25 February, 2011

End of a era or The CRT is dead!

After 11 years (the first two traveling around the world as part of a matched set for trade shows) the 350lb, 36” Sony Wega (last of the great standard definition CRT televisions) stopped going “BOINK” when the power button was pressed.

As someone who has been looking at “HD” video for well over 20 years and participating in some of the initial trials one of the early “take a ways” was;

“at living room distances, with appropriately sized displays it is difficult (if not impossible) to “see” the difference between 720p and 1080i”

-and even between standard definition and high definition the difference is just not that much (this assumes the SD source is 16:9, “clean” and keep in the component domain during the entire chain). This is not so much an indictment of HD as much as it is approval of just how good a job the NTSC did back in the 1950’s!

At one time it and a early RCA 38” HDTV (also a 350lb CRT beast but unlike the Sony had a curved screen making it less usable during daylight) dominated the living room here at Sanatorium Sanctum (much to the dismay of the wife unit) initially they were feed from engineering IRD’s for evaluation over the satellite of the then new HD encoders. Once that project was done there was no longer any HD programming available out here in the boonies (other than DTH) and after getting it for free had no desire to subscribe for the little amount of HD programming then available.

A few years latter during the initial over the air ATSC broadcasts I was renting a small cottage in the San Francisco bay area and maintained a ‘Air Check’ set up for the weeknights that I was stuck there (back when there were no commercials and producers were hyper critical of the look and sound of their primetime programming) shows like CSI, Law & Order and even The Simpsons would provide a few more pithy observations;

“once the bowtie antenna was properly positioned, I would come to accept the (nearly) defect free image in short order – but the well done audio was a constant pleasant surprise”

And one that will cause every “home theater technician” – and sales schlep – to cringe- is that, unless you have a large room and many thousands of $’s of disposable income;

“a properly setup (which does not amount to much more than proper speaker placement, levels and phasing) modest system is fine” (Audio system was a "Fry's $79 special - AC3 decoder, DVD player, 6 channel amp and speakers - adequate for a dorm room or 200 square foot cottage)

Fast forward to the present
Now, faced with the decision on what to replace the CRT with (and a more limited budget than I’d of liked) not really being “blown away” by any of the current consumer display technologies and having spent my entire professional life critically evaluating video images I was in a bit of a quandary.

OLED showed promise but doubt much will come of it.

Plasma still has burn-in and stuck pixels (much better than it used to be but still it only takes 1 stuck pixel or a game left on for a few hours to ruin the display)
LCD (even the 240Hz) still exhibit some lag, gray scale, blacks and dynamic range still leave a bit to be desired.

- both technologies have less than ideal color rendition but I’ll admit to being a bit hyper critical on that.

Once you are in the 50” plus range DLP does provide a larger screen for the $’s than either of the two above but suffers from anything less than the proper viewing angle and until the very recent advent of reasonable cost consumer replaceable lamps was an expensive service call waiting.

Front projection – depending on the “lamp” with proper setup and screen about the best you can do – if you like to live in a theater with the lights out.

And the real question is; what are you going to watch on it? Unless you can limit your viewing exclusively to HD content - and while there is more all the time the brutal fact is you’re going to be watching good old standard definition – wither its been upconverted and aspect corrected or not (and don't get me started on aspect ratio!) – the real world evaluation criteria of “…how does regular TV look on it?” needs to be weighted with all the above factors.

And the sad part is, after finding the compromise display “last month’s discontinued” (and discounted!) XBR (and paying an extra $200+ above the sticker solely for the privilege of living in NorCal) I tried the local cable Co’s heavily promoted “HD” package only to return it a few days later as there just was not that much that anyone in this house would watch! - blue ray rentals, on-demand along with the odd NOVA or Frontline are about the extent of HD that is viewed here.