like SACD and DVD-Audio was the not-so-simple fact that consumers needed as many as nine cables to connect a player to a preamp in order to get high-resolution surround sound, video and lower-resolution audio into their receivers or AV preamps. Factor in the pathetically small amount of software made for 5.1 surround (only a few 100 titles for both formats) and you can easily see why people said, “No, thank you.” Today HDMI, despite its associated problems with HDCP “handshakes,” offers end users the chance to make one connection from their source (HD DVR, HD DVD, Blu-ray, Playstation 3, Blu-ray, etc.) to their receiver or switcher or AV preamp and directly into their HDTV. The new HDMI 1.3 standard offers higher performance, but it also causes complications, due to a smaller connector. However, the path of the electronics industry is to at least try to simplify and protect the content on one cable running throughout your system. With the exception of the way-ahead-of-the-curve Meridian Digital Theater, this level of simplicity is something the home theater and high-end audio world seem to have historically avoided, but consumers and dealers both love it.

The idea of being able to allow consumers the simplicity of being able to install their own gear, yet get new devices like HD video camcorders, Playstation 3, Blu-ray and/or HD DVD into their lives, is the kind of thing that makes big electronics companies drool, thinking of the billions of dollars in sales from new markets that can be had. The problem is that these same companies have proven repeatedly that they can’t make anything simple. The first HD DVD players were released when Toshiba knew they took upwards of two minutes to load a movie (compared to just a few seconds with a traditional DVD). Firmware upgrades solve some problems, but none of the electronics companies have the user interface needed to cross over to the world of true simplicity of use.

To get to the holy land of user simplicity, home theater and video electronics companies need to carefully study the Apple platform. It is stable, it is easy to update and people can figure it out. Plug in a camera made by a different company and guess what – it works. Need a printer driver? Chances are it is already on your computer. Periodically, a Mac can check for new updates and requires very few little in the way of plug-in updates or tweaky software. In terms of cables, a Firewire cable plugged into the back of a monitor (an amazingly useful place for a connection, it turns out) works like a champ. The electronics industry needs to set their sights on the standard set by Apple computer for home theater electronics in terms of both ease of use and overall physical simplicity. There will be a mighty pot at the end of the rainbow, because today’s world of so-called 1080p HDTVs, HDCP “handshake problems” and moving target connectivity protocols are simply too much for the average consumer to understand, let alone invest in with any level of enthusiasm.

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