Vijay Anand's Blog

Vijay Anand male Editor of HardwareZone.com

A pioneering contributor of HardwareZone.com since its inception in 1998, his keen interest in DIY computing has helped establish standards for testing, reporting, layout and styling of online articles. As the Editor of the site since 2005, he oversees all content production with the editorial team and the several contributors who power the portal and maintain the popular forums.

Looking for Affordable HDTVs? Now's the time to strike!

About two years ago, outfitting or upgrading your living room to give you the full HD experience from audio to video, all the way to your media consumption was quite a tall order. After all, going HD was the in-thing and was the next frontier back then. HDTVs boasting of 1080p video resolution, home theatre systems and AV receivers being able to decode HD audio were expensive and of course you had the format wars between HD DVD and Blu-ray to contend with, which is in addition to the high hardware prices and media.

Nowadays with technology progressing to bring the 3D experience from theatres to your home being all the rage along with ever sleeker and aesthetically pleasing equipment like LG's ultra-thin displays and Sony's artistic TV designs to name a few, TVs boasting Full HD resolution are dime a dozen - and cheap. If you're not exactly fussy nor seeking for the full Monty in the latest features like LED-backlit TVs and 200Hz refresh amongst others, you can pretty much get yourself a very competent 1080p resolution capable 40-inch LCD TV for about S$1000. That's certainly very decent considering that 40 and 42-inch TVs are the new sweet spot for Singapore shoppers for both size and price.

Of course it's probably not your everyday pricing, but come the quarterly consumer technology shows and other big sales throughout the year, you can pretty much be sure that's a reality. Plasma TVs boasting 1080p video resolutions are available too, but they are relatively more recent and still command a notable premium.

Next on the HD AV experience is media consumption with the most immediate and best possible experience presented by Blu-ray movies. With HD DVD long out of the competition and no longer fighting for mindshare, manufacturers need only concentrate to produce equipment to support one format. It also helps that more consumers are also adopting HDTVs, thus widening the target audience at the same time. These combined forces have pushed Blu-ray player prices from about S$1000 to bargain-basement pricing of just about S$200 for some models on special offer - that's about the price of a 1080p up-scaling DVD player just over a year ago. The Blu-ray movies themselves are also pegged to prices of what DVDs once commanded and that too helps in the overall scheme of adoption.

Finally, you no longer need to invest in top home theatre packages and AV receivers to support HD audio decoding/processing of uncompressed multi-channel PCM, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio standards. These days the decoding of these high fidelity audio tracks found on Blu-ray movies is easily tackled by most new entry-level AV Receivers and mid-range compact home theatre systems.

All-in-all, today, you can outfit your living room for the full HD experience at well under S$2000 which includes a 40-inch HDTV, HD audio capable home theatre system and Blu-ray player (if your HTS isn't equipped with one). That's almost a third of the over $5000 price tag that an early adopter would have had to invest in early 2008 for the same experience. We're not comparing the merits or demerits in waiting for a technology to go mainstream, but rather, we're highlighting to you today that you can have a pretty satisfying HD home theatre experience quite affordably.

The next big leap for the living room is 3D. Whether that will be met with enthusiasm by the mass market remains to be seen, but what's for sure is that it will eventually have its place in the living room thanks to its unique experience. The bigger factor would be the kind of 3D TV content available and if consumers can gel along with those 3D glasses. Till that happens, now's the time for bargain hunters to go shopping as TV vendors clear existing models for the newer 3D capable versions. Happy shopping!

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2010 the year of great promise


After a rather dreary 2009, where most of us spent the year cowering from the pains of the recession, 2010 can be a great year in which we look forward to a better year and also more in our pockets for our extreme hobby – HT & Hi Fi!

The year 2009 began with a dearth of Blu Ray players, despite the format’s victory. We were still forced to buy profile 1 or 1.1 players (see the often flogged Sony BD 300). Many discs bricked players and prices hovered around the 7xx or more mark. Quietly Samsung brought in their 1400 then the 1500 and this was the beginning of a quiet influx of BR buyers.

Even so the PS 3 proved the most dependable player for playability (even to this date), although we do see some issues with the laser dying. PS 3 did not rest on its laurels but continued to drop prices, give us bigger HD, but the loss of SACD playback and even PS 2 compatibility was sorely missed.

For BR players, surely in our local community, this was the year of the Oppo. One of the most anticipated products in the HT world all everywhere, this was the product which owners swore could kill BR players, CD players many times its price and leap across tall buildings in a single bound too. However at the price of about 1000 for a Region-Free set, it was not meant to entice more new BR or Hi Def entrants. Still, it sold like hot cakes, and for seasoned HT owners, it was an all in one addition to their systems which was almost as essential as the TV itself.

