Your Daily Phil

Archive for the ‘TV’ 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.

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

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 »

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 ElectronicHouse.com 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 »

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 »

The DTV transition: Are you ready?

Posted by lozenp on April 4, 2008

It’s less than a year away and confusion runs rampant. Some of the big box retailers aren’t up-to-speed yet and false information is pouring out as consumers, worried they will wake up on Feb. 17, 2009 to a blank TV, scramble to make sure their TV will still work.

On that date, U.S. broadcast TV will switch from its current analog broadcast system to a digital one. This will free up the current analog spectrum (the airwaves currently sending broadcast TV over the air) to be used by other companies and emergency services such as police and fire. When that happens, people with older TVs who rely on over the air (OTA) antennas (also known as rabbit ears) to get their TV signal will no longer be able to get those signals without a converter box. Those with newer TVs that have digital (ATSC) tuners or people who subscribe to cable or satellite service will not be affected, for the most part.

The latest statistics indicate about 117 million TV sets get their TV via OTA using antennas, while about half the households in the U.S. have a digital TV already.

What does all this mean to you? I’ll try to answer that question here in the simplest terms possible. There are a ton of sites out there doing this, so I’m not breaking any ground here. For the most part, however, those sites are going into a lot of detail that might be too much for some people. And the official site – while it’s full of info – is a government site, so that’s all you need to know about that. I’ll provide links to some of the better sites I’ve seen at the end of this if you want to learn more.

Here’s the quick overview to get yourself ready, read a bit more info further down:

  1. If you use cable or satellite, stop here, there’s nothing you need to do. Exception: If you have cable without a set-top box as your only TV, it would be worth calling your cable co. to ensure you’ll be ok.
  2. If you use an OTA antenna, determine how old your TV is and if it has a digital (ATSC) tuner. Generally 4:3 TV will not, while 16:9 will, though this is not always true.
  3. If you have a TV without a digital tuner, apply for the $40 government coupon for a converter box.
  4. Buy the box when you get the coupon, hook it up between your antenna and your TV, and continue to enjoy Lost on Thursday nights.

Still have questions, read on:

Is my TV new enough?
tvsa.jpgThe general rule of thumb is, if your TV is more square (called a 4:3 aspect ratio) than rectangle (16:9, also called widescreen) than you likely will need a converter box (see converter box section below) to continue to get OTA signals via antenna. If you have a 16:9 TV, you need to check to make sure it has a digital tuner. Look in the manual for the words digital tuner or the term ATSC. If you see one of those terms, you’re all set. It’s possible some 4:3 TVs will have digital tuners, so check if your TV was bought in the last five years.

Do I need a new TV?
This is the place where the most confusion exists. Unscrupulous retailers are talking customers into buying expensive new HDTVs when the consumer really only needed a $50 converter box.

Under no circumstance do you have to get a new TV. A converter box will work for almost any TV that currently gets OTA signals. Certainly you can buy a new TV if you want to, and if you have an older TV and want to be able to get high def (HD) signals, you will need a new TV. But make no mistake; the DTV transition is not forcing you to buy a new TV.

Will I get high def (HD) TV if I get a converter box, or after Feb. 17, 2009?
Another area of confusion, this is not the HDTV transition and has nothing at all to do with high definition TV. It’s the DTV (digital TV) transition. If you currently get HD, then you will still have HD after Feb. 17. If you currently don’t have HD, then most likely you still won’t after Feb. 17, although you might notice a slightly improved picture. It is possible to get HD using an OTA antenna if you have a TV with a digital tuner, but that’s another topic.

I have cable or satellite, will I be affected?
Cable subscribers with set-top boxes and all satellite subscribers will not have to do anything to continue to receive TV. Further, most cable companies have said that even those with older TVs and who don’t use a cable box will still be ok. That being said, if you’re a cable subscriber with an older TV and no cable box as your only source of TV, I would call your cable company to ensure your TV will still work on February 17.

What networks does this involve?
There are some exceptions to the change-over, such as locally-run stations on lower-powered transmitters, but all the major networks are involved. That means ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, The CW, PBS, and My Network TV, and in turn the local stations broadcasting those channels, such as WDIV in Detroit, will all stop analog broadcasts.

What’s this converter box everyone’s talking about?
The converter box will take the digital signal and turn it into an analog one for older TVs. It goes between your antenna and your TV. The majority of them cost about $50 and you can find them at most electronics retailers. There’s also a government program that allows households to get up to two $40 coupons to be used toward a converter. Visit https://www.dtv2009.gov/ to apply for the coupons. You’ve got until March 31, 2009 to apply for a coupon. I’ve already got mine at home.

