Saturday, June 30, 2001

Heading to Korea until July 14th

Hey folks, I am heading on yet another trip, this time to Sout Korea until mid July. Updates may occur but don't hold your breath as I may be too busy or unable to access an internet account to post stuff.

If I do find some internet access however, I will try to post on any nifty Consumer Electronics I find out here. It seems that Asia in general (ie. Japan, Taiwan, Korea, etc) are veritable hotpots of new Consumer Electronics items that haven't yet surfaced in the West. In the mean time, enjoy the Magazine links I've posted a couple of days ago and check back on the site after July 14th when I get back.

Laters,

Dave
Home Theater PC How-To

If you are looking to set up your own Home Theater PC, here is a good article on how to approach the task:

Stereophile Guide to Home Theater - HTPC How To

Dave

Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Home Theater Magazines On Line

OK, I'm giving up my sources. Here are the on-line Web Magazine versions of some of my favourite Home Theater Magazines. I gotta admit the geek in me likes the Wide Screen Review site the best out of the bunch for it's in depth technical articles. Book Mark them and be prepared to while away lots of time reading.

I'm just worried you won't need me anymore...snif.

Dave

Wide Screen Review
Home Theater Magazine
The Stereophile's Guide to Home Theater
Sound and Vision Magazine
HDTV DVD players coming soon?

Forget upgrading to a Progressive Scan DVD Player, this is the upgrade I'm waiting for. Unfortunately, it may be a couple of years away yet as the development of "Blue Light Lasers" is in it's early phases. The shorter wavelength of these lasers would allow for greater data density and read/write times increasing the capacity of the DVD medium from it's current 5.4 Gbytes to around 50 Gbytes (G for GIGA). A real necessity if you are going to be able to handle the 19 - 24 Mbits/sec data rate that HDTV bandwidth requires (I've heard numbers ranging from 19-24 Mbps). With current DVD technology, you could only get under a 30 min HDTV program on the disc, and I'm not sure that is using really good audio encoding (ie. No surround sound).

See this article in Stereophile Guide to Home Theater for a nice summary.

This article on Planet Analog gives all the gory details.

Dave

Saturday, June 23, 2001

Funny article about the Addictive nature of Hi-Fi Audio

The Washington Post has a really entertaining article about hobbyists who go Sound Crazy. I really worry about going too nuts with this HT Hobby thing but I think I have kept things in perspective thus far. However, I wonder if this recent speaker upgrade is one more step down the slippery slope...

Dave

Great Resource for Surround Music Info

Oh yeah, when I posted about WideScreen Review's web site, I forgot to point out a nice sub site they have dedicated to information and reviews of Surround Music DVD's, CD's (DTS), DVD-Audio Titles and SACD Titles (most retailers and on-line sites haven't even heard of the latter two formats much less any information on what titles are available). Check it out at:

SurroundMusic.net

Also, here is a nice introduction to the various Surround Sound Music Formats available.

I have been using my Home Theater Setup more and more for just enjoying concert footage. I am most pleased.

Dave
New Speakers for Dave

If you've ever checked out the My Aconda Setup section of this web page, you'll have seen that I have a pretty modest Home Theater System in terms of speakers. I was running 4 NHT SuperZero/Xu's as symmetrical Front R/L and Rear R/L speakers. This was working fairly well, as my original intent was to have small unobtrusive satellite speakers. I knew there would be a bit of tradeoff in terms of the range of my Frequency Response. As impressive as these SuperZero's are in their Frequency Range (85Hz - 25 KHz), I was starting to notice that I was sorely missing my Lower Midrange/Upper Bass Frequencies. This was becoming more noticeable as I was starting to listen to more surround Concert/Music DVD's and DTS CD's on my system. It is a great setup for just movies but playing music was just too demanding for this system, so...

