Mitsubishi WS-55859 55-Inch HDTV
I could make some witty comment about how difficult it is to use the typical home theater, but, at this point, that would be a cliché. Basically, unless you take a great deal of care or spend considerable funds on a touchpanel-based control system, it's likely that, at best, only one person in your house will be able to play a DVD in the correct aspect ratio with 5.1 sound. To be honest, I'm surprised more people don't just read a book. It would certainly take less effort.
You'd think that more manufacturers would take note and try to create a system that makes things easy to use, as this step would undoubtedly enable them to sell more products. Various manufacturers have created integrated systems that work with their own components, but none of them works with other brands. The IEEE 1394 system with HAVi (Home Audio/Video Interoperability) is a digital networking solution that promises to transmit your A/V and control systems through a single cable. New devices will automatically configure themselves to the system, but only via the IEEE 1394 connection. Non-1394-equipped devices would be left, if you'll pardon the pun, to their own devices. Mitsubishi has seen fit to change that.
The WS-55859 is Mitsubishi's newest and most advanced HDTV. Not only does this set include a built-in digital terrestrial tuner, 3:2-pulldown detection for upconversion of NTSC images, and three IEEE 1394 connections, but it offers NetCommand, which will control your non-1394 components, as well.
If you don't believe that the WS-55859 is one full-featured product, just look at the back panel. In addition to the 1394 connectors, you'll find eight A/V inputs: four with composite and Y/C video, two with wideband component video, one with RGB or component HDTV, and one VGA connector for your computer. There's also the typical array of RF inputs, RF loopthroughs, and monitor outputs. You even get a digital audio output, which sends the internal HDTV decoder's Dolby Digital signal to your external processor. The WS-55859 can also decode the digital audio signal internally. A front-panel input with both composite and Y/C video connectors rounds things out nicely, although it would've been a bonus to have at least one of the 1394 connectors on the front. Then again, unless your DV camcorder uses MPEG-2 encoding, which is the only digital video format the TV will decode, you should use the Y/C video jack for the camcorder.
For your non-1394 products, NetCommand works through one of the two infrared emitter jacks on the back panel. Connect the supplied IR flashers (one has two emitters; the other has four) to your various components, and the TV will generate signals to control them (more on this in a minute). If you need a more-expanded setup, companies like Xantech and Niles make additional IR repeaters and more-attractive flashers. The
WS-55859 also has a separate pair of IR emitters that are not associated with NetCommand; these relay commands from any remote control you aim at the TV to its appropriate device. This is a nice plus for custom-installation situations in which all of the gear is hidden in cabinets.
It takes a significant amount of effort to set up NetCommand. It's sort of like configuring a VCR to record from a DBS receiver with a universal remote. However, any qualified dealer or A/V enthusiast should be up to the task. When it's done, you can select a source via the TV remote, and the TV will automatically make the necessary changes to the system. This could include simultaneously selecting that source's video input on the back of the TV and the appropriate input on your A/V receiver. Then, a list of transport commands (play, stop, pause, record, fast-forward, and rewind) appears onscreen, with which you can set a DVD or videotape in motion via the TV remote's joystick. While it's odd that you can't get this transport menu back up on the screen more easily, it's very cool that the remote's transport buttons will control the selected device. You won't need to switch remotes or even switch layers on the TV's otherwise-universal remote.
The NetCommand system's only hitch is its limited library. A good portion of the equipment I had around the office, like an Onkyo receiver and a Panasonic HD-DBS tuner, didn't show up on the NetCommand product list. For most manufacturers' products, however, the one or two components listed will provide all of the necessary controls, as most manufacturers recycle their remote commands across their product lines. For example, the TV only lists the Sony DVP-S500D DVD player, but the commands worked fine with our DVP-C650D player. However, a number of manufacturers are not present. Only five DVD-player manufacturers (Toshiba, Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer, and Mitsubishi) were listed. While these five companies make the majority of players, most users may not know that early Marantz players were based on a Toshiba chassis or that the first Denon players were modeled after a Panasonic unit. If you have a JVC player, you're out of luck. It would have been wise for Mitsubishi to list all of the different brands and models, even if they all pulled from the same file of remote commands. Fortunately, you can update the memory card on the back of the unit, so you can add new software.
Of course, 1394 connections need no new software. Granted, the only HAVi-equipped device available is Mitsubishi's own D-VHS recorder, but it shows how awesome this digital network can be. With the WS-55859 turned on, I connected the TV to the D-VHS recorder via just the 1394 cable. The TV immediately recognized the device and asked if I wanted to configure the system for it. Three steps later, I was done. Recording HDTV broadcasts was a snap, and the picture quality was excellent. You can even check the component's status on the TV screen. The system works really well. The sooner the industry adopts IEEE 1394, the sooner we can all enjoy hassle-free home theater.