Buying an HD TV solves only part of the high-definition equation; you'll also need some HD source material to watch on your new TV, as well as a smattering of accessories.
We've assembled an assortment of products that will ensure your HD TV achieves its true potential.
|1. Upscaling DVD players
2. HD disc players
3. HD game concoles
4. HDMI AV receivers
|5. Cables, dongles and adapters
6. Universal remotes
7. Calibration DVDs
The Philips DVDR9000H DVR comes with onboard upscaling capability and HDMI output.
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1 .Upscaling DVD players and recorders
Once a premium DVD upgrade, so-called upscaling (or upconverting) DVD players are now practically the industry standard, with prices starting as low as AU$100. These players take your DVDs and output the video at 720p or 1080i resolution via their HDMI jack. That shouldn't be confused with native high-definition content -- it's still starting with the maximum DVD resolution of 720 x 480. But if you find that your DVDs aren't looking so hot on your new HD TV, an upscaling DVD player may help.
Most of the latest DVD recorders also offer upscaling options. But if you're shopping for VHS/DVD recorders, make sure to get a model that upconverts the DVD and VHS outputs via HDMI (not all do). The VHS video won't look particularly good in high-def, but from a convenience factor, it's preferable to use a single output.
A final word of advice: If you are in the market for an HD-DVD or a Blu-ray player, note that each of those players should double as an upscaling player for standard DVDs.
Samsung BD-P1000: The first Blu-ray player to reach our shores.
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2. HD disc players: HD-DVD and Blu-ray
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: We're neutral in this high-def format war. With just a few dozen movies available on the HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats and few players available globally, there's no real rush.
Samsung's BD-P1000 and Panasonic's Panasonic DMP-BD10 should be on Australian retail shelves by November, and there are are rumours of something from the HD DVD camp pre-Christmas, but it's all still very early stages for next-generation video players.
Xbox 360: Along with the upcoming PS3, it offers true high-def gaming.
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3. HD game consoles
Like TV and home video content, game consoles have been making a slow but steady conversion to high def. The previous generation of game consoles began offering a DVD level of resolution on certain titles: Original versions of the GameCube offered 480p output (it was dropped from later iterations of the console), and the current "slim" PlayStation 2 delivers 480p widescreen from many games and doubles as a progressive-scan DVD player. The original Xbox offered 480p as the baseline for its library of titles, and a handful of games even delivered 720p and 1080i resolutions.
The latest generation of game consoles is even more HD-friendly. All of the Xbox 360 game titles run at 720p or 1080i, and can stream HD video from a Media Center or Vista PC elsewhere on a home network. The PlayStation 3, meanwhile, will support HD games as well as double as a Blu-ray movie player. Only the Nintendo Wii lacks native high-def support, but it should offer 480p widescreen output, meaning it can look just as good as a standard DVD.
Sony STRDA5200ES: Full-service HDMI A/V receiver.
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4. HDMI A/V receivers
The A/V receiver is the nexus of any good home theatre, and the upgrade to high def requires one with the latest HDMI connectivity. To maximise convenience (and to future-proof your system), you'll want a receiver that offers:
- Analog-to-digital video conversion
- Deinterlacing of analog video (conversion of 480i analog video input to 480p digital video output)
- Ability to pass Dolby Digital, DTS, and multichannel PCM audio via HDMI
- As many HDMI inputs as possible (at least two, preferably three)
With those features in hand, you should be able to run a single HDMI cable from the receiver to your HDTV and use the receiver to toggle between all of your high-def video sources (DVR or satellite/cable box, game console, disc player) and any of your legacy standard-def sources as well (VCR, GameCube, and the like). If you're not in a rush, though, you might want to wait until 2007. That's when we should see the first receivers equipped with HDMI 1.3, which should allow built-in decoding of next-gen audio formats, such as Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD.
5. Cables, dongles, and adapters
Of course, you need a way to connect all these new high-def products. Some people argue that you should budget hundreds of dollars to pay for high-end premium cables in your home theatre. We disagree. For 99 percent of the uses out there, inexpensive video cables perform just as well as high-end versions, for a fraction of the price. The lone exception is for long cable runs -- anything longer than 2m -- where a name brand often offers greater dependability. No matter how much you spend, though, you'll likely want to have most of these on hand to make your HD connection odyssey as smooth as possible.
Control your entire home theatre from one remote.
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6 .Universal remotes
It has nothing to do with high def per se, but now that you've built a formidable high-def home theatre, you'll need a top-notch universal remote to control it all. Look for a remote that will control all your existing devices, but with room to grow as your system does (for example, if you have eight devices, get a 12-device remote).
The remote should be a learning model so that it can be programmed with IR codes from any future device; multi-step macros are also a must. Likewise, one of the many PC-programmable models now available can severely cut down on the setup time -- we've had great luck with Logitech's Harmony line.
The Digital Video Essentials calibration DVD.
7. Calibration DVDs
Last, but not least: You want to optimise your set to offer the best possible contrast ratios, colours, and picture settings. If you've scrimped and saved just to afford a "budget" HD TV, chances are you're not going to spend hundreds for a professional calibration. At the very least, you can do a little home brewed tweaking on your new set to improve upon the often blown-out, oversaturated, out-of-the-box picture quality.
Several do-it-yourself calibration DVDs are available, but Digital Video Essentials offers the best combination of reliable test patterns and in-depth information for aspiring videophiles. Monster Cable has also recently release a HDTV Calibration Wizard DVD that is very easy to understand and does a good job of walking you through basic calibration steps without any jargon. We'll soon see Blu-ray and HD-DVD calibration discs that are truly optimised for high def. In the meantime, Blu-ray owners can punch in 7 > 6 > 6 > 9 > Enter while on the main menu of any Sony Pictures disc to get a series of HD test patterns.