Toshiba gets in on the universal-for-everyone game.
If you sift through the Home Theater archives over the last few years, I think you'll find that I've been as optimistic as anyone about the future of universal disc players. That's saying something, too, because optimism isn't exactly my natural state. Still, even as sure as I was that universal players had a bright future, I wouldn't have dared predict that, a couple of years after the debut of the first model, there would be so many others to swell the ranks. It's not just the proliferation of players over that time period that's noteworthy, but also that they exist in healthy numbers at all price points, from the four-figured high-end realm through the around-$1,000 middle range and right down to the priced-so-that-almost-anyone-can-afford-them territory that we're exploring here.
Savvy readers might be familiar with Alienware. Their built-to-order gaming PCs are as famous as their functional and distinctive cases that prevent dust and birds from nesting between the circuit boards. Taking those two strengths into the living room, Alienware has introduced a Media Center Edition PC like no other, the DHS-321 Digital Home System. This box, which approximates the look of a consumer electronics component in black-anodized, brushed aluminum, runs the Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 operating system.
Several years ago, I attended a David Copperfield show in Las Vegas and was invited onstage to be a part of one of his magic tricks. Sadly, it wasn't anything exciting, like being levitated or sawed in half. He just guessed my phone number after I wrote it down on a piece of paper and quickly burned up the paper. (No, he never did call.) Still, it was fascinating to try and figure out how he did that trick and the other more-impressive ones I witnessed that evening.
There's more than one way to skin a cat—as mine will quickly discover if he claws my armchair again—and surround sound needs skinning. I've lost count of the number of potential home theater buffs who have asked for my advice and then balked at the idea of running cables for surround speakers. Mount a flat panel to the wall or a projector to the ceiling? No problem. Run speaker cables to the back of the room? The thought makes them flinch—I can see it in their eyes even before they start equivocating—and the dark forces of stereo claim another soul.
Outsourcing can be a good thing when it comes to home entertainment.
With a handful of exceptions, truly flexible multiroom entertainment is beyond the reach of most A/V receivers. Sure, lots of manufacturers rapturously talk about their second-zone outputs like they're some sign of the Second Coming. In most cases, however, a receiver's second-zone outputs aren't much better than giving a blind man the keys to your car. Maybe you'll eventually get where you want to go, but not without a lot of anxiety.
Peter Tribeman, Atlantic Technology's CEO and founder, is a serious movie buff. So, when Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind advanced the state of the special-effects art in 1977, Tribeman, a native Bostonian, had to fly to New York City to savor the film's full magnificence—in 70mm, six-track surround—at the legendary Zeigfeld Theater. That's commitment. Not wanting to make the trek alone, he invited Dotty, a woman he had just met at a party, on his quest—"but it wasn't a date." They thoroughly enjoyed the film, immediately flew back to Boston, and married a few years later. Tribeman's wedding present to his bride was a signed Encounters poster: "To Peter and Dotty, on the occasion of their ultimate close encounter. Best Regards, Steven Spielberg." Not bad.
The room-correction band-wagon is already rolling across the home theater plain, and it's rapidly gaining momentum with each new batch of model releases. Several products, from the highest-end pre/pros to the lowest-end receivers, are touting room assistance these days. This is hardly surprising—in fact, the more-surprising part is that it's taken this long for the broader run of electronics manufacturers to embrace the idea. After all, room interaction will always be the single most important factor, by far, in making an audio system sound right in its particular listening environment. Naturally, it's in the manufacturer's best interest to provide as much help as possible. Fair or not, the vast majority of users are going to blame the product, not the room, when they hook up their system and it doesn't sound good. Considering the challenges that the vast majority of users' listening environments are going to present, it's easy to see why even a little correction could go a long way.
In March of 2003, we had a plasma Face Off that featured eight displays. What surprised us all was that the clear winner was not the brightest, nor the one with the most resolution. In fact, of the mix of budget and midlevel 42-inch plasmas, the winner was an enhanced-definition set with the second lowest price of the bunch. It was a Panasonic, and it won for the same reason that this plasma is so good: black level.
As the transition from analog to digital TV chugs along, there have been some significant advances in the design and performance of set-top receivers. The earliest models, from 1997 to 1998, including RCA's DTC-100 and Panasonic's TU-DST50W, were fairly large, heavy boxes painted an imposing dark gray that had a limited amount of functionality and weren't all that sensitive to terrestrial 8VSB digital TV broadcasts.