The same thing happened with DVDs played from the DEC, but not with other source devices displayed on the HTL40. My HP contact suggested I try a computer monitor, which did not exhibit this anomaly, meaning it was probably due to the fact that the consumer-oriented LCD panel was not behaving entirely like a computer monitor.
Turning to DVDs, I was surprised to find that the DEC would not recognize Digital Video Essentials as a DVD. (According to my HP contact, his z556 did recognize and play DVE.) The DEC recognized Video Essentials, which turned out not to be very useful for setup because of the dynamicrange expansion. The DEC’s video processing was a mixed bag on Silicon Optix’s HQV Benchmark. Fine detail was excellent, but the waving flag was not great, exhibiting some obvious jaggies, and 3:2 pulldown was very poor, with lots of artifacts in the bleachers at the racetrack.
Surprisingly, this was not evident in my normal 3:2 test clips from The Fifth Element and Star Trek: Insurrection. The dynamic-range expansion certainly improved the black level on Master and Commander, but it also seemed to crush some of the shadow detail.
As I mentioned earlier, the DEC crashed twice in the three weeks I used it. The first time it froze, all I had to do was exit to Windows and return to Media Center. The second time, I started playing a DVD and then switched to live TV, at which point it crashed hard, requiring a complete shut down and restart.
Other than that, and the occasional momentary glitches, hiccups, and freezes (which increased in frequency when watching live TV while burning a DVD), the DEC was generally reliable.
I’m a big believer in the media-center PC concept, and HP has done a lot to promote it. The z556 has much to recommend it, including a gorgeous picture (with a compatible display), excellent EPG, expandable hard-disk storage, and a well-designed menu.
However, incompatibilities between the PC and CE worlds make it impossible to know for sure if the DEC will work with any given consumer display. And even if it does, there could be a problem like the split-screen anomaly I encountered, which is ultimately unacceptable. HP remains hopeful that CE manufacturers will address these incompatibilities, but until then, you pay your money and take your chances.
With a display that is compatible with the HP DEC, it can be a marriage made in heaven. If not, no amount of counseling will mend the rift.