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The gizmo: Mitsubishi High Definition projection TVs with “NetCommand,” $4,299 and up. Coming this fall from Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America.

The shape of tv to come: The transition from analog to digital television is not just about producing clearer widescreen pictures and crisper, multi-channel sound from high-definition broadcasts.

Blessed with hefty computer processing power, the new generation of digital TVs also has the potential to serve as the master control center for a houseful of electronic products — entertainment and otherwise. First to fill the bill is a new generation of Mitsubishi big-screen, high-definition TVs, which will start arriving on retail floors this fall.

Home control vision: Mitsubishi is calling its television’s appliance control capability NetCommand. Working with a simple on-screen menu and wireless remote control, you’ll be able to click on the picture icon of the component you want to operate — say, a DVD player — and NetCommand will do the rest. The control system won’t just turn on the player and start a disc spinning. It will also switch the inputs on your Mitsubishi TV and surround-sound audio system to the proper settings.

Someday soon, NetCommand may also dim the lights, turn up the air conditioning, tell the answering machine to pick up on the first ring and start the popcorn cooking in the microwave.

Underneath the hood: NetCommand is the sum of several communications technologies which product developers are getting behind, both to ease the connection and operation of their electronic gear, and to secure digitized data against unauthorized use or copying.

One element already familiar to some technophiles is the two-way digital communications standard known formally as the “IEEE-1394” format, or more easily digested, as “firewire” or “I-Link.” Currently being used by digital camcorder owners to easily transfer digital images to computers, firewire eliminates the mess of wires we currently need to connect one piece of electronic gear to another. Instead, a single wire is linked (or “daisy chained”) from one component to the next — to carry both programming and communications data in one or two directions simultaneously. In this new order, just the first (or last) component in line gets connected to the head-end terminal — to one of Mitsubishi’s smart TV sets.

Better still, when it is newly connected into this network, each firewire-ready component automatically announces itself to all the others, in the “plug and play” fashion of current computer products.

Sweet and sour: NetCommand also is equipped for a more sophisticated dialogue between digital components using the language of HAVi — Home Audio Video interface. And it has the brain power to issue commands to current-generation analog components, too, so none of your audio/video gear needs to be “orphaned” in the new digital age.

There’s one pill that some people are going to find hard to swallow. The Mitsubishi NetCommand system also protects the rights of program developers by including the so-called “5C” copy protection scheme — named that because five major corporations helped develop it — Intel, IBM, Apple, Matsushita and Toshiba.

5C lets a program supplier pre-code a film, concert or TV show so that it can be copied once, never or as many times as the consumer desires. It also can instruct a recording to self-destruct after a day, a week or a month.

Digital vcrs, too: Without the inclusion of 5C, says Mitsubishi executive Bob Perry, the company would not also be readying its first NetCommand accessory product for its new televisions — namely, a high-definition, digital D-VHS video recorder, the HS-HD2000U, also due out this fall at $1,049. Connecting to the HDTV sets via a firewire link (natch), this digital VCR will allow users to perfectly copy up to two hours of high-def programming on a new variety of VHS tape. Owners will also be able to use the same deck and Mits TV to make conventional VHS and S-VHS recordings, even of high-definition broadcasts, to share with their less fortunate friends.

Set point: Five Mitsubishi rear-projection televisions, all with widescreen picture shape and all with built-in high-definition TV receivers, will offer NetCommand software and connectivity this fall.

Among them are the 55-inch WS-55898 ($4,299) and WS-55909 (price to be announced), the 65-inch WS-75898 ($5,299) and WS-65909 (TBA) and the 73-inch WS-73909 ($10,499). While the televisions are hardly inexpensive, Mitsubishi’s Perry cheerfully suggests that “you can buy a custom-installed audio/video control system today for $5,000. So we’re basically giving you the set for free.”

Copyright © 2001 Philadelphia Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder /Tribune Information Services. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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