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Archive for the ‘HDTV’ Category

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 »

DVE HD Basics – The (almost) Finale

Posted by lozenp on May 28, 2008

I’ve already posted parts one and two of my attempt to calibrate my setup using the new DVE HD Basics discs, so be sure to check those out.
If you haven’t read those, or you’re looking for the audio tests section, I’m going to point you to a different place. I’ve done an article for that puts all three parts together into one feature in their Info and Answers area. Take a look at it.

I’ll post a longer audio calibration piece sometime in the next week, going into a little bit more depth than I had room for in the EH article, but the piece over there goes into everything I did.

Posted in Blu Ray, HD DVD, HDTV, Home Theater, TV, Xbox 360 | 1 Comment »

Lord Stanley and Larry O’Brien – Who to watch?

Posted by lozenp on May 27, 2008

Along the lines of such complaints as “All my $50s won’t fit in my wallet” and “I don’t know which of my boats to take out today” comes my grumble about the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings playing their playoff games on the same night… at the same time…three nights in a row.

The Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, looking to win their fourth title since 1997, while the Pistons are battling the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, looking to make their first trip back to the NBA finals since 2005. Everything is great in Detroit unless your team is named after a large cat, right? (Lions, Tigers, you listening?)

Not so fast.

The first three games of the Stanley Cup Finals, and games three, four and five of the Eastern Conference Finals are all being played on the same nights, with starting times only 30 minutes apart. Fans in Detroit are in a pretty big bind trying to decide what game to watch.

My decision – both of course! My wife and I had been talking about getting a TV for the bedroom for some time now, and it just so happens we did that this weekend. Nothing fancy, a 32-inch Magnavox with a built in DVD player. Since we don’t have a cable jack in the bedroom yet, that TV had no place to live.

So, come game night, the 32-inch sits next to my 50-inch Samsung DLP in the living room, hockey on one, basketball on the other. I then make sure that my dual-tuner DVR has one tuner set to the hockey game and one to basketball so that if something happens in the game on the smaller set, we pause the game on the big set, flip the tuner, and watch the other game. Once you add in the delay on the HD DVR, if you flip tuners fast enough, you might not even have to back up to see the play your switching to see.

So far Detroit is 3-1 in this setup (darn Pistons), and we had seven people crammed in the living room on Memorial Day to see both teams win. And while it’s been fun, it’s unbelievably stupid that it’s come down to this. The NHL had a Finals that was getting good press, a lot of people were talking about it, and they force one of the cities to make a decision on which team to watch. Gary Bettman continues to try to destroy the NHL.

Why is it the NHL’s fault you ask? Two reasons. First, the NBA’s conference final schedule had already been decided when the NHL scheduled the Stanley Cup Finals. And second, the NBA is the big fish, so the NHL needs to do what it can to avoid the NBA at all costs. Does that give the NHL a little brother complex? Probably, but it’s the reality. When your league isn’t on a large portion of people’s TVs (thank you Vs. Network) and you draw less fans, you get the leftovers. If you want to change that, you need to get back on level footing, and you don’t do that by alienating the fans in one of the cities in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Phew, I’m getting off my soapbox now. The Wings look well on their way to the title, up 2-0 without giving up a goal. The Pistons, meanwhile, are in a fight, tied 2-2 heading to Boston. Wednesday night I’ll be back in my living room with my two TVs, cheering my teams on while trying to figure out what to do with all those darn $50s.

Posted in HDTV, Home Theater, Sports, TV | Leave a Comment »

Catching up – again

Posted by lozenp on May 15, 2008

Between sick kids, sick dad, sick mom and Mother’s Day, I haven’t been out here in a while. Throw in a trip to the Palace for game 5 of the Pistons-Magic series with my dad (great game, great time) and I haven’t been around much to talk about some things that have happened recently. So, here’ a quick recap on the last week, in case you missed it:

  • Neil Young goes Blu – Rocker Neil Young announced that he would be releasing his entire catelog on Blu-Ray disc, starting with a 10-disc installment covering 1963-72 this fall. He promised downloadable content such as lyrics and additional music. This is an ambitous project, and the first of it’s kind, branching out from concert films.
  • Sleeping Beauty of a disc planned – Disney revealed its plans for the Sleeping Beauty Blu-Ray disc release, slated for October. BD-Live interactivity will have its hands all over this disc, including some pretty cool ideas allowing you to add video of yourself to the film and email it to friends and family. If more studios mine BD-Live for this type of interactivity, Blu-Ray might have a chance to gain a foothold.
  • Canadians aid argument about HDMI cable overpricing – Interesting article on HDGuru about a CBC report that basically found no difference at all in picture quality between an expensive, brand name cables and cheap no-name ones from the Web. This has long been known to the videoholic audience, but this information is getting into the mainstram more and more. Monster Cable has even introduced a mid-level product line to combat these stories.
  • Paramount re-issues its back catelog on Blu-Ray – Paramount, which started out format neutral, fell in love with HD DVD iin August of 2007 and removed all of its Blu-Ray releases from stores, and then recommitted to Blu-Ray earlier this yeaar, is putting those back-titles back on store shelves this month.

