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

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

This is a Triumph

I’m making a note here:

Sometime late November 2006 I disappeared from my blog. The reasons are all good as I had finally made a decision on my HDTV. The TV I chose was the Sony Bravia 46” LCD KDL-W3000. More on that later…

Here are some of the steps of how it went up.








Once it was all installed and my cable service was upgraded I was glued to the TV. The Time Warner DVR is great. Originally, I was very anxious to put in a media center PC to record high definition, but not only are there technical problems with that due to restrictions by Cable Labs on Cable Cards (they can only be used in a certified system; i.e. a manufacturer like Dell would need to have the model certified which eliminates the possibility for home built PCs), I didn’t need it; the DVR is very functional and easy to use.



Then, after Christmas, I had even more reason to never leave the Barley Room… the Wii. I have been playing Wii sports, Madden 08, and watching everyone else play Super Paper Mario, Smooth Moves, and snowboarding. We have had several, very successful, Wii parties.



I’ve also been watching movies in my NetFlix queue that I have been waiting on until I got the TV. (by the way, Spiderman 3 was not very good) On top of all that, the home theater itself had just so many things to play with… calibrating the sound and picture, learning the remotes, watching my favorite movie scenes in high-def and surround sound, and lots more.

One of the greatest SuperBowls ever…


It is hard to truly describe and show how well this room works. My wife keeps saying, “what would we do without this room?”

The home theater experience really showed itself when we watched Transformers. I had already seen the movie in the theater, and I don’t know if it was because it was the second time around, or if because I watched how they made the movie, but I concluded that this movie is now one of my favoroties, ever. The sound, the comfy seating, the picture… it was just off the hook. (Did I mention the sound???)


It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.




February 25, 2008 Posted by | Family, Gaming, Home Improvement, Home Theater, Movies, Music, Tech, TV | 5 Comments

Sony Wins! (or do they?)

After Time Warner, NetFlix, and Wal-mart moved to Blu-Ray only, they drove Toshiba to do the only sensible thing which was to cut their losses and bend a knee to Blu-Ray. Sony has won the Blu-ray vs HD-DVD war. So what are they going to do next…? From BBSpot.com, top 11 Ways Sony Plans to Celebrate their Blu-Ray Victory:

Ways Sony Plans to Celebrate Their Blu-Ray Victory
11. Add rootkit code to all Blu-Ray DVDs.
10. Send solid gold fruit basket to Time Warner.
9. Change name of Blu-Ray to something more meaningful. Like HD-DVD.
8. Get unused “Victory for Betamax” banners out of storage. Edit them for the party.
7. Call guys at Toshiba, and play Beck’s “Loser” over the phone.
6. Watch Rising Sun on their HD-DVD player.
5. Release next generation of Higher-Definition video.
4. Get T-shirts printed up that say, “The HD stands for Hopeless Despair” and send them to engineers at Toshiba.
3. Raise price on Playstation 3 by $100.
2. Release Gigli on Blu-Ray.
1. Savor the brief moment of victory, while preparing for the next embarrassing defeat.

The war may be over, but we will be counting the losses for at least a year. Here is how I see it… Sony has spent millions (billions?) to win this war. The losses will take a long time to re-coupe. The remaining Hollywood studios need to get Blu-Ray savvy. The Blu-Ray specification needs to be ironed out and made as good as the HD-DVD spec. Manufacturers need to incorporate the new Blu-Ray specs. Prices need to come down which will now take longer since there is less competition. The Sony PS3 will only gain a small boost in sales as it still needs games, and game makers won’t make games until people buy a PS3. Microsoft can come out with a Blu-Ray add on drive and sell that drive to its 10 million XBox 360 owners.

In a couple years, Blu-Ray will become the popular disc format. Too bad the “disc” format will no longer be the most popular medium… as I’ve argued before, it still doesn’t matter.

February 20, 2008 Posted by | Home Theater, Movies | Leave a comment

Top 20 Reasons Why Home Theater Beats the Movie Theater Hands Down

Also known as, the “The Top 20 reasons Hollywood should embrace, not shun, the evolution and increasing pervasiveness of Home Theaters”

  1. Price – Renting, and even owning content, is cheaper than theater tickets
  2. Picture quality – Relative to where you are sitting, home screens are just as big and the newer technology of today’s plasmas, LCDs and projection based TVs are brighter and more vivid than a movie theater’s
  3. Rewind if you missed something or if you want to see it again
  4. Skip the advertisements
  5. No cell phones
  6. No chatter – Or, if there is annoying chatter, you don’t feel as bad when you tell them to shut up (see also #3)
  7. Make it social – Invite your friends for free
  8. Watch what you want – Including TV shows and other media, like home videos
  9. Watch when you want
  10. Enjoy video games in all their glory
  11. No dressing up, parking, lines and other hassels
  12. Control the volume
  13. Comfier seats, front and center
  14. Climate control
  15. Better food choices
  16. A popcorn and a soda doesn’t cost $12
  17. Enjoy an alcoholic beverage
  18. Pause to use the restroom
  19. Super Bowl Parties – Or, “Survivor”, “24”, “Lost”, or whatever party floats your boat
  20. If a hot sex scene gets you and your spouse in the mood, who’s to stop you? (see also #3)

Reasons why the movie theater is better

  1. Get away from kids/parents
  2. A nice home theater requires a healthy investment
  3. … I’m hard pressed to come up with more…

March 15, 2007 Posted by | Home Theater, Movies, TV | 7 Comments

The Writing is on the Wall for DRM

We’ve come full circle.

DRM (Digital Rights Management) was created by technology companies under the pressure of some media distributors and owners (Hollywood). Governmental law has also added to the pressure, but the laws were made under the pressure of the lobbyists of those same media people.

