The comforts of home entertainment

Newsweek International, September 22, 2003

A tangled nest of wires and a bucket full of remote controls used to be the mark of a sophisticated consumer electronics connoisseur — the more boxes the better. Now, less equipment signals greater sophistication. Entertainment devices have converged, and components work in tandem through Wi-Fi wireless networks. Here are some entertainment options that combine high quality and ease of use.


Digital Dashboard: With Royal Philips Electronics’ iPronto “dashboard for the digital home,” you can operate as many as four entertainment devices simultaneously. Consider the juggling feats you can perform: channel-surf on your TV, skip through a DVD to call up a particular movie scene, and tweak the surround-sound array on your home-theater amplifier — all at the same time, all with one box. The super remote also lets you program digital video recorders and retrieve and store as many as four different Web pages at once. The backward-compatible device can learn the remote-control codes for devices you already own, saving you the challenge of trying to think like a machine in order to make it function. Compatibility works both ways; Philips offers updates and improvements for the iPronto’s operating system with downloads so that it won’t be superseded by the next generation.


Recordable DVDs: With the advent of digital video, the VHS tape is rapidly being outmoded by DVDs. But until recently, you still needed tape if you wanted to record anything. A consortium of companies led by Philips and Sony are changing that with a jointly developed format for DVD recorders. Sony’s RDR-GX7 and Phillips’ DVDR1000 can record onto permanent single-use discs or onto DVD-RW discs that let you record repeatedly. You can play the discs on your PC, laptop, or palmtop DVD player — something you can’t do with tape.


Home Theater in a Box: Digital audio and video will benefit greatly from a five-channel home-theater audio/video system. Several manufacturers, including Denon, Sony and Yamaha, are offering simple, high-quality “home-theater-in-a-box” systems. The beauty of these systems is that they consolidate your stereo, VCR and television and improve the signal and reproduction quality of all your home-entertainment equipment.


The Entertaining PC: In Microsoft’s view of the world, the PC should be the central home entertainment device for storage and playback, especially when the PC is connected to a household network using the Wi-Fi wireless networking standard. The company hopes to accelerate its vision with the Media Center Edition of its Windows XP operating system, which turns a PC into a digital media hub. Look for PCs all over the world to include the Windows XP Media Center Edition this fall. People seeking the greatest range of options with the fewest pieces of equipment may find it a good solution.


Wide-Screen LCD Color TV: For the ultimate home-theater viewing experience, consider Sharp’s wide-screen 37-inch LCD color TV. The sleek, slim display delivers high-definition pictures with 3.15 million-dot resolution — 30 percent more horizontal pixels than a comparable plasma TV with the same screen size. The Advanced Super View low-reflective black TFT LCD delivers a high-contrast picture at all viewing angles. This item will soon be available worldwide.


Home Audio Server: If changing CDs — even in a multiple-disc player — is taking up too much time, consider using Onkyo’s NC500 Net-Tune Receiver. Working with Onkyo’s higher-end Integra NAS-2.3 Net-Tune Server, the Receiver can store the equivalent of 1,400 CDs’ worth of audio and run up to 12 different audio streams at once to different stereos. It can also receive artist, album and other track information online through an Ethernet cable and send it to a television or computer monitor.


Eventually, the most demanding electronics connoisseurs won’t have any visible equipment at all. But that won’t happen right away...give it a year or two.