Posted on January 6, 2008

I was excited to hear that Warner Brothers is dropping support for HD-DVD. That seems like whats needed to break the stalemate between the BluRay/HD-DVD cold-war. To date I’ve not gotten involved, frankly. I watch High Def movies, but thanks to Comcast I can watch HD “OnDemand”.

Tim Bray was recently asking around about HD setups… I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the matter in a general way because I have unique concerns.

I upgraded to HD last year. Truth be told, it was the first TV I’ve bought because everything prior was a hand me down tube that someone else was dumping. When I finally convinced Tamarah that it was time to upgrade I had some special concerns. First, it has to be cheap enough to buy cash, thus I set my budget at $2,000, no more. Secondly, HDMI is a pretty awesome inter-connect, so I wanted as many HDMI ports as possible. Thirdly, it needs to be an appropriate size for our living room configuration (which comes out to about 42″, anything larger is just silly for our living room). And finally, I need something really practical, and I love the idea of wall mounting, now or in the future.

Wall mount-ability was a big issue for me. If you think about it, the TV in most homes is like a shrine, everything is build around it. I like TV as much as the next guy and I enjoy films, but my TV is not the center of my life and neither should it be the center of my home. Wall mounting I think makes your TV a part of the room while not the center. I don’t currently wall mount, the room just isn’t in a good configuration for it, but I like the option to do so.

The big question becomes whether to go LCD or Plasma. I chose Plasma for the following reasons:

  • Plasma’s are cheaper now. Bigger screen at lower cost.
  • Plasma’s have _real_ blacks. My previous hand-me-down tubes had horrible color problems and when watching dark SciFi or old B/W pictures you just go nuts looking at dark green instead of black.
  • Plasma’s are glass! Ya, thats right. LCD screens are not hard coated (not that I’ve seen) but rather soft. With young kids they are going to hit it, touch it, draw on it, throw things at it, etc. I have well behaved kids, but accidents happen. With an LCD they may damage the soft surface… with Plasma the glass is tougher and easier to clean.

The only downside to Plasma, besides being slightly heavier, is that they are really hot. I don’t think the kids could burn themselves, but I warn them all the same.

I will also note that Plasma can and do “burn”. We put “The Little Mermaid” on for Nova one day, and the screen was left on after the movie finished for a couple hours. The root menu has very contrasting colors and after I noticed and turned off the screen you could still see the imprint for several hours. Thankfully the anti-burn is pretty good and within a day it was good as new. If an image were left static for a day or longer, I’m not sure how permanent the effects could be, but this is only a potential concern if using the screen as a computer monitor… this alone may warrant computer users moving to LCD.

I personally chose to buy a Philips 42″ Plasma from Costco. I think I paid like $1299 or something for it, which was the best price around that I could find at the time. It has dual HDMI inputs and lots of features. While there are better screens around, the Sharp’s caught my eye, the cost savings was more appealing that a moderate improvement in picture quality.

Another reason for “cheaping out” was so that I could put the money instead into a Logitech Harmony Remote. I bought the 880 model and we love it! Normally I wouldn’t pay that much (around $300 I recall) for a remote, but having different remotes for TV, VCR, Cable Box/DVR, and DVD was driving Tamarah nuts, plus the Philips remotes are unbelievably awful. With about 15 minutes of programming we can no just press the “Watch TV” button and everything does what it should and reconfigs the remote appropriately. It was absolutely worth the money and more useful than slightly better image quality.

As for the DVD player, I bought a cheapo Philips DVD ($49) with HDMI output and 1080p upscale. The upscale doesn’t do jack, really, but sounds nice. The key factor here, again, is kids. If the kids destroy the DVD Player I’m not going to cry about it. Previously I had one of the first Sony all-in-one home theater systems (later to be dubbed “Dream Theater” or something), which was a great concept but I didn’t have anywhere to put the rear speakers, had piles of cables everywhere (not they are wireless thankfully) and it was pricy. Frankly, I’m not so much of an audiophile as to care much and frankly the majority of films we watch pre-date stereo.

One note I’ll throw in… if you pay more than $20 for an HDMI cables your getting screwed. I see cables at Best Buy for upwards of $50. I bought mine at my local computer supplier (Centeral Computer) for $10 and they are brilliant. I ultimately bought 2 HDMI cables and an HDMI-to-DVI cable… but I’ve never gotten my MacBook Pro’s screen resolution fine tuned to the screen so its just generally blurry… thats not the Plasma’s fault though but mine.

If you do get HD, I highly recommend the “Discovery HD” channels show “Sunrise Earth”. Brilliant show, featuring sunrise at some point on the globe without any time-laps. Total HD pr0n, but very relaxing and interesting to watch. I’ve got several on the DVR which I put on when Tamarah and I talk at night.

Whenever I do move to HD movies, I’ll probly opt for a PlayStation 3. Its not a great game platform (yet) but sure seems like a great BluRay player by all accounts.