Lots of other things happened, but those jumped out to me as the big ones. I’ll be adding part 2 of my calibration adventure later this week, most likely Friday, so keep an eye out for that.

Posted in Blu Ray, Catching Up, HD DVD, HDMI, HDTV, Home Theater, TV | Leave a Comment »

Blu-Ray sales not helped by HD DVD death

Posted by lozenp on May 2, 2008

New reports from ABI Research and NPD Group state that the death of HD DVD and the end to the format war has not helped Blu-Ray player sales, and that Blu-Ray is looking at an uphill battle in its efforts to entrench itself in coonsumer’s living rooms.

It’s been a couple months since HD DVD bowed out of the battle to become the next-generation DVD technology, but Blu-Ray has not been able to capitalize on being the last man standing. From January to February, Blu-Ray hardware sales fell 40 percent, excluding the Playstation 3 console. Following the HD DVD announcement in February, sales only rose two percent from February to March, according to NPD Group.

Several factors could be leading to this, but two are likely the biggest culprits: price and apathy. Player prices are still in the “premium” range in consumers minds, not yet hitting that magic $200 mark. Also, Blu-Ray disc prices still outpace standard DVDs by a substantial margin, more than 2:1 in many cases.

Many consumers still profess they can’t tell the difference between a Blu-Ray image and a standard DVD image. While this may be hard to believe, it shows the amount of work needed to show consumers what they are missing. Also not helping the cause are the cheap prices on upconverting DVD players, as low as $70 now, and consumer confusion surrounding those players. Many people think an upconverting player IS an HD player, falling in line with statistics that show that around 50 perecent of people with HDTVs aren’t getting an HD signal and don’t even know it.

ABI’s research shows that the PS3 will make up 85 perecent of the Blu-Ray hardware market in 2008, and it will maintain its majority lead until 2013, yet again solidifying the argument that the PS3 is the best Blu-Ray player currently available.

With all that said, however, it’s not surprising the adoption has been slow since the dust settled. During the high tide of the format battle, each side was cutting prices, offering incentives and inciting rabid fan bases to make purchases to help their format win. That pressure no longer exists, and the amount of incentives on Blu-Ray players has slowed.

Perhaps the biggest roadblock to Blu-Ray adoption however, is the one that is being somewhat ignored: an incomplete standard emerged at the end of the format war. Blu-Ray is in the midst of what it calls its “profiles”, with profile 2.0 being the complete spec. Profile 2.0 players are just now slowly starting to make it to market, and they are well about the prices of other Blu-Ray players currently available. The PS3 recently was updated to Profile 2.0, which allows ineractivity via BDJ as well as picture in picture, both features that HD DVD featured from the beginning, but I digress.

At this point the high definition disc party is still full of early adopters and audiophiles and videophiles, the general consumer has not entered the market yet. So for those of us who went with HD DVD, or other high-def aficionados who waited on the sideline, we’re educated enough to know that this is not the time to be buying a Blu-Ray player. That means a large portion of Blu-Ray’s target consumer knows to wait until the end of the year at the earliest to buy a new player, when prices come down – at least slightly – and Profile 2.0 players and movies dot the landscape. Until then, I see similar numbers for Blu-Ray hardware sales, excluding Sony’s PS3 which is gaining momentum in the video game market.

Other factors loom large for the future of Blu-Ray as well, with Apple announcing today that it has agreements with most of the major studios to put movies on iTunes day-and-date with their release on DVD, some in HD. This is just another push toward the eventual evolution to a physical media-less entertainment society (see Netflix and Blockbuster’s set-top-boxes), one that Blu-Ray is dreading.

The next 12 months will be huge for Blu-Ray. This Christmas season must see Blu-Ray gain serious momentum if it’s going to gain enough traction before consumers make the leap to downloading their movies, otherwise Sony might still have a new Betamax on its hands.

