World of high end audio and video is just amazing

I’m in process of radically changing my living room audio / video hardware. The old stuff is the usual setup with a DVD player, PVR, Yamaha amp with 5.1 speaker setup, Airport Express for streaming audio and of course a HD capable flat panel telly. Oh and the only console hooked up right now is the Wii.

I’ve been meaning to change all this for a while but never got to do it until two things happened at the same time. I bought an eyeTV digital television receiver on a spur of the moment, and saw the design of the new Drop speakers. After having used the eyeTV unit for a moment with an old laptop, I noticed I was happier with the interface (and especially the recording capabilities) of the unit than the Handan PVR unit so I’m dumping that in favor of a Mac Mini. The Mini of course obsoletes the Airport unit for music streaming, which in turn means I can now store the audio in a lossless format of the larger than before drive, which means I should get a new amp for the Drops…

I promise to do a graph of the whole setup soon, when I’m happy with it. It seems I’m getting improved sound quality with nicer to use equipment for less than what I might get when selling away the old stuff.

Anyway to the point – as part of Googling for the kinds of audio stuff I ought to purchase, I’ve (again) figured the “high end” audio market is full of outright scams, which are of course all based on people’s willingness to believe in anything. The most amazing scam going on right now is of course high-end HDMI cables that companies claim will improve your picture quality. Of course, this is impossible.

The High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) is a connector that packs a digital stream of bits that bundles a multi-channel audio stream with DVI-compatible video stream. The combination of audio and video in one well designed compact plug is convenient for the consumer and the streams support bit-rates high enough for the highest HDTV resolutions and multi-channel surround sound setups. What most people don’t realize is the interface has also been designed with the entertainment industry’s requirements in mind – the data streams are encrypted.

Encryption means you either get all the data bit for bit and are able to decrypt the stream, or you miss something, the devices disconnect. There is no “get some bits with lower quality” mode to HDMI. The cable either works perfectly, or it doesn’t work at all. The only difference in the quality of cables are the distance at which the devices can still connect and work. High quality well shielded cables will give you a few feet extra on top of the bad quality cables.

If the $5 cable over HDMI gives you the picture, that’s the same picture you’ll be getting a $99 HDMI cable.

And the girl you’re trying to impress won’t see the gold plating anyway, assuming you haven’t setup the rear end of the equipment facing the viewer. Actually, for anyone with gold plate HDMI cables, I recommend that’s what you do for best value. Because that’s the only value the plating has.

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