Archive for August, 2008|Monthly archive page

Hardware: Sony STR-DG920

[Note: Each part of this series was to have an increasingly longer name – but then again, this was only supposed to be a three-part series. You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. The increasingly-longer-name joke isn’t funny and I’m not doing it anymore.]

In Replacing Television with The Internet, Part 2 1/2: The Sound Redux, I said that my new amp would be here by the end of the week. It finally arrived three weeks later.

I chose the STR-DG920 because it has 4 HDMI inputs, a Faroudja video processor, and is TrueHD/dts-HD compliant.

The TrueHD/dts-HD thing is future-proofing. I only have 5.1 speakers and don’t own a BluRay player, so I won’t be listening to 7.1 sound any time soon.

The video processor allows me to hook a Nintendo Wii up to my system without buying a costly component-and-optical-audio-to-HDMI bridge, (and Faroudja is a name in video processing that I trust)

…and the 4 HDMI inputs will eliminate the need for an HDMI switch. At least that was the plan.

I don’t know if this is a Sony-specific problem, a problem with my model, or if it has something to do with how HDMI works, but I couldn’t connect my Mac to the Video 1 HDMI input and the Video 1 optical audio port at the same time. The Optical port only works if the HDMI port isn’t in use.

That isn’t to say that I HAVE to use the HDMI audio feed.

I can combine the HDMI video feed with any of the other audio inputs on the back of the machine EXCEPT the digital optical port. It seems that the digital optical port can only be combined with an analog video port.

If I want the AV Receiver to control the digital video feed from the Mac, I need to use the receiver’s analog audio ports and the analog stereo speaker plug on the Mac. All my 5.1 content pumped into my 7.1 amp would be downmixed to 2.0. No thanks.

(Not to mention that for some reason my Mac’s video goes from being 1920×1200 to (something)x720 when piped through the DG920. What’s causing THAT?!?)

I end up unplugging the video feed from the receiver, re-ordering the same video switch I just returned, and using the digital optical port sans video. So for the Mac, the DG920 was a poor decision.

[UPDATE: What was causing the downscaling was a lack of HDCP certification coming from the Mac. All new Macs have miniDisplayPort ports, but (like remotes) mine does not. It’s too old. By bypassing the amp, I bypass the “checkpoint” and get full 1920 x 1200 from the Mac to my screen. My next Mac will be able to be plugged directly into the DG920 with no downscaling. I don’t know if it will still refuse to let me use the HDMI digital video feed and the digital optical audio feed at the same time or if being HDCP compliant on the video end will solve it.]

Luckily, the other things I connected to it went more smoothly.

I picked up a Sony DVP-NS601HP DVD Player at Costco for $60 and hooked it up to the DG920 via HDMI. I don’t know which of the two units is doing the scaling, but the picture looks incredible. I had no idea a DVD could look this good! Much better than the software scaling inside the Mac.

It also improved the picture quality of the Roku Netflix Player (which I had connected directly to the monitor for the week before the receiver arrived).

As for setup, I’m going to have to calibrate the speakers the old fashioned way – with test tones and a sound meter – because the auto-calibration only works with 7 speakers and a subwoofer attached even though there is a method of telling the amp how many speakers you have attached.

Like all Sony products, the remote control is awful. The controls on the unit itself aren’t much better. It was designed by designers who believe that “design” is all about looks.

Gone are the simple buttons for each input (press “DVD” for the DVD Player, press “Video 1” for the TiVo, etc.). To change inputs you have to spin a knob and cycle through all the inputs, including those not in use. And the knob is right next to the volume knob so it’s real easy to bump when adjusting the sound level. If the machines didn’t put out such wonderful, deep, rich, clear sound at an affordable price I wouldn’t keep buying them.

Hell, I’d pay more for a better interface if someone would make one. Until then I have to shop by spec sheet.

As long as I’m wishing for stuff, If Apple would put out a Mac Mini with BluRay and HDCP-compliant output, clams would envy my happiness level.

[UPDATE: Whoa, we’re halfway there. Whoa-oh! Livin’ on a prayer!]

(And may Apple NEVER build in DVR capabilities! Death to Linear Television Delivery!)

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Internet Television Test, Week 7: Getting Bored and Grumpy

This week was more of the same. The Netflix box served up Peggy Sue Got Married and more of Miami Vice Season 1.

We streamed an episode of The Simpsons and Miro gave us our USA Network shows (Burn Notice, In Plain Sight), ABC Family shows (The Secret Life of the American Teenager, The Middleman) and The Daily Show. We also watched the first four episodes of The O.C.: Season 1 on DVD.

I’m still using Miro/Front Row the same way I was last week. When I’m mid-production I don’t have time to kill researching if the fixes I want are possible and/or how to do it. I just have to wait until wrap. Grrr.

