The Trouble with High Definition

Just collating my thoughts on how High Definition Audio and Video have evolved since we first experienced HD in the middle of 2005 or so...

The trouble with high def...

It introduces a whole suitcase of new sound formats, connectors, and technology that threaten to render our old amps as useful as toasters.

It brings along issues such as compatability with older HDMI versions, bandwidth of the connectors, and the increasing number of HDMI inputs and outputs we need, on the amps and video panels.

The aim of reducing the number of spagetti like arrangements which make our better halves rant at us, with HDMI cables is at once overtaken by the increase in number of new technologies needing this connector.

Nothing has quite gripped the HT section of this forum like the recent emergence of a new 1.3v HDMI equipped amp series. This new frenzy will almost eclipse the buying interest of the last craze, the Panasonic XR 55 / 57 series which could do no wrong and will be heralded into the HT hall of Fame.

But wait, isn't that just a few months back? The curse of technology and being at the forefront of things means we sometimes chase the latest products with a certain despair that we will be the brothers who bear the burden of higher prices, shoddy shipment dates, unfulfilled technologies (where is the 24 fps update Toshi?) and issues with beta versions or bugs in the soft or hardware.

Hence it may be prudent to hang back, let that first wave of instant gratification rush by, and examine the new techologies carefully and let that wallet sit in our pockets a little longer first.

Will I stop adopting new hi def technolgies? Nay, but I will subject the new toys to rigourous auditions first as music comes first (aka Marantz motto :) )

The new amps must also give good sound quality, apart from featuring the latest gadgets and formats, for how many of us currently use more than 5.1 setups, and go past the DD or DTS formats. Of those amps with 101 DSP modes, how many do we actually employ?

A good amp section with quality bits inside will let the amp remain useful and playable a long time after we have embraced the new techologies.

I remember the rush when I finally got a Marantz DP 870 DD decoder and hooked it up to my HK, Rotel setup, unwrapped my new Pioneer DVD player and popped in Patriot starring Mel Gibson, at $45 a disc, it was as though I had found the elixer of life!

To paraphrase a school motto of mine, "and though the stars( sic toys) may change" our spirit of frontierism endures on.

Sidere Mens Eadem Mutato

The battle for Middle Earth (oops wrong story) - the Hi Def ground is heating up now.
With the turn of 2 important studios to HD, and the emergence of parallel sources of material from Europe, Oz etc where people can get so called Blu Ray exclusive movies in HD, this makes the Hi Def scene much more interesting.

Even as a HD owner, it looked a bit bleak a few months back when the number of studios and the range of movies had been skimpier than a Perla bikini.

Now I relish stocking up on movies which I have been holding back from stocking up. Buying new HD discs isn't such a gamble, although the war is hardly over.

This of course is the major problem. Re-stocking costs....

Imagine having spent 30-50$ on a decent DVD press some time ago for a movie only to sell it for less than a third of that now, and having to buy the Hi Def version again at close to $50.

There is of course the odd lemon, where the touted benefits of the HD are less sterling than expected, with only modest improvements in video quality and even less in surround effect improvements. I guess it may be because the print is old and in those days the use of the surrounds and LFE was less prolific.

A note of caution to potential buyers of new amps. If HT is the main issue, then there are two overriding concerns IMO.

POWER - buckets of it, even if you live in a little chicken coop, its about delivery, dynamics and depth. Having that toroidal transformer won't be a bad thing.

Features - if upscaling, and lots of HDMI ports are what you need, get them in your new amp.

The old requirements that an amp needs to be musical and sweet seem to have been pushed aside and if HT is your sole requirement, thats pretty fair.
Otherwise packing THX Ultra, a super video chip, HDMI, new sound format decoding plus good sound into a single chasis and making it sound good And cheap will prove too much even for the most aggressively priced brands.

Ever bought a car in which you already knew will need a firmware upgrade to work on certain roads?

Or got a new handphone that needs updating before it can call certain countries?

Well, it seems that we are resigned to partially working hi fi products that need to be plugged into the Internet ever so often.
Some might welcome this as it allows them to keep abreast of changes which enhance their purchase, and make it into a better item, eg firmware updates which allowed the pS3 to play CDs and force 1080p 24 fps.