I recently noticed that NHT was clearing their Super 2 series speakers at very good prices from various NHT Dealers. At the $750.00-$800.00 / pair full buck MSRP, these are considered to be VERY good values and to sound great for this price range. Specs below:

System Type: 3-way, vented
Drivers: 6.5" long-throw subwoofer, 6.5" midwoofer, 1" fluid cooled soft dome tweeter (video shielded drivers)
Response: 35Hz-25KHz +/-3dB
Sensitivity: 87dB @ 2.83V/M
Impedance: 8 ohms nom.,(3.8 min.)

Many places on the internet are offering these speakers at BELOW $600.00/pair. And I caved in after hearing the pair that a friend purchased. I am very happy with these new speakers and my system sounds even better. It was nice that these new Super 2's are tonally matched to my other existing speakers too and consequently blend in seamlessly. The only problem with this is that I may be straining my Amp a bit and might be "forced" to upgrade that too...dammit! If you haven't gotten into Home Theater yet, don't start, it's like CRACK!!! : )

These are a great buy in speakers right now so if you are also in the market for an upgrade...(A buddy called up Crutchfield's 800 number and found them for around $550/pair as clearance items. Don't know for sure if they have any more, you may want to check.)

Dave

Friday, June 22, 2001

Great Source for DVD Reccomendations

I've been getting E-mails since the last post about reccomended DVD's from many readers. Actually, there is a source of information that I can't believe I haven't mentioned yet which is Wide Screen Review. They have a very well written monthly print magazine as well as the web site I just mentioned. Be warned, this is a pretty hardcore magazine that has articles that get VERY technical (see this month's issue outlining the differences between Dolby AC3/5.1 Surround versus DTS 5.1 Surround as argued by their respective companies Dolby and DTS, it is not light reading).

They also put out comprehensive listings of current DVD offerings as well as basic information about which are in Surround Sound (Dolby or DTS) or some lower grade audio format like Pro Logic, plain Stereo, or Mono, screen format and aspect ratio, anamorphic images and other important details (details that aren't unfortunately not obviously apparent from the ambiguous DVD labels/logos).

Video/Home Theater hardware is also reviewed and their Year End Annual is always worth buying. I use this magazine to pick out movies to get on Netflix. Their DVD reviews encompass both a rating as to the technical excellence of the DVD transfer as well as a rating of how good the movie was in terms of storyline/plot/acting/etc. These guys are as anal about movies as I am!

Dave
I'm not watching regular TV anymore...

You know, this may seem like a plug but I really think the Netflix on-line DVD rental service is great. Basically, for one low price, you get unlimited access to their large 10,000 plus DVD catalog of DVD titles including many hard to find Foreign, Art and Indie, Music and Concert, Documentary as well as all the major Hollywood released DVD's. I subscribe to their basic service where for $20/mo, I get to keep 3 DVD's at a time for an unlimited period of time and unlimited exchanges for new DVD's from my Rental list. No late fees, no postage either, all DVD's come first class (usually within 2 days to my So. Cal location) with a pre-paid return mailer. No running to the video store only to be disappointed by the lame selection of only Hollywood Blockbusters.

I find nowadays, I always have some movie, documentary or musical/concert DVD that I want to see at hand at home (watched the entire 1st season of "Sex and the City" 2 DVD set over a weekend recently) at any given time. I almost never watch broadcast TV at all anymore. Next few DVD's on my list: Complete "Sex and the City" Season 2 (3 DVD's, for my girlfriend...), "3000 Miles to Vegas" (will be added too my list automatically when it comes out in August), Lawrence of Arabia (recent re-mastered, cleaned up film re-release on 2 DVD's), Complete 1st Season of "The Sopranos". Why watch lame pan and scan broadcasts of bad movie transfers with commercials on cable or what the Networks think you should watch (more dumb Survivor knock offs anyone?) when you can watch a DVD in it's full Widescreen glory? That is until HDTV becomes more available, whenever that happens.

BTW, I don't work for Netflix nor are they slipping me any $$ (though they can if they want... : ), I just think they have a really kick ass service.