Problem with Front Row: Grouping. I am happy that Front Row allows you to navigate to your “Movies” folder. I understand that it didn’t always have that capability. Why does Front Row insist on grouping by kind, rather than by name? This results in the folders being put at the bottom and it reads as a list of titles that go from A to Z twice. Grrr.

One solution would be to get Miro to put titles directly in the “Movies” folder rather than into a sub-folder named after its channel, but if I knew how to do that, I’d get Miro to stop putting dashes in all the spaces. As it is, I have to see The-Daily-Show, The-Secret-Life-of-the-American-Teenager, Burn-Notice, and In-Plain-Sight. Grrr.

And I really need a remote control. I would dump the PowerMac for a Mac Mini for the remote alone if it had the video power and hard drive speed/capacity this Twin G5 has.

I read Wm. Humphrey’s column this week… and he mentions: The O.C.! OK, I have to watch whatever he recommends in this column… which turns out to be “Skins“, a BBC show. Add that to the list!

Speaking of the list, I’ll update it after wrap at the end of the month. Thanks for asking. Next time post to the comments. That’s why they’re there.

Until next week: Grumble…. grumble… GET OFF MY LAWN!!!

Internet Television Test, Week 6: Re-Thinking My Approach

The summer doldrums continue. The slowdown has allowed me to learn how to get TV programming via internet with minimal impact to my viewing habits, and more importantly, my wife’s viewing habits.

I think I know how I’m going to handle the new season.

I think I’ll be streaming sitcoms (the bulk of what I watch) and downloading the one-hour dramas. The quality difference is worth the extra effort and patience, especially if there are a lot of dark and/or action sequences.

I do have to keep my downloads to a minimum. Even now, during rerun season, I have a long queue of torrents that haven’t even started downloading. We got The Secret Life of the American Teenager two days late. Oops. I can’t imagine what it would be like when regular programming returns if I tried to download every show on my list every week.

For what downloads I’ll continue, I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep using Miro or not. It has a few quirks that drive me batty. Besides, I can get similar functionality out of xTorrent or Bitrocket without all the bloat of a built in player that I don’t use and a file manager that I don’t need.

Similar, but not the same. If I can iron out the wrinkles in Miro, it could be the heart of the TiVo replacement I’m looking for – driving Front Row, which will be the “face” of the system.

As for streaming, I may have to just keep using Hulu by default. I heard about Plex this week. Unfortunately, like Joost and Boxee, it’s an Intel-only playground. Apparently, there aren’t any Platform Agnostic coders out there. What happened to Universal Binaries? My machine is barely three years old!

Only with Hulu can a PPC user get any love.

This week we watched new episodes of Secret Life, In Plain Sight, Burn Notice, and The Daily Show, and watched “reruns” of The Middleman, and Miami Vice Season 1. We watched Beaches and Across the Universe together, and I watched Superman: Doomsday alone.

Still haven’t caught up with The Riches, The Two Coreys, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Mythbusters, or Dirty Jobs, but I did listen to five more episodes of Smodcast. I’m now up to episode #30.

I’m beginning to get nervous that I’m not going to be ready in time for Premiere Week…. whenever that is! I may need to buy TV Guide for the first time in 15 years.

Internet Television Test, Week 5: TV at work and the Roku Netflix Player

Adjusting to a new work schedule and a new sleep schedule, this was a more-boring-than-usual rerun-season TV week.

However, I was never more thankful for my terribly named What I’m Watching and How I’m Watching It list than I was this week.

Stuck alone in a production office, my head bleary from photocopying stuff all day, I needed to kill a few hours until I get the call from set that we’ve wrapped for the day. I had already read everything in the office. Every poster, pamphlet, form, label, receipt, and both phone books. I was finished reading for the day.

Then I saw it. Someone left a production laptop under a table! Yes, I could have gone anywhere online; but why browse when you’ve already got direct links to shows you like?

The list is still a bit lean, but I wouldn’t have thought to watch an early episode of South Park otherwise. When the Production Manager came in and caught me watching South Park, instead of getting upset that I was using a production machine without clearance, he burst out “I love that episode!” and spent the next half hour spouting quotes from the show.

Much cooler than my last PM.

At home, Miro continued to feed my Daily Show and Secret Life of the American Teenager habits and I finally finished Season 1 of The Two Coreys. It also spit out the 1971 “hit” Cold Turkey, Harold and Humar Escape from Guantanimo Bay, Burn Notice, In Plain Sight and a quirky new show called The Middleman.

Then the Netflix Player came in the mail. The first thing I watched was Bill Envall’s Here’s Your Sign, followed by Jeff Dunham’s Spark of Insanity. Then on a whim, my wife and I watched half of Miami Vice Season 1. Neither of us watched it when it was on the air, so it’s a “brand new” old show for us.