Your Daily Phil

Archive for January, 2008

HD DVD Review: Heroes Season 1, Disc 1

Posted by lozenp on January 21, 2008

Editor’s note: This is the first review I’ve tried, so no doubt the format, length and details of subsequent reviews will evolve until I find a process that works.

I hadn’t watched Heroes when it first came out. At the time, there were too many other shows to watch so I didn’t let myself get involved in another one. As time went on, many of the shows I chose to watch instead failed to make it (for instance, “The Nine”) while Heroes went on to be a hit in its first season.

After catching the pilot via a free download on Xbox Live Marketplace, I made a point to have this be the first HD DVD I would rent when my Netflix subscription started up.

First Impressions
One thing I’ve noticed with HD DVDs is that some will immediately launch the movie, some will come to a menu screen like a traditional DVD. Since there is more than one episode per disc, it makes sense that this disc opened into the menus. While there is a ton of stuff on the disc, the Menu is not intimidating, just six choices. One minor source of confusion came in that you select the episode you want to watch under a “Chapters” menu item and not a “Episodes” link as most every other TV shows on DVD I’ve seen.

Other menu options include Universal’s “My Scenes” feature that allows you to save your favorite scenes or bookmarks, an “Extras” area where you can view some deleted scenes or watch an unaired director’s cut of the pilot with or without commentary, and another Universal HD DVD staple – U Control (more on this later).

How’s it look and sound?
Having never seen the show on TV, the only comparison I could make was to the Xbox episode I downloaded. I’ll spare the scientific jargon and just go with “this looks quite a bit better” as my official comparison. HD DVDs in general look amazing, and this one is no different.

Read the rest of this entry »


Posted in HD DVD, HD DVD Review, HDTV, Home Theater | Leave a Comment »

Experimental HD

Posted by lozenp on January 13, 2008

Everyone knows how expensive cable is. You have to sign up for the HD package, and of course the DVR. All this on top of the normal cable fees. With this in mind, I’m going to begin researching the possibility of using my computer as my main source of tv.

Here’s how I see it working.

Currently, I have a tv-card in my computer. I can get the normal channels (up to 99) on it and watch those through my Xbox 360 via the Windows Media Center software. This provides tv listings and DVR functionality. The problem, HD is spotty at best with the low powered antenna I have in the basement with my computer, and we all know that HD is a deal breaker for me.

So here’s my list of current issues that I need to solve before I can call Comcast and have them come take my box away.

1. Improve my HD reception on my PC, either through a better antenna or finding out how to use my TV-Card to pull in the clear QAM channels from basic cable. Clear QAM, without getting into too much detail, allows digital tv tuners to pull in HD channels that are in the cable system without the box.

2. Upgrade the video card in my PC. HD video us suspect with the card I currently have. I’ll have to fix that.

3. Add RAM to my PC. Only have 1.5 MB right now, want at least 2, maybe 2.5.

4. Ensure I can get the digital sound from my PC to my surround system upstairs.

4. Determine how much money I would save by downgrading my Comcast subscription, and compare that to the investment I’d have to make to fix the issues above.

The biggest drawback to this process is losing the cable channels, such as TNT, HD Theater, etc. I have to look further into clear QAM but I’m not sure those channels come in through it.

So, I’m in the very early stages. I’m excited about the possibilities, but I’m realistic as well. I’ll keep you posted.

Posted in computers, HDTV, Home Theater, TV, Xbox 360 | Leave a Comment »

More on the pending HD DVD funeral

Posted by lozenp on January 11, 2008

First off, my last post on Jan. 9 was titled “Is HD DVD dying a quick death?”. On Jan. 10, Electronic House came out with this article, entitled “Is HD DVD Going Down Sooner Than Expected?” Maybe I’m smarter than I think I am.

Either way, the answer to both strikingly similar questions is looking more and more to be an authoritative “yes”. Today, news is that with Universal’s exclusivity contract with HD DVD coming to an end, the studio will begin to support both formats. That leaves Paramount/Dreamworks as the only exclusive studio left. And if the tales of the “out clause” in their exclusive contract are true, expect to see them jump the sinking ship sooner than later.

Universal has stated that they will continue to support HD DVD, as they have some remaining promotions coming up. After those are done, however, all bets seem to be off.

Anyone want to buy an Xbox 360 HD DVD drive?

Posted in Blu Ray, Format War, HD DVD, HDTV, Home Theater, Xbox 360 | Leave a Comment »

Is HD DVD dying a quick death?

Posted by lozenp on January 9, 2008

Well, it’s been less than a week since Warner announced it was leaving HD DVD for Blu-Ray, and it seems the shakeup may continue. While the world’s electronics attention is focused on CES, the remaining HD DVD backers Paramount/Dreamworks and Universal have both failed to announce any upcoming new titles for the HD DVD format. Last year during CES new title announcement were flying fast and furious.

Further, rumors persist that one or both studios may be making Blu announcements of their own soon, and today a Microsoft talking head claimed the company could indeed make a Blu-Ray add-on for the 360.