As for TV, 2009 was also the year we lost Pioneer. As the last of the Kuros are sought, bought and those without it are left distraught, we mourn the passing of the best ever display made, and wonder if Panasonic will fill its shoes or raise to the challenge. Panasonic has bought over the technology that went into making Kuros, but we still wait with abated breath as they seem more interested in market share and penetration than giving us the best displays possible. Perhaps they have learnt that the best is not good enough, as the best was priced a little too far out for the cost conscious to buy in sufficient volumes to keep the company afloat. Long live the blacks…

We also saw TV prices plunge significantly, and the point of value was the 42” basic plasma sets that Panasonic sold for less than $700. This made it possible for owners of CRT sets to pray their old TVs would die and replace it with a screen size that would have cost more than 10 times that merely 5 years ago. Anyone remember paying 10 000 for a SD capable 42” plasma? 2009 also saw the transition to Full HD for many plasma sets, with less HD ready TVs than 2008.

LED TVs were also introduced to us, in a rather cunning way that actually used existing LCD technology rather than true LED technology. This allowed the prices of TVs to go northwards a little since new stuff tends to attract a slightly higher price. This was in contrast to the >46” size LCD TVs which you could get for < 2000.

But LCDs were the minority for real aficionados of home theatre, with plasma the dominant force and for the serious hobbyists, nothing was better than the projector. Seeing that Hi Def movie on a 100” screen is a totally different experience to a flatscreen. But projectors were definitely in the minority, especially with the recession and there were not too many new models.

On the amplifier front, you always expect new amplifiers each year, recession or not. Yet IMO, the advances in 2009 were not that impressive. The lower end Denons were no longer made in Japan, and the Onkyo, Yamaha amps lost weight despite promising the same power specs and in same cases added new channels.

The new addition was DL IIz and Audyssey DSX. The aim was to add more ambience and surround to spread the sound out. It also meant spending more on speakers, cables and even power amps. A ploy to squeeze more money out of the hobbyist? Only time will tell. Marantz continued to drop the ball and get left behind, using older processors, and still not being able to do the same kind of processing that the other major players can. Banking on their “music first” branding was not enough.

We also saw hard disk players of many models and types, but these were limited to SD playback mainly, as the storage needs of a full Hi Def playback meant much larger hard discs and the processing chips still lagged behind.


So what can we look forward to in 2010?

First, all kinds of electronics can only get more complicated, and require firmware updates every now and then. The addition of Ethernet ports on all kinds of devices is becoming de rigueur now. In fact, wireless capability is fast becoming a standard feature. We are seeing the Wi- Fi and DNLA capability in TVs, BR players and even amps.

BR and Hi Def will become more pervasive. Cheap BR players were first seen in the last quarter of 2009 and we will see more players to entice the first time buyer looking to join the game. And we have seen that for BR disc playback on a modest sized (<50”) screen, you will not really miss the more expensive options.

Discs and other software are continuing their slow downward trend in price and more are aware of the significantly lower prices available online from Amazon and other non-traditional sources. Despite the woes and throes that Vpost, Borderlinx or other shipping companies, most of the time, they do the job and get us our Hi Def fix.

As for displays , the next thing we will see is 3D. this is a smart money making ploy, as you will need HDMI 1.4, new BR players, TVs, amps etc etc. for the “gotta-have-it” chap (and that applies to a majority here), this is a sharp blow to our wallets.

We will also see those front surround and height channels filter down to cheaper AV amplifiers. Plus enough amps to apply all 9 or even 11 channels together. Bear in mind, almost 80-90% of movies are still 5.1….

Sometimes it is good to miss a year when it comes to upgrades, so 2010 is a promising year for me, as I seek out a new BR player, maybe a 3D compatible TV in 2010 or the next year. Plus the fact that we will have more to spend, it will bode well for the buyer and the shops in general.

For the savvy buyer who does his / her homework, you can get a good deal on last year’s models for much less, or get a 2nd hand one from the upgrade mad members, and enjoy HT or Hi Fi for less. Bear in mind that the essential components of good sound will never go down much in price: power supply section, the components of audio (caps, transformers etc). so if a product drops in price and promises more power, take it with a big pinch of salt.

For the dealer, the shopper is ever more internet savvy and will compare prices not only from the shop next door, but in the next country. If you did well in 2009, don’t get cocky and ignore the new buyer, otherwise you lose a budding buyer who will spend the rest of his hobby days upgrading and upgrading.

Price it right and they will form a queue outside your shop. That goes for TVs, sound systems and software, everyone.

Footnote:

Looking ahead to digital TV and FTA channels, I don’t see great strides in this area. Analogue TV is set to continue for a good 5 years or more IMO. The war amongst the 2 big pay TV companies is an expensive war of attrition which will only cost the consumer more and end up with us as losers.

I fear for a soccer made nation where the World Cup is either not available or only for a select few.


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