The onward march of new technology
I've spent most of this week putting together the contents list for the next issue of the Ultimate Guide to Home Cinema, and a fascinating experience it's been, writes Andy Clough. We've had lengthy discussions about what should (and shouldn't) be included.
Why so? Well, most manufacturers are phasing out their current model ranges, and introducing new ones for 2008. We've got a stockroom stashed to the ceiling with exciting new kit entered for the What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision Awards in October, and we'll be busy testing it all over the coming months.
It's a bumper crop this year, and after a lengthy chat with the reviewing team on What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision, it's become clear just how fast things are moving in the home cinema market. Product that was state-of-the-art just a year ago is already being phased out, and in many cases entire product ranges have been dropped.
As we move inexorably towards a world of high definition, both in video and audio, the race is on to produce new kit that will handle all the latest technology, be it Blu-ray, HD DVD or the new hi-def audio codecs such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD.
Which got me thinking. I've just upgraded my own reference AV system at home, swapping out an 'old' Arcam AVR250 home cinema receiver for the new AVR280. There was nothing much wrong with the 250, mind, although the 280 does offer the benefit of HDMI video switching, so I can now plug my DVD player and Virgin Media V+ box straight into the amp, and dispense with my HDMI switching box.
And I'm still running an 'old' Arcam DV79 DVD player, with no video upscaling, no Blu-ray or HD DVD playback capability and no decoding of hi-def audio.
Yet I'm still getting fantastic performance from my DVDs. The 280 sounds superb, the DV79 still delivers terrific pictures and even sounds pretty good with CDs. So do I feel the need to junk all my current kit and rush out and buy all the latest hi-def gear? Not really.
Which is not to say that you shouldn't. But if you've invested heavily in your current system, don't despair. Like me, you've probably built up a massive collection of DVDs, and I can't see myself replacing them all with Blu-ray or HD DVD discs any time soon.
And yet, and yet... there is one area where my system is beginning to look its age. I bought a Sony Bravia 40in HD-ready LCD TV in 2005 (please don't ask how much I paid for it - interest-free credit seemed a good deal at the time!), and like many earlier LCD designs, it suffers from some motion blurring. It didn't bother me much in the beginning, but now that I've seen the latest 1080p Full HD sets in action, it's beginning to irritate me. There's no doubt today's screens are much better.
And having lived with a meagre diet of HD content on my Virgin cable system (just the BBC HD feed), I'm sorely tempted to pay Mr Murdoch his money and switch to Sky HD.
Ah, the temptations of upgrading! Looks like I may have to pay the bank manager a visit after all.