TOUCHES OF CLASS If you suspect those cheapie plasmas at Costco must be missing something, you're right . . . and it's all found in Pioneer's PRO-940HD set. An arsenal of technologies - including a crystal emissive layer, glare-reducing filter, and improved phosphors - gives you the deepest contrast possible.
PIXEL FACTORY DVD isn't as exciting as it used to be, but Oppo's DV-981HD player still manages to impress. After all, you don't find a Faroudja video processor for upconverting video to 1080p format in any old bargain-basement machine. And with the HDMI output, hookup to your cutting-edge flat-panel TV is seamless.
THE RIGHT PROTOCOL Vibe has its own take on whole-house audio: The system uses IP (Internet Protocol) to communicate between components. Music on the Vibe AS1-1250/6 server, which stores as many as 1,250 uncompressed CDs, streams digitally over your network to up to six rooms.
LEAN AND SO MEAN The leading 58-inch plasma panel costs 5 grand and can't even display a 1080p signal without downconverting it to 720p. Seems like JVC's got it all figured out with its new slim HD-ILA LCoS HDTV. For $3,300, you get a crisp 58-inch 1080p screen in a cabinet just 10.8 inches deep that goes flush against a wall and can even be wall-mounted.
HARBORING MUSIC These days, an iPod dock and $3.98 might get you a grande latte at Starbucks, but Escient has a dock model that qualifies as a premium blend. The FP-1 doesn't just stream your iPod music - it completely integrates it into the company's FireBall Music Manager, combining those songs with any tunes you have on servers or PCs.
HIGH-DEF CRED A nice side effect of everyone going gaga over 1080p displays is that 720p gear is more affordable than ever. Case in point: Sanyo's PLV-Z5 projector, which will fill your wall or screen with 100-inch HD images for less than 2 Gs.
A federal judge has ordered DirecTV to suspend TV ads claiming that its HDTV is of higher quality than that of cable. For years, videophiles have complained that DirecTV's signal--HD or otherwise--is overcompressed, pixellated, and full of video artifacts. But this is the first time the satellite operator has been rebuked in court. The triggering event was a lawsuit by Time Warner Cable in response to ads starring William Shatner and Jessica Simpson with the slogan: "For picture quality that beats cable, you've got to get DirecTV." Has Captain Kirk steered us wrong? How the mighty have fallen. TWC also objected to claims that its subscribers weren't able to receive certain NFL football games. While TWC (and Cablevision) don't carry the NFL Network, the eight specific games in question were aired by broadcast stations available on cable. In addition to the TWC suit, filed in December, DirecTV is also fighting a class-action suit filed in California three months earlier. That one alleges inferior HD picture quality on HBO HD, HDNet Movies, Bravo HD, Showtime HD and DirecTV HDTV pay-per-view. Attorney Philip K. Cohen claims DirecTV sends HD at a data rate of 6.6 megabits per second, versus the industry-standard 19.4mbps.