Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Access DTV HDTV Tuner card for your TV

This looks like a really promising product, it's been mentioned here before, but here is a full review on AMDPower.com.

One of the notable features is it's PVR or TiVo/ReplayTV capabilities of being able to RECORD full bandwidth HDTV signals! This takes alot of hard drive space though at 9 Gigabytes per 1 hour of programming. However, with the price of large capacity hard drives coming down so quickly, this is a very viable alternative to waiting for HDTV capable VCR's and DVD Recorders which will probably be priced much higher than this card and a large HD. I'm not sure if this thing also records regular NTSC to the hard drive as well, that would be sweet as then you don't need anything else!

Interesting...might be time for me to move beyond my poky old 466Mhz Celeron system and build a REAL system to act as my progressive scan DVD Player/Scaler and HDTV Tuner/PVR unit...


Sunday, October 28, 2001

Choosing a TV?

Richard wrote in: "I was checking out your Loewe site and wondering if you still would recommend one at this time relative to what else is out there. I'm thinking of forking out the bucks to buy this thing because I like the picture, but there sure are some larger sets with many more features now."

Actually, a couple people have asked similar questions so I thought I'd put up the unexpectedly long reply I sent back to Richard. Just my little humble/common-sense opinion right? Feedback and responses appreciated. Too bad the comments feature is dead, this would have been a good use for it. Hmmm...gotta figure out how to put up a forum section.

Reply to Richard:
This is a pretty complex issue that I probably couldn't do justice, here are a couple of points but the links to the on-line HT magazines I have listed on my site have some good intro articles on them if you browse around a bit.

Probably the most important thing to consider first is your budget. Set a firm budget of what you are willing to pay and try to stick with it as it is VERY easy for things to escalate out of hand. There is always a point of diminishing returns and you'll have to establish it early on. As with most consumer electronics/audio, there is a big price hit for added performance. As they say, you usually end up spending twice as much to add that extra 10% in performance. Be assured that the salesman will always try to sell you up so avoid the temptation. Remember dicipline!

Then, determine your viewing environment. How bright is the room and how big a screen do you need? The former determines how good the particular TV will look. For example, Front and Rear Projection and LCD's don't look good at all in a bright room. For these you will really need a dark viewing environment. The Plasmas are a bit brighter but not as bright as a Direct View (ie. Tube TV). Your distance from the TV to the seating position(s) determines what size you'd optimally like to have. If you would like a screen that almost completely fills in your field of vision, some say the screen size should be at least 1/3 to 1/2 the distance from the TV to the seating position. Any closer and the pixel effects become noticable and annoying.

Also consider the Aspect Ratio you would like. 16:9 TV's will for now cost nearly double that of regular aspect ratio TV's (at least that is how it is here in the U.S.). If you only watch broadcast TV programming and aren't really into HDTV or DVD's w/ letterboxing formatting, consider saving the money and going with a 4:3 or using the $ difference and go for a bigger 4:3 set. HDTV and Progressive scanning capabilities are really nice and will also cost you. Personally, I consider progressive scanning capabilities a MUST if you're going to spring for a nice TV. Remember not all line doublers are the same, you would like Inverse Telecine or 3:2 pull down compensation if you can get it (makes Film sources look GREAT, no effect on video sources). I only know of the Loewe and the Sony XBR450 series that have these built into the TV's themselves. You can get external line doublers/scalers but that is major $$.

Next consider the picture quality, you need to go and look for yourself to really get an idea. Be aware that most HT/Video stores have their TV's displayed in dark areas and have the brightness and contrast turned way up to make the pictures look more appealing but probably not at settings representative of how you would set your TV up at home. Kinda like using the bright shiny objects to attract kids, animals and buyers kind of paradigm...

For example, I don't have a large living room, seating position is about 12 ft from the TV. I didn't have a fixed budget but I tried to be reasonable (sort of :) and I have a bright viewing environment. I also wanted a tasteful looking TV that wouldn't dominate the room's decor. I watch alot of DVD's and not much broadcast TV and am getting into HDTV as well. So in my situation, the Loewe was a fairly good fit. I probably could have saved some $$ by going with some of the Toshiba or Phillips 32" 16:9 offerings, but I felt the Loewe's picture was MUCH better and liked having the built in VGA capabilities. The Loewe's design also REALLY stood out and I'm a big sucker for good design.

I have been impressed by the Proscan 38000 38" 16:9 as it seems like a good deal and alot of TV for the price. There is a RCA unit that is nearly identical to it also. BTW, the new 38" Aconda uses the RCA tube so springing $5500 for the Loewe versus $3400 for a Proscan 38000 is a bit of a reach as far as I'm concerned.

