Happiness. Short-term, stupid, self-interest.

Home Theater – Next Steps

My buddy asked me what’s next for my home theater and it got me thinking. The next home theater upgrade for me is the Harmony One universal remote. No question about that. It is still my #1 wanted (needed) piece of equipment my list.

harmonyoneBlu-Ray capability comes next at a fairly close #2. After that, there is nothing else I need and will probably wait more than a year to consider more upgrades. When that time comes, it will be to upgrade the receiver to HDMI switching/upconverting, Dolby Digital Plus / Dolby True HD, plus other features like a built in satellite tuner and media streaming via home network. That is really refreshing equipment I am currently happy with, so my speakers would fall into that category as well.

So what happened to the HTPC? Originally, a media center PC was next on my list and it was to include a Blu-Ray player, but there are several reasons why I am not going to do that, yet. First off, I already have a great PC connected to my home theater that can do 4.1 sound, 1080P, and can handle most gaming (nVidia 7900 SLI). Also, I can listen to Pandora, stream NetFlix, sort photos, play MP3’s, check my email… all the great things a PC can do.

I was originally going to build a new media center PC (HTPC) for: Vista Media Center, replace my DVR, Blu-Ray player, 5.1 sound, and upgraded gaming. But, Vista sucks, I don’t do much PC gaming anymore (all my friends just play WoW) and you still can’t use your PC as DVR because of the Cable Labs Cable Card OEM restriction. bluray

That leaves Blu-Ray capability. I considered just adding a decent Blu-Ray drive to my current PC for about $180, but realized I would still need to upgrade the video cards, sound card, & software which brought me right back to square one; a whole new HTPC that I could probably piece together for $1500. It would be a fun project, but it is just not in the cards right now.

So, coming full circle and being a NetFlix fan-boy, a standalone Blu-Ray player makes the most sense especially with the prices coming down and the Blu-Ray selection increasing. Even though I have NetFlix streaming, it is still not the quality and selection of Blu-Ray. So that is next… right after I get the Harmony.


February 14, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, Home Theater, Movies, Music, TV | 1 Comment

Logitech Cordless Wave Pro Review

This is just a short review of my wireless keyboard and mouse I am using for my home theater. I ended up getting the Logitech Wave Pro.

Overall, I love it. It serves the primary purpose of removing the tether to the media center PC. I can stash the keyboard next to the couch or in the coffee table drawer. While I don’t type at it for long periods of time, I’ve already used many times. For instance, prior to the Super Bowl, we surfed through some of the banned commercials while kicking back with some Buffalo wings and beer. (The PETA ad has become quite famous already)

Some additional things that I really like about this model are:

  • Adjustable mouse precision
  • Mouse feel, weight, programmable keys
  • Mouse doesn’t need mouse pad (works right on the couch)
  • Battery life is excellent which you can switch off, and it has an LED indicator
  • Programmable keys work nicely like the rest of Logitech’s products
  • Keyboard is fairly thin and has a nice hand rest
  • Wireless works well with the USB dongle in the rear of PC and there is no lag time


However, there is one nuance I would be amiss to not mention here since I pained so much over my choice. The “wave” of the keyboard is annoying like I find on all non-standard ergonomic keyboards. I don’t type on it for long periods of time to get used to it, but it is sufficient for my needs. It works fine for gaming, but maybe not your uber-gamer who is better off at a desk anyway. The Microsoft keyboard may have been better in this respect, but it more expensive and hard to find.

February 4, 2009 Posted by | Home Theater, TV | , , , | Leave a comment

Jacko & D.C.

Meet Jacko and D.C.

From New Kittens

These two kittens came home with us from the local shelter in early September at about 2 months old, though Jacko is a bit older. Both are male and not related to each other, but they get along fine. Great, actually. They even love Angel, who still hangs out in her chair (and recently, accidentally, in the toilet); but Angel is taking a wait and see approach to the strangers. She is tolerant of them as long they are not too friendly; we have even seen them lick each other.

Jacko gets his name from Jack-o-lantern and his color coordinated friend gets his name from Dark Chocolate. Or, originally Dark Cat, but officially Dark Chocolate, and in reality… Dumb Cat. Well, he isn’t that dumb, but does seem to be a bit slow on the up take. Perhaps he is just learning how to play.

D.C. can actually stand for anything you want, just about all names are acceptable and appropriate. Drama Cat. Dozing Cat. Drenched Cat. DC is not all black, either. If you look closely, he has a striping that may become more prominent as he gets older.

They are already growing and soon we will be fighting them off the kitchen counter in addition to being attacked as you walk by the couch or move while sleeping. The whole family is already adding first hand cat stories to the many we love to tell. A matter of fact, DC is already down to 8 lives, and we caught it on video. Enjoy…

October 7, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

Home Theater PC – Mouse & Keyboard

While the actual building of my Home Theater PC has been put off for the near term, the fact that my Dell XPS monstrosity is still sitting next to my home theater cabinet is proof of its usefulness to the entire family.