But then, you ask, why didn't it do so in the first place??

As for us IT non-savvy folks, we approach these encounters with updates with some trepidation and especially after having how some unsuccessfuly updates have rendered their precious purchases into a toaster, that's scant comfort.

So as I wait with abated breath for a proper working Hi Def machine which works well out of the box, I take big dallops of salt with each claim of when the perfect machine will arrive....

Well yes, Hi Def isn't what it used to be simply because of the march of technology.

It took 15 yrs for VHS to reach obsolence, 10yrs for LDs and they say the cycle will shorten, hence people have been foretelling the passing of one format or another.

What make me more riled is the sophistication forced upon us by the increasing complexity of the new components, in particular amplifiers and disc players.

With each new amp, some fancy format is added or improved upon, and that in itself should be a good thing, but the products don't always seem market-ready. Firmware upgrades are almost done on a regular basis and when you compare them to the average stereo amp, there are so many things which can go awry. When you need auto-setup just to enjoy a DVD, thats telling.

The players are worse, they can be broken by a new disc release, or need firmware updates again and the sad thing about BR is the evolving nature of the format. Imagine, players released now still don't comply to Profile 2.0!

No wonder the questions on LPCM and getting the various formats to light up on the display on the amps are still being asked every now and then...

Also it is not easy for the average consumer to grasp what each sound format means and the sales people are not helping, instead they often add to the confusion with their poor knowledge.

IMHO, when you spend less than 5k on the sound side of the business, use it to get a good subwoofer and centre speaker, treat the room and place the speakers properly than worry about which brand is bette or if one sound format is superior to another. Budget setups with puny speakers are not the way to demo Hi Def, no matter how much the sales guys tries to push a 2k system on you to convince you that Hi Def is significantly better.

Ultimately your ears are the judge and for HT, spending more on the screen will be more beneficial than fretting about cables, Hi def or not, and if this or that sytem is good value....

The polarisation between two extremes:

BR won the war against HD DVD last year.

It is now embroiled in its own battles to survive and move forward. However it is caught between 2 ends of the spectrum.

At one end, is the push to create volume, and roll out more machines which can entice new buyers and get people other than early adopter and hi fi mad fans to buy in. reach out to the person on the street, and convince him / her that Hi Def is the way to go. In Singapore we have some of these LG, Samsung models which have come down in price to what a DVD player would have cost 4 years ago.
That is good news. Yet the man on the street and the newcomer wants more, more features, more performance from his new fangled toy so as to justify the upgrade from VCD and DVD. Here we see the demand for region free for BR, and code free for DVDs. An all singing and dancing player which can produce stunning results and costs a pittance. This can be seen even in our forum.

The other end of the spectrum is the need for companies to turn a profit after the damaging battle with HD DVD. Gone are those buy one get one free sales and free discs with each BR machine. Companies which used to sell killer machines at low prices have also gone more up market. Others sell theirs with higher price tags based on “audiophile” roots. Unless you need a single machine, there are alternatives. Such as one player for CDs and then getting a simple BR player for movies. Or a all codes DVD player and a BR player. This may not be as neat as a single machine, but if prices continue to spiral upwards instead of going down, consumers can vote with their wallets and get what they think is value for money. No use badgering one company for not being all singing and dancing. We see the specs, we decide to buy or not, life goes on.

At the end of the day the fate of Hi Def may not rest in the hands of those reading this forum, but in average Joe. Who, I am afraid is still mired in his VCDs and thinks DVD is the last word on Picture quality and used a 32” flatscreen which cost less than 500 from NTUC. Persuading such a person to adopt Hi Def will be the litmus test in the survival of Hi Def.

Somehow, that has not changed since this thread has started. As for us, we can only keep replacing our machines, or encourage new members here to hasten their adoption of the Hi Def format and bring prices down even more.

So rather than debate why some features are omitted from a much craved player, we should entice more people to join our fold and create even more volume.
This could be our personal mission: introduce one friend per member to Hi Def!

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


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