Future-Proof Your Purchases

How to make your system last.

There has never been a greater abundance of choices, from flat-panel TVs to portable media devices. However, figuring out what to buy is more complicated and confusing than ever. It's not just the myriad of choices in any given product category that's baffling, but also the uncertainty over whether it's going to be obsolete this time next year, or even next month. So, how can you make the best decisions and future-proof your A/V purchases?

Epson PowerLite EMP-1815 LCD Projector

There's no question that it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, it's prudent to take a wait-and-see approach with new technologies. However, fear of making a bad decision may hold you back from creating the A/V system of your dreams, today.

Lack of knowledge is one of the few reasons people are generally afraid of making choices—about anything. Thus, a little research goes a long way, and if you are reading this publication, then you have an interest in A/V and want to know what's out there now and what's to come in the future.

Even with research, when it comes down to actually making a purchase, often budget becomes the determining factor. Budget is, of course, relevant, but the limitation of your budget can get you into trouble. Ever buy what you thought was a terrific bargain and then realize it's not what you needed, or maybe you just don't like it? It's no longer such a bargain, is it?

WinBook 40D1 LCD HDTV

My rule of thumb is to always purchase the most current technology, even if it means really stretching those dollars. Purchasing a discontinued model can be gentle on the pocketbook, but make certain that you can live without the features and advantages of the replacement models. If you don't receive exactly what you want at the time you make the purchase, you will always regret it, forcing yourself that much further behind the technology curve.

Beyond budget, I believe the most important consideration is application. If you want your products to last more than a couple of years, you'll need to plan. Take into consideration all objectives, not just the ones of the moment.

Apple iPods

As an example, maybe you want to upgrade your audio system now and wait six months to a year before you upgrade your video display. If you intend to hold out for a 60-inch plasma TV and wait to see which way to go with HD DVD and Blu-ray, then that $499 home theater in a box that's on sale at Costco this week is probably not the right direction to take with your new audio system. That's a rather lopsided comparison, but the point is, if you have to budget your system over a period of time, know what you need from each component. This way, when you are finished, the performance characteristics of your system are balanced.

I know it's easy to let the buzzwords and the latest and greatest technologies lure you in. Know what's available, but gauge your need on how well it meets your total A/V goals.

Let's consider a scenario where you want a flat-panel TV for a small den. If you start with my recommendation to always buy the most current technology, then you might think that means you should only look at the latest 1080p models. However, I would refine that guideline and advise you to buy the most current technology needed for the application.

HDMI Cables

While 1080p is da bomb, remember that 720p/1080i is still high definition and capable of incredible images. In fact, the smaller the screen, the less noticeable the higher resolution will look. So, for your den, an attractively priced 32- or 37-inch LCD with 720p resolution will suit you perfectly. And you will save a lot of money without sacrificing quality.

However, what if you're on the other side of the spectrum and want to build a complete home theater in a big room with either a large-screen flat panel or projector, accompanied by a powerful 7.1-channel sound system. In this case, you should splurge for the 1080p model, right? Possibly, but not necessarily.

As you start looking at potential products, whatever they might be, know all of the options and don't focus on only those that meet the buzzword criteria. Even in high-end setups, a person might choose a high-end 720p projector because, generally speaking, it may outperform a budget 1080p projector on many levels, so that resolution actually becomes a minor issue. Thus, what ultimately matters most is that you buy the product that best serves your needs.

This is a short article, and I can't get into all of the different types of products out there and how you should compare them all. But I will say that, of all the high-tech purchases you make, the last ones you should make in haste or strictly on emotion include video products. The evolution of video is staggering, and there is more to know than ever before. But the more you understand, the better choices you will make.

HDMI Cable

An important advancement you may have read about is the new version of HDMI (1.3). This is not meant as a primer on the new standard; but in terms of future-proofing your A/V components, you should have more than a passing knowledge about the importance of HDMI.

HDMI is, essentially, a transmission pathway, and the 1.3 standard allows for the transmission of several audio and video enhancements that can be expected in future products, particularly video displays. It would then seem logical that the best way to future-proof your new products is to make sure they comply with the new standard.

That said, be aware that all of your components need to use the newer-standard HDMI to take advantage of all the potential enhancements. However, such devices are only coming to market now. The advantages of HDMI 1.3 won't be fully appreciated until all devices actually offer these promised performance enhancements. For many people, that would require replacing a lot of their current gear. Another guideline is, if you plan to slowly upgrade your system over the next couple of years, including a new video display, I would recommend that you seek out HDMI 1.3–compliant components. You can start at www.hdmi.org when conducting your research.

And lastly, energy consumption and conservation is on everyone's mind these days, and there are a few manufacturers taking this seriously. You may want to take that into consideration when looking at new products. In the near future, I believe we will see more green products, but for now, you should remain diligent in your search to find products designed to conserve energy. Some Websites you can check out include www.mygreenelectronics.org, www.energy-star.gov, and www.asimpleswitch.com from Philips Electronics.

There will always be something new or another exciting technology. However, that's just the nature of today's fast-paced A/V world. So, if you are ready for a flat-panel TV or want to take your audio system to a new level, go for it this holiday and have fun in the process. Just remember, the key to future-proofing is research and adhering to your plan. Once you know which products will meet all or most of your needs, you will make intelligent and informed choices that will ensure many, many years of enjoyment.