It Was Only a Matter of Time

July 5, 2008

While I wasn’t expecting it this soon, I can’t say as I’m totally taken by surprise to find a Columbia House offer for 3 Blu-ray discs for $4.99 in my mail this week. The offer seems attractive enough, you pick of three discs with movies like 300, I Am Legend, Spider Man 3, Harry Potter etc. for the seemingly paltry sum of $4.99, but it’s the whole “membership” and “processing” fee thing that leaves me a bit leery.

I’ve heard friends claim to have had no problems with the Columbia House DVD memberships plans in the past, but something tells me given the current selection of discs I’d be better off buying retail (albeit heavily discounted retail).

Reading through the details of the offer I was hard pressed to find any mention of exactly what these “membership” and “processing” fees were going to cost but I did see that you’re basically agreeing to purchase three more Blu-ray discs at “as low as $28.95 each”. Yeah, I think I’ll stick to my current method of purchasing discs.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Blu-ray | 6 Comments 

HDMI Switcher with Front Display

June 26, 2008

The other day while cruising through Best Buy for a video card, I noticed a HDMI switcher from “Psyclone” with a front display. I kept on going then I thought to myself, hey a HDMI switcher with a front display, neat. Now I know in a perfect A/V world you wouldn’t even need a HDMI switcher or even if you did you wouldn’t necessarily need one with a front display. But let’s be honest, few of us live in a perfect A/V environment.

Yeah I know the benefits of having a HDMI switcher with a front display to indicate the current source might not be apparent at first, but believe it or not I could use such a device right now. Anytime I’m testing, switching between multiple devices, or using a HDMI device outside my main system, the ability to reference what input I’m on at any given time could be handy. No, it’s not the best thing since sliced bread. Hey after all we know, that would be sliced cake.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under HDTV Equipment | 10 Comments 


Attend a Home Theater Meet

June 16, 2008

That’s right, I’m recommending that you call up complete strangers, ask to come to their home/meeting place and discuss your hobby’s with them. No I do not recommend you tell anyone your dating that you do this sort of thing, wait until you’re married… seriously though home theater meets, meetings, gatherings or whatever you choose to call them are a great way to meet likeminded home theater fans and to get a look at home theater equipment, operating in real-world settings before you plunk down hard earned dollars to purchase it.

But even more important than the benefit of seeing live demonstrations, A/B comparisons and taking part in question and answer sessions at a home theater meet; is the ability to share experiences, compare notes and learn a lot from others, firsthand, face to face. That kind of insight is worth its weight in gold if you’re close to making a purchase and just need that last little nudge to put you over the edge one way or another.

Several months ago we had just such a meet at the store, it was a no hassle, no sales pressure event and I learned as much as anyone in attendance. That’s the great part about these things, no matter how set in your ways you are or how much research you think you’ve done, you’ll often find a fresh new approach to tackle an old problem. With that you’ll also get new ideas and the experience of others that can take your home theater experience to levels you never thought possible.

There are many ways to find home theater meets in your area, the easiest is to visit home theater and audio video forums such as AVSforum.com and HomeTheaterForum.com and do a search for “home theater meet”. Likewise that same search (“home theater meet“) in Google will point you in the right direction as well. Have a blast and don’t forget to ask the host if they’d like you to bring any refreshments, it’s bound to be a long afternoon.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Home Theater | 2 Comments 

Dolby’s Home Theater Buying Guide

June 13, 2008

dolbydolbyI’ve always been a bit leery of “buying guides” as they generally only exist to push specific products or a specific selection of products. But I suppose you could do a lot worse than taking some advice from Dolby Labs, after all they probably already have IP in your home, all they could to do is expand on that.

Dolby’s HD Essentials buying guide offers a nice mix of tips, facts and terminology to help the uninitiated (read not you) make a more informed buying decision. Scanning through the document I noticed things like screen size recommendations, how to avoid cable clutter, tips for getting the best sound reproduction possible (no shocker there) and a “HD shopping checklist”.

I suspect this wouldn’t be of much help to long time readers but for those of you just getting into home theater and or as something to share with relatives just starting down the big screen, big sound path this might be worth printing out and passing along. Download the PDF: right click save as.