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

DVE HD Basics Part II – Video Tests

Posted by lozenp on April 30, 2008

There’s a lot of content on this disc, there’s no doubt about that. I had to watch several of the sections a couple times to understand fully who to properly test and calibrate my picture. On top of just test patterns, there’s a couple hours of information on how HD signals are created, calibrated and adjusted at the source. I’m still working my way through that, but it’s certainly proving to be educational.

I made some discoveries about my TV during calibration. First, my TV doesn’t accuratly display below-black color, as systems standards say sets should. According to the disc, this is very common. Also, I found that my set will properly calibrate blue and red color, but can’t come close to getting green right. Using the provided color filters, I can see that the green coloring is far from what standards say it should be. Unfortuantely, my TV doesn’t have very good color-correction controls, especailly in the Component connection mode.

I also determined that my set is likely using the standard definition decoder for setting color, another very common issue in some HDTVs.

After about an hour of messing around, I made good progress in completing the video calibrations. Here’s how things have changed, my old settings are first:

  • Contrast – 89 to 92
  • Brightness – 54 to 58
  • Sharpness – 39 to 11
  • Color – 54 to 60

The biggest learning was the sharpness. This control is actually a holdover from the early days of color tv. In most cases, it seems this control doesn’t need to be active for HD signals. Sure enough, using the overscan test pattern, I was able to see I had mine set way too high.

The other thing that I was able to prove to myself is that my screen overscan is very poorly set. When looking at the overscan patter, I’m losing the bottom five percent of the picture, the left three percent, the top two percent and the right two percent. The biggest issue, however, is the amount of picture I’m losing off the bottom. I also determined that my picture is slightly rotated clockwise.

Those are all fixes that can’t be made in the general menus but only in the service menu of the TV. All TVs have service menus that are not accessible to the consumer because of the amount of damage a uneducated consumer could do to the set by getting into those menus. Hopefully I can call Best Buy and take advantage of my service plan to get some of these issues resolved, and maybe convince the tech to show me the service menus while he’s here.

Next up, the audio test patterns.

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

DVE HD Basics Part 1

Posted by lozenp on April 28, 2008

I just got a copy of the HD DVD version of the Digital Video Essentials HD Basics disc. For those that don’t know, it’s a disc that contains a wealth of video test patterns and signals, as well as audio tests, to help you properly set up your HDTV. This is the first time a calibration disc has been made with high definition in mind, both in HD DVD and Blu-Ray. HD Basics released an HD DVD remake of their standard version earlier, but it wasn’t designed specifically for HD.

My initial calibration was done using the Avia Guide to Home Theater, which is now in it’s second version. The first time I used it I was amazed at how off my picture was, and how much better it looked when I finished. Over time, however, a tweak here and a shift there and I know my picture is again in bad need of calibration.

So over the course of a couple posts, I’ll take you through the calibration process. It make take only two, it may be a month-long series. Today I’ll let you in on my current setup, and the settings my TV is currently using.

My Setup

  • 50-inch HLR-5067 Samsung DLP
  • Xbox 360 HD DVD player hooked up via component
  • Comcast Motorola dual-tuner DVR (the new edition)
  • Yamaha HTR 5750 5.1 channel receiver
  • Klipsch 5.1 Ch. Quintett II

Current Settings

Here’s what my TV is set to currently on the component input my HD DVD player is using:

  • Contrast – 89
  • Brightness – 54
  • Sharpness – 39
  • Color – 54
  • Color tone – Normal
  • Digital Noise Reduction – off

And here’s my receiver’s current speaker settings. Interesting story as I went to get these numbers, I was getting a menu in my receiver that I’ve never seen before. Usually my speaker settings are displayed in digits, now I’m getting a slider bar. Not sure where that came from. Anyhow, here they are:

  • Front left – 4.75 at 13 ft.
  • Center – 4.75 at 12 ft.
  • Front right – 4.75 at 13 ft.
  • Rear right – 5.5 at 7.5 ft.
  • Rear left – 5.5 at 7.5 ft.
  • Speaker settings – All set to “small”
  • Subwoofer – 5.5 at 12 ft.
  • Crossover – 80Hz
  • Phase – Normal

So for now I’ll play with the disc a bit. Next post we’ll get into some of the tests and start making some changes.

Posted in Blu Ray, HD DVD, HDTV, Home Theater, TV | 3 Comments »

My attempts at an HTPC

Posted by lozenp on April 24, 2008

I have a dream of one day not having to use the cable company’s set-top box as a DVR. I love the potential freedom I would have with my content by using a Home Theater PC as my DVR, especially the portability of the content, and the freedom to access it from remote locations with tools like WebGuide.

