The state of Home Theatre in 2008

Just placing some older thoughts onto the blog :

The year of HD?

2007 began as a tumultuous time for Hi Def. With two formats in their infancy, producing products that were scarcely ready for the market, relying on firmware fixes to correct what should be market – ready products.

As the year wore on, more new machines were introduced, some with greater success than others. The PS3 will be remembered as a marvel of computing engineering, accomplishing much by sheer computing power. Toshiba regardless of the outcome of the war will be remembered for introducing 3 gens of players within a year, short even by the life cycles of technology. The XA2 remains a thing of beauty to own.

A relative minor player previously, the Onkyos, showing what a fickle market we can be, dominated the amp section. Just a year back the hottest amp was the Panasonic digital amps, with postings and owners reporting miraculous audio performances trouncing other amps costing a few times more. The Yamaha 2700 then occupied the top of the pile for a while before the on then off then off again introduction of the Onkyo quartet swept into Singapore, bringing ton of features to the masses. Previously only available to high end owners or separate costly products, Audessy, Reon and Faroudja become household names and owners became inundated with features that they are still coming to grasp with.

Another phenomenon that has swept across our local forum is the four letter word – HDMI. Tis has become the buzzword of future buyers, with potential owners clamouring for this even without a clear understanding of what it can do. And with all new technology, the goalposts move so rapidly that we have gone from none to version 1.3a and there is no sign that we will stop here. Generally a boon, with the ability to transmit audio and video in a single cable, cleaning up the back of the AV amps and flatscreens, it also meant a flurry of upgrades, and in some cases owners bought and sold their 1.1, then 1.2 version amps to play catch up with the inexorable tide of progress. The other must have function has been auto-setup, in its many iterations, leading up to the premium Audessy which has become the de facto standard locally. This has the positive effect of allowing a quick and easy way of getting the settings of distance, bass and crossover all done in minutes. However the dumbing down of a previously tedious task has also meant new owners are puzzled why the settings chosen are poorer than expected. At the end of the day, there is still no substitute for a well tuned and experienced ear.

The year 2007 also saw a new competitor on the paid TV front. Whilst far from perfect with bugs being reported incessantly, MIO from Singtel has offered a choice to local TV fans, albeit not a completely different choice, since the offerings really do not overlap much, it has meant Starhub has to keep on its toes, despite forcing price increases on us with great disdain and all because we have enough football worshippers in our midst.

As for video displays, 1080p is the catchword on our lips, with 1080p 50” panels now reaching affordable levels and 50” panels costing a fraction of their costs just a year ago. Now with 1080p panels popping up in ads almost on a daily basis at simply fantastic prices, we also face a barrage of marketing speak and fallacies by the sales and marketing people hoping to make us part with our money. Full HD has become another must have, with people sitting metres from their 32” Tvs still wanting full HD because the sales guy said so. Judder has also become a feared phenomenon even when the owner cannot perceive it. 24 fps inputs and being able to display that at full HD has also become an obsession. Pioneer impressed us with their mind-blowing Kuro range but for the average consumer, Panasonic’s aggressive pricing scheme allowed the price of a 768p panel to fall below the $3000 mark.

What does 2008 bring then? The biggest news I can think of right now, apart from falling prices and new technologies is the end to the Hi Def format wars. Owners have been abandoning their SD DVDs on the sales pages, and aided by the generous Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) ads on Amazon, having been devouring new hi def discs in either format. The advent of a discounted VPost has also encouraged people to give this rather flaky service a go. The average cost of a used Hi Def disc has fallen from $50 to close to $40 or less in the space of months.

Yet, eclipsing all this is the news of Warner Studios’ migration to a Blu Ray only stance. This has the potential to end the format wars, and herald the entry of Hi Def into our homes in a less uncertain way. Will this mean HD DVD players become toasters? No, they are still highly competent upscaling players and currently the only way to watch Transformers in Hi Def, at least until the fickle Paramount Studios switches camps again. Will prices dropped dramatically, with less competition, it may mean 2008 is the year the Blu Ray camp moves away from super thin margins to premium products in order to arrest the haemorrhage caused by the war with HD DVD. Yet eager sellers like Samsung may continue to surprise us with affordable entry level players just like Hyundai allowed budget minded people to own cars in the early 80s.

Each new year will bring new toys, gadgets and engineers will dream up many other stuff to tempt us to part with our money. May we continue to enjoy the fruits of mass production, yet always remembering that enjoying what we already own and sifting through that pile of DVDs to watch what we really enjoy is just as fun as owning the latest and greatest things.



On a footnote, if we ever tire of the buying process, why not sit quietly in a corner for a while and ask if we can do without that new toy, and bring joy to someone else who might need that money we got from the year end bonus a bit more and share our rewards with less fortunate brethren out there, be it a friend in need or simple a stranger who needs a warm meal and a smile. Better yet, do a demo for him in the comforts of your den And offer him that meal :)




I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

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