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

An Evening Out

Catch up over at Hop-Talk.com…

January 17, 2008 Posted by | Family, Food & Drink, Music | Leave a comment

Far Cry

Listen to Far Cry, by Rush, right now!

Far Cry Lyrics (lyrics by Peart)

Pariah dogs and wandering mad men
Barking at strangers and speaking in toungues
The ebb and flow of time and fortune
Electrical changes are charging up the gun


It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit
It’s a far cry from the way we thought we’d share it
You can almost feel the current flowing
You can almost see the circuits blow

In one day i feel i’m on top of the world
and the next it’s falling in on me
I can get back on
I can get back on

One day i feel i’m ahead of the wheel
and the next its rollin over me
I can get back on
I can get back on

Whirlwind life of the faith and betrayal
Rise in anger fall back in retreat

Slow degrees on the dark horizon
Full moon rising looks ever at your feet


(chorus 2)
It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit
You can almost see circle growing
You can almost feel the planets flowing

One day i feel i’m on top of the world
and the next it’s falling in on me
I can get back on
I can get back on

One day i feel i’m ahead of the wheel
and the next its rollin over me
I can get back on
I can get back on

One day i fly through a crack in the sky
and the next its falling in on me
I can get back on
I can get back on

I can get back on
I can get back on

1. Far Cry
2. Armor & Sword
3. Workin’ Them Angels
4. The Larger Bowl
5. Spindrift
6. The Main Monkey Business
7. The Way The Wind Blows
8. Hope
9. Faithless
10. Bravest Face
11. Good News First
12. Malignant Narcissism
13. We Hold OnTour dates coming soon!

March 13, 2007 Posted by | Music | 2 Comments

Snakes and Arrows

rush.jpgRush’s new album is called Snakes and Arrows and will be released May 1st. “Far Cry” will be the first single released, any time now. They will tour this summer, starting in June. That is all I know. That’s all anyone seems to know.

February 20, 2007 Posted by | Music | 1 Comment

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

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

Rush — NEP News

NEP News – An excellent read by Neil. They should be in the final mixing this month.

I was watching some Linkin Park on DVD the other day that I got for Christmas and they really sounded pretty crappy compared to their studio stuff. In prep for Guitar Hero II, I popped in YYZ from Rush in Rio for some fretting inspiration. I considered the talent of each band briefly and, for the record, there is no comparison.

January 4, 2007 Posted by | Music | 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