The goal was to prevent the small percentage of people who copy media and re-distribute it illegally, either re-selling it or giving it away for free, from being able to do so by electronic security measures. The result is that the same small percentage of people who do this are also the ones with the motivation to find out how to circumvent these security measures.

So what have we gained?

broken-cd.jpgThe people who don’t know and don’t care about DRM are the ones getting stuck with movies that can’t be played from here and songs that only work over there. All Digital Rights Management has done for the mainstream user is limit our rights and create confusion. Nothing works. Steve Jobs agrees.

Now, with all of the forms of DRM, all of the different connectors, operating systems, chips, storage devices, and media presenting devices, technology collides and things break; which is preventing the consumer from paying good green money for the exact thing they wanted to control and sell in the first place.

Well, they certainly control it… right into the ground. It can’t last; the writing is on the wall.

We’ve come full circle.

February 7, 2007 Posted by | Home Theater, Life in general, Movies, Music, Tech | Leave a comment

What This Guy’s Playing – Feb 2007

paper-mario-thousand-year-door-4.jpgFeb 2007 – Happy New Year!!!

Video Games

    Now Playing

  • Nothing on the GameCube – ’cause I can’t rip my wife and daughter away from Paper Mario. Who would have thunk it?
  • TrackMania – Only three tracks done so far for WinterFest II.
  • Half-Life 2 – In hard mode. I was cruising until now I’m at a spot where I’m stuck; dam manhacks!
    On the Horizon

  • RTS – I’m watching some RTS and playing some demos. I’ll post something separate.
  • TrackMania United – Tm United has been released in Europe and online.


    Now Playing

  • Soccer – haven’t hurt myself… yet

On the Horizon

  • Signed up for the coaching Matt in the Spring.

On the Big Screen

    Now Playing

  • Good Eats – Makes me want to buy a side of beef. Who wants some steak au poivre?
    On the Horizon

  • Battlestar Galatica – time to move this up in the queue.
  • My wife is watching season 5 of Alias.

Music & Radio

    Now Playing

  • Maximum PC now has a new podcast.
  • http://www.htguys.com, episode #140, 6:50 – I’m a geek on the air.
    On the Horizon

  • Rush’s new album – waiting… waiting…

Life should be fun… GO PLAY!
What are you playing?

February 1, 2007 Posted by | Gaming, Life in general, Movies, Sports, TV | Leave a comment

Take Notice Hollywood – Record Labels Rethink DRM

Record labels rethink digital rights management at Midem – International Herald Tribune

Hollywood (and you sole-source service providers): Please understand that there is more money to be made by making your products available to the masses when it simply just works, much like how you profitted from VHS tapes.  Your larger audience is upstanding customers who pay good money and don’t have a clue how to pirate digital media. Please… please, let me give you my money and let me decide how and where I watch or listen to your product!

January 22, 2007 Posted by | Movies, Music, Tech | Leave a comment

Privately, Hollywood admits DRM isnt about piracy

Privately, Hollywood admits DRM isnt about piracy

*GASP* I’m shocked!

No I’m not… but it seems to be politically incorrect to accuse the movie industry of any wrong doing these days. As a matter of fact, somehow, they have been able to spin it in the media that technology and service providers are to blame. People believe that it is your cable companies fault that they are now preventing the function of a DVR/PVR from fast forwarding through commercials. Well, it’s not. It is the owner of the IP… it is NBC who needs you to watch commercials… it is the NFL that is preventing you from seeing Thursday night games… it is Hollywood that is preventing you from recording in high definition to play back at a later time – because they all are greedy!

DRM has really become a problem for me to the point where I can’t even view the media I properly “have rights to” because, of course, I don’t own it despite that I paid good green money for it.

Check out this article which really throws a wrench into my plans for my home theater system, Vista unable to convert CableCard media, but read carefully… in the end it is the MPAA who has lobbied the government to create laws under the premise of protection from piracy with their true intentions to control how you view media in order to optimize their profits.

So, don’t talk to me about piracy and protecting the intellectual property of Hollywood; talk to me about how to crack the code within the law and within my rights.

January 16, 2007 Posted by | Life in general, Movies, Pet Peeves, Tech | Leave a comment

What This Guy’s Playin – Jan ’07

Jan 2007 – Happy New Year!!!

Video Games

    Now Playing

  • Guitar Hero II – Talk to my agent; and move over Alex Lifeson.
  • TrackMania – Inspired by a successful WinterFest virtual Party, I’m hoping to have 10 new tracks by the end of Janurary for WinterFest II
  • GameCube – I’m “helping” the kids play Donkey Konga, Lego Star Wars II, Paper Mario. Lego Star Wars is well done!
    On the Horizon

  • Oblivion – Add this to the list of games I want to try and will never get time to play.


    Now Playing

  • Soccer is back on starting next Monday!

On the Horizon

  • Skiing anyone? oh wait… there is NO SNOW!

On the Big Screen

    Now Playing

  • Firefly was great – so sad to see the end. We are going to re-watch Serenity. I have a list of action movies to catch up on including Star Wars Episode III, Superman Return, Mission Impossible III, Pirates otC II
    On the Horizon

  • Battlestar Galatica, now is a short wait in Netflix.
  • Good Eats – I received a bunch of episodes on DVD for Christmas.

Music & Radio

    Now Playing

  • Red
  • Linkin Park
    On the Horizon

  • Rush’s new album – should be in final mixing this month.

Life should be fun… GO PLAY!
What are you playing?

January 3, 2007 Posted by | Gaming, Life in general, Movies, Music, Sports, TV | Leave a comment