Avi Greengart is the Research Director for Consumer Devices at Current Analysis (Mobile Phones, Connected Devices, and Digital Home). He also regularly writes for Slashgear, sporadically blogs at Home Theater View and Tweets far too often as @greengartAvi's expertise lies in understanding consumer electronics marketing, consumer behavior, and technology adoption patterns: where new technologies meet the mass market. 

 

 

Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment: video, audio, computing, and wireless, how these are coming together, and what's likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life.

Column #43 (11/27/02)

AskAvi Mailbox: Plasma, TV Sitting Distance, PC as Scaler/Processor, Set Top Box Hookup, HDTV Price Drops, DSP modes

Plasma, Setup Issues

Question: Hi Avi, My TV went belly up this morning, and I'm trying to decide what is the best replacement. I read your article just now that says if I watch mostly sports and sitcoms, I would be better off buying a 4x3 aspect tv, because of uneven burn in the 16x9 tubes. [the writer is probably referring to AskAvi Column 10 -avi]

However, I have ALSO discovered that Gateway is producing and selling a 42" 16x9 PLASMA screen for $2999. My question is: would I still have the burn problem with a plasma screen? I know that I see nature films on Discovery for example and I can tell that they have been compressed into the 4x3 format because everything looks tall and thin. I also notice this phenomena when I watch a DVD on 4x3 and I find it annoying If I'm gonna spend $2 grand for a 36" 4x3, shouldn't I spend an extra $1 grand and get the plasma screen? That's a cost of $100 per year given a 10 year lifespan. What's your take on this specific unit?

AskAvi responds: I don't have any experience with this particular plasma, but generally speaking:

bulletThe burn-in threshold for plasmas is even worse than on CRTs
bullet"Affordable" plasmas have terrible problems with black level (everything looks gray), shadow detail (you can't see all of what's going on in dark scenes), and color banding (transitions between colors are not smooth).  Models in the $10,000 - $25,000 range still aren't perfect, but they have made significant strides in these areas.

That said, when space and coolness factor are more important to you than absolute performance, it can make sense to buy a "budget" plasma and put it on one of the stretch modes that fills the screen.

By the way, if your DVDs are "tall and thin" it usually means you haven't set things up properly - go into the menus on the DVD player, and tell it that you have a 4:3 screen. You'll - correctly - get black bars on top and bottom, and the actors on screen will get off the rack and start looking human again. Unless you're watching something with Sarah Jessica Parker in it - I've seen her in real life, and impossibly thin/stretched out is just the way she looks.

TV Sitting Distances

Question: Would you please tell me the correct distance to watch a 51 inch rear projection TV?

AskAvi responds: No.  There are all kinds of rules, but no "correct" answer - it depends on your personal preference and content.  The higher the resolution, the closer you can/should sit (closer to HDTV, farther from "regular" TV).  For what it's worth, I sit around 12' back from my 53" analog 4:3 television which I use to watch cable TV; it's far back enough that the TV's scan lines appear less distinct.  I also sit around 12' back from my 6' wide projection screen which I use to watch DVDs displayed progressively; at twice the width back it's - just - far enough from the screen that the pixelation from my digital projector isn't distinct.

PC as Scaler, Processor

Question: I am interested in determining whether my PC could be souped up to compete with or out perform the high end Audio Visual Receivers and Scalars and HDTV tuners and DVD players?  I have a fast PC with plenty of harddrive and ram.  However, everything in the PC can be replaced.  I want to output to M&K THX 150's (7.1 system) or better speakers and a Panasonic 50" plasma. Please advise me on a dream machine requirements for hardware and software or if I should stick to the traditional systems.

AskAvi responds: Using your PC/DVD-ROM as a scaler is a good idea technically, though the user interface is usually more trouble than it's worth if the system will be used by a non-geek.  If you want to go this route, your best bet for configuration advice is the Home Theater PC forum on http://www.avsforum.com

For a basic surround system, a PC with a high end audio card can certainly work, but there's too much internal electrical noise in most PCs for them to compete favorably with higher end receivers or a decent processor/amp combination - the kind you should be using to get the most out of your M&Ks (nice speaker selection, BTW).  I'd stick with a $1,000 - $3,500 Denon/Onkyo/Yamaha receiver or Lexicon/other-quality-processor plus any-good-multichannel-amp combo.

