Your Daily Phil

Archive for June, 2008

The NASA Missions – When We Left Earth mini-review

Posted by lozenp on June 16, 2008

Space has been somewhat of an ignored topic in the last decade or so, and when it has gotten attention, it’s been due to terrible catastrophe’s such as the space shuttle explosions. The idea of rocketing out of Earth’s atmosphere just isn’t as sexy as it once was. Hoepfully the Discovery Channel’s new documentary will remind us all how amazing it was and still is today that we are able to send people into orbit.

The NASA Missions: When We Left Earth is a six-hour series airing now on the Discovery Channel and Discovery Channel HD (not HD Theater, mind you) that explores the space program from beginning to end and so far it’s amazing. Many people are comparing it to the Planet Earth series that HD Theater ran last year, and while I think that’s a bit unfair, at least visually, because Planet Earth was shot entirely in HD and The NASA Missions was forced to clean up 40-year old footage, it’s a fair comparison due to the scope and size of the project.

That’s not to say the people at Discovery didn’t do their job with the footage. I have never seen archival footage cleaned up and presented in HD with this amount of detail. I dare say some of the shots look better than modern HD-shot programs. There are many shots from the Gemini missions that are simply spectacular, and these are in some cases from more than 40 years ago.

In watching the first two hours I’ve already learned things I never knew before, and I’ve seen footage that I didn’t know existed of the first spacewalk and the first missions around the moon. The interviews with the NASA crews are insightful and informative while at the same time whimsical and conversational. You can tell these people have immense pride in their role in history, but at the same time they have a certain humbleness that is so often missing in today’s world.

The sound isn’t amazing, but that’s to be expected with a show that is 50 percent interviews. However, when the rockets fire, you know it, and the dialogue is presented in a clean and well-balanced way. If there’s any complaint, it would be that the mix is a bit bass-heavy in the most dramatic scenes, but that would be nit-picking.

So far I’ve made it through the Gemini missions, whose goal started with simply getting into space and evolved into walking in space and finally orbiting the earth. Apollo is up next, featuring the moon landings. The show airs on Sunday nights at 9, with two new hours each week. It’s in reruns during the week, as well in one-hour segments.

My Take

How it looks – 9
How it sounds – 7
Content – 9

OVERALL – 9

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A tech-free weekend, a cable free summer?

Posted by lozenp on June 16, 2008

My wife and I spent out first night together away from our son Saturday at a wedding on Michigan’s west coast. We’ve both individually been gone several times, but this was first time we were both gone at the same time. My sister came to the Milan compound to keep things (things being our rambunctious 19-month old) under control so we could enjoy a nice Father’s Day trip.

We were staying at a bed and breakfast in the small town of Saugatuck called the Belvedere Inn, it was beautiful. Built in 1913, wonderfully manicured grounds, minutes from Lake Michigan. The wedding was outside, as was the reception. The Weather was great, and we had a great time.

But a word of warning to the tech-happy of you out there, when you head to a bed and breakfast, don’t assume you’ll have any tech in your room. In our case, no TV, no wireless, nothing. The closest thing to technology was the iron in the closet. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to have a night away, and I was still able to do a few things thanks to my iPhone, but my clicker hand felt a bit lonely that night.

But it was a good test to see how I would handle no TV, since my big experiment for this summer should start sometime shortly after the Fourth of July: I’m cancelling all but the most basic of cable. And the only reason I’ll keep what I do is because I think it’s cheaper to have internet and basic cable than to have just internet.

This means no HD, no DVR, no On Demand. No for those of you who know me, you’ll saying right now there’s a catch. There’s no way Phil voluntarily dumps cable and has no backup plan. Well, you’re right. Here’s the plan.

