Here is Barb Gonzalez, author of The Home Electronics Survival Guide Volume 1—I like the Volume 1 part!—flanked by two chimps. Ken Kessler, left, author of Quad: The Closest Approach, drew the most traffic with his world-class charisma (sorry about the flash). At right is the unedited original of my blog pic, with lovely pink and blue background, shot at the Paradox Coffeeshop in Amsterdam, a moment of bliss captured for posterity. Have you heard about my annually updated home theater guide? Just checking.
At this moment in the Anthony Wilson Nonet's performance, the guitarist and bandleader had just triggered a guitar sample, over which he then soloed. It was eerie and moving and that's why I've chosen this ludicrously out-of-focus picture—because it was the greatest moment of HES 2006. If you want to share moments like this, you'll just have to come to HES 2007.
Under a court settlement, Sony BMG has agreed to compensate consumers for exposing their computers to CD-borne security hazards. If you bought a title with the now infamous XCP rootkit, you get a replacement disc, $7.50 in cash, and a free download (or no cash and three downloads). Not too shabby! Wish I'd bought a few myself. Purchasers of titles contaminated with Suncomm MediaMax get only the downloads. You've got to hand it to Sony BMG. The label has done an awful lot to atone for its error. Details here.
Cablevision's digital video recorder has the movie studios and television networks up in arms. ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Disney, Paramount, and Universal have sued over the nDVR, or network DVR, claiming copyright infringement. The nDVR stores up to 80 hours of programming on a remote server. Program it to record your favorite stuff in perpetuity and you have, in effect, a limited version of video on demand. Since the disc drive is not in your rack, you can operate it just using an dDVR-enabled cable box. Cablevision says the suit is "without merit." Analysts say the suit was expected, and if Cablevision prevails, cable ops will be able to deploy the dDVR on a larger scale and save big bucks in the process, both for consumers and themselves.
Hitachi bills four new 42-inch plasma models as 1080-line-capable. The following information is for numbers-obsessed videoholics only: The relevant model numbers are 42HDF39 ($2299), 42HDS69 ($2499), 42HDT79 ($2999), and 42HDX99 ($5299). Nominally these are 1080i, as opposed to 1080p, displays though at 42 inches that distinction is negligible. However, it's the vertical resolution that's 1080 lines. Horizontal resolution is actually 1024 lines, as opposed to 1920 in the 1080i ATSC broadcast standard (1920 by 1080). So three of these models are 1024 by 1080, and the lowest-priced is actually 1024 by 1024. Got all that? The difference probably stems from the inherent limitations of Hitachi's highly rated plasma manufacturing technique, which involves vertical channels of pixels crisscrossed by horizontal lines of electrodes. I got a preview at last week's press event in New York though production models will not arrive till later in the year. Up close and personal, the prototype looked pretty spiffy. I could see the dots only from two or three feet. Beyond that the picture looked seamless. The bottom line is that these 42-inch plasmas can show 1080 lines in a test pattern. Try that with a crayon and a piece of paper. Bet you can't do it.
The explosion of flat-panel and microdisplays has multiplied the number of manufacturers and products on the market. Unfortunately this happy profusion leaves a performance gap on the audio side. My Sharp AQUOS LCD HDTV has excellent speakers—by TV-speaker standards—but I don't depend on them for movies. And the sound on a typical no-name LCD set is simply wretched for any content, even sitcoms. So what do you do when you've uncrated your new display only to discover that the other half of the home theater equation is a shaping up to be a big zero?
Interesting piece by Wired columnist Leander Kahney on the iPod's steady rise to acceptance as a hi-fi audio device. But I think he oversells his point when he says the iPod has audiophiles "spinning in their soundproof graves." He also oversimplifies, asserting that "to purists, only old-fashioned vinyl platters cut it." This stereotype (pun intended) ignores a whole universe of digital audio developments such as SACD and DVD-Audio, great concert videos in lossy surround formats, and the use of Dolby Pro Logic II to coax surround out of stereo source material (whether from CD, WAV, MP3, AAC, or none of the above). Speaking as an audiophile, I find these things just as interesting as my LP collection or, for that matter, my iPod. The biggest problem with high-performance audio, according to 56 percent of consumers in one survey, is that not enough of them have heard it.
Samsung showed off its first LED-driven DLP model yesterday at a press briefing in New York. The 56-inch HL-S5679W ($4199) replaces the arc lamp and color wheel used in conventional DLP rear-projectors (left) with light-emitting diodes (right). This provides longer lamp life (20,000 hours), more uniform performance over the lifetime of the set, quicker turn-on, quieter operation, no color-wheel "rainbow effect," and as an environmental bonus, toxic mercury has been eliminated from the design. The only catch is that the light engine (optics) are left over from last year's lamp-based sets, and that won't change until the next model-year, though what I saw showed impressive smoothness and uniformity of brightness. Also shown were new plasmas using an anti-glare scheme combining a blue backcoating on the glass with a brown matrix between pixels. The picture was watchable, with what subjectively appeared to be very good black level, even with direct light pouring in the window of the fancy hotel. Finally, would you like your iPod to sing through your TV? You can do just that with LCD-HDTVs in the 92 Series (46, 40, and 32 inches starting at $2199). An RS232 port connects the music player, Apple or Samsung (the iPod requires an optional $40 adapter cable). Then you can navigate music files onscreen through the TV's remote.
Titles in the Blu-ray and HD DVD formats will not use the image constraint token until at least 2010, according to a rumor reported in the German media and picked up by ArsTechnica.com. Videophiles had feared that studios would use the ICT, a down-resolution flag, to cut high-def signals down to standard-def signals through the analog three-plug component video connection, the only HD input on early-generation HDTVs. Most of the studios had already agreed to avoid using the ICT for an indefinite period, but this latest rumor—if true—extends that decision to 2010, and possibly 2012. That should give a little breathing room to early adopters eyeing Blu-ray and HD DVD. Another possible reason for the move: Some PS3 and Xbox 360 gear lacks HDMI, the Hollywood-approved HD interface.