Digital Set Top Box Hookup

Question: I have a sir-ts160, which does not have a 1394 output so I can go to a jvc digital tape, or in the future to a dvd recorder.  Would it do any good to output from the 160 with composite or component output to another box with a 1394 output, (like the sir-t165) so I could finally record digitally? or have I lost that resolution by outputting in composite or component in the first place?

Ask Avi responds: By outputting the data using an analog out (composite, S-video, or component) you take the signal out of the digital domain.  You could then convert it back to digital at some point in the chain, but yeah, you've lost resolution and the ease of editing a digital signal from beginning to end.

HDTV Price Drops

Question: Hello, I recently visited Column 39. Great page! Very informative!  I was wondering if you can give me some advice.  I am in the market for a High Definition television.  Price is important to me, but so is the quality of the picture.  I was wondering if you feel that it would be well worth it for me to wait until after the first of the year, when newer models come out and such, in order to get the best quality for my dollar.  Do you think prices on existing models will drop significantly?  Do you think the 2003 models will have significant technical  improvements?

AskAvi responds: Other than the Samsung HD2 DLP-based machines, I don't know of any revolutionary advances in the next generation of HDTV sets.  However, evolutionary changes - improved optics, better high definition resolution, and lower prices - should continue unabated.

In the past, you'd have to wait until late January or February, not the first of the year, for prices to drop significantly due to new model introductions.  Retailers do still tend to assess and clear out excess inventory in the January/February timeframe, but consumer electronics manufacturers have been announcing lineup changes throughout the year on their own schedule.  For example, Samsung introduced their new DLP-based sets in May at the Home Entertainment 2002 Show, and started shipping in the summer.  You should also keep in mind that retailer pricing models have changed - some are offering their best deals early in the holiday season so they aren't stuck discounting excess inventory later.  The After Christmas Sale Spectacular may not turn out to be as spectacular as the Amazing Day After Thanksgiving Six AM Sale.  Or vice versa.

DSP Modes

Question: I know you're a fan of Dolby Pro Logic II, but how does it stack up to DTS Neo:6, Lexicon/Harmon Int'l Logic 7 or Circle Surround?

AskAvi responds: Oh, how I wish I could answer this with a face/off of some kind, but I haven't done one, so my ranking is based on isolated listening and respected reviewers' comparative opinions.  With that disclaimer, here goes:

bulletLogic 7 - the full seven channel implementation found on Lexicon processors, not the five channel version used on certain Harman Kardon receivers - is probably still the best mode for movies and tied with DPL II for music.  DPL II runs a close second on the movie side, though.
bulletI have not heard Meridian's Tri-Field mode, but many reviewers place it #1 for music.
bulletThe proprietary DSP modes on Sony ES components and Yamaha's flagship receivers come next.  I was tempted to say some of the Yamaha modes are the best overall for music.  I didn't because it's a hit or miss thing - some modes with some tracks sound amazing, really adding depth and space between/behind the instruments, while some modes with some tracks make it sound like the venue was moved to your bathroom.  Even when it works you have to pull back certain parameters, notably room size.  On movies, Yamaha's 70mm Cinema mode and Sony's movie sound stage modes are great for all but the best mixed soundtracks (for meticulously mixed discs - the Star Wars prequels, for example - the modes are better left off).  The Yamaha is particularly good at making a small room sound like a big movie theater; the downside is that it muddies rear-channel dialog on the few discs that have some (ex: Strange Days).
bulletDTS Neo:6 is better than most stock DSP modes you find on receivers, but isn't in the same league as the rest for either movies or music.  It's quite respectable on music if you tweak the parameters judiciously.
bulletCircle surround is nice with some music, but not others.  On movies I'd consider it an excellent substitute for DPL, but not for DPL II.

Another set of DSP modes to consider are the new algorithms that come with THX 2 products.  Unfortunately, I have not heard them yet.  But you should be able to see why I'm so high on DPL II - it ranks #1 or #2 when compared with everything else out there; it actually started out as a high end mode from Jim Fosgate.  Yet, due to Dolby's work commercializing the technology and licensing it broadly, it can be had on products listing for $199 .  Not bad. 

-avi

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2001, 2002 Avi Greengart