Below is an intervew of the HD Guru by Kevin Hunt appearing in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers around the country this week. Kevin asked questions about my favorite subject.
OUR A/V GUY
Up close and personal with HDTV expert
By Kevin Hunt
Published November 26, 2006
Gary Merson must see pixels in his sleep. This industry analyst, reviewer and HD freak has tested 150 HDTVs this year, presides over the trade publication HDTV Insider Newsletter and is launching a Web site for consumers called HDguru.com.
Q. What do most people not know about HDTV but should?
A. That there is a vast amount of free high-definition programming available via a roof or indoor antenna, though one’s ability to receive it depends upon his proximity to the broadcast antenna. Many stations multicast, turning a single digital channel into two or more [channels]. The extra channels can be more news or around-the-clock weather services, music videos or whatever the stations want.
Q. What advice do you give people before they go out to a store to buy their first HDTV?
A. Be aware of the distance you sit from the screen, the amount of ambient light in the room and if you plan to get your HD programming from the cable or phone company, satellite, over the air (with an antenna) or a combination. This will help the salesperson guide you to the best choices.
Q. What are a couple of your favorite affordable big-screen (42 inches or bigger) HDTVs?
A. I like Mitsubishi’s 1080p DLP-based rear projection sets (starting at about $2,000) as well as 42-inch Hitachi ($2,500) and 50-inch Panasonic ($2,000) plasma models.
Q. Any simple tips for people to improve their picture without a DVD calibration disc?
A. First, change the factory default picture setting (usually called Vivid or Brilliant) to a less-bright one (sometimes called Cinema or Pro). Next, turn down the contrast (also known as “picture”) to around 50 percent to 60 percent of maximum. Picture quality will improve and the life of the display — or the bulb, in the case of rear-projection sets — will be extended. Many bulb-driven sets also include a low or “natural” setting, which should be selected for extended life.
Q. Is the picture supplied through cable boxes true hi-def, or something less (compressed)?
A. Depends on the cable system. Many cable systems transmit fewer bits than they’re sent by using an HD image-quality degrading technique they call statistical multiplexing, or “stat mux.” Stat Muxing sacrifices picture quality in order to provide more channels.
Q. What are your favorite networks for HD picture quality?
A. CBS consistently broadcasts the highest-quality HDTV pictures, but they have fallen behind in upgrading their live telecasts, showing only three out of eight NFL games a week in HD (Fox shows all the games in HD). On cable, HDNet and the “in studio” content on Wealth TV, currently available via Verizon’s FIOS system, look amazing.
Q. Are you a plasma guy? Or DLP, LCD, LCoS or CRT?
A. Each has particular benefits depending upon needs and desires. CRT offers excellent 30-inch and 34-inch images for less than $1,000, though the sets tend to be heavy and bulky and don’t produce as bright a picture as flat-panel LCD, the only alternative below 37 inches.
At 37 inches and bigger, LCD offers the brightest, highest resolution (1920×1080) performance, though color gamut (range and accuracy) and viewing angle suffer compared to CRT and plasma. Also, with the exception of the top-of-the-line 37-inch JVC and Hitachi and 42-inch Philips sets, LCD suffers from slow response time, resulting in “motion lag.”
Sports enthusiasts are better off with plasma, which is my technology of choice — at least this year — for flat-screen sets 42 inches and bigger (some new 1080p models are now available, too, for a heavy premium). The 1080p microdisplay rear-projection sets using LCoS (Sony’s SXRD and JVC’s DiLA models) and DLP (Toshiba, Samsung and Mitsubishi) offer the biggest picture and most performance for the money, though they lack plasma’s thin, sexy form and wider viewing angle.
Q. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the following on their move into HDTV: the federal government, TV manufacturers, cable and satellite companies?
A. The feds get a 7. They lose points for not mandating a “must carry” rule requiring cable to rebroadcast all local HD programming, in native resolution and at full picture quality.
TV manufacturers rate a 9 for producing an explosion of HDTVs in a wide variety of sizes, technologies and price points. They could do a better job explaining the merits of the various HD sources (cable, satellite and over-the-air), as well as how CableCARD operates along with built-in free program guides.
Cable scores anywhere from 1 to 9 depending upon the provider. Verizon’s new FIOS fiber optic system promises to deliver the best picture quality because the system has sufficient bandwidth to deliver full resolution. Some systems reduce bit rates to fit more channels into the system.
Satellite bottom dwells as 2. DirecTV and Dish Network seem to be racing to the picture quality bottom, delivering less than full HD resolution, or what I call “low hi-def.”
Broadcasters get a 7. They’re almost all broadcasting digitally as required by the government, with many having already converted their studios to HD and others about to. Unfortunately, they’ve done a poor job of promoting the transition to digital and inviting viewers to switch over for a much better picture and better sound.
Q. How long before1080p programming arrives? And who will be first?
A. Blu-ray and HD DVD discs already are 1080p. 1080p is within the ATSC (digital) broadcast standard but there has been no indication from the content providers as to when they may make the switch.
Q. Do you believe you should be able to make a copy for personal use of a DVD, a hi-def program or, for that matter, a CD?
A. Yes, though content providers can and do use digital rights management (DRM) to prevent legal copying. This struggle will not go away, and the public’s only recourse is to vote with their wallets and purses against overly restrictive DRM schemes.