Dave
A Great Deal on an Aconda in Huntington Beach, CA

The Good Guys on Beach Blvd. in Huntington Beach CA have an "Open Box" Aconda selling for around $2600.00. This is a whole grand off the MSRP so depending on the condition of the set, could be a REALLY good deal. I cannot vouch for the condition of this thing myself, but it looked to be in good shape. You may want to check it out and find out if it was in someone's home or a floor model. Make sure the factory warranty is good from the time of YOUR purchase and you may consider the extended service contract. In general, I avoid extended service contracts as they are a really poor buy...except for 16:9 letterbox TV's where replacement tubes (usually the first thing that goes) are VERY scarce and very expensive. I myself DID buy an extended service on my Aconda, and it may be even more important given that this would be an open box unit. I was charged $400 for a 4 year extended on top of the Loewe warranty, make sure they don't charge you more than this.

Hope someone can benefit from this.

Dave

Thursday, June 21, 2001

Whoo-Hooo!!! Over 1 thousand Page Views!!!

Apparently there are a quite few Aconda owners out there looking for more information. Good to know I'm not the only one geeking out. Sorry about the sporadic updates to the page, just having a tough time coming up with good information. If any of you out there have any info to share, please e-mail it in and I'll gladly put it up for all to partake. Also, any other subjects you guys want to hear more about? Less about? Let me know if I'm getting annoying : )

Thanks for all the really nice feedback too.

Dave
Visually Stunning DVD's on the Aconda

I think I might start putting together a list of exceptionally mastered DVD's that look great on a set like the Aconda. I recently purchased a copy of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and it looks GREAT!!! If you want to know what is ment by the description "Film-Like", run this disc on your Aconda.

I also recently rented "The Cell" which has some incredible visuals, though the plot and acting aren't as strong. The CGI Special Effects really show off the Aconda's ability to display knockout, vivid colors. The film is a bit disturbing which is probably why it didn't really do all that well in the U.S. market of rather pedestrian movie viewers.

Other DVD's considered good Visual Testpieces:

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Fantasia 2000
The FIfth Element
Heat
The Matrix
Ronin
Three Kings

Dave

Friday, June 15, 2001

Another VGA Switcher

Man, these things are coming out of the woodwork. Gotta love the AVS Forums.

DA1907SX Ditto-Amp: 1-in 2-out VGA Distribution Amplifier

DA1916SX: 2-in 1-out VGA Auto Switcher with Loop Output

Dave
Extend your VGA capabilities

This looks like an interesting product:
IN3262-2 way VGA Signal Amplifier

You can split your VGA output into 2 VGA signals at HDTV bandwidth and send either signal up to 100 feet to a remote display. Hmmmm...now I can hook up my Computer to my normal monitor in the den AND the Aconda in the Living Room. Maybe my Home Theater PC can live in another room so I don't have to buy 2 PC's....and the fan noise is far away too!

They also make a product that accepts 2 VGA inputs and switches between the 2 signals that will help alleviate running out of Progressive Scan inputs, check out: Inline, Inc. - IN3562R 2-Input VGA Switcher.

Look around their site as they have all sorts of really cool video switching products available.

Dave
Skyworth Progressive Scan DVD Player has a VGA Output

Eujin Hong writes in:

"I just received my Skyworth DVD player that outputs progressive signals via VGA for both NTSC and PAL. I don't have an Aconda to test this on, but if you know of anyone that is in the Boston area who has one, please drop me a line at: eujinh@yahoo.com"

I believe the Aconda can handle both NTSC and PAL stright out of the box. Nice!

Dave
HDTV Set Top Boxes for the Aconda

David Cherry wrote in asking about HDTV STB (Set Top Boxes) for the Aconda. I have been lucky to have had 2 models on loan to me to try out, the RCA DTC-100 and the Sony HD-100. Unfortunately, the reception from my Condo w/ an indoor antenna isn't great so my time with them actually recieving a good signal is limited, but I did get them to work. Here are my impressions:

You know, I've played with 2 STB's and while neither are perfect, the picture is noticeably better than even a good DVD player. I am still looking for a good Progressive DVD player w/ a VGA output to try out (besides a laptop computer).