I’m selling a bunch of stuff back to Best Buy via their trade-in site and will use those gift cards toward a new PC that can handle HD content and serve as a media server. This will be paired with my HD TV Tuner and will allow me to get OTA HD and QAM HD as well. So I’ll be able to see most of the Olympics, for instance. I’m also hoping that by putting this PC in the bedroom (hidden of course, honey) and hooking it up to the network, I’ll be able to not only use the Windows Vista DVR functionality in the bedroom, but also in the living room via the Xbox 360.

The other test will be to see how much content I can find on the internet to keep me busy for the summer. And how much of that will be HD.

I’ll be updating the progress as I go, and I plan to go without for at least July and August. We’ll see what happens come September.

Posted in Best Buy, computers, HDTV, Home Theater, HTPC, TV, Xbox 360 | 2 Comments »

TBS Responds… sort of

Posted by lozenp on June 6, 2008

I wrote recently about a new TBS method of annoying viewers with pop-up ads by having Bill Engvall walk onto the lower portion of the screen, and pause a rerun of Family Guy to promoting his show, he even bragged about how he could stop TV whenever he wanted, before returning us to Family Guy.

It was shameful, and annoying and intrusive so I fired an email off to TBS. Here’s how they responded, or in this case, didn’t respond:

FROM TBS

Thank you for your comments. I have passed your remarks along to the appropriate person for their consideration. TBS appreciates the feedback we get from our viewers. Thanks again for sharing your opinions and ideas with us.

Best,
TBS Web Staff

MY ORIGINAL EMAIL

Ticket Information:
Ticket #:    5448-4817474
Date Created:    6/4/2008 1:37 PM EDT
Subject:
Details:     Please, for the love of all that is good, don’t move forward with the concept of “stars of TBS shows pause your show to promote theirs” idea.

I was watching Family Guy last night and Bill Engvall paused the show! No, no, no, no, no. The pop ups are bad enough, but I live with them. The stretch-o-vision on your HD feed is bad enough, but I live with it. This has gone too far. I don’t need other people pausing the show I’m watching. It’s not cute, it’s not funny, it’s not a technological marvel. It’s intrusive, plain and simple.

Please, give us a break on this one. Abandon that program.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

A new level of annoying in-show ads

Posted by lozenp on June 4, 2008

We’ve all seen the lengths some channels will go to advertise their own shows, and the Turner networks are the worst offenders.

During last year’s NBA playoffs I grew to hate Kyra Sedgwick. Not because I really hate her, she was in the only movie that really captured the 90s generation – Singles, but because she would just show up on the lower-left of the screen ALL THE TIME. You’d see the flashlight, the caution tape and then all the sudden, in the middle of a fast-break, Kyra Sedgwick is staring at you. And yes, TNT Knows Drama (TNT, TNT, TNT, TNT).

Today it’s a certainty that if you watch a show on TNT or TBS you’ll get a visit from Bill Engvall or Tyler Perry or someone else from a show you never intended to watch in the first place. But last night I saw the ultimate in in-show atrocities. While watching Family Guy on TBS, the show stopped, like the pause button was hit on the DVR. Only problem was I was in the kitchen and the remote was on the couch. And then it happened, the screen shrunk, and Bill Envall popped up with a remote in his hand. TVs Bill Engvall had paused Family Guy!! He even told me he had the power to pause TV whenever he wanted.

How can this be ok? It’s like TBS thought “No one is watching the show when it’s on, so let’s force them to watch Bill by pausing Family Guy.” I was appalled. There’s enough annoying trends on TV as it is (stretch-o-vision, shows that run 62 minutes to mess with your DVR, programs like “Cavemen”), let’s not pile on with more. The next thing you know Tyler Perry will be putting his show in picture-in-picture on top of Friends, or Frank Caliendo will super-impose himself over the President during the State of the Union (ok, maybe that’s not a bad thing).

The point is, we need to make a stand. Here’s a link to the Contact Us page on TBS: http://support.tbs.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=5475. Let them know you’re tired of having to deal with C-list celebrities forcing their way into your favorite shows. Let’s take TV back, people!

Posted in General Stuff, TV | 7 Comments »