When people have asked for my advice regarding which HDTV thingie to buy, my general response has been very simple: don’t.
If there’s some feature that you absolutely must have, and you’d be OK with your purchase even if you couldn’t do any of the cool stuff they’re promising for the future, then maybe HDTV is for you. Maybe.
Why so pessimistic? So-called “digital rights management” schemes hadn’t been hashed out completely yet, and it’s not clear that you’ll actually be able to use your year-old technology until it is. Given the concern the vendors have shown to protect the interests of their customers, and the effectiveness of their quality assurance efforts, I have not believed any of the promises regarding whether equipment bought today will work with the promised new technology of tomorrow.
It appears, now, that most of the DRM story has been figured out, and we have a basic idea of what some of the new HDTV player technologies are going to look like. And what do we learn about older HDTV equipment?
We learn, first of all, that no computer video cards on sale today support the standards, despite advertising to the contrary. One company has already begun to backpedal on their former advertising promises. Did you buy a Media Center PC for the HDTV support? Are you planning to? Check your specs carefully, or you may find yourself watching a lot of low-definition television on it soon.
Next, we learn (via Slashdot) that the new HD DVD players will send a degraded signal to HDTV monitors that don’t support their DRM standard. How many monitors sold today support the new standard?
In other words, even if you bought a HDTV monitor yesterday, your HD movies will only look slightly better on it than regular DVD once the new formats come out. For full HD movies, you’ll have to buy a new monitor, one that isn’t on sale yet.
So, at least for the foreseeable future, do what I do: buy standard analog TV and video equipment. Because of the huge installed base, no one will dare making those old standards obsolete for a long time yet. And for higher quality viewing and listening, use a computer and a computer monitor.
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