Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

Boxee Box Remote – Coolest Remote EVER!

‘Nuff Said.

I want it for my Mac!!

via Boxee Blog

My Desk is my Entertainment Center …and vice versa.

Desk in Ballard

My computer is my TV and my TV is my computer, which means my entertainment center must also pull double duty as my desk.

My Desk

The keyboard drawer is deep enough for two keyboards (the very clicky Matais Tactile Pro and the very quiet Apple Keyboard) and wide enough for the mousepad to rest on one side, and iPods/iPhones can rest on the other.

Keyboard Drawer (open)Keyboard Drawer (closed)

Currently to the immediate left of the “stand” is the “component shelf”. This houses my Mac (which had to be configured to output multi-channel sound), My 7.1 amp, my DVD player, my printer, and it used to hold my Roku Netflix Player (before I sold it).

reptel04reptel05

Even though I have a 7.1 amp, I only have 5.1 sound (the amp has a setting to down-sample 7.1 content to 5.1 speakers) right now. I feel no rush to buy another pair of speakers before I get a BluRay player to take advantage of them. I haven’t permanently hung the speakers, because I am planning on spinning the room 90 degrees. The left front speaker is in the corner, as is the subwoofer. The center speaker is directly behind the monitor. The front right is on top of a bookshelf.

reptel06reptel07reptel08

One rear speaker is on top of the filing cabinet, the other on top of the DVD Shelf.

reptel09reptel10
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My Old Entertainment Center

Old TV

My last TV was so giant, only a giant entertainment center would house it. When we moved into a cabin in the woods for a year, it took almost a week for me to get all of it out there. (I had to carry it in a wheelbarrow)

When our year was up, we moved out – but left the TV and entertainment center there.
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My Ever-changing Desk

My desk is made of industrial shelving.

Desk 1998

Originally built in 1998 as an editing workstation, it has been re-built again and again.

Desk Flat

It has been low and wide, it’s been flat, it’s been bottom heavy, and top heavy.

Desk 2006

The first attempt at turning into an entertainment center was a bit gigantic.

Desk 2008

But now it’s under control. (and broken into three pieces)

march-2009-desk
deskfinal

How To Replace Cable with the Internet: Ten Boxes Reviewed

Part 3 of my series keeps getting postponed because of the fast-changing landscape.

In the mean time, Cnet is reviewing the Top 10 boxes that can help you replace television with the internet.

The over-all verdict:

I’ve done a little digging through the CNET Reviews archives to highlight the top 10 boxes/computers for accessing video-on-demand content via the Web. Here’s a brief summary of each, in no particular order. You can see at a glance what makes each one cool and what makes it not so cool. And you’ll get a general idea of how much each one costs.

I’m sorry to say that I haven’t found a box that offers me everything from all the top movies and TV shows to the best local and live TV programming. But the market is still evolving. And I promise you that the landscape could look very different in another 18 months, so stay tuned.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Boxee asks: What do you want in a Boxee Box?

John Mahoney of Gizmodo writes:

Boxee, makers of fine open-source media center software, apparently couldn’t go anywhere at CES without someone asking them to build a set-top-box. Now they’re asking you if they should go through with the plan.

They’ve posted a survey on their blog to test the waters.

Link to Survey (via Gizmodo)

DVD’s Assassination is BluRay’s Only Hope

Two weeks ago, I wrote that BluRay was doomed to take LaserDisc’s place as a movie-and-gadget-geek-only format.

The article was based on the assumption that the studios would cling to DVD sales as hard as they clung to VHS (which they are finally letting die – a decade after DVD’s launch).

However… what if they decided to knife DVD, leaving BluRay as your only choice? Would they do it?

It’s possible. The home video market is very different than it was in the mid-1990s.

Before DVD
DVD was the result of a compromise between a group of consumer electronics makers with a collection of 5″ laser disc technology patents collectively called the “Digital Video Disc” format and a competing group of consumer electronics makers with a collection of 5″ laser disc technology patents collectively called the “Multi-Media Compact Disc” format.

In an effort to avoid battling a format war in the market, they all agreed to use roughly half of each group’s patents and bury the other half. After months of negotiations both sides won some battles, lost some battles, and together they finalized the unified format. They named it “Digital Versatile Disc”.

Like MMCD, and unlike Digital Video Disc, it could be used both in a stand-alone player as a movie-only disc and in a computer as a data disc. Unfortunately, because the initials were the same as one of the old formats, the name confused everyone and flamewars erupted on usenet forums and in Compuserve chat rooms.

