This blog will act as a one-stop centre for my Blogs on High Definition (HD) stuff. Click on the ones that are of interest to you.

*Choosing a HDTV

*Choosing a Blu-ray Disc (BD) Player

*Choosing a HD Media Player

*All about the Sanyo HD2000 camcorder

*My experience with the Sony XR350 HD camcorder

*Choosing a HD Audio-Visual Receiver (AVR) - coming soon

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Which HDMI cable?

Since HDMI cable is the most important part of any HD setup, this post will be devoted to this item. Well, HDMI stands for High Definition Multimedia Interface and as the name suggests it is an item that can transmit both High Definition video and audio over a single cable. So it does make connecting your HD equipment so much simpler.

Versions of HDMI cable

There are several versions of HDMI cable and the most common type available now is HDMI 1.3 that was released in 2006 with later variations such as 1.3a, 1.3b and 1.3c but these are more for testing purposes and does not affect the normal usage of the HDMI cable so any version HDMI 1.3 is good enough for use. The major improvement of HDMI 1.3 over the earlier version 1.2 is the support for HD audio such as DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD

The latest version is HDMI 1.4 that was released in mid-2009 and the main advantage of this is the addition of an Ethernet channel, an audio return channel and support of 3D over HDMI. The Ethernet channel allows for an Ethernet connection between two devices connected by the HDMI cable, the 3D support enables you to connect your 3D Blu-ray player to your 3D HDTV while the audio return channel can send the audio signal from your TV to your AVR for better sound reproduction. This is assuming that all your devices are HDMI 1.4 capable so you must check the specifications of your equipment to ensure that this is the case or these new features will not work.

Example of HDMI 1.4 cable.

Are Expensive HDMI cable better?

A very definite NO if they are of the same version. (This is in terms of usage but in terms of physical build, the more expensive ones probably use better material and may outlast the cheaper ones.) All experts (the real ones, not those in some Hifi magazines that give glowing reviews to some pricey HDMI cables) agree that the cost of a HDMI makes no difference to the quality of the sound and picture since the transmission is digital, either you get the signal or you don't so either it works or it doesn't work. No amount of gold in your gold-plated cable will improve the sound or picture a single bit (or pixel). This is unlike in analogue connections where the quality of the connecting cables will affect the quality of the transmission. You can just pick any HDMI cable, even from the supermarket, and it should work just as well as those monstrously priced in HiFi shops.

Here are some examples of the wide rage of prices for HDMI 1.3 cables from Amazon, including the monstrously priced one. Anyone of them will do just as well for your HD needs.

HDMI versions compatibility

The new HDMI versions are compatible with older versions meaning your old gear will work with new versions of HDMI cable and new gear will work with older versions HDMI cable except that you will not get the features introduced with the newer HDMI versions mentioned earlier but you should still get the basic sound and picture. The best is to ensure that everything is matched along the whole HD chain to avoid any surprises. There is usually no problem with video but there may be problem with the sound since there are so many audio options in the BD player so just make sure that HDMI is selected as the option and set to Auto. The user manual of your equipment will have details to set the correct options to get the desired sound output. But because of the way how many user manuals are written, you may have to do some trial and error to get it right.
If you have 3D equipment, just make sure you use HDMI1.4 cable all along the chain.

AVR with HDMI cable

An AVR is really useful when use together with HDMI cables if you have many HD sources to connect to your HDTV since most AVR allow you connect the different sources to the AVR with just one HDMI cable out to the HDTV and the AVR will do the switching as you select the source that you want. Otherwise, you will end up with so many cables but if not all your equipment are with HDMI port, you will still have to use some of the older cables. My next post will look at the other types of cable and connection for non-HDMI input/output.

Ronald Kwok

Monday, December 6, 2010

High Definition sources and components, HDMI cable

Now that you have your HDTV, you must have an HD source to do justice to your TV. The best source of HD material is no doubt the Blu-Ray Disc or BD so your next purchase should be a BD player. In the early days of HD, a BD player was very expensive. Worse still, at that time customers had to decide whether to go for a BD player or a HD DVD player since these two different HD formats were fighting out an HD war just like the one between VHS and Betamax in the good old days of videotape. At that war, Sony (on the Betamax corner) lost but this time they won as champion of BD.

Apart from stand-alone BD player, many people go for the Sony PS3 to play BD, especially if they are also gamers. In fact, a few years back when the cost of BD players was pretty high, getting the PS3 was the best option. But now that the price of BD player has fallen quite a bit, it is much cheaper to get a basic BD player unless you also want to play PS3 games and use the other functions on the PS3. More about choosing a BD player in later posts.

So luckily for us consumers (but unlucky for Toshiba and gang who backed the HD DVD format), BD won the war and the decision was made for us; HD DVD is dead, long live BD! So to enjoy your new HDTV, just connect up your BD player, throw in a BD and sit back and enjoy the show. Well this is only half the story of the HD audio-visual saga. Your HDTV will show the video part of it in glorious HD but the audio is still the good old stereo from your HDTV even though BD is capable of many HD audio formats. More about HD audio in later posts.

