You can’t read an A/V ad or go into an electronics store without being inundated with information about digital television with a high definition picture. HDTV promises resolution many times finer than a conventional analog TV set. But there is a lot of confusion about when cable will be able to deliver a high-definition picture-and questions about when the major networks and local affiliates will produce the lion’s share of their shows in HD.
Full-featured HDTV sets are still quite expensive-around $8,000-and there is still no official cable interface standard. Therefore many folks who want new big screen sets are purchasing “HD-upgradable” sets that will deliver a full-blown high-def picture when one adds a tuner later on. Other folks are deciding not to replace their sets at all-or merely to stick with the existing analog technology, and buy a new analog big TV.
Whatever you decide to do, you can still enjoy a fantastic TV experience without upgrading the television itself. By upgrading the source and the sound, you can turn any TV set-no matter how old or how small-into the apex of your home theater system.
DVD-Pushing Analog to Its Limit
It seems like an oxymoron to use the terms “digital versatile disc” and “analog TV” in the same sentence. But it is accurate to do so. DVDs are encoded with a digital representation of the movie, but it is delivered in an analog state to your TV, which only receives and understands an analog system. The fact that DVD is digital means that it can hold an enormous amount of information: 4.7 Gigabytes on a 5-inch disc. It also means that the picture is always perfect-there are no extraneous lines, snow, or dropouts like in videotapes. And DVD consistently delivers up to 450 lines of resolution as compared to the 230 delivered by standard VHS, or the 330 afforded by broadcast TV.
If you haven’t already purchased a DVD player, there are some advanced new features that are available right now that are pretty cool. Even if you have one, you can always use another for another room.
The Sony 200-Disc Carousel Mega CD/DVD Changer
Brand new from Sony is the DVP-CX850D, the first 200-disc mega changer. Priced at around $800, you can load any combination of DVD and/or CDs. The purpose is eliminating the need to keep taking out the discs and putting them back into the jewel boxes. You can just stick them in the machine once and that’s it.
The player has some very convenient features. The first is a Disc Navigator that allows you to organize your CDs and DVDs by genre: action movies, jazz movies, opera CDs, whatever. So if you’re in the mood for a comedy, you can choose from only those titles. The CX850D allows you to enter text titles and assign them to each CD or DVD so that you can view the actual titles (as opposed to a disc number) on your TV screen. You can enter the text via the remote or more quickly by using an optional keyboard.
The CX850D has a built-in Dolby Digital processor so you can connect it to a Dolby Digital-ready receiver for surround sound (more on Dolby Digital below). And it has both S-Video and component video outputs. A component video connection is the absolute best way to interface your DVD player with your television set. It maintains the purest signal possible between analog video components, yielding excellent color reproduction as well as perfectly constructed lines and shapes.
Toshiba Progressive Scan DVD Player
What the heck is progressive scanning anyhow? TVs use interlace Scanning, a process that interlaces every other line of the picture in a two-step process. This happens at a speed of 30 times per second so it’s too fast for the eye to tell. All computers, on the other hand, use progressive scanning so the entire picture is “painted” all at once. Even though ostensibly the eye can’t tell the difference, in truth progressive scan pictures look sharper, especially with regard to text and graphics.
Digital Television delivers a total of eighteen TV formats, half of which utilize progressive scanning and half use interlace scanning. One of the “high definition” formats DTV is 720p-the “p” standing for progressive scan. Another “standard definition” format is 480p, which does not have the same level of detail as 720p, but is still a better quality picture than you can get from any analog set. The Toshiba SD-5109 DVD player produces a 480p picture.
In essence, this is the first outboard video source compatible with digital television. But it is not truly digital because there is not digital-to-digital link from a source to a TV set because the television and movie studios will not allow perfect direct-to-digital copies for there is no real official copy protection standard for digital TV yet.
The Toshiba SD-5109 DVD player has a host of other features including a built-in Dolby Digital and DTS decoder (more about DTS below). It sells for around $800.
The Panasonic Portable DVD Player
Panasonic makes this ubiquitous DVD laptop player that is shown in many consumer electronics ads. Dubbed the DVD-L50, it has a high-tech silver look and is compact enough to fit easily in your briefcase like a laptop computer (but it’s substantially smaller). It only weighs two pounds with a battery, and the battery lasts up to three hours. It delivers both Dolby Digital and DTS sound and sells for under $1,000.
Denon Audiophile Five-Disc Carousel DVD/CD Changer
Denon, long known for their advanced digital technology and audiophile-type CD players, boasts a DVD/CD changer with a 96 kHz 24-bit “high-end” D/A section. This advanced digital-analog section produces excellent sound for the discriminating listener. It features a built-in Dolby Digital and DTS decoder, as well as a component video output. The DVM-3700 sells for under $1,000.
