Buyer’s Guides to TV, DVD and Blu-Ray PlayersTV, DVD And Blu-Ray Players TV manufacturers have pulled out all the stops to bring that cinematic experience into your home. Expect stunning colours, powerful sound and clearer pictures than ever before. Flatscreens have now almost completely superseded those big old-fashioned CRT (cathode ray tube) sets, so TVs can now be set up almost anywhere - from the traditional cabinet in the corner to being mounted on the wall over the fireplace. There’s a TV for every situation: from a 50-inch surround-sound plasma in the living room for family viewing, to a small flip down unit in the kitchen for those moments you just need to escape and enjoy the soaps with a cup of tea. And games fans shouldn’t worry either, with a wide choice of high-quality small-screen models that are perfect for bedroom-based X Box and Playstation action. Choosing a TV Size: Gone are the days when TV viewing was restricted to the living room. These days there are TVs in bedrooms, kitchens and even bathrooms. Choosing the right one depends on a number of factors – what you’re watching, the size of your room and where you’re hoping to locate it. Remember, television screen sizes are measured diagonally from the top corner to the opposite bottom corner of the display. If you’re looking for a general purpose TV for the hub of your home a 26-40 inch screen should be about right, depending on the size of your room and how far away from your sofa you’re planning to put it. You definitely need something big enough to see O’Driscall’s latest wonder-try in glorious detail, but you probably don’t want the front-row-of-the-cinema effect a massive TV in a small room will create. For a kitchen or a bedroom, 15-23 inch screens are popular choices. They’re big enough for occasional or close-up games console use, without taking over the room. Film buffs and sport fans looking for that something extra might want to push the screen size up to 37-52 inches if they’ve got the space. Sizes can go up to 60 inches, but expect a price tag just as big. Widescreen: Old fashioned TVs had an aspect ratio of 4:3 - for every 4cm it is wide, it is 3cm tall. That resulted in a ‘square-ish’ picture, which cut off an awful lot of the picture when showing movies designed for the cinema. As TV technology has advanced, TVs have now adopted the standard widescreen 16:9 ratio, which delivers a picture much more like a cinema screen. Flatscreens - LCD vs Plasma: Flatscreen TVs use either LCD or plasma technology to deliver a high-quality picture from a unit that is much slimmer than the old CRT models, about 20-30cm deep. That means you can mount them pretty much where you want, provided you have the right equipment and a strong enough wall. LCD TVs are lighter and use less energy, while plasma probably gives you the best picture for sports and movies – it’s great for fast-moving images. LED: LED TVs do away with the fluorescent lamps seen in LCD TVs and produce even more colourful, detailed images, especially when dark colours are involved. HD: LCD, plasma and LED technology has allowed for the development of HDTV - or high definition television. This delivers a high-resolution image that gives a sharper, more detailed picture with brighter colours than ever before. HDTV images come in several formats: 720i, 720p, 1080i and 1080p. The number - 720 or 1080 – refers to the number of horizontal lines that make up the picture compared to the 576 on a standard definition picture. So 1080 HDTV is effectively twice as good as a standard definition picture because there are more to give more precise detail. The ‘i’ stands for interlace and the ‘p’ for progressive. Progressive is widely regarded to deliver better results, but even a 720i is pretty impressive-looking to someone used to standard definition pictures. If you’re looking to buy a TV that you keep for a long time, it might be worth spending a little more now for the highest spec you can afford in order to ‘futureproof’ your purchase from new developments. 1080p is currently the top of the tree as far as HD is concerned. HD ‘Ready’: If you buy an ‘HD ready’ television you’re not going to get HD pictures straight away. The picture quality will be great, but unless you sign up for an HD subscription..., you’ll still be watching standard definition pictures. Even if you’re not anticipating signing up to a HD service at the moment, it’s worth thinking about getting a HD ready television if you want to try to stay one step ahead - content is sure to expand. You can also use your HD telly to play Blu-ray discs or connect up your games console for a sharper, clearer, more colourful experience. Frequency: For clearer, less blurry images, look at TVs with 100Hz/200Hz technology. Connectivity: If you want that full cinematic experience, don’t forget to check the spec or have a look round the back of the screen to make sure you have all the inputs and outputs you need. You’ll be left frustrated if your new purchase hasn’t got the connectivity you need to plug in the Blu-ray, laptop and satellite box. A HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) socket is essential if you want to plug in a Sky or UPC box. Make sure you’ve got at least two. DVD players will plug-in to a SCART socket – again, two can be handy - and you’ll need an aerial coaxial RF for your standard TV aerial. Outputs are important two if you want