The July 2000 cover of What Hi-Fi? majored on DVD players – and specifically referenced the plummeting prices of what had been super-premium video and audio devices.
I stumbled upon this issue pretty much immediately after I started doing the research for this month’s Back Issues column. And, as can often be the case with such things – life’s peculiar coincidences being a disconcertingly familiar occurrence – It follows rather neatly on from last month’s column. That one, a magazine from 1996, was anticipating the first players of this amazing new technology – one that would bring digital ease and (far better) quality to the world of home cinema over the then ubiquitous analogue VHS video tape.
Stunning quality at a remarkable price
Four short years later, as you will see in then-Editor Andy Clough's leader for the July 2000 issue, above, we were amazed at how we could find such quality home cinema for remarkably (relatively) low prices.
Now I realise that for quite a few of our readers, 23 years ago is a literal lifetime; but for some of us, it is a mere blink away. At the same time, it is really hard to remember, sometimes, just how different things were at the turn of the century.
(As an aside, I find it almost impossible to get across to my children that there even was a time before the internet and smartphones, let alone try to describe to them what life was like then: “What do you mean you had to remember phone numbers? And actually turn up at a prearranged time and place to meet your friends?! Madness…”)
DVD player Supertest
While the internet was certainly a thing by then, July 2000, remember, was a time before the Apple iPod, before smartphones, before Bluetooth speakers, before wireless headphones.
And as far as video and home cinema went, the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) player was the state of the art. I remember well the team at What Hi-Fi? being amazed at the quality produced by Wharfedale’s groundbreaking DVD-750 player – all for a stunning £180. The winner of our DVD player Supertest was the £450 Pioneer DV-626D; but the Wharfedale was a bright harbinger of home cinema to come.
Plenty of time yet for change
And it would be another six years before the next step up the resolution ladder would come. By which time the world of home entertainment was a very different place. Blu-ray was introduced to the world in 2006, a few months before Apple introduced its first iPhone – and well into the lifecycle of the iPod and mp3 ubiquity. People’s perceptions of what was possible in home entertainment was changing, for sure. Science fiction from a decade before was becoming relatively commonplace.
And today, of course, Blu-ray (and even 4K Blu-ray) – exceptional though the format is – is in danger of becoming obsolete. It too has gone through the same process of price plummet. While, as with all these things, you get what you pay for, you can get sublime picture and sound quality from a Blu-ray player costing less than £200.
Stick to the system
But even that isn’t going to do it for most people. We can get our 4K/ultra-high-resolution video and far more sophisticated audio than even less than a decade ago, invisibly, over the ether and via our broadband cable. Compare the quality of the excellent DVD from a quarter of a century ago with what is now available with no physical medium to worry about, and in effect from your telly itself, and there is just no contest.
While we at What Hi-Fi? still believe you get the very best, most consistent performance from a physical disc, the sheer convenience of streaming – and at a relatively low cost if you keep your wits about you – is for the majority of people worth the very minor decrease in quality. After all, it is a decrease that most people aren’t even aware of, the 4K pictures we enjoy now from the likes of Disney+, Netflix, Amazon and the like being so exceptional (depending on how stable your wi-fi bandwidth and connection is).
And who knows what is to come next? I’m fascinated to find out – if a little daunted at the possibilities. No doubt whoever is tapping away at a keyboard (or, more likely by then perhaps, simply thinking their words onto the screen) in a quarter of a century from now will be having a little smile to themselves at the simplicity of the tech we currently enjoy. I hope so.
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