Posted by Philip Stamps | Filed Under Home Theater | Leave a Comment 

Mini Review: Samsung LNT4065F 40″ 1080p LCD

June 7, 2008

LNT4065This might come as a shock but it’s been almost three years since I’ve owned a “TV” , don’t get me wrong we watch movies and television all the time we just do so with a front projector. It’s not that I ever really made a conscious decision to not have a television, it’s just that once we got our projector it took a backseat and I eventually tossed my old direct-view JVC out; in hopes someone else wanted it (luckily they did).

So long, boring story short we finally got motivated to get a TV that we didn’t have to worry about replacing the lamp in every few months, (yeah we’re sort of what you’d call power users I guess) that television as it turned out was a Samsung LNT4065F. I guess a quick feature run-down is needed, so in no particular order the 40” 1080p display has a contrast ratio of 15,000:1 (and it looks every bit of it), features off-air ATSC and Clear-QAM tuners, 10bit color processing and three HDMI inputs.

No the set doesn’t have a LED lamp or 120 Hz refresh rate (yes even I have to pinch pennies on A/V gear) but it looks damn good. I say this to illustrate and remind everyone that yes, certain advancements come along from time to time that do warrant an upgrade, but that doesn’t mean you have to jump on every one of them. This isn’t home theater heresy, I just like to see people (especially myself) make buying decisions that give the maximum bang for the buck. Let me give you a few examples.

We’ve “needed” a television for years now, just about anything I could have bought, scratch that, anything I could have bought would have been an improvement. Ok bad example but if I were to turn around and trade in this 1080p LCD for another with a LED lamp, 120hz refresh rate etc. etc., would I really get the same bang for my buck? Well, considering that I’d have to spend another $600-$800 doing so, I think not. Where I’m really going with this is, don’t get caught up in the “specs”, if the specs don’t truly offer you something valuable or rather something tangible.

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under High Definition Televisions, Reviews | 6 Comments 

Tube TV’s: Never Can Say Goodbye

May 27, 2008

Tube TVYes I was thinking of that song when I punched in the post title, anyway yeah… While doing a bit of catch-up this week I ran across a headline from Dealerscope that read “Weak Economy Leads to Tube TV Comeback”. I thought for a second, hey didn’t we get rid of tube televisions? Ok, no just kidding. The article I was thinking of was in reference to Best Buy selling their last “analog” television; obviously tube televisions can handle digital tuning.

But all of the tube-TV comeback talk got me to thinking, does a technology really ever “go away” at least in the way we generally think of going away? I suppose they do, it’s been years since I’ve seen a amber monochrome monitor (ah the good ol’ days) but getting back to my point. Honestly it’s a shame that Samsung’s idea of slimmer tubes didn’t catch on, at least for a short while. I would have like to have seen if anything else could be squeezed out of the technology.

CRT displays are still capable of displaying some of the best (or the best depending on who you ask) images I’ve ever seen and to be honest I feel like a bit a dinosaur just imagining a world without them. But I know much of that is just nostalgia and in this day of $4 (plus) a gallon gasoline we can’t be shipping around 100 pound displays like there’s no tomorrow. But still…there’s just something about a good CRT that feels real, solid and right, or at the very least, heavy.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Display Technology | 10 Comments 

Confessions of a My Movies Junkie

May 18, 2008

HTPC

Most of the indispensable add-on components of my HTPC didn’t start out that way, or rather it’s the quieter, almost utilitarian additions to my HTPC that I couldn’t live without now. The oh golly gee look how cool this thing is gizmos that initially excite, often fall out of favor as time goes on. While I still haven’t mastered the art of media center reception and recording in HD (to my liking) I have grown quite attached to My Movies for my video collection management.

My Movies is an add-on to Media Center 2005 or Vista Media Center that allows you to catalog, manage, view details and playback just about any movie or video in your collection. The file details (cast, year, director, etc.) can be seen whether the file is on or off-line and the interface is as polished as some of the standalone DVD/movie management solutions that cost upward of 20k. Oh btw I should mention that I probably have less than $1200 total in my HTPC, and I could probably build it even cheaper if I had it to do all over again.

