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Who Decides These Things?

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Right now there are many cutting-edge products on the market: HDTVs, Progressive-Scan DVD players, SACD players and more. These devices promise to deliver outstanding quality and features for the steep prices that they demand. But do they deliver? Consistently, these products are omitting features that are so obvious, so important, that I have to ask, "It doesn't do that? Who decides these things?"

HDTV woes

One of the most simple, yet useful features of my 1992 non-HD TV is the ability to custom calibrate the video setting for each video input separately. I can't imagine not having this feature. It would be impossible for me to adjust the monitor to look good with both VHS and DVD using the same settings. But I don't have to worry. I just feed each video source to different video inputs on the TV and I can custom tweak the image to get the best results I can, without changing the settings for the other sources.

Sound like a pretty standard feature for a "high-end" television? You'd think that $10,000 for a HDTV would at least get you the obvious list of features you may already enjoy on your aging NTSC televisiončright? Wrong! Just go try and find a HDTV that lets you do this. You'll find that virtually every HDTV out there—regardless of price—simply has one "master menu" to set the video calibration, for all sources simultaneously. That's one setting to cover everything from cable to 1080I HDTV! This is insane. "Who decides these things?"

Philips just came out with a $9,000 HDTV that doesn't even have a "zoom" feature to properly display 4:3 letterboxed material without distorting the image. Can you say, "Duh?" Again I ask, "Who decides these things?!"

Progressive DVD player? NOT!

You've got a progressive-scan DVD player? Great! But if you've got an HDTV to go along with it, you'll probably find that your HDTV will automatically lock into full 16:9 mode when it senses anything higher than 480I via its component inputs. This means you'll have a great time watching 16:9 (anamorphic) DVDs, but don't expect 4:3 letterboxed DVDs to look right.

You could get a PC with a DVD ROM drive, some video software that would convert your 4:3 letterboxed DVD's to a 16:9 aspect ratio to match your HDTV and you'd be set! In fact, doing this conversion digitally in your PC produces an image even better than a normal "zoomed" 4:3 letterboxed image. You could get all this in a PC-package for less than $1500. But if you expect that such a feature would be standard on a $5,000 progressive-scan DVD player, think again. No stand-alone progressive-scan DVD player, at any price, offers this obvious feature. "Let's see...who would buy a $5,000 progressive-scan DVD player...probably someone with a 16:9 progressive-ready HDTV." Seems obvious to me that a feature that would allow this user to watch even his/her non-anamorphic DVDs would make sense. Maybe to you and me. But apparently not the "expert" engineers who design these things. Which makes me ask—uhhuh—"Who decides these things?"

Oh, and if you think that $5,000 for a DVD player might also imply that it could play SACD or DVD-audio, guess again. It won't even be upgradable to play these high-resolution music discs. You'll have to buy another $5,000 box to do that—and this is true for two $5,000 DVD players (from different manufacturers) of which I'm aware.

Preach it!

I'll tell you what $5,000+ ought to get us. It ought to get us a product that incorporates all the important design elements and features that are obvious and technically feasible today (such as an HDTV that has separate calibration for each video input, or a Progressive-scan DVD player that converts 4:3 letterboxed material to 16:9). And it ought to get us something that provides a path for upgradability tomorrow: Give me a HDTV that will be able to display native 720P. Give me a DVD player that will be upgradable to play SACD or DVD-audio.

When manufacturers try to sell you a $5,000+ box with obvious and serious shortcomings, don't buy it. Tell them why. And then wait for the manufacturer who respects your money enough to give you what you deserve. You are the one who decides these things.