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“Number Soup” Confuses Video Buyers Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 December 2006
I frequently get asked by people what HDTV should they buy. It’s not a simple answer and requires a bit of qualification before I can prescribe a new set. Budget, ambient light conditions, and existing furniture only represent a start to the questions. Generally, most people have a good idea of what they want and how to make it look cool. It’s more about pointing them in the right direction in system integration than about one brand over another. One thing I always recommend is both professional installation as well as professional calibration. It gets you more life from your set as well as dramatically better performance.
What I find amazing is the idea of how much verbal mumbo jumbo there is out there in terms of video and how little of it means anything to mainstream consumers until they are confronted with it. For example, if you were to stand in a Costco at any location in America and ask people about HDMI connections and how HDCP copy protection from HD DVD or Blu-ray would affect the input switching in their system, they might look at you like you were insane. Now, when they get their new HDTV and perhaps and HD disc player (HD DVD player, Blu-ray player, Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 with HD DVD drive) home and start plugging them in – these problems become headaches often requiring professional intervention.

It’s hard to argue with the sales numbers of flat-panel HDTVs. It’s got to be pushing two million sets per month in the United States alone at this point. Flat-panel HDTVs are as hot a gift this holiday season as anything thanks to lower prices, bigger panels and more HDTV content from your cable and satellite providers. Despite the booming sales, can you imagine how much better these sales numbers would be if there were more clearly defined standards? How many mainstream customers know the real-world difference between 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p video? How many people bought 1080p rear projection HDTVs that were said to be “1080p” only to find out they didn’t have a true 1080p input? The fact is that the 1080p sets they bought scale up to 1080p which doesn’t look nearly as good. For all of the 1080p sets sold so far – how many of those owners have a true 1080p source (hint: PS3 and two Blu-ray players are it with new HD DVD players just around the corner)?

It’s just all too confusing and seemingly only the likes of Apple Computer gets it really right. They sell on a “good, better and best” model and frequently have the top selling PC and or laptop at any given time. Buy a peripheral for a Mac and it basically plugs right in and works. One cable really seems to pretty much do it all. Try getting that level of simplicity with your home theater system. HDMI offers great potential for a “one cable does it all” solution and HDCP copy protection is a reasonable solution to protect the often maligned rights of Hollywood studios, yet couldn’t there be a “handshake” standard so that one brand of HDTV would speak fluently with another brand’s player and yet another brand’s DVR and so on? Wouldn’t it make sense for their to be one standard for video and keep it there for a while. Even reviewers that evaluate AV preamps and other high-end electronics struggle to keep their systems up to date. The cost of the players, the cables, the installation, the troubleshooting and the programming is often too much. And these are people who write off these expenses.

Simplicity is a must for home theater and HDTV video to continue to boom at this impressive rate. People who spent $5,000 on a plasma TV two years ago don’t want to hear about why they need a new, 1080p plasma, but they might want to plug a Playstation 3 or HD DVD player into it. But will it work correctly and switch effectively through their receiver? Hopefully yes. Should there be a standard that cuts down on the video number soup and has certification that the products actually do speak with each other properly? Absolutely yes.

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