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

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

Don’t Pay Too Much for HD Cables

An HDTV is coming soon and so I want to make sure I have all the right cables for all of my toys. The home theater room I built has conduit in the wall so I can completely hide all of my cables but because of that, some of the cables need to be a little longer than a standard 6 foot cable.

I could just pick up the cables at the store, but buying online at the right place can save a bit of money. How much money…? Check out these two shopping carts:

Bust Buy


I first heard about MonoPrice.com on the HTGuys podcast… with that savings, I’m going to buy them a cup of coffee.

November 3, 2007 Posted by | Home Improvement, Home Theater, TV | 2 Comments

What This Guy is Playing – April ’07

As always, April, May & June are killer months for me and it has already started. I don’t have time to play anything except soccer on Monday nights. Here’s what going on around here…

  • Yard clean up
  • Lawn maintenance
  • Easter
  • Soccer coaching
  • Garage sale prep
  • Birthday parties
  • Making cakes
  • Exams for work (work is already busy enough)
  • Trying to continue on the porch project
  • Spring cleaning

That’s just April. However, I can say this:

April 4, 2007 Posted by | Family, Life in general, TV | 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

Battlestar Galactica

{This is a response to a comment I received, but thought it was worth an entry as well} 

To be honest, BSG season 1 started off ok, but the last 4 espisodes were quite dull. I really enjoyed the one where Starbuck got shot down. (I won’t say anymore to avoid spoilers)

I continue to hear how great the show is, so I will keep watching. I fear that the whole premise will be based on a guessing game of who is really a Cylon, which does keep things interesting, but I will quickly get bored if it is 90% of the show all the time.

I’m a fan of “24”, where wondering who are the real bad guys is part of the show, but that is only 10% of the show. It also has a lot of intense action, a great story (with some suspension of disbelief) and other character development.

My wife has so far stayed with me on BSG, but warned me that a couple more episodes where she ends up dozing off and I’ll be on my own. (I have to admit, I was dozing on a couple as well) I also heard that season 3 starts to get really “dark” which I know my wife will not like. Of course, she may keep watching anyway. She is watching the last season of Alias and says it is pretty bad, but keeps watching that as well.

Please comment, but no spoilers, please!

March 13, 2007 Posted by | TV | 1 Comment

What This Guy’s Playing – March 2007

March 2007 – Spring is Around the Corner

Most of my time lately has been spent working on “the porch project.” I’m enjoying the work, but frustrated with the planning and details. So instead, I’ll be cleaning the basement which is huge, but at least it is mindless.

Video Games

    Now Playing

  • Barely Anything – I never finished my replay of Half-Life 2; I’ve jumped in to play a little more Burnout 2 (I found unlocks I didn’t unlock), I’ve made a couple TrackMania Sunrise tracks (I’m bored of TrackMania Nations), and wife and daughter are still addicted to Paper Mario, but they are almost done.
    On the Horizon

  • Demos – I probably won’t be playing much at all, though I’m looking for a demo of NeverWinter Nights 2 and Supreme Commander.


    Now Playing

  • Soccer/Gym – Time to get back in shape!
  • The kids are enjoying sledding and are sad to see the snow already starting to melt.

bsg_cylon_800.jpgOn the Big Screen

    Now Playing

  • Battlestar Galactica – I’m finally starting the series; so far, I like it a lot. My wife is still unsure.

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

March 1, 2007 Posted by | Gaming, Life in general, Sports, TV | 3 Comments

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