DVD/VCR Combo, iPod and computer sound quality loss from compression

Week of February 6, 2005

Q: How do you feel about TV’s with built-in DVD players and VCRs? We are thinking of getting one in a 20 inch size and space is an issue as it will go on top of a dresser. Any brand suggestions, or do you simply get what you pay for?
-Jim Buckmaster, Oxnard, CA

A: TVs with integrated DVD players and VCRs tend to be very easy to use. Usually you do not have to switch TV inputs when you play a DVD or VHS tape, and you only have one remote to contend with. As mentioned in your question, TV/VCR/DVD combos offer space savings when surface or storage space is at a premium.

The downside is all your eggs are in one basket. If the DVD player portion stops working, you have to lug the entire unit in to have it fixed. Of course, you can buy a DVD player for much less than a repair would cost and attach it to the TV, but this defeats the purpose of having an all-on-one unit.

You also have issues of choice and flexibility. You may prefer a DVD player with features such as playback zoom, which can be used to eliminate letterbox black bars when watching widescreen movies. The TV/DVD combo unit with the television picture you prefer may not include the feature- but if buying a TV and a separate DVD player, you can be sure that the DVD player has it.

Still, a TV/DVD combo unit can be a perfect fit for some users, and the chance of actually needing a repair is small if you buy a quality name brand. You do generally get what you pay for, so I recommend sticking with an established name brand and avoiding off-brands when buying a product of this type. Check out Toshiba and Panasonic products. The Toshiba 20″ FST Pure (flat screen tube TV) has an especially good picture, and it comes in a model with an integrated DVD player and VCR. It lists for $349 and is worth every penny.

Q: I have recently started moving my music from CD’s to iTunes on my Macintosh and using an I-pod. I am uncertain what quality, if any, I am losing with the compression. I typically use the AAC, high quality setting in iTunes to store the music on my Mac. Is there audible loss of quality from the CD? Or is any loss only noticeable to the high buck audiophile set?

-Mark Nelson, Golden Valley, MN

A: You will lose something when you use the MP3 or AAC compression, but whether or not it is audible depends on the system playing it and the settings you use when you do the encoding (compression).

Sound quality from a portable music player such as an iPod is highly dependent on the earphones used. Even with good earphones, the difference between high-quality AAC and full-quality CD will be hard to distinguish.

Using a quality home sound system to compare AAC, MP3 and full-quality CDs, the difference will be audible to most listeners, with full-quality CD sounding best. Whether or not it matters is personal preference. MP3s can certainly sounds good enough to enjoy the music!

You can compare the differences yourself using your iPod and your Mac. If you set the iTunes importing preferences to AIFF you get a full-quality conversion from your CD with no compression. Import your favorite song as an AIFF, as a high quality AAC, a high quality MP3, and as a low bitrate MP3. Upload them all to your iPod and see if you can hear the difference. You can also burn the playlist to a CD and try it on your home sound system. iTunes will convert the AAC and MP3 recordings to CD format so they work with any CD player, but the compressed recordings will expand to normal CD size- but without regaining what was lost in compression.

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