For instance, my parents are in town for a visit and last night we watched a Power Point presentation made for my uncle’s 70th birthday party. It had photos of my great-great-grandparents and of my father when he was a kid. These are photos I’ve never seen before and we were all able to sit around the big screen and listen to the story of when my father and his brother helped paint their dad’s ’57 Plymoth… with some gray paint that was laying around and some sticks (because “dad” wasn’t stupid enough to leave brushes laying around). We even swapped out to Google some of the things we saw in the photos, and also took screen shots of it all to make the photos back into JPG’s and burn them to a CD so my parents could look at them on their Mac.

Quite useful. (oh, and TrackMania United rocks on the big screen)

But, the biggest pain is the mouse and keyboard being tethered to the thing. I have a great mouse and OK keyboard, but I’ve just got to go wireless, and I want to do it now even before I build the new home theater PC. I found a few I’m considering, and here they are: Continue reading

June 6, 2008 Posted by | Family, Gaming, Home Theater | , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Cake Season 2008 – Tropical Cake

For my daughter’s 11th birthday, she had a tropical themed sleepover party. The American Girl Doll party kit color scheme gave me my inspiration.

Fondant is so easy to work with, anyone can look like a pro; but, I find most people don’t like the taste. My work around is to go heavy with the buttercream undercoat and roll the fondant thin. My wife requested her next cake to be buttercream only (which I plan to do sometime this summer since her birthday got buried this spring).

May 23, 2008 Posted by | Life in general | 2 Comments

Cake Season 2008 – NY Giants

My son wanted a sports themed cake for his birthday, but he had rules. No baseball, no soccer and no golf. The only things that were ok were football, basketball or bowling. I learned that the reason he wanted bowling was from a previous cake I did for a bowling party which had gumballs on it. He also just finished basketball for the season and was very into it.

However, I couldn’t come up with a good idea for the two or three themes together. He ok’d my suggestion for a football-only cake and after the fantastic Super Bowl this year, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

Again, my assistant was very helpful in preparing the cake.

Seeing his face was well worth the 6 hours it probably took me to put it together. I even had him for a second when I told him that I had Eli come over to sign it himself.

My assistant’s birthday is next which needs to be a tropical themed cake; that should be fun. And I had to postpone my wife’s cake, which my assistant and I have a secret plan for.

May 12, 2008 Posted by | Family | , , , | 11 Comments

Cake Season 2008 – The Lake Cake

The Lake Cake is my second cake of the season (I’ll show you the first when the time is right). This was for my mother-in-law who has been staying with us recently.

Each cake season gets easier, as my assistant continues to grow up and become more helpful and skillful. We make a good team. Maybe someday she will host her own show on the Food TV Network.

I had a plan in my head for this cake. I started off with two 13×9 sheet cakes. One of them, I forgot to grease the bottom of the pan.

I was so upset… but my wife said, “there are your mountains.”

I got over it and rolled with the punches. I think it actually turned out better this way.

My assistant…

We both took a shot at making a loon with royal icing. I couldn’t find any instructions or tips on piping a duck, so we both winged it. (ha ha) I think next time I would try to make it out of fondant.

And done.

May 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

PhysX for Gamers (followup #2)

Back in May 2006, I reported on AGEIA’s PhysX card for PC gamers that would offload physics calculations from the CPU providing more realistic, immersive and inventive gaming; but, I had also said this…

History needs to repeat itself. What happened to 3DFX (consumed by nVidia) needs to happen to AGEIA. I’m not saying it needs to be integrated into the video card, though that may well be the best solution, specifically for the latency problem. I’m thinking more in terms of the API. Developers don’t write to nVidia, or ATI, or Matrox, etc, but rather to a common standard like Microsoft’s DirectX or OpenGL. (one of the things that makes standards so nice is that there are so many to choose from *rolls eyes*)

Then, I followed up with this…

Microsoft announces “Direct Physics“, to be included in the DirectX API to allow programmers to write physics based manipulation of objects in 3D for realism and better immersion.

I also commented on Havok, another player in physics hardware…

If you made me guess, I’d say that the Havok SDK will be akin to OpenGL, and the Ageia SDK will be akin to DirectDraw.

Since then, Intel gobbled up Havok and buried them somewhere, so, it will be a lot like OpenGL.

Now, in February 2008, nVidia (the leading video card manufacturer) acquired AGEIA. nVidia had this to say about it…

By purchasing AGEIA, NVIDIA will be able to support AGEIA’s very popular PhysX technology on future GeForce GPUs. By doing so, the install base of PhysX enabled hardware will exponentially increase and game developers will now have a larger number of customers that can make use of the PhysX engine.

So, hopefully my next entry on this will be when nVidia releases a video card with PhysX technology, accessible via Direct Physics, and how history did repeat itself.