As you can see below the aforementioned user interface is about as slick as you can get short of going up to something like a Kaleidescape, but in all honesty as someone who loves tinkering around with things as much as I do, I actually prefer My Movies to some of the stand-alone solutions. Of course that doesn’t mean I’m blind to the fact that the majority of the world doesn’t share my enthusiasm for tweaking movie details in the database at 2am but hey that’s what makes the world go round, different strokes for different folks.

my movies

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under HTPC | 6 Comments 

Catching up on Lost, Enjoying Mario Kart and Re-Discovering Charlie Chan

May 12, 2008

ChanthologyWhat do those three things have to do with one another? Not much as far as I can tell but we’ve been enjoying the heck out of all three lately. Sometimes you just have to step back, pop in a good movie (or game) and get back to what it’s all about, after all home theater is a means to an end not the end itself.

So if you’ll indulge me a minute or two, I’ll start with the most obvious. If you missed out on the on the Lost phenomenon the first time around (like I did…) catching up on DVD is highly recommended. If you watch nothing but the first season I think at the very least you can walk away saying; ok that was thought provoking and let’s be honest that’s a rarity on television these days.

The other thing gobbling up our time around here, as if it were some new form of Technicolor crack is Mario Kart Wii. Look I know cursing while playing Nintendo games isn’t what the designers had in mind but I can’t help it when I’m getting owned by someone driving a kart piloted by something called a Koopa Troopa. Seriously though Mario Kart Wii is an absolute blast on the big screen and a great way to get friends and family together with differing skill levels at games and still have an absolute blast.

The last diversion I’ve re-discovered is Charlie Chan, I just can’t get enough. At the risk of appearing insensitive to those who find the series offensive; I’ll just say I’m fearful of a mindset that would have us put away anything that doesn’t hold up to time as well as we’d like. Yeah there are some outdated attitudes depicted in the films, but there are also some razor sharp one-liners and no nonsense deadpan humor that make for a unique viewing experience to say the least. If you’re unfamiliar with the Charlie Chan series, the recent Chanthology DVD box-set is a great way to get your feet wet. No go enjoy that home theater!

Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Movies & Television | Leave a Comment 

Panasonic’s BD-Live Capable DMP-BD50 Blu-ray Player

May 8, 2008

In my estimation every new Blu-ray player that launches with BD Live capabilities (like Panasonic’s recent DMP-BD50 ) is a good thing for the format. Blu-ray needs as many points of entry as possible, simply put consumers have heard the better picture and sound pitch before, it was called DVD and they already have it. It’s going to be the combination of much better image, noticeably better sound and advanced interactivity that finally pushes Blu-ray into the mainstream.

The field of standalone BD-Live capable players is growing but currently only consists of a few Models from Panasonic and Sony (at least those are the only ones I could think of with firm launch dates) so the more the merrier in my estimation. Panasonic’s DMP-BD50 ($699.95) sports the usual assortment of features we’ve come to expect in a high-end Blu-ray player including: Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD MA, HDMI 1.3 with Deep Color and x.v.Color, 1080p/24 playback and 5.1ch analog audio outs.

All in all the player looks like a solid performer but I’m still a bit put off by BD-Live capabilities only showing up in the upper tier products. I suppose the manufacturers assume the early adopter clock is still ticking and there’s enough time to worry about Joe public later.

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Blu-ray | 20 Comments 

3-D Ready or Not, Here They Come

May 3, 2008

samsung 3d

We’ve all heard of cable ready televisions and HD ready flat-panels but get ready to be assaulted err marketed with the term “3-D ready”. With Samsungs recent launch of their Series 4-450 3-D ready plasma television touted as the world’s first “3-D Ready Plasma HDTV”, you can bet this will be the first in a long line of televisions marketed as being 3-D capable.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea no you can’t un-box one of these displays, turn it on and watch standard programming in 3-D (although that can’t be that far away). 3-D capable displays require a source running application specific software paired with compatible 3-D glasses to deliver a true 3-D effect.

So in essence 3-D ready means the certified display meets the minimal requirements necessary for displaying 3-D images, but doesn’t necessarily deliver anything above and beyond an ordinary display with standard (non 3-D) media. Once again and maybe I’m missing the train (again) but I’m just not interested in 3-D at least not for movies and television.

I avoid 3-D movies and always have, however I did see Beowulf in 3-D just to be able to be keep up to date on the subject. Even with all of the improvements over traditional 3-D I saw with Beowulf, I still didn’t find the experience enjoyable. But, I do look forward to eating those words should the technology eclipse the tell-tale uncomfortable glasses and headache inducing gimmicky effects, I’m not holding my breath though.

Posted by Philip Stamps | Filed Under 3D Display Technology | 4 Comments 

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