To end the bickering the name was changed again; this time to “DVD” (pronounced “DeeVeeDee”), which officially stands for nothing.

DVD Launches
The consumer electronics makers (united under a single format) were behind DVD, but the content providers weren’t so assured.

There was no way to know if customers were going to buy players, or this format was going to be another VCD or CD-i. The DVD disc pressing plants were just built/retooled (at a great cost) and no disc had broken the half-million mark, yet. Investment was a great risk, and only two studios had titles available at launch.

DiVX
Circuit City tried to splinter the format with it’s DiVX pay-per-view discs. Launching it’s scheme at the same time as DVD’s national rollout, they marketed it as a “feature of DVD” and told customers that “all the new models will have it”. Although CC tried their hardest, the format got the fate it deserved (It died and had a codec named after it.*) but not before creating customer confusion and stirring up technophobia.

The VHS Cash Cow vs LaserDisc II
While DVD was fighting the format war it hoped to avoid, cheap VHS tapes sold everywhere from gas stations to Wal-Mart and $100 priced-to-rent tapes sold like hotcakes to Blockbuster Video stores across the country.

The fact that a VHS tape cost more to produce and cost more to ship than a DVD was negated by the huge difference in the volume of sales.

Switching to DVD from VHS had other costs, too. Everything has to be re-mastered. Everybody expects extras. DVD Menu designers aren’t free. Music rights must be re-negotiated. SAG and the DGA expect to be paid, but the format isn’t mentioned in anybody’s contracts – so we need everyone to sign off, etc. etc.

…just more and more reasons to keep milking VHS.

New Format on the Block: Then vs Now
In 1998, the only way to get a movie on your TV at 480i with multi-channel sound was to have it encoded onto a plastic disc.

DVD, at 5″, was easer to handle than the 12″ Laserdiscs and on most movies you didn’t have to flip the disc.

Both plastic discs required mail-order or a trip to the store before you could start watching a movie. You gave the same effort for each and every movie, whether it was an old favorite or a just-watch-once guilty pleasure.

In 2008, to get a get a movie on your TV at 720p or 1080i/p with multi-channel sound, you can have it on a plastic disc or on your hard drive.
You can download it, stream it, mail-order it, or buy/rent it at the store.

Your opinion of each particular movie will greatly effect:
a) how much effort you’re willing to put into getting it
b) how long you’re willing to wait to begin watching
b) how much you care about technical specs
c) how many dollars you’re willing to spend on buying or renting it.
d) whether its a purchase or a rental.

Which format you watch your movie on will be decided be on a case-by-case basis.

It’s no longer one physical format vs another physical format in a winner-take-all battle. It’s a physical format and two internet-based delivery methods splitting the market into three pieces.

While internet-based delivery will be divided between downloads and streaming, there isn’t enough room in the market for two mainstream physical formats. Unless the industry collectively gets together and kills DVD, familiarity, ubiquity, and the “good enough” resolution from upscaling DVD Players will keep DVD the last word in Physical Formats for Movies just like familiarity, ubiquity, and the “good enough” sound resolution from oversampling CD Players kept DVD-Audio and SACD from unseating the Compact Disc as the mainstream’s choice in Physical Formats for Music.

Physical formats will never go away, but I don’t think BluRay has enough momentum to be The Big Kahuna.

2009: Paranoid Studios, DRM, and a Tanked Economy
So, the reasons to keep a legacy format around are obvious, but are there reasons to kill one? Yes, but they aren’t very obvious to the casual observer.

1. BluRay, as a collection of 5″ laser disc technology patents, is owned by fewer companies than DVD. Yes all the major studios have titles in both formats, but fewer consumer electronics makers hold patents in the collection of 5″ laser disc technology patents that make up the format, so each maker gets a bigger piece of the pie.

2. BluRay discs have a higher profit margin, so it’s a bigger pie.

3. DVD disc sales cannibalize BluRay disc sales.

4. DRM, which is fancy corporate-speak for Copy Protection. BluRay has more of it than DVD, and BluRay players get updates… allowing for additional control. Studios like control.

5. Studios can negotiate different terms for “HD” distribution as they have with “SD”, therefore have an opprotunity to squeeze a lot of smaller filmmakers for their pennies.

6. The economy is in the toilet. It is more cost effective to have a streamlined catalog.

7. Uh… Blue is pretty (and other “because we feel like it” reasons).

That’s all I can think of. I’m out.

