Technology: HDTV’s Appy 14th Birthday

Technology1When the first High Definition TVs started showing up on store shelves in the late 1990s, I couldn’t wait to get one. (Fortunately, I knew some people in the business…) As with all new technological products, those early-model HDTVs — most of which were rear-projection big screen HDTVs — cost quite a bit more than a similarly sized traditional analog TV. Coincidentally, Plasma TVs began hitting the market around the same time. They were even pricier, with some of the first 50-inch flat-panel HDTVs costing almost $25,000!

Nowadays, some 14 years later, you don’t have to look too hard to find a bare-bones 42-inch plasma HDTV on sale for as little as $500. And, even though the new HDTV cost so much less, improvements in the technology have made the picture quality significantly better than ever. So, if you bought an HDTV eight, 10, or more years ago, I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is that, after you hear the good news, you’re going to have a serious, almost-irresistible desire to buy a new HDTV. (If you do, I know just the place where you can get one…) The good news is that, if you haven’t looked at some of the new HDTVs, you’re going to be surprised by the many new features and enhancements that have been added recently — including even better picture quality and lower prices.

For example, one of the features you’ll find on many of the new HDTV models is Internet connectivity. Some sets have built-in Ethernet ports that will allow you to connect the HDTV to the Internet via your home’s wired network. Other sets use external or built-in Wi-Fi adapters to connect to your home’s wireless network. So what’s the big deal about being able to access the Internet from your TV? Well, first of all, these new HDTVs are what are known as “Smart TVs.” Smart TVs have apps — similar to apps on your smartphone or tablet — that allow you to do a variety of things that you’d normally have to use a computer or other small-screen device for.

The simplest example is a built-in web browser that lets you visit websites just like your computer browser does. But, frankly, that’s just not something I would do with my TV. The real power of a Smart TV lies in the apps that are designed for specific activities, such as watching streaming video from Internet sources like Netflix, YouTube or Amazon Instant Video. Having these apps built into your HDTV eliminates the need for one or more additional set-top boxes — and the associated extra remote controls. Other popular apps give you the ability to access Facebook or stream music from Pandora.

Some new HDTVs are Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA)-compliant and have built-in media players so that you can access digital media, such as family photos or music files stored on a computer or hard drive connected to your home’s network, and view or listen to them on your HDTV’s screen — instead of hunched over in front of your laptop. Other HDTVs have Skype capabilities built-in (or offer optional adapters and cameras), which means you can use your set to make free voice or videophone calls to people all over the world over the Internet. While it doesn’t require Internet connectivity, some of the new 3D-capable HDTVs have special circuitry that can convert a standard 2D movie or TV show into simulated 3D. Of course, the best new feature of today’s HDTVs is the super-affordable prices, with some of the most basic 60-inch HDTVs selling for as little as $1,000!

What if your room could use something larger than a 60-inch TV? Well, there are certainly jumbo-size flat-panel HDTVs with the screen sizes in the 70, 80 and even 90-inch diagonal range, but there are also a couple of other options for bringing a truly big “big screen” into your home. Mitsubishi, for instance, offers several very shallow rear-projection HDTVs that range from 73 to 92 inches (and only 25 inches deep). For a truly theatrical experience, you’ll want a front-projection system. With a good HDTV projector, you can watch movies on a screen that’s up to 120 inches (or larger) — and since today’s HDTV projectors are smaller than ever, if you install a motorized screen that drops down from the ceiling, the system will virtually disappear when you’re not watching TV.

Wow, now I’ve got myself wanting a new HDTV, too.

By: Kris Dybdahl aka Bjorn jr.

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