Dolby Digital Surround Sound-The Official Standard for the Digital Age
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound is the third generation of Dolby Labs consumer surround sound processing. The first generation-merely called Dolby Surround Sound-consisted of three discrete channels: left-front, right-front and Rear. What’s confusing to some is that Dolby Surround Sound actually utilized four speakers, including a pair of rear-channel speakers. But these speakers delivered a single mono channel, as using two speakers will round out the sound even if both speakers deliver the exact same information.
The second-generation consumer surround sound product from Dolby Labs was Dolby Pro Logic. This newer system incorporated a fourth center channel dedicated exclusively for a movie’s dialogue. Theaters have been using professional Dolby surround sound that incorporates a speaker behind the acoustically transparent screen so that the words seem to emanate from the actors’ mouths. At home, Dolby Pro Logic used a center channel (the speaker sits atop or below the TV) for the same outcome-cleaner dialogue and more accurate sound effects. But Pro Logic still utilized monaural rear-channel effects speakers.
This new generation is Dolby Digital-a product that is far superior to the other two. First of all, Dolby Digital is just that-digital. Therefore the sound is much more accurately placed to the appropriate speaker and each speaker delivers more full-range sound.Translation: when a spaceship flies over your head, the sounds are perfectly choreographed with the picture.
The next advantage that this latest generation has over its predecessors is that it has stereo rear-channel effects speakers. Unlike the mono effects speakers of Dolby Surround Sound and Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital utilizes two discrete channels so that sound effects can “move” side-to-side and front-to-back/back-to-front, instead of just the latter.
Finally, Dolby Digital is a 5.1-channel system whereby the “.1” channel is dedicated solely to the subwoofer. It’s dubbed “.1” because it carries only low-bass information; its advantage is better bass output from a subwoofer and clearer sound from the other channels that don’t have to be “muddied-up” by the burden of producing low bass.
Dolby Digital is the official standard of the following digital products: digital television, the DIRECTV digital satellite system and DVD. Therefore, you can purchase one now with the confidence that when you finally break down and buy a digital TV set, your surround sound system will be completely compatible.
There is another choice when it comes to digital surround sound and that’s Digital Theater Systems. Backed by Steven Spielberg, DTS is used by thousands of movie houses throughout the world and is recognized by many critics to be “purer-sounding” than Dolby Digital. DTS also has their own line of CDs that take classic ’70s rock albums from the likes of Yes and Alan Parsons and make them into five-channel surround sound opuses.
As a result of DTS’ critical acclaim, many audiophile-type receivers and DVD players have both Dolby Digital and DTS decoders built in.
The Boston Acoustics DT-7000 Complete Home Theater System
Another popular speaker manufacturer is Boston Acoustics, who also offer a high-performance/high-value all-in-one home Dolby Digital Surround Sound system. The DT-7000 system includes 350 watts of total power, three voice-matched front speakers and full-range rear speakers. The subwoofer features an 8-inch woofer. The system is easy to set up because all of the wires and connections are color coded, for the “owner’s manually-challenged.”
Also included is a universal remote control that handles your TV, VCR, DVD, or cable box. The complete system sells for under $1,000.
Ultra High-End Denon/Sonus faber System with Mirage subwoofer
I have taken the liberty to put together one personal favorite speaker and electronics line into a pre-matched system for discriminating audio and videophiles.
The surround sound receiver is from Denon and delivers both Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound. It is also THX-certified so it’s considered one of the best receivers around. It delivers 140 watts into five channels of surround sound. It features a learning-capable remote control and multi-room/multi-source capability so you can watch a movie in one room and listen to a CD in another.
The surround speakers are from Italian manufacturer Sonus faber and include the Grand Piano main speakers, the Solo center-channel, and the Concertino surround speakers. Sleek design and superior acoustics make this set one of the best around. The powered subwoofer is an innovative model from Canadian Mirage that features an extraordinary “Class D” amplifier, delivering an awesome 1,500 watts!
The total package can be acquired for around $10,000.
Polk SRT Ultimate Home Theater Reference System
The Signature Reference Theater System (SRT) was originally designed by Matthew Polk for his personal use, and is therefore a no-holds-barred system that sounds amazing. It features five proprietary Polk technologies combined to bring you the ultimate movie and music experience.
The complete system boasts seven speakers, including: two main “satellite” speakers, two 300 watt powered sub woofers, one matched center channel speaker, two dipole/bipole surround speakers and a Control Center with wireless remote.
The system sports a total of 35 active drivers, 600 watts of subwoofer power delivering a bass response down to 16 Hz. Polk’s proprietary SDA Soundstage technology delivers three-dimensional imaging for awesome surround sound. Its wireless remote Control Center allows you to tweak the system from anywhere in the room.
Depending upon how you want to configure it, the system ranges in price from $7,300 to $16,200 without a Dolby Digital processor or main power amplification.