Will they do it?
There are reasons to keep DVD around until it dies of natural causes (like VHS) and there are reasons to knife it early (like propping up BluRay). Which will they do?

Only time will tell.

*The fact that the codec was originally made out of a hacked version of VC-1 in an abandon-ware a/v container and used mainly to steal DVD content is mildly amusing.

MacWorld 2009: Free AppleTV 3.0 Update?

AppleTV could stand some improvement.
The AppleTV is deceptively powerful, and Apple could make it much more useful without having to resort to adding a TV Tuner, DVR Features. or a BluRay drive. In fact, they can do it with a Take 3 Software Update.

Free? How Can It Be Free?
Apple accounts for the AppleTV using the same subscription accounting method that they use for the iPhone.

This allows Apple to roll out major revisions free of charge without going afoul of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for two whole years after purchase*.

The first AppleTVs rolled out at the end of the first week of March 2007, putting MacWorld 2009 well within the 2-year window.

One More Thing
An update to this little hobby of Steve’s isn’t big enough news to get stage time. I’m sure it will be reported on the rumor sites along with bumps to the Mac Pro and the XServe, while the keynote will be spent talking about iPhone and App Store sales, iLife/iWork ’09, or a new Mac mini with a mini-DisplayPort and an extra USB 2.0 in place of DVI and firewire.

We’re due for another bi-annual jaw-dropper “one more thing”, but unless it’s a teleporter or a time machine, it’s hard to imagine that the rumor mill doesn’t know already.

How many rabbits can one man pull out of a hat in one career, anyway? If it’s a tablet, a cube, a game console, a VR helmet, a video phone, a WiMAX/whitespace VoIP phone, a car, or an airplane the rumor mill already has processed the patents and mocked up advertisements.

I’m keeping my expectations low: AppleTV 3.0 (with one of these two features) and a new Mac mini.

* The Sarbanes-Oxley Act does not say “two-years” specifically, it just works out to two years in Apple’s case because of the accounting method. SBA does not apply to minor revisions and/or bug-fixes nor to companies based outside of the USA (although some countries do have equivalent laws in place).

How To Fix The AppleTV (Hint: It’s not DVR functionality)

During the long stretch between Last Hardware Updates Of The Year and MacWorld there is little news coming out of Apple, Inc.. This is the time of year when Apple Talk turns from news and rumors to OpEd pieces.

In the last month, I’ve read more than a few articles telling the world what Apple needs to do to “fix” the AppleTV and send sales through the roof. Most of these articles recommend adding a DVR or an optical drive or both.

I hope not. AppleTV is a box for internet-delivered content.

Americans need to re-think Video Delivery
Americans think that you “get TV” from broadcast/cable/satellite and “get movies” come from shiny discs and Premium Channels. Therefore, anything that wants to rule the big screen will have to handle the content coming to it via these means.

…but what if TV and Movies came via internet? What if every single piece of programming that the cable company wants you to pay them to send to you could be sent via the internet connection you already have?

What if you could pull up a TV show as easily as a web page? What if you could subscribe to a TV show as easily as subscribing to a mailing list or an RSS feed?

Stop wondering “what if?”, because it’s all possible today.

(Now that you know this, how long before YOU cut the cable?)

AppleTV isn’t perfect
AppleTV needs to do better, not do more. The machine needs to be a better internet-delivered entertainment device. With this in mind, it’s easy to see where Apple TV could improve.

In addition to a processor/memory/storage bump, the AppleTV Take 3 should boast one of the two following features:

App Store / Plug-Ins
Yes, I know you can use plug-ins now. I also know they’ve gone from hacking and jailbraking-level mods to plug-and-play simplicity, but in the end… they’re still hacks.

We need an Apple-sanctioned solution to adding Boxee, Plex, Joost, or even games to the AppleTV. An App-store like package manager can easily do the trick.

Also, an App store would allow Netflix and Apple to combine forces without an official partnership.

It is widely known that Apple makes the bulk of it’s money on hardware sales and all other endeavors (including the iTunes store) work with the slimmest of profit margins. Apple is in the hardware business, first and foremost. Netflix is not.

Netflix doesn’t make ANY hardware, instead they are doing their damnedest to get their SaaS on everything from TiVo to XBox360 to Macs and PCs to your cable box. It is certain that they would make an App Store app.

Plug-ins boost the value of Apple’s hardware offering with minimal effort and minimal OS bloat.