Sony has a nice 34" Letterbox set that runs about the same as the Loewe that looked nice but the picture seemed a bit dimmer and coarser/less film like. Don't know if it has a decent line doubler or merely Sony's DRC (480i -> 960i) process. I don't like DRC very much personally but you should check it out for yourself.

The Princeton Graphics monitors are very impressive but are expensive considering you can go up to a 34" - 38" tube for the price of their 30" unit. This is a conniseur's/Power User's monitor.

It seems the price of 16:9 TV's in general are coming down and their feature sets are getting better. One technology that is still quite expensive but very promising are the DLP Projection TV's. They offer the size of projection TV's with nearly the same brightness as a Tube. These guys are the one to watch.

Also consider that the Loewe doesn't have a 5C/Firewire port so as the HDTV copy protection standards evolve and the products are developed, your Loewe may end up with limitations. I don't think it is a big deal as things in the HDTV realm have pretty much stalled as of late and I enjoy having a good TV TODAY as opposed to always waiting for things to settle down. Only a couple of sets out there have a 5C/Firewire port and some aren't even DTCP compliant.

OK, that's just a very brief, superficial survey. There are many other subtle issues that are very relavant. I encourage you to browse around and take your time reading up before buying. Don't be in a rush to purchase and make sure you take your time playing around and critically viewing each candidate (play around with the video settings too and tune things down to normal levels as well, see if they will let you fire up the Home Theater Essentials or Avia DVD's test patterns and calibrations on them.) before dropping the big bucks.

Happy Hunting,


Sunday, October 21, 2001

More on the Phantom Menace DVD

Wow, there is actually alot more extra material on the second DVD in the set that I wasn't initially aware of. The second disc alone is almost worth the $18.00 I paid for the set. In addition to what I mentioned in the first post, there is artwork, story boards excerpts and 2 additional mini-documentaries (the 12 part one originally seen on www.StarWars.com and another 6 part one) on the making and design of the movie. This is alot of extra footage.

BTW, if you are watching the restored deleted scenes, there is a little surprise for you if you watch the complete Deleted Scenes with the Documetary on completing the deleted scenes. Kinda of a bunch of outtakes/spoof sequences like the end of "A Bugs Life" in the credits. Haven't seen anyone mention this in the reviews, maybe they hadn't seen the whole documentary yet.

Lots of fun despite the Jar-Jar presence. Why can't all DVD releases have so many goodies? I wonder how hard it would be also to create 2 edits on the same DVD, one the Theatrical Release and the other "Director's Full Edit" with such deleted scenes worked in where they would have gone as well as any other scene sequence changes/edits. You could select which edit you want from the main menu much as you currently select a sound option.


Friday, October 19, 2001

Digital Television sometimes looks pretty lousy...

At least when you are referring to non-High Definition Sattelite and Cable Ditigal transmissions. Many people have been asking my opinion of Digital Cable. I personally like the way ANALOG cable pictures look than the highly mpeg compressed signals used in digital cable. Unfortunately, in an effort to increase the number of channels (which also equals more revenue and drawing in more subscribers), both Digital Cable and Sattelite Cable companies have been really pushing the limits of digital video compression. Often at the expense of picture quality. See this New York Times article that talks about this bandwith issue (It is primarily addressing Sattelite cable, but the issues are similar with Digital Cable).

I'm personally sticking with my analog cable for now as the Aconda's internal line doubler really seems to bring out all those annoying mpeg artifacts that I see with highly compressed digital cable stations. That and you can't use the internal dual tuners/Picture in Picture if you have to use the digital cable tuner box and if you've ever tried digital cable, the changing of channels is AWFULLY SLOW, even slower than the Aconda's internal analog tuner which pushes the limits of my patience already. I don't mind having fewer channels, after all most of it is rubbish anyways... : )

(Ooops, I originally posted this on Oct 9th...to the FAQ section accidentally. So here it is in it's rightful home)

38" Aconda sighting...

Well an advertisement for one anyways. Harvey's in the New York Times is advertising the Loewe Aconda 9383 38-inch 16:9 direct-view CRT TV for $5500. Ouch!!! No sightings yet here on the West Coast, I'll try to stop by The Good Guys some time and see if they've come in. Hmmm, they were supposed to call me, those flakes!

If you want to see pictures of the 38" Aconda, check out the FAQ section of this web site or the Sensory Science web site (links to both are to the left).

The Phantom Menace on DVD

The reviews sounded good, and though I wasn't completely overwhelmed with the movie when I saw it in the theaters (and I HATE the Jar-Jar character and the slightly watered down plot), I said what the heck. It wasn't too painfull, $17.99 at Frys (Retail around $24.00) for a 2 disk set.

