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More Blu & Other Toys

Sepember 9, 2007

This week Blu-ray players and new HDTVs and a small FCC bit.

The following Blu-ray Disc (BD) players are presumed not to conform with Profile 1.1, and are part of the flood of new players announced at IFA 2007 and CEDIA Expo 2007 for release in advance of the October 31 Profile 1.1 deadline. They may be leaving out the dual video processors to keep their costs down, to price for mainstream buyers. The Denon player (mentioned July 29) is Profile 1.1 compliant, but with its $2000 price tag, they certainly aren't targeting the average consumer.

Sharp finally is bringing its long-in-coming BD player to market. It's U.S. model designation is BD-HP20U, in stores this month for an MSRP of $550. While I couldn't find it in a major online retailer, it was listed for under $450 on a couple of sites.

The high-gloss black, slim-profile Sharp player of course has an HDMI 1.3 output. It outputs at 1080/24p via HDMI and also outputs component video. It will upconvert standard DVD via HDMI to 1080p.

If you've heard about the slow start-up times for early players, you'll be happy to hear that the Sharp player will typically start playing a disc in less than 10 seconds.

The BD-HD20U decodes Dolby TrueHD, and Dolby Digital Plus, and will output 7.1 channel digital audio.

Pioneer announced a new Blu-ray player--the BDP-95FD. This player appears to be the same as the BDP-94HD introduced last spring, with the addition of HDMI 1.3, 24 fps output, and additional support for DTS-HD High Resolution and DTS-HD Master Audio (in addition to the comparable Dolby formats). The new Pioneer player will be available next month for an MSRP of $1000 (the same price as the BDP-94HD).

Sony is bringing out two new Blu-ray players to complement its BDP-S300 (HDMI 1.2 - $499). The BDP-S500 carries a suggested price of $700 and the high-end BDP-S2000ES is priced at $1300. Both will be available "this fall."

Both S2000ES and S500 feature 1080/60p and 24p True Cinema output. They support 7.1 channel linear PCM and Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, as well as DTS-HD High Resolution Audio bitstream output via HDMI 1.3.

The BDP-S2000ES (for "Elevated Standard") has dual shield construction to prevent dust from collecting on the BD drive, and a rigid drive bracket to minimize vibration. It also has a rigid beam chassis to reduce internal vibration.

I suspect it's a tad heavier than the S500.

New HDTVs continue to be rolled out, in all shapes and forms. Last winter the big thing was high-gloss piano black finishes. Now it's narrow frames (or "bezels" if you like). The narrower, the better, apparently.

Toshiba is touting the "world's thinnest LCD TV bezel." Not to be outdone, Mitsibishi is claiming its "innovative UltraThin Frame" design (less than one inch width) "delivers what may be the thinnest frame in the industry."

Mitsubishi has a new crop of both DLP RPTVs and LCD flat-panels, all Full-HD 1920 x 1080. There are three sizes of DLP sets -- 57", 65", and 73" -- in three series. The LCDs come in 40", 46", and 52", also in different feature levels. The press release wasn't specific about which sets had which features; if you're a Mits fan, check them out.

Toshiba added two Full-HD sets to its Regza LCD line: the Super Narrow Bezel (SNB) Models are the 40RF350U ($1900) and the 46RF350U ($2500). Both available this month.

The SNB sets have 10-bit panels (for processing overhead - minimizes video noise), three HDMI 1.3 inputs, and dynamic backlighting.

JVC joins the bandwagon by adding 120 Hz refresh rate to some of its HDTVs, with the usual inter-frame interpolation (a good thing) to minimize motion blurring. These "Clear Motion Drive II" LCD TVs will be available this month: LT-37X898 ($2100), LT-42X898 ($2600), and LT-47X898 ($3300).

These Full-HD (1920 x 1080) sets have 10-bit panels, a 32-bit Genessa chip for video scaling and image processing, and a 178-degree viewing angle. Contrast ratio is 2000:1, 4.5 msec response time, and 500 cd/m2 brightness.

Included are three HDMI 1.3 inputs, one RS-232 interface, one PC input, one Smart Video input, two component inputs, one S-Video input, three AV inputs, one optical digital audio output and one fixed audio output.

Sanyo has announced a new 1080p LCD front projector: the PLV-Z2000, available in October for about $3000 list.

Two HDMI 1.3 inputs, contrast ratio of 15,000:1, and the "industry's quietest fan."

Sharp is introducing new THX Certified LCD 52" and 65" TVs in the Japanese markets. Dubbed the "T Series," these first two models will be tested and certified to meet THX standards for color and light levels. While Sharp's LCD panels have generally been considered to be the best in the industry, the same cannot be said for their video processors. Hopefully this marks a change.

Of interest is these sets' "THX Movie Mode" setting which calibrates the display's gamma, luminance, color temperature and other settings for the best possible playback of movies on DVD, Blu-ray, HD-DVD and broadcast television. To accomplish this, THX worked with Sharp engineers from early design concept to product rollout.

Testing and certification of the Sharp LV-65TH1 and LV-52TH1 displays was divided into two main areas: device performance and video signal processing. The device performance tests are measured according to industry standard guidelines and include in-depth analysis of display uniformity, luminance and color levels and resolution. By contrast, the video signal processing tests are defined by THX and include a complete review of each display's scaling, deinterlacing and overscan capabilities.

I'll be looking to see how all of this transfers to Sharp's full line of TVs over the next year.

Sharp also announced a new 19" LCD widescreen TV. With a resolution of 1366 x 768, the LC-19D44U has a true 16:9 display. Many other small widescreen sets have the 16:10 aspect ratio typical of computer monitors (although this set has a PC input).

Hopefully this sort of small HDTV will displace the many 4:3 CRT sets that are on the market now, and already obsolete, even though they now have integral digital receivers. People who buy those sets will have to put up with black bars top and bottom, or may be able to select a "center-cut" display that cuts off the sides of native 16:9 programming in order to fill the 4:3 screen.

This will especially be the case after February 17, 2009, when analog broadcasts are shut off. The bulk of national channel programming is expected to migrate to widescreen format through 2008.

The LC-19D44U's remote control features a large clock display and a built-in On/Off timer, which can be used as a sleep timer or alarm clock in a bedroom or as a timer for the kitchen. Additional remote control functions include a backlight for viewing in dim lighting conditions, a magnetic back that can affix to a metal surface such as a refrigerator, and three long-range transmitters, which enable users to control the TV from various spots in a room without pointing the remote at the unit.

This 19" HDTV will be available in October at an MSRP of $649.

The FCC is having its monthly meeting on September 11. On the agenda is consideration of a final rule for mandatory cable carriage of digital broadcast television signals after the conclusion of the digital television transition. Reply Comments on this rulemaking were just due August 16, so they turned this around extremely quickly.

At stake is whether cable viewers with HDTVs will see undegraded broadcast high definition programming, not only on the "digital" tier, but on all tiers, including basic. Many smaller cable companies do not offer high-definition service at all now.

For analog TV subscribers, we may learn if they'll need a set-top-box or can continue with just the cable plugged into the back of the set.

Until next week. . .