Mitsubishi WS-73909

Anyone who's set up a home theater system knows how much work is involved. Once you find the right TV and speaker system, you need to round up a stack of components, including a DVD player, a video recorder, and, perhaps, a satellite receiver. Then you have to spin a frightening web of wires to route all of those signals through your A/V receiver or preamp/surround processor. And don't forget about the remote controls - five or six of 'em, spread out on your coffee table like cars parked in a lot.

If, like me, you've been waiting for a better way to arrive, it looks like it's finally here. Mitsubishi's WS-73909 integrated high-definition TV is one of the first sets to incorporate FireWire connections along with HAVi technology (HAVi stands for Home Audio Video interoperability; see "HAVi Update" on page 54 for details). Components hooked up to a FireWire (a.k.a. IEEE 1394 or i.Link) "bus" can route digital A/V and control signals back and forth to each other, with one component (in this case, the TV) acting as the primary control device. To use a Star Trek analogy, the TV in a FireWire-connected home theater system is like the Enterprise's bridge, while the other components are like the various ship stations (engineering, survey, medical, science, and so on) that carry out the captain's commands.

Someday in the future you'll be able to buy an entire system of FireWire-enabled components, but right now only three kinds are available: HDTVs, digital VCRs, and digital camcorders. To tide us over while the electronics industry gets its act together, Mitsubishi developed the NetCommand system for its integrated HDTVs, a technology that endows components controlled by infrared (IR) commands with FireWire-like capabilities. Besides the FireWire connections between the TV and whichever components can use them, you need to get IR commands to the rest of your components, even if they're housed behind cabinet doors. To do that, you run a special IR repeater cable from the back of the TV to the IR-controlled components. (The WS-73909 comes with two IR repeater cables - one with four "emitters," which you place over the front-panel IR sensors on the components, the other with two.) Once you create a series of component "profiles" in the NetCommand setup screen, the TV becomes the switching center for your entire system, letting you use its remote and onscreen menus to control all your other components.

NetCommand wizardry aside, Mitsubishi's 73-incher is an impressive widescreen TV. The set's three 9-inch cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) are capable of delivering every last drop of detail in high-def programs (many other RPTVs use less powerful 7-inch CRTs). Its built-in HDTV tuner decodes both off-air digital broadcasts and QAM-format high-def programs on cable - which we hope will become widely available sometime in the future. A protective screen shield is included with the set, but it isn't preinstalled, so you can leave it in the box.