to hook your TV up to a stereo or surround sound system. DVD And Blu-Ray Players DVD players revolutionised home cinema when they blasted the video recorder into history some 10 years ago. Providing vastly improved picture quality over video recorders, they also deliver CD quality digital sound. Just like with CDs, DVD players allow you to skip between scenes, access special features like interviews and bloopers, and the quality won’t degenerate over time. The improved picture quality and reduced flickering comes from the progressive scan feature – which shows the lines of a video frame simultaneously rather than separately. This is compared with the traditional method of interlacing seen on older equipment. The right player for you depends on your needs: If you are a film buff who wants to wow friends with the very best possible picture quality, a HD-enabled Blu-ray player will be perfect, if you can get your hands on enough Blu-ray disks. On the flipside, if you just want to watch the occasional movie, a more basic DVD will more than do the job. Choosing a DVD Player - Things To Consider And Getting Past The Jargon Formats: Are you all about movies or do you need more than that? As well as playing DVD movies, many systems now handle MP3 files (compressed music files that you find on a computer when copying a CD or on an iPod); JPEG (which are photo files like you would find on your digital camera); and DivX or Xvid (software which compresses masses of video footage into teeny computer files - allowing you to record hours of footage onto single CDs). High Definition (HD) upscaling: This incredible technology basically improves the picture quality of older DVDs, boosting it as close to HD as possible. So, if you have a HDTV you can stick an old DVD into your player and, hey presto, you will enjoy a better picture. However, for this to work, you will need one of these... HDMI: If you want to watch high-quality movies on your HDTV then youll need to buy a DVD player with a HDMI socket. With HDMI, uncompressed data files (both sound and pictures) can be passed between devices - in this case, between your TV and DVD player. This enables you to enjoy top-quality images and sound from the comfort of your favourite armchair. Card slots: Some players come with a USB or SD-Card slot. These media cards, usually found on digital cameras and laptops, allow you to take your music and photos with you and see them on your TV. Regions: Not all DVDs work on all DVD players. In a bid to cut piracy and control intellectual property, the brains behind DVDs chopped the world up into six different regions – with DVDs only working when used with a player coded with their own region. For example, in Ireland the region is Zone 2, so if you buy discs from another zone they won’t play on your machine - unless it has been specifically coded to work with them. If you’re likely to be moving abroad, or have relatives overseas who like to buy you DVDs for Christmas, ask in store what’s best. Which Player Is Right For Me? DVD only: If you just want to buy DVDs and watch movies, here’s your answer. Why waste money on features you’ll never use. DVD recorders: Love the improved sound and picture quality of DVD but miss those days when you build up a collection of movies just by setting your video? Well, a DVD recorder could be for you. DVD recorders do exactly what they say: Play DVDs and record programmes. And dont worry, theres no complicated technology involved here, just stick your recordable blank DVD in your machine and hit the record button. Blu-ray When it comes to watching movies at home: Blu-ray is king. Built to work alongside HD TVs, Blu-ray offers superior picture and sound quality by cramming the storage space of several standard DVDs onto a single disc - giving you a picture that is around five times better than DVD. But don’t worry about having to replace your whole movie collection - you can play both Blu-ray discs and your existing DVDs on your new Blu-ray player. And not only will it play your old DVDs - it will do its level best to improve their picture quality through the upscaling process. Home cinema Home cinema sound systems do their level best to replicate that heart-stopping, seat-juddering surround sound that gets you spilling your popcorn at the local cinema. Using a network of speakers – five usually - surround sound creates 3D audio that places you right in the middle of the movie. The speakers need to be strategically positioned around the room in different places to best emphasise the quality of the sound and give an overall cinematic feel to proceedings - projecting gunfire and roaring lions towards you from several directions. Several smaller speakers will be accompanied by a larger sub woofer you can tuck behind the sofa. Which one’s right for me? 5.1 vs 2.1: A 5.1 surround sound system runs five speakers to one sub woofer, while 2.1 has two speakers and one sub-woofer. As such, a five-speaker system is going to give a far greater surround sound effect than a two-speaker system. Most DVDs use five sound channels, meaning, under a 5.1 home cinema system there would be one speaker for each audio signal Still not enough? A 7.1 set up gives you a whopping seven-speaker surround system. While the results can be incredible, you’ll need room for four speakers behind your sofa. This is an option for serious home cinema buffs with plenty of space.