I have to say, the Video transfer is VERY high quality. I couldn't detect any visible MPEG artifacts at all which is pretty impressive considering the number very high speed, complex action sequences there are in this movie. The colors are vibrant and the images are extremely crisp and film like on the Aconda. Someone was really paying attention and optimizing the video transfer. The sound, while not in my favorite format DTS, is still a very impressive mastering in Dolby Surround EX (if you have that extra rear channel, it's in here) with lots of Low Frequency Effects to show off your Sub Woofer and bug your neighbors (I had to turn the LFE's to -10dB to keep it managable when I watched it last night, we'll try cranking it this afternoon ; ). The deleted scenes were apparently worked up to nearly full production quality just for the DVD release and the 60 minute "Making Of" documentary is excellent.

Over all, I'm happy with this DVD. It is one you should rent if not outright purchase as a benchmark/demo disk to show off your Aconda and your Home Theater system. Now if they would only offer a DVD "Jar-Jar" free edit...sort of a "By Popular Demand Cut" rather than a "Director's Cut"...


Tuesday, October 09, 2001

Hockey Fans Rejoice

NHL in HD begins on HDNet Oct. 4. It's nice when promises are actually delivered. HDNet, the all HD 24 hour Sports Network is bring 65 NHL season games to Direct TV subscribers.

Hey, where are the OTA HD Sports for the rest of us?


Wednesday, October 03, 2001

HDTV Program Guide

Hey, didn't notice this one before, but I stumbled across Home Theater Magazine's HDTV Program Listing/Summary. Showtime has a surprisingly large number of HDTV offerings, I had thought HBO had more programming but I may be wrong. CBS is again the leader in broadcast/over the air HDTV.

This one quite usefull and probably worth bookmarking.

Better HDTV Reception with ATSC transmission enhancements

Stereophile Guide to Home Theater's web site has an interesting article: An End To Fuzzy DTV?

The ATSC transmissions that currently exist are prone to multipath interference problems and those of you who own a ATSC/HDTV decoder can testify that Indoor Antennae reception is often terrible if you are not in close proximity to a transmitter. Interestingly it also seems that, according to several posts on AVS Forum, some of the reception problems may be due to the broadcasters not pumping out a truely ATSC compliant or poorly formatted ATSC signal.

Anyways, hopefully these enhanced transmission protocols and recievers will hopefully make HDTV reception more consistent and desireable. The fact that the reception via current ATSC set top boxes won't be effected is nice, but little solace for those who have sprung for the 1st and 2 nd generation HDTV STB's and are stuck with them.

Sigh, another example of the infamous "Early Adopter Tax".


Tuesday, October 02, 2001

Countdown to HDTV Deadline

Well, it isn't much of a count down as it doesn't appear that there will be any real consequences for the stations not making the FCC mandated deadline for conversion to Digital TV/ATSC broadcasting.

According to Mark Schubin's Monday Memo there are only 212 days left until the May 1, 2002 deadline for this conversion to take place. Of which only 208 stations in 70 markets (38 of which are Public TV stations! Go PBS!!!) have made the jump to digital broadcasting.

The good news is that if you happen to live in or near one of the major broadcast markets, you're in luck. If not, all that expensive HDTV capable equipment is rotting unless of course you are a Direct TV or Dish Network sattelite subscriber.

Ah the trials of being an early adopter.

FAQ Updated

I put up some pictures of the 38" Aconda and some specs with a link to the .pdf document with the full specs from the Sensory Science Web site are also present (Now that Sensory Science finally updated their web site a couple months ago). The link to the manual is broken, but I suspect that it is the generic manual for all the Loewe Digital TV's (ie. the Aconda). Still no word on availability or final pricing though.

Also, some assorted typos were fixed on the FAQ.


Monday, October 01, 2001

Sorry about the infrequent posts

I have been distracted by my other various other projects lately and haven't put much onto the Aconda Insider in the past couple of weeks.

One thing that has been taking up lots of my time is playing with and hacking into my new 3Com Audrey. For those of you not familiar with this thing, it is a dedicated internet appliance that has recently been discontinued by 3Com and is now selling for a measly $89.00 (original price was around $500). It is based on a very compact/small footprint Unix like real time OS called QNX that has a built in Web Browser, E-mail client and PalmOS compatible Address Book/Datebook/Palm PDA Hotsync functionality. For more information, see the Audrey Hacking web site.

This thing is really neat, you can even add on additional features like .mp3 playback, ftp, X-term/X-Windows, VNC, telnet, and home automation integration capabilities. If you're looking for a cheap second computer or thin client for your house this thing will do the trick. You shoud get one before they're all gone!