There are 3 STB's available in the U.S. with a VGA output that I know of and have played with:

RCA DTC-100: Older model, 1st generation but still widely considered the gold standard by many on the AVS Forums. A bit slow to change channels and channel guide features aren't as fancy but it makes some pretty nice HDTV pictures and has good ATSC tuner performance. Because it is older, it can be had at a good price if you look around.

Sony HD-100: 2nd generation, but a bit disappointing in terms of reception sensitivity vs the DTC-100. Having a large Outdoor antenna probably negates this downside. Program guide is nicer and more full featured. Many have complained about the noisy cooling fan and rather unstable performance. Sony also hasn't been supporting this product very well. With the newer Firewire capable units out there, it may not be made anymore and support may become even more lacking.

Loewe HDT-100: Very Expensive, haven't had this one at home personally, but have seen it hooked up to the Aconda via a good Outdoor antenna at the Good Guy's showroom. Picture was quite nice and had good reception (bearing in mind that the outdoor antenna was probablly pretty good), but a bit lacking in features and aspect ratio changes are via a manual switch and not available via the remote. The circuitry is supposed to be top notch, but I haven't confirmed this beyond conversations w/ Sensory Science tech support, could be propaganda.

Check around the AV Science's HDTV Forums for reccomendations. The newer Toshiba's and Samsung's are reported to be nice, but only have component outputs and thus you have to use an external Transcoder to convert Component to VGA. Additional video noise may be added with this extra conversion. Some European models may hav VGA outputs but may not be compatible w/ U.S. ATSC Broadcasts (I am assuming you are in the U.S.) and I haven't played with them myself.

I would also love to get my hands on a couple of the PC HDTV Tuner cards and try those out, anyone else out there have any personal experiences with STB's and HDTV PC Cards?

Dave

Wednesday, June 13, 2001

More thoughts on the DTCP/5C Copy Protection and future Firewire Connectivity issues

I have been keeping an eye on this issue as the Aconda's do not currently have the capability to accept HDTV signals via Firewire which seems to be the evolving standard. While there is no reason for existing Set Top Boxes (STB's) with analog outputs to continue working in the future, missing out on future interactive HDTV features and having your STB signal downgraded by copy protection flags isn't appealing at all.

I have heard many comments on how the bandwidth of Analog HDTV signals is SOOOOO big that piracy isn't likely (think 19 Mega Bits per second, your DSL is barely 1.5 Mbps) nor feasable from a storage standpoint (about 20 Gigabytes / hour of recorded HDTV material) and I tend to agree that piracy of Analog HDTV signals from STB's isn't really pratical nor is it a significant threat at this time. Thus, Analog HDTV outputs will most likely continue to be produced in STB's and function just fine for the time being. Also consider that the Aconda has an expandable chassis so it is not inconceviable that an add on module could be made by Loewe at some point in the future, though I don't have any solid information about this possibility. It will likely be quite $$$$ as anything Loewe tends to be... : )

These 2 threads on the AV Sciences Forum discussion boards have been following this issue as they relate to the Aconda, check them out:
Firewire Question
HDTV & IEEE 1394/Firewire Question

You can also do a search for other threads under the search terms: 5C, IEEE1394, Firewire, HDTV Copy Protection

This seems to be a really active issue being discussed as of late.

Dave
Blog Voices seems to be down.

The comment feature on this page is powered by Blog Voices, but this has been down for the better part of 2 weeks now. So much for interactivity eh? Feel free to send comments by e-mail and also by starting discussion threads at Home Theater Spot's Aconda forum listed in the Links section to the left.

Dave

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Light Gun Shoot-Em Up games on my Aconda

I have been playing around with a dual Light Gun controller unit for my PC made by Act-Labs for playing Shoot-Em up games on my Aconda. And man is it fun!!! No more shelling money to play Area 51 in the Arcade. Forget about using the mouse to aim, having this Light Gun Controller brings out an entirely different dimension to gameplay.

