Mitsubishi and Sony Ship FireWire-Equipped HDTVs
Most of the digital TVs sold so far are HDTV monitors - sets that require an external tuner to display high-def programs - mainly because the high cost of the chips used to receive and decode digital signals makes HDTV tuners expensive. But most, if not all, HDTVs will eventually have built-in tuners, allowing the sets to be connected directly to antenna or cable lines. You may also see FireWire interfaces for connecting components like digital video recorders and DVD players become more common.
TV manufacturers have been talking up FireWire since the early days of HDTV, but it wasn't until November 2001 that they actually started shipping sets equipped with the interface. A handful of new models from Mitsubishi (see review on page 50) and Sony feature ports that allow the TV to act as the control center for an entire network of FireWire-linked devices. For example, using your TV's remote control and onscreen menus, you could program your digital VCR to record a high-definition movie coming from your satellite receiver, with both devices powering up at the designated time and shutting down when the recording is finished. From what I've seen, FireWire is the most elegant solution offered so far to the problem of integrating the complex web of components in a home A/V system.
The arrival of the Mitsubishi and Sony sets is encouraging, but we're a long way from FireWire becoming a standard feature in A/V components. Sony and Warner Bros. have given a thumbs up to the FireWire-based DTCP (or 5C) copy-protection scheme, but it hasn't yet been endorsed by the other major Hollywood studios (see "Interface-off" below). This could explain why the FireWire implementation on the first Sony sets is input only, which prevents you from routing digital programs to a VCR for recording. But time-shifting programs for later viewing is a right that many of us exercise every day. Hollywood can kick and scream all it wants, but there's no reason we should have to surrender that right in the DTV era. Just how far manufacturers are willing to push FireWire - or if they plan to push it at all - is something we'll see in 2002.
With so much going on in the world today, HDTV might seem like a luxury. But when you consider that the switch to a digital TV system is a mandate from the U.S. government, buying an HDTV seems like a good way to "get on with things." There are still a few loose ends trailing the DTV transition - most important are cable carriage of digital signals and how cable systems will interface with HDTV sets. But there's already a wide variety of high-def programming available on broadcast and satellite TV, and the amount seems to increase with each passing month. The year 2001 may have been a good one for HDTV, but 2002 should be even better.
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