So now it is time to take out your wallet or your credit card once again and start looking for another component to complete your move to the HD world - the AVR or audio/visual receiver. So with your new AVR hooked up to your BD player, the journey to the HD world is now complete. You can hear the tiniest whisper to the loudest roar in the comfort of your own home as the movie plays out in High Definition on the HDTV screen. So this is also your home theatre.
To avoid some of the hassle of mix and match, some manufacturers combine the BD player with an AVR, throw in some speakers and call the whole thing HTIB, or Home Theatre In a Box. But usually you get more features and flexibility and better quality if you opt for individual components. More on this in my later posts.

Apart from the BD player, you can also connect a HD Media Player that can play HD material downloaded from the internet or ripped from BD. Another source will be your HD broadcast either delivered via cable or off air through satellite services. Another source will be from providers of VOD, or video-on-demand such as Vudu or Netflix in the US. So you do have a lot of choices when you are in the HD world. Not to mention your own videos if you also have a HD camcorder.

So there you have it. A complete HD set-up. Your source - the BD player (or PS3 or HD Media Player or VOD or cable/satellite broadcasts or your camcorder), the visual display - the HDTV and finally the audio processor - the AVR. And last but not least is the most important part of the puzzle, the connecting cable to link each of these HD components - the HDMI cable. Each HD component must have a HDMI port or it does not deserve the HD name. Fortunately, the HDMI cable is the least expensive part of the whole chain and despite all the misleading claims, you do not need a gold-plated, monstrously expensive HDMI cable to get your HD gears to work. A cheap HDMI cable available from you supermarket or friendly neighbourhood store will do the job just as well as those nicely packaged ones that cost many, many times more. Since we are talking about digital signal here, the cable will either work or it won't (perhaps due to mechanical fault) and an expensive cable will in no way improve the signal to make your HD stuff look and sound better. So do not waste your money on expensive HDMI cables, use the money saved to get another BD.

Ok, folks, this is just the summary and appetiser for those hungry for HD gears. My later posts will have more details and meat to satisfy those stepping into the HD world to help you pick the right gear or at least point you in the right direction, hopefully.

Ronald Kwok

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Choosing a HDTV

For most of us, stepping into the world of HD or High Definition (as oppose to the lower SD or Standard Definition world) begins with the HD TV, either a Plasma TV or LCD TV. But just having a HDTV may not move you completely into the world of HD, it is just the first step and part of a chain. To immerse yourself completely into the HD world, you must have the source material feeding your HDTV in HD as well and the link from the source to the TV must support HD too. To simplify matters, I will start with the HDTV as the heart of the HD world.

When does a TV becomes a HDTV? As long as the resolution is 1280x720 pixels or more and currently the limit is 1920x1080 pixels for commercially available TV. To add some confusion, TV companies advertise some of their TV's as HD-ready and some as Full-HD. In most (if not) all cases, HD-ready TV has a resolution of 1366x768 pixels while the Full-HD TV has the maximum resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. So if you are getting a HD-ready TV, it is already a HDTV by definition, even though not a Full-HD TV.

Which one to go for, a HD-Ready TV or a Full-HD TV? If money is not an issue, go for a Full-HD TV. However, if you are going for a 32" or less, the HD-ready TV is good enough since at the proper viewing distance, you cannot really see the difference. (Actually, at short viewing distance, the HD-Ready TV may look better than a Full-HD TV for some materials!) In the past, a Full-HD TV costs significantly more than a HD-Ready TV but the price gap is now narrowing and soon they may not make HD-Ready TV any more except for screen smaller than 32". So buyers need not have to make a choice in future. Currently for some brands (like Toshiba), they have only HD-Ready TV at 32" and not FUll-HD TV so if you like that brand, you have no choice but as mentioned earlier, eventually there will be only Full-HD TV. Until then, the choice is yours, bearing in mind the size of the screen that you are after - for anything 40" and above, go for Full-HD.

Which brand to choose? Any brand will do, I would say, within the same price range. As long as it is from one of the reputable brands, they are more or less the same within the same price range. Performance should be very similar and to most comsumers they will look similar despite all the enticing claims. Of course, the higher price models will have some additional features which you may or may not want. The deciding factor may be the physical look and the input and output ports that are provided. And also your brand loyalty!

As for myself, I chose the Toshiba 32AV700E which is a 32" HD-Ready TV. Since I am using it in my library cum study room, it is good enough as I view it at about 5 feet away. In any case, I do not have the space to go for a bigger set. But if you have the space (and the money) go for the biggest size possible. But make sure you have sufficient and comfortable viewing distance. It is no fun staring at the individual pixels if you are watching the TV too close!

Another question buyer face is whether to go for Plasma or LCD TV. View this in my new blog here. Cheers.

Ronald Kwok