There’s a lot to consider (cable card, QAM, etc.) but I decided the best way to start was to get a PC, hook it up to my 50-inch DLP and see what happens. So far, the answer is “not much”. Here’s the specs of my PC to get things going:

  • Dell Precision WorkStation 360 from 2004.
  • Windows XP Pro.
  • 2GB RAM.
  • 3.2GHZ with an Intel 875P chipset.
  • Nvidia 7600 AGP video card with 512MB memory.
  • Hauppauge WinDVR 1600 TV tuner card.
  • WinTV and Beyond TV for viewing.

I’m not even trying to get it set up as a DVD/Blu-Ray machine yet, I first want to prove I can get QAM and OTA HD, record it, and slowly ween myself from Comcast’s grasp. The problem is, I can’t get HD to play. It drops frames, it’s choppy. I tried watching recordings, same issue. I tried viewing a recording on a different, much fast and newer PC, same thing. So now I’m stuck, and I’m turning to you, my four faithful readers.

I’ve gotten some ideas from the AVS Forum, but at this point I’m trying to get help wherever possible. If you know a good resource for answers, leave a comment.

Posted in computers, HDTV, Home Theater, HTPC, TV | 2 Comments »

Netflix makes Blu-Ray a premium option, teases Xbox 360 integration again

Posted by lozenp on April 22, 2008

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said during the company’s first-quarter earnings call yesterday that Netflix would begin charging more for subscribers renting Blu-Ray discs, saying that “consumers are used to paying more for high-definition.”

Netflix helped facilitate the end of the format war when it announced in February that it would stop offering HD DVDs through it’s mail-rental service. This move, while not surprising, is disappointing in that it puts up further barriers for people looking to cross into the HD realm. I’d be willing to bet that the number of people renting Blu-Ray is still pretty small, lowering Netflix’s ROI on buying all the discs.

No details were announced, so Netflix members were left to wonder how (will it be a flat, $2 service charge or tiered, like the subscription plans), how much and when (by the end of the year seems to be likely).

Also on the call, Reed again talked about the partnership Netflix has with LG to create a settop box for watching any of the company’s 9000 available instant watch features. Netflix also wants their client software integrated into internet-connected Blu-Ray players, game consoles, TVs and stand-alone STBs.

He also went on to say that they were working with three other companies, three of which are “major companies which each sell millions of devices per year, likely in Q4.” The smaller company (Slingbox maybe) is expected to hit before fourth quarter. This should start the “Netflix on the Xbox” rumors going again.

Posted in Blu Ray, HD DVD, HDTV, Xbox 360 | 1 Comment »

In case you missed it

Posted by lozenp on April 12, 2008

It’s been a busy week that’s kept me from posting a lot. So, in an effort to keep you up to speed, here’s some things you might have missed if you weren’t paying attention:

PS3 adds DTS-HD Master Audio – It’s becoming harder to argue that the PS3 isn’t the best Blu-Ray player available. This week comes news that the console will be adding DTS-HD Master Audio support (as well as DTS-HD High Resolution). Interstingly, the PS3 encodes the signal internally but can’t pass it bit for bit to your receiver (yet), but the jury is still out on if passing that signal straight through will actually sound better. Either way, this is exciting news for Blu-Ray fans and PS3 owners. Prepare to crank that volume knob.

Blockbuster announcing set-top box – The way things are going I might have my own set-top box in the near future. Everyone seems to be announcing these things lately, and my gear rack is already full. Netflix announced one a while back, but there’s been no movement on that one. Meanwhile, Blockbuster is set to announce this one next month, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Wal-Mart, Amazon join the HD DVD rebate game – Circuit City and Best Buy have already been running programs, and word came this week that Amazon and Wal-Mart would join the fracus. Amazon sent people a $50 gift certificate in the mail, Wal-Mart will be allowing refunds, with receipts, on purchases made after Nov. 1, 2007.

Also last week, the first BD-Live titles were released. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and The Sixth Day both came out. Unfortunately, for HD DVD adopters like me who were used to a mostly flawless online experience with HDi discs, the results so far for both BD-Live titles have been less than spectacular, with most users reporting long (we’re talking 4-5 minues) load times on online content. Hopefully this is something that gets better with time.

Posted in Amazon, Best Buy, Blockbuster, Blu Ray, HD DVD, HDTV, Home Theater, Netflix, Wal-Mart | Tagged: | 1 Comment »