We frequently get e-mails from readers asking why they should spend big $s on a home theater product when they can get a similar product for much less. Good question! So, this is the first in a series of GearWorks in which we'll discuss that very topic. We'll start with perhaps the easiest component to track: projectors. Where does the money go?
It's no secret that, if you have a new projection display (front or rear), you'll eventually need to replace its light source. Take one look at them, and you'll see that these aren't your ordinary 100-watt bulbs—that, and the fact that these light sources cost hundreds of dollars each.
In my GearWorks column in our January 2005 issue, I talked about how, depending on your viewing distance, the resolution of your display may not matter. To sum up, your eye has a finite resolution (like a digital camera), and, as objects get smaller with distance, there is a point where your eye can no longer distinguish between bigger and smaller pixels. Over long distances, this is obvious, but it surprised a lot of people that it could be so noticeable in shorter (in-room) distances.
I must admit, onboard video and audio have come a long way. It used to be that they were just a line item on a features list. Now both are far more capable. Compared with what you can get as a separate card, though. . .well, let's say it's not worth comparing (although I did, of course).
I like to think of myself as a do-it-yourself kind of guy. I'd like to think of myself this way, but, in reality, this is not the case. I don't change my own oil (you want me to go under where?), I'm on a first-name basis with my mechanic (honestly, what Ford owner isn't?), and I call my landlord when the kitchen sink leaks (hey, that's why I pay rent). The two things I do myself are haircuts (thank you, King C. Gillette) and computers (sorry, no funny joke). I've been fascinated with computers since my parents bought me an Apple IIc in the mid-1980s. Since then, I've been modifying and building my own. A few months ago, some part of my brain came up with the idea to build a home theater PC from scratch—and make it silent. Keep in mind that this was the same part of my brain that thought it would be a tremendous idea to build a 13-foot-long subwoofer. Thanks to the deluge of e-mails I received after that piece (one—thanks, Mom) and the difficulty in finding a company that makes an HTPC (last count at CES, there were only 13,002 or so), I figured I'd design and build Home Theater's HTPC, the ugliest and quietest ever.
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, we were introduced to HAL 9000—a plucky computer that likes long walks at night, organization, and things not named Dave. In 2010, we found out that we were going to need a bigger boat and that HAL had a sibling: Bob. Or it may have been Phil. It certainly wasn't Knight Industries Two Thousand. It turns out that four years after and five years before, a middle sibling has been discovered: PJ. (Lame, I know. I'm sorry.)
Someone at Sharp noticed a gap. They make all sorts of flat-panel LCD units, from dinner-plate size to plasma size. Then they have two DLP projectors that handle the huge-screen market. (In fact, we gave the XV-Z12000 our Best Overall Projector RAVE Award for last year in our May 2005 issue.) But there's this gap, you see, above 45 inches for flat panels and below 80 or so inches for front projectors. What to do? How about rear projection?
More TV than you can shake a really, really big stick at.
You know what? This is a big TV—deceptively big. The cabinet that surrounds the screen is so thin that, at first glance, the display doesn't appear that large. In our studio, it's sitting next to a 55-inch display that I'm reviewing for an upcoming issue, and it is positively dwarfed by the 70-inch JVC. Compared with a 50-inch plasma, which would be a fair comparison from a price standpoint, the HD-70G886 has nearly twice the overall screen area, and it has almost three times the area of a 42-inch display. Kinda makes you want to second-guess that plasma purchase, doesn't it?
The 42-inch display size has become a battleground of sorts between liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and plasma displays. Ironically, the older technology, LCD, is the relative newcomer here. Prices on both sides have dropped quickly. You can now buy an HDTV (qualified by both resolution and the integration of a tuner) for just a little more than the price of an EDTV just over a year ago. LG Electronics is one of the only companies with their feet on both sides of this issue (the other biggie being their across-the-Han rival, Samsung). LG also makes an LCD in a 42-inch size, which is rather rare. Most are either smaller or slightly larger. There are lots of questions and misinformation about these technologies, so hopefully we can clear a lot of that up. This isn't a true head-to-head Face Off; let me tell you why.
I am a big Get Shorty fan. The dialogue, the acting, and the plot all just exude a coolness that is never struggled for, just achieved. The thought of a sequel seemed a little odd, but knowing that it is based on the Elmore Leonard sequel novel, I had high hopes. The end result was admittedly funny but nowhere near the quality of the original. The story takes place a few years after Get Shorty, and Chili Palmer is deciding to get out of the movie business. After a friend gets murdered, he decides to get into the music business instead. Far too many jokes are rehashed, but that in itself isn't the problem. Whereas the original was an effortless cool, this movie tries too hard to be cool—and rarely succeeds. Far too much time is spent on the (admittedly excellent) secondary characters, with Chili himself just kind of showing up to drive the plot along. The effect, though, highlights two of the best aspects of this movie: the Rock and André 3000. These two absolutely steal the movie, and this disc is worth a rental just for them. There are many musician cameos, but, unlike in Get Shorty, where actor cameos are natural (as in, they can act), the musician cameos are often awkward and distracting.