– or –

Hulu
Apple needs to show the world that there is more free content than just Podcasts and YouTube Rants available online.

Streaming new/current TV Shows from Hulu beats Netflix’s tiny and ancient TV offering, plus Hulu is as free as broadcast, but with fewer commercials.

With MGM adding full-length movies to AppleTV via YouTube, adding Hulu to AppleTV at the factory will make it a REAL linear-delivery killer.

Having Hulu on the main menu next to YouTube would boost the value of Apple’s hardware offering with minimal effort and minimal OS bloat.

[Update: As someone pointed out to me, The Take 3 Software (if released before February) would be free to all AppleTV owners, thanks to the iPhone-like accounting method Apple uses.]

What AppleTV DOESN’T need is DVR features.
DVRs are for wrangling [linear-delivered video] sent on [a proprietary network].
AppleTV is for sorting [non-linear delivered video] sent on [the open internet].

Like a Gas Dryer vs an Electric Dryer, they’re incompatible with (and redundant to) each other. They do the “same” thing, but in two different ways; and no one needs both.

Yet, some people still don’t get it.

Thanks to non-linear deliverable video available on the open internet, I no longer pay a cable or satellite bill and I’m not missing any of my favorite shows.

In it’s current state, AppleTV can help wean you off of cable and satellite… but only if you combine it with Bittorrent, TVrss.net, and VisualHub. Hulu-on-AppleTV makes those other tools unnecessary, makes television-over-internet as simple as a DVR, and makes it that much easier to “cut the cable”.

Without cable, you don’t NEED a machine to wrangle it.

AppleTV DOESN’T NEED a DVD or BluRay Drive
Optical discs can compliment internet delivery, but I feel a dedicated box (like a DVD or BluRay Player) is a better solution for anything with moving parts.

I bought my first two DVD Players in 1998. A Creative Labs DxR2 for the computer and a Panasonic A110u for the television. Since then, I’ve gone through 5 DVD drives and 4 stand-alone players.

Luckily, each replacement was cheaper, faster, and had more features that the one it was replacing; although each one also got lighter and more fragile feeling, too.

Like component AV equipment, the optical disc player and the internet-delivered content player should remain as separate as the cassette player and the CD Player.

But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

DVD is the Last Mainstream Optical Disc. Sorry BluRay.

BluRay is not going to fail, it just isn’t going to go mainstream. It will be the LaserDisc to DVD’s VHS. Better sound, better picture, more options… and only used by gadget geeks and home theatre nerds.

BluRay movie sales will remain flat and DVD sales will continue to dwindle as people only buy Collector’s Editions of their favorites and go to downloads for everything else. BluRay discs will compete by adding more and more movie-geek and gadget-geek features that the average movie watcher couldn’t care less about.

Optical Discs aren’t going to go away, they’re just going to return to their 1997 status of Serious Movie Fans Only.

Netflix already realizes this. They are preparing for a post physical-media world. They are getting their customers to think of their service not as “DVD Rental” but as “Movie Access”. For X dollars per month, you have access to our library of movies on DVD, BluRay, your computer, your TiVo, your Roku Player, your Samsung Player, etc. Movies and vintage TV, non-linear delivery, all you can eat for a flat monthly rate. It’s like a premium cable TV channel, but you choose what to watch and how you watch it.

Apple is hoping that it’s iTunes movies will replace running to Best Buy for those “quick nothing” movies that you buy because it’s cheaper than GOING to a movie. Those “impulse buy” DVDs that you watch once and forget you own. At $9.99 it’s cheaper than everything but the giant bins of movies near the Wal-Mart check out stand, and has a much better selection of titles, or you can rent it for half the price.

Sure, a lot of the DVDs I own are because it was only a few dollars more than renting, but do I really need Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home, Betsy’s Wedding, or Advice from a Caterpillar taking up shelf space? I’ve shipped them across the country three times, and paid to store them in two states. They have no resale value. I doubt I’ll ever watch them again, but I can’t just toss them in the garbage, so there they sit… with their 600 friends.

On the other hand, I have no problem deleting episodes of Veronica Mars, Back to You, or Supernatural (that I paid for) just to make room. I doubt I’ll feel the sting of a deleted rental.

I know I’m just one person, but I was ahead of the crowd on VCRs, the internet, DVD, 16:9 screens, 5.1 sound, TiVo, MP3 Players, iPods, and switching to Macs. I just don’t hear the siren song of BluRay like I did everything else.