Paramount, to their credit, has issued the obligatory “We’re still supporting HD DVD” statement, but Universal today simply issues a “no comment” on the persistent Blu-Ray rumors.

Add it all up, and things look worse and worse for the HD DVD camp each day. At this point, despite my belief that the Microsoft rep was right when he said Hollywood was not listening to consumers but buying a sales pitch from Sony, I’d rather just put HD DVD out of it’s misery, deal with the fact that I have a soon-to-be useless white brick in my entertainment center and move on with trying to convince my wife that we need to now buy a Blu-Ray player.

Posted in Blu Ray, Format War, HD DVD, HDTV, Home Theater, Xbox 360 | 3 Comments »

A big thud

Posted by lozenp on January 8, 2008

Well, I must say I’m disappointed. Outside of a fairly entertaining video about Bill Gates’ last day on the job, the Microsoft presser at CES Sunday night was pretty uneventful.

My buddy Jesse (of the “my 360 is dead story from the previous post) and I took a break from Guitar Hero III and FIFA 08 to watch on my laptop, anxiously awaiting the big announcement of a new 360 bundle. Instead we got a demo of the Internet (did you know you can send invitations to people on the Internet? And they can accept the invites, ON THE INTERNET! Amazing!)

Ok, that may be overgeneralizing a bit, but outside of some studio announcements for Xbox Live Marketplace (Disney/ABC) and some recaps of sales numbers, it was a pretty big letdown. Maybe something will still happen, as this was a pre-conference event, but I’m not holding my breath.

One thing that did get my interest a bit was the announcement that British Telecom would be using the 360 as a set top box in England this year. With Microsoft providing the software for AT&Ts U-Verse television offering, it seems like that could be a realistic next step here in the U.S.

Other than that, nothing too interesting (and the guys over at Ars Technica seemed to agree with me, see the second to last paragraph.) But don’t take my word for it, watch for yourself if you want to.

More on CES coming later this week.

Posted in computers, HDTV, TV, Uncategorized, Xbox 360 | Leave a Comment »

A new 360 bundle?

Posted by lozenp on January 5, 2008

While I’m still wiping my tears over Warner’s decision to dump HD DVD support and quite possibly put an end to the format war (more on this in a full post later) I do have a bit of speculation, thanks to an assist from my buddy Jesse and a broken Xbox 360.

Seems Jesse’s 360 finally gave out after a few weeks of flaky behavior. Unfortunately for him he did not get the three rings of death, signifying system failure, but only two rings, which Microsoft told him meant overheating. (Note: I’ve seen his setup, there’s nothing within 6-8 inches of his box, and it’s not in an enclosed entertainment center so there’s no way it should have overheated.) This means that the warranty extension Microsoft announced earlier this year doesn’t apply.

Luckily, Jesse had bought the service plan from Best Buy, and he was still covered. A trip to the retailer revealed that they had no 360s with hard drives in stock. Anywhere in a 100-mile radius. And no plans to get any shipped.

Hmmm. With CES starting Monday, and a Bill Gates pre-conference press conference scheduled for Sunday evening, could this be a sign that a new Xbox bundle is on the horizon? Rumors are swirling that Gates will announce a HD DVD equipped version. The hot rumor last year was the new cooler, quieter chips and that has not yet happened.

Either way, I think Jesse’s going to wait until after Sunday to possibly buy one from Best More as I hear or read anything.

Posted in HDTV, TV, Xbox 360 | Leave a Comment »

A New Venture for Phil

Posted by lozenp on January 4, 2008

I’m not sure how many people have me in their RSS, or how many people read this since I haven’t posted since Reagan was president it seems, but I’m announcing a new venture for myself.

My biggest hobby is far and away consumer electronics, specifically in the high-definition and convergence areas. I love to tinker with my Xbox home media server. I love getting my copy of Home Theater Magazine, and my own personal RSS reader is full of content from consumer electronic sources. Starting this month, I’m adding myself to that list of sources.

I’m going to start a new blog, title to be determined but likely something like easyHD or something like that. The content will vary, but will center on items related to HDTV, high-def DVDs, video gaming, and home theater. I’ll post reviews of HD DVDs that I watch. I’ll post updates in the world of consumer electronics (such as today’s announcement that Warner Bros. studios will stop producing HD DVDs in May and go Blu-Ray exclusive, sniff). I’ll post updates on my own forays into media streaming. I’ll post guides to setting up your own home theaters, modest ones that is. I get a lot of questions from friends and family on setting up new receivers and computers, so I’ll post answers to those as well.

My goal is that eventually I find an audience with people who are not enthusiastic enough about this type of stuff that they read the AVS forums, but who want to have a nice home media setup that sounds and looks good without a lot of hassle and confusion. HD made easy. Hopefully I can build a reputation in SE Michigan and expand from there. Maybe eventually I can spin this into something more than a hobby. Maybe not. Only one way to find out, however.

So, if you have a suggestion for a title for the new blog, or for topics to cover, leave a comment. I’ll post more info here as I get this going.

Thanks for the support.

Posted in HDTV, Home Theater | 2 Comments »