This also really beats playing on a tiny 17" monitor. The shot placement is remarkably accurate and entirely playable. Only a few games yet support the Act-Labs Light Guns, you can see the official list here.

Of note are the Mods (User modifications to these games that add additional graphics, gameplay features, levels, weapons, etc) for Quake II and Half Life by this genius at Glitterstream that convert these two landmark First Person Shooter games into Area 51 type Shooting games. These Mods are so good I can't believe they aren't commercial products, especially the Gun Frenzy mod for the Quake II game. Free too!! I love the User/Mod communities that have sprung up around these games!

Now if someone would just come out with an Area 51 port to the PC that supports these light gun controllers. Maybe I'll try to make my own Quake II Mod to re-create this game : )

Dave
38" Aconda not available in Huntington Beach after all...

Got back from my vacation Sunday, went by the HB Good Guys store to check on reports that the 38" Aconda was available...nope, it wasn't. It is listed in their computers at MSRP of $5499.00 and available early July. My friend who thought he saw the 38" Aconda probably just saw a 30" or a 36" Calida and mistook it for the Aconda. Sorry about the false start...

But...

I did find some Loewe gear discounted: The HDT-100 (Over the Air/ATSC) HDTV Tuner was marked down from $1499.00 to $1199.00 as an open box special...still pretty cheap. Also, several 4:3 Loewe sets (Art and the Calida) were marked down around $300-400 as open box specials too. If you're not ready to take the 16:9 plunge, perhaps one of these will appeal to you. They looked really nice and the Art I believe has 1080i capabilities, a VGA Input, Component Inputs and the same line doubling circuitry as the Aconda.

Dave

Saturday, June 02, 2001

HDTV Basics

You know, I'm spouting off about HDTV issues and it occurs to me (after recieving several e-mails with some basic but important questions) that not everyone may be up to speed on the issues, technical issues and lingo. So I found these two really well written and illustrated articles introducing HDTV at GadgetSquad.com:
Part 1 - Guide to HDTV 101
Part 2 - Guide to HDTV 102

Dave
Broadcasters running out of time to convert to DTV

With only 203 Stations fully converted to Digital Broadcasting as of this date out of some 1288 broadcasters, it doesn't look like the original deadline of May 2002 set by the FCC will be made. But then again, will the FCC even enforce this deadline? This article on DigitalTelevision.com examines this issue in detail.

As an early adopter of a HDTV capable monitor, I want this conversion ASAP, in fact, I want it as of yesterday, with better signal strength too!! The sooner the better. Unfortunately, the broadcasters are left with a bit of a "chicken or the egg" problem as the few DTV capable STB's and TV's in use out there isn't a big enough number to rationalize the expenditure of installing this new equipment and the expense of producing High Def programming. However, without programming and widespread Digital TV/ATSC broadcasts, the DTV market won't ever really take off beyond us early adopters. What to do, what to do?

I think the interim solution is going to be the development of a Pay Per View offering of High Def stations for major movies, sporting events, concerts/musical performances via sattelite or cable. Again, another early adopter tax...

Dave
Indexed by Google

Well, seems like we've been indexed by the Google Search Engine. For those of you who don't use Google, it is widely regarded as the most comprehensive search engine on the Web today, it is the only one I really use regularly for general Web searches. Frequently, older articles are no longer available on at their original links, but Goggle will often have a local "cached" copy available for browsing and this is quite handy. Google's search space is so large that updates take a bit of time to propogate, so for specific areas (ie. Internet security, Business, etc), dedicated Web search engines specific for that subject matter are a bit better and more up to date. I don't know what this has to do with the Aconda except that I'm stoked that we've been found...

I'm gone on a cruise from June 3 to June 10, see you folks when I get back.

Dave
Great HDTV Resource

I've stumbled across this site in the past, but recently re-visited it and it seems to have been fleshed out quite nicely. It has one of the most comprehensive links for HDTV related news, issues and articles I've seen. Check out HD Pictures.

Dave