Internet Television Test: A September without Television

TV Shows and Transmission just started getting the hang of things when my Mac started acting funny.

It’s been acting a little quirky for about nine months, but in September – it just wouldn’t boot.

I’d been meaning to do a “clean slate” install but the Mac only acted quirky now and then – so I got lazy.

When I used Windows, a clean slate install (called a “Nuke and Pave”) was an annual (and sometimes bi-annual) event. In the four years I’ve used Macs, I haven’t done a clean install of OS X since I bought a used G3 PowerMac and a copy of 10.3 Panther. I’ve installed and deleted dozens upon dozens of applications, never once using an uninstaller like IceClean or AppCleaner. When Tiger came out, I bought this G5 and used Migration Assistant to move in. When Leopard came out, I just upgraded.

The hard drive is barely a year old, and it’s S.M.A.R.T. status said it was OK, so when it started acting up I was convinced it was a software error.

I didn’t want to install the OS and then just have Time Machine put it back how it was, and I wasn’t sure if I could even access the files otherwise, so I started burning DVDs of all my “really important” data. After two days of burning DVDs, the hard drive died before I could finish.

I didn’t panic, because I had two backups. A quick trip to Seagate’s web site and a warranty replacement for the dead drive is on it’s way – or so I think. Two days later I realize I forgot to check a box and now have to start the order over, then it takes an extra three days to arrive because UPS is closed on the weekends.

When it finally arrived, it slips effortlessly into the Mac and Leopard is installed clean. As I begin manually copying data off of the Time Machine hard drive – it dies, too.

I don’t panic, because I burned DVDs.

It was when the first DVD read error came that I began to panic.

Through all of this, I have only The Netflix Player and my Netflix’d DVDs to entertain me.

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!)

Replacing Television with The Internet, Part 2 1/2: The Sound Redux

In an unexpected development, my AV Receiver died.

One step forward, two steps back.

Purchased in 1998, it served me well.

In Part One, I bought the first part of my new system: A screen. ($300)

In Part Two, I brought along a Mac (current eBay value: $355) , 5.1 AV Receiver (current eBay value: $0), and sundry cables and cords.

What I didn’t bring along was computer speakers.

Yes, I know I was pleased when I reported that my Mac had a built-in speaker and I’d never be without sound. Well, sorry Mac – your built-in speaker is no match for a good DTS track. The built-in speaker is good for music, but so-so for action movie dialogue.

I grabbed the Philips SBA 1500 powered notebook speakers my wife uses with her iPod and connected it to the Mac.

It’s not perfect, but it’s better than constantly asking: “What did they say?” and trying to rewind with a keyboard and mouse.

The HDMI switch that I was going to be reviewing this week went back to the store unopened, the Netflix box postponed, and my wife even offered to give up her iPhone money for a new amp.

With a budget of $499, I was able to find the Sony STR-DG920 for $487.03 shipped. It should be here by this time next week. Until then, it’s tiny, white, and 2.0 for me.

Replacing Television with The Internet, Part 2: The Sound [UPDATED]

In Part One, I bought the first part of my new system: A screen. Rome wasn’t built in a day and nine-fifty per hour only buys so much. I had to build my new “Internet Entertainment Center” one piece at a time, and Frankenstein parts of my old AV system and computer to fill in the gaps.

I brought along my Mac (current eBay value: $355) , 5.1 AV Receiver (current eBay value: $0), and sundry cables and cords.

Yes, my “Media Center PC” is my primary machine. The trusty Dell (running gOS) is literally falling to pieces and only gets booted for web browsing. My TV is my only computer, more or less, and vice versa.

How I set it up in my new place is enough for a post of it’s own.

If my computer is going to be my primary entertainment machine, it’s going to have to be capable of more than just Stereo Sound, even if the majority of today’s net-video is only 2.0.

The first thing I did was connect my ten-year old Sony 5.1 amp (model STR-DE835) to my Mac. Every Mac has Optical Out, but the towers have Toslink ports so I didn’t even have to buy a converter and could use the same cable I used on my last three DVD Players.

Once the cable was in place, I made a few adjustments to my Mac.

First, in System Preferences->Sound-Output I changed it from “Internal Speakers / Built-In Audio” to “Digital Out / Optical digital-out port”. As soon as I did this, all system sounds and iTunes played out of my amp. As a side-bonus, whenever I turn my amp off, it reverts to the built-in speakers, so I’m never without audio.

I then made two other changes.