March 26, 2008 Posted by | Gaming, Tech | 1 Comment

Media Center PC (How to Build an HTPC) – Part 1

Originally, when my home theater was to move into the High-Def (HDTV) world, a media center PC (a.k.a. HTPC – Home Theater Personal Computer) was high on my priority list. I wanted to be able to record anything on cable, or over the air, in high-definition. It was to replace my original DVR. There were also some other things I wanted to do with it, but they were secondary. However, upon getting my HDTV and increasing my cable service, which included the DVR service, I realized that the DVR not only covered my primary goal, but it also did it quite well.

The Time Warner DVR by Scientific Atlantic (Cisco) is the latest model offered, the 8300HD. It can record multiple channels at once in high definition. It has a fairly nice program guide, though I’d like better search capability. The remote works very good. Most importantly, it lets me fast forward through commercials.

There are a couple of things that the DVR doesn’t do. The biggest problem is that it only records 20 hours of high-definition programming. (50 hours of standard). 20 hours may seem like a lot, but it’s not. We tend to watch TV in spurts and we almost never watch live TV – everything is recorded. Sometimes, weeks go by before we sit down for an evening and catch up on our shows. Plus, I like to keep a variety of shows available for different audiences. For instance, let’s say our shows are “Terminator”, “Lost”, “Desperate Housewives” & “CSI”. If three weeks go by, that’s 12 out of 20 hours used up. Add in a couple FoodTV cake challenges, a PBS documentary, and a handful of “Good Eats” and I’m out of space.

The DVR also doesn’t do more than record. It can’t act as a media extender (i.e. play media that exists somewhere else in my home), it can’t store media other than TV programming, nor can it be the source for streaming content elsewhere. There are products out there that do some of these functions, like the PlayStation 3, xBox 360, LinkSys Media Extender, and Sling Box, and many more, but none of them do it all, not even a media center PC. However, a media center PC teamed up with some of Sling Media’s products seems to be the most powerful and flexible setup.

Check out Sling’s advertising, funny stuff….

There are cheaper stop gaps, like an external hard drive (eSATA) that plugs into the Time Warner DVR. That would run about $180 – $400, but it only adds space for TV programming. There is also the PlayStation 3, at about $500, it would be less expensive and it is a close runner up, but it still doesn’t do everything a media center PC does. In particular, it doesn’t have a lot of hard drive space, is not very flexible, and lacks upgradability. (basically, it’s limited to what Sony decides to provide)

The flexibility of an HTPC is huge. I can pick and choose parts based on price, performance, and expand in the future as needed. Before Blu-Ray won the battle against HD-DVD, I was planning on waiting it out to see which drive I would install. I will probably still wait until the Blu-Ray drive prices come down. In the meantime, I can just put in a $30 DVD drive.

The only thing bigger than flexibility is the power of an HTPC; it can do almost anything. Nothing is as accomodating and as vast as the array of Windows software available to do anything I want, much of which is free. Anything that runs in a browser will work and would have actual full browser support, not some slimmed down browser with limitations. (playing media types, viewing files types like Acrobat, plug-ins, etc) Heck, I can run iTunes, Quicken, Google Earth, and VPN into work from a media center PC. We can do online shopping, Webkinz, update the NetFlix queue, pay bills, add Wii points, book a vacation, Skype, video conferencing, backup DVD’s and make them available for instant playback… gaming… we can do anything! We could design rockets in AutoCAD if we knew how.

(If you were wondering why I am writing so much about this, I’m just practicing how to justify this to the finance committee.)

Speaking of NetFlix, we can watch unlimited streaming NetFlix movies. It is currently only DVD-like quality, but HD is coming and the need for a disc in the mail will be going away. (though, NetFlix has teamed up with LG to supply “NetFlix” boxes; I hope it doesn’t preclude PCs)

I could just buy a pre-built HTPC which would give me the ability to use a Cable Labs Cable Card and eliminate the Time Warner DVR altogether. (to use a cable card, your HTPC needs to be certified by Cable Labs, which eliminates the do-it-yourselfer) Like this $3200 Niveus Rainier, for example. (yeah! and it goes up from there) … I don’t think so.


So, the need for a media center PC is not nearly as urgent as it originally was, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still want one. What has changed is its primary mission and priorities. I will be using my blog to organize my thoughts and lay out the functions I want to be able to do, and then you can watch me pick my pieces and parts as I build it over the next year….

March 6, 2008 Posted by | Gaming, Home Improvement, Home Theater, Movies, Music, Tech, TV | 3 Comments

The Nature of the Beast

ems-cat.jpgMy favorite evil mad scientist inspired me to commiserate…


Ever since I stumbled across the Lego trebuchet while searching for other Lego creations like the Lego bottle opener, I’ve been hooked on the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories blog. (I’ve mentioned the site before) Being a food art creator, and a cat lover as well,  I also liked the peeps and the 3D printed candy. Which reminds me of the very cool FigurePrints… check out this interview on the PC Gamer podcast. (interview starts at 31:07 into the podcast)

February 28, 2008 Posted by | Gaming, Life in general, Tech | 1 Comment