Will I still get all my channels?
Reports are beginning to circulate that the digital signals being sent out will not be able to travel as far as the analog ones. This means that people in outlying areas, or those who are accustomed to getting TV from two different cities (like I do with Toledo and Detroit) might not be able to get the same amount of channels after the switch.

 

So there you have it. If you want further info check out:

Engadget’s Guide – http://www.engadgethd.com/2008/02/17/t-minus-one-year-till-the-us-analog-shutoff-are-you-ready/

The Government’s sites – http://www.dtvtransition.org/, http://www.dtv.gov/

DTV Answers – http://www.dtvanswers.com/

 

Posted in DTV Transition, HDTV, TV | 1 Comment »

Comcast adds four HD channels

Posted by lozenp on April 2, 2008

My Comcast HD channel lineup grew by four this week. I live in Milan, MI (south of Ann Arbor) and rumors are these channels are in the majority of the Detroit area and some in Chicago. New to me were: Science Channel, Disney Channel, ABC Family and AMC.

I’ve updated the list of HD channels Comcast provides in Milan from my original post “Who has the most HD (hint, it’s not Comcast)“. Below is the updated Comcast list, read the original post for my full breakdown. Again, this list includes channels available on the basic HD lineup, no pay channels (such as HBO), no sports packages, and no local channels and no On Demand channels. That seems like the best way to see how a provider’s HD lineup compares.

Comcast, Milan MI (24 channels)

A&E HD
ABC Family HD – NEW
AMC HD – NEW
Animal Planet HD
CNN HD
Discovery Channel HD
Disney Channel HD – NEW
ESPN HD
ESPN2 HD
Food Network HD
Golf Channel / Versus HD
HD Theater
HGTV HD
The History Channel HD
MHD
MTV HD
National Geographic HD
SciFi HD
Science Channel HD – NEW
TBS HD
TLC HD
TNT HD
Universal HD
USA HD

Posted in HDTV, TV | Leave a Comment »

Random weekend thoughts

Posted by lozenp on March 7, 2008

I’m one week into my iPod Touch trial. So far so good. I do enjoy the technology, no doubt. The question I have to answer for myself is do I want to keep it and forgo an iPhone in a year when my Verizon contract comes up, or take it back and hold out until Jan. 9, 2009. I’ve gone back and forth many times. I’m not up for buying an iPhone and jailbreaking it to use as an iPod so that’s not an option. Suggestions? Let me know.

Watched Pan’s Labyrinth on HD DVD yesterday while sick. Good movie, great HD DVD. Sound was amazing, especially in the scenes in the caverns and enclosed spaces. Great spatial representation. I’ll try to post a more extensive review over the weekend if my cold continues to regress. Also checked out Blade Runner but I was on several cold medications and pretty much dead-tired so I need to give that another viewing. Managed to pick up 300 and Bourne Identity for 10 bucks apiece at Hollywood video over the weekend, bringing my collection of soon-to-be-collectors item HD DVDs to eight.

My home theater PC is shaping up a little at a time. So far I’ve got it into my entertainment center, hooked up to my Samsung 50-inch DLP via VGA with a wireless keyboard/mouse combo. I ended up cancelling and restarting my Netflix under a different name to get full access to my four PCs again (I’ll be much more careful this time). We’ve enjoyed watching Heroes and 30 Rock from Netflix, video quality is suprisingly good, if a bit soft.

Still having trouble with HD content, be it from sites like KoldKast TV, Miro or via OTA broadcast. It’s the same issue with all content, very jumpy. I have a 512MB NVIDIA 7600 card so I don’t think it’s the graphics card. The only other thing I could think is I need more than the 1.5 MB RAM I have or that the 2.8 GHZ P4 I’m running is just too old to take it (the machine is probably 4 years old). Meanwhile my other PCs are torn apart while I “borrow” pieces to see if I can get this one running, since it’s the only machine with Windows Media Center in it. My next step is to take one of my bigger machines that have more RAM and put the TV tuner card in and just see if I can get HD content working in those. If so, I might just order a copy of Vista Home premium to get the Media Center feel.

If you’ve had experience with HD on PCs and have a suggestion, drop me a comment.

Posted in Apple, computers, HD DVD, HDTV, Home Theater, HTPC, IPTV, TV | 2 Comments »