RCA has been making commercial televisions longer than anyone, and they can take some credit for having invented the technology. Vladimir Zworykin, the chief engineer on the company's TV project during the 1930s and '40s, created the first workable picture tube, while his competitor, Philo Farnsworth, developed the first workable receiver and other elements. A federal court ruled that Farnsworth was the true inventor of modern-day electronic television, but RCA played a critical role—and was entirely responsible for its successful commercial introduction.
LCD monitors are undergoing something of a resurgence, buoyed by the popularity of LCD computer screens and the rush to ever-bigger plasma displays. From the front, big LCDs like this one look something like a plasma sitting happily on a table, though a peek around back reveals that they're not hang-on-the-wall thin. They're also quite a bit cheaper than plasmas. This one costs $5999 and is just 171/2 inches deep, compared to roughly $15,000 or more for a 60-inch, high-definition-capable plasma that is typically between 3 and 4 inches deep. So while buyers can get something like the feel of a plasma for about a third the price, they have to live with the technical limitations of LCD, just as plasma buyers live with the limitations of that technology.
Pioneer and Panasonic are veterans in the world of plasma displays. I reviewed the first Pioneer high-definition plasma, the PDP-501MX, more than three years ago, in the June 1999 <I>Guide</I>. Plasma displays have made tremendous strides in the years since—picture quality and features have improved, and prices have dropped.
The world of digital television is roiling with copyright paranoia. It seems that Hollywood barely wants you to watch their material in high-definition, much less record it. Nonetheless, two new VCRs capable of recording HDTV are on the market, courtesy of Mitsubishi and Panasonic.
Mitsubishi sells more high-definition televisions than anyone else, and with the WS-65909 Diamond Series rear-projector they've pulled out the stops. The WS-65909 has a 65-inch-diagonal, 16:9 screen and 7-inch CRTs. Its huge cabinet has a glossy burl wood finish of various shades of dark brown and black accents—this TV will dominate whatever room holds it. (The product is delivered in one piece, but can be separated into two pieces for delivery in the home.) It includes everything you might want, including an integrated DTV receiver, a digital cable receiver for unscrambled signals, and the company's NetCommand system for linking all your components so they can be controlled from the TV. In fact, in all my years of reviewing digital televisions, I've never encountered one with as many interesting and useful features.
For the last two years, only Pioneer has made products that bridge the gulf between DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD, the new, competing formats for high-resolution audio. The company's estimable DV-AX10, first offered more than a year ago, played both formats, plus DVD-Video discs—no other company offered a similar product. Back then, however, Sony and Philips, SACD's backers and licensers, sold only 2-channel versions of the hardware.
For years now, Lexicon has been a darling of home-theater owners, particularly those who care most about their components' performance and least about cosmetics. The home-theater preamp-processors that Lexicon has made in the last five years—the DC-1, DC-2, and MC-1—have been among the best-performing products of their type. But their plain-Jane appearances do not make them stand out for comment when uninformed friends come over to have a look at your equipment.
Seldom in my life as an equipment reviewer has a product arrived that, out of the box, I've known I wanted to own. The Pioneer DV-AX10 is one of them—the first universal player that can handle CD, Super Audio CD, DVD-Audio, and DVD-Video, complete with progressive-scan video output. It's a wonder to behold and a joy to use.
The advance of plasma-display technology speeds on, and the Pioneer PDP-501MX is at the front of the line. This is the first plasma monitor on sale in the United States that is capable of displaying high-definition images, making it the world's most advanced, commercially available product of this type.Squeezing almost 1 million pixels into even a 50" display (measured diagonally) is quite an accomplishment. As soon as I pulled the unit out of the box and set it in its unobtrusive tabletop stand, I connected it to Panasonic's high-definition tuner box and fed the monitor an over-the-air HDTV signal. Without so much as a hiccup, the set accepted the 1920<I>x</I>1080i signal and displayed a bright, clear, sharp picture that made me smile. All this from a <I>big</I>-screen set less than 4" thick!