First, to DVD Player. In the Preferences, under Disc Setup/Audio I changed it from “System Sound Output” to “Digital Out-Built-In Audio”

Second, to VLC. Under the “Audio” Menu, choose Audio Device -> Built-In Audio (Encoded Output).

Now I can play Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 encoded files and discs in my Mac. Cool.

Replacing Television with The Internet, Part 1: The Screen [UPDATED]

[UPDATED: Well, “updated” is an understatement. Completely re-written is more accurate. This was done on July 24 when I realized this was not going to be a simple three part series.]

June 28, 2008
Like so many people out there, I am not a wealthy person. I am a starving artist. As a starving artist I have to buy things on the cheap, re-use whatever I can, and make what I have last.

I put off converting to HDTV as long as possible. I kept waiting for a 36″ 1080p set to come out and then I planned on waiting until it cost less than $600. My old TV was bought with the intent of lasting until my HD switch, so I had a lot of patience.

As I waited, the internet started catching up with broadcast in content available. “As long as possible” may be very long indeed.

Then I started thinking about my television itself. I haven’t used the tuner in my television since the 80s. First the VCR took over, then the cable set-top box, and (for the last seven years) TiVo. My television is a glorified monitor.

When I bought my last television (a decade ago) I knew it would be used mostly as a multi-input monitor, so I made sure it had enough inputs for everything I wanted to hook up to it.

The thing is a beast. It’s 32″ Sony Wega.

Weighing over 100 pounds, it was one of the first sub-$1000 TVs with “16:9” mode – allowing me to get 33% greater resolution out of my “16:9 enhanced” DVD collection. Snazzy. By 1998, I already had over 100 DVDs. Knowing this was going to be my last non-HD set and I was going to be watching it until at least 2003. I couldn’t go without those extra lines of resolution. Could you?

Flash forward to 2008. Life got weird, and I still don’t have an HDTV. Our year living in a cabin in the woods was almost over, and we were returning to Seattle. The TV that was supposed to be replaced a half-decade earlier is still working like a champ, but it’s just too big and heavy for this move.

It was time to do Hi-Definition. Unfortunately, that sub-$600 1080p 36″ HDTV never came out. Sure they could handle the signal, but most in the $600 price range have a resolution of 1366 x 768. and “downscales” everything. Yecch!

The TV-as-a-monitor thing worked out so well, I decided to replace it with an actual computer monitor this go round. If you don’t need the HD tuner, you can get higher resolution screens for a much lower price.

…and as long as we’re getting a new screen, why not switch to The Internet instead of HD-Cable or HD-Satellite for our TV Show needs?

Having decided to replace television with the internet, we started packing. As moving day got closer, we kept discussing Life After Television and packed the TiVo (just in case).

When we got back to Seattle our first apartment had an abandoned TV/DVD/VHS-combo unit in it… and the apartment building has free cable – so we hooked the TiVo up for one last season.

Television got a stay of execution until June 30. But now the time is near, and the new monitor arrived in the mail two weeks ago.

I chose the V7 D24W33.

From the V7 Website:

24-wide LCD monitor is a beauty of a monitor that offers 1920 x 1200 resolution, 1000-to-1 contrast ratio and a bright, vivid display. These nice features are further complemented by wide viewable angle from side to side and an intuitive OSD (On-Screen Display) controls to help you optimize screen settings. Standard model comes with analog VGA input and a HDMI connector for high-performance video connectivity. This large handsome monitor is further enhanced with a height-adjustable stand (4” up-down) that also swivels (rotates) sideways 90 degrees, pivots to vertical position and tilts from -15 to +40 degree angle. For high-performance applications with desktop publishing, video conferencing, presentations, video viewing, game playing and the most common desktop computing needs, the D24W33 is visual and ergonomic marvel in any work or play environment.
D24W33 has received a prestigious “Editor’s Choice Award” from Motherboards.org and the “Gamer’s Choice Award” vom Gamepyre.com.

The V7 came with an HDMI-to-DVI cable, so it hooked up to my Mac and worked with no configuration. I have one stuck pixel, but it’s stuck white and it’s near the edge of the screen so I don’t notice it much. I’ve tried using JScreenFix, but it didn’t help. Any suggestions?

The first step to Replacing Television is complete. Now I’m beginning to panic. How will I learn about new shows without commercials zipping by at 60X speed? Will I have to remove my Ad Blocker software on my computer and start reading/following banners? Will I cave, buy an EyeTV 250Plus, and get cable for another year? Stay Tuned.