It’s always a blast around here to take a look back and see which of the hundred or so components we’ve reviewed in the last year really rose to the top. Of course, the best of these end up on our Top Picks list, but like watching a good movie whose message or performances resonate in the days and months that follow, there are always a few pieces of gear that prove themselves to be just a little more special over time.
Our DTV guru loads up three antennas and drives around Chicago to see how they behave.
Antennas are cool! Over-the-air analog- and digital-TV broadcast signals are the best-looking broadcast signals that I have going into my home theater system. Digital satellite can be good from time to time, but cable? Forget about it! The only problem with over-the-air signals is that the science of installing and picking antennas for good TV reception is all but lost. We haven't had any reason to put up antennas until digital TV came along, except for maybe the pure pleasure of telling your cable company to take a hike.
Earlier this year, we tested 54 2005 HDTV sets to learn how they process all the detail contained within 1080i high-definition signals. The results were disappointing. Slightly less than half of the models tested failed to properly deinterlace a 1080i high-definition signal, resulting in a loss of picture resolution. Thanks to our readers' response to dealers when shopping for high-definition TVs, a number of manufacturers took notice.
This time last year, we tested 61 2006 HDTVs to learn how they process all the detail contained within 1080i, the most common high-definition broadcast format. It's the highest resolution format the majority of HD broadcasters and cable channels use, including CBS, NBC, CW, HBO, and Showtime. The results of our 2006 tests were quite disappointing; less than half of the HDTVs were able to properly process the interlaced broadcast signal to the TV's native, progressive resolution. This year, we have expanded our testing to include 74 HDTVs that range from 19 to 67 inches. We have added a new test for 1080p displays to judge their resolution with motion as compared to their stationary resolution. This test illustrates how all HDTVs lower the amount of detail you can see when the camera is panning or where there is action in a scene, such as on a football field. More on this later.
In the November 2007 issue, I tested 74 HDTVs for their ability to process 1080i signals, the highest resolution standard found on most of the broadcast and cable networks. A number of the remaining HDTVs to be introduced in 2007 arrived too late for our November issue. We decided to follow up with some more displays. Due to space constraints, this article will refer to previous articles more than we normally do. On the bright side, all the articles mentioned (including the November 2007 test) are available on this site.
The current top HDTV broadcast resolution is 1080i (interlaced). Most television and cable networks use it, including CBS, NBC, the WB, HBO, Showtime, HDNet, The Movie Channel, Starz HDTV, and others. What happens to this HDTV signal when one of the latest digital HDTVs processes it? Does it take the full 1,080 lines of transmitted resolution, change the signal from interlaced to progressive (called deinterlacing), detect and compensate for motion, and send it to the screen, as it should? Or does the display's processor cheat you out of seeing all the detail within the broadcast?
Do you want your home theater system to have that "sucker punches in your gut" feel you got at your local cinema when T-Rex stomped his way through San Diego? Do you need your pant legs to flap with each bass line, just as they did at the recent Metallica concert? Want to be as emotionally attached to the recorded version of Beethoven's Fifth as when you heard the cellos and timpani pound out that familiar triplet live at the concert hall? Would you like James Earl Jones' voice-over for CNN to sound less like Mickey Mouse and more like, well, Darth Vader? If so, it's time for you to invest in a subwoofer.
You want the big screen experience. That means a projector and, obviously, a screen. Yes, you could just aim the projector at that white wall, or a neatly-pressed sheet. You'll get a picture, and the video police won't show up to drag you away to an ISF re-education camp.
The struggle continues: single versus dual speakers; dipoles versus monopoles.
Lightsabers swirl all around, machines explode to the side, and lasers come from directly behind you. If you saw The Phantom Menace in a Dolby Digital Surround EX-equipped theater, you heard one of the more spatially realistic soundtracks recorded to date. Now, that same technology has entered the home market under the moniker THX Surround EX (non-THX-certified products might refer to a similar process as 6.1), and a familiar question returns to haunt us: Should you use dipole or monopole (also known as direct-radiating) loudspeakers for the back channel? This time around, the question comes with a new twist: Should you use one or two speakers for this channel? Willing to conquer any challenge and answer any question, we at Home Theater took it upon ourselves to test various speaker configurations. After describing the process itself and the advantages and disadvantages of dipole and monopole speakers, we'll let you know what our panel of judges thought of the various options.
What is an HTiB?
What exactly is a Home Theater in a Box, or, as those of us who prefer to use acronyms rather than real words call it, an HTiB? Before you guffaw and wonder what kind of an idiot put this bit of advice together, give this question a chance to sink in. Now let's consider just how difficult a creature this HTiB thing is to pin down.
Two (And A Half) Basic Flavors
I'd love to regale you all with stories of the CRT front projectors of yesteryear. These beasts were bigger than a VW, but cost a lot more. But that's not why I'm here. Thanks to the digital revolution, high quality front projection is now as affordable as premium rear projection TV in many cases, and less expensive than many premium flat screens.
There has never been a greater abundance of choices, from flat-panel TVs to portable media devices. However, figuring out what to buy is more complicated and confusing than ever. It's not just the myriad of choices in any given product category that's baffling, but also the uncertainty over whether it's going to be obsolete this time next year, or even next month. So, how can you make the best decisions and future-proof your A/V purchases?
Determining amplifier-power requirements for your home theater system.
Power output is often the biggest selling point for receivers and standalone amplifiers. Bells and whistles aside, you can often spend a lot less money for an amplifier or receiver that has a lot less power. While there are several factors that influence an amplifier's sound quality, we're not going to go into many of them in this article. We're going to focus on power. Ideally, an amplifier should be rated with low distortion, measured over the entire audible frequency range and with all channels driven. You should always listen to an amplifier before you purchase it. Whether you should test the 60-watt model or the 150-watt version depends on many factors, including your listening environment, the speakers you'll be using with it, and your listening habits.