Friday, December 28, 2001

Going out of town...

OK, I'll be snowboarding for the next week. Mammoth is going off right now and the backside/backcountry calls. I've been putting up longer but more infrequent posts lately so check back in about a week and I'll try to find some more interesting stuff to write about (gonna borrow a "X-Box" and I'll write up about it ASAP). Thanks for all the e-mail, keep it coming, I'm still having fun doing this. I hope you all are still having fun reading this.

Hope you all had a very Merry X-Mas and have a Happy New Year. May the coming year offer a better, kinder and more peaceful world for everyone.

Be good, be safe,

Dave
My HDTV Saga continues...

Well, I got my HDTV decoder back from my friend and decided to give it another try. If you remember, I was getting pretty pitiful reception with an indoor amplified UHF/VHF antenna (read: glorified Rabbit Ear antenna). The reception with the 1st Generation RCA DTC-100 I was borrowing earlier was actually BETTER than with the newer Sony HD SAT-100 that I'm borrowing now. So in anticipation of the upcoming Winter Olympics to be broadcast in HD by NBC, I got off my duff and set up an external antenna.

Part 1: First, I had to sneak onto the roof of my Condo building by...er...bypassing a few locks here and there (luckily I'm on the 3rd floor so dropping the wiring down and routing it discretely wasn't a big problem). Heh.

Part 2: Went to my friendly local Radio Shack on PCH in Newport Beach where there was, amazingly enough, someone (the manager) who knew about pulling in HDTV/OTA broadcast signals. He reccomended a very economical package which consisted of the following: U-75R UHF Antenna $20, 5' Gray Antenna Mast $8, Wall Mount $7, 100 ft Low Loss Coax Cable (Indoor/Outdoor, get this type as the cable will be exposed to the elements) w/ ground wire $30, 75-300 Ohm Coax adapter $3, and some miscellaneous coax hammer in clips $2. Grand total: $76 w/ tax. Nice, much cheaper that I thought it would be. Actually, come to think of it, almost cheaper that that crappy indoor UHF antenna I have that doesn't do squat!!!

Part 3: Routed the wire (biggest pain in the ass of them all, I'll spare you the knuckle skinning details) and put up the antenna only about 4 feet off the deck of the 3rd story roof. Pointed it vaguely in the direction of Downtown L.A.

And.....Voila, we are now watching HDTV!!!! Actually, for how little fudging and how little money I spent, I'm pretty impressed with the reception. I could pull in almost ALL the LA HDTV stations and even a couple of San Diego ones!!! The Sony reciever re-maps the Physical Station to whatever the broadcaster defines as it's a Channel # that corresponds with it's actual channel number (ie. even though KABC is on UHF channel 53, the HD-100 remaps it to 7.1 b/c ABC is usually channel 7 in this market). I don't recall the RCA DTC-100 doing that, though on that one you could re-name the text labels for the channel which you can't do on the Sony.

Here's my line up (sorry if it comes out cluttered on a narrow screen):
(Station - Local Affliate - Channel on the Sony Tuner [ Physical Channel ] @ Signal Strength 0-100% : Comments)

CBS - KCBS - 2.1 [60] @ 100% : They're not broadcasting in full 16:9 and the framing is a bit off center.

NBC - KNBC - 4.1 [36] @ 97-100% : Also not quite full width but better than CBS. Centered.

local - KTLA - 5.1 & 5.2 [31] @ 100% : Full width 16:9 broadcasts. Great 5.1/Pro Logic surround sound. Channel 5.1 is English, 5.2 in Spanish when available.

ABC - KABC - 7.1 [53] @ 98% : Full width 16:9 broadcasts. Great 5.1 Surround/Pro Logic surround sound.

local - KCAL - 43.1 & 43.2 [43] @ 0-95% : I don't think this one broadcasts at night.

FOX - KTTV - 11.1 [65] @ 100% : The Simpsons but in SDTV upsampled to HDTV, doesn't look that good. Doh!!

UPN 13 - KCOP - 66.1 [66] @ 91% : Sitcom hell, just like the SDTV UPN station. Just my opinion though :)

local - KWHY - 42.1 [42] @ 97% : The Spanish languange Channel, Telemundo in HD? I think I'm too white/asian for this one.

local - KSCI - 18.1 & 18.2 [61] @ 100% : Asian programming. Korean mainly on 18.1 and Chinese on 18.2. I'm too white for this one too, even though I'm technically Asian :)

San Diego - KGTV - 10.1 [25] @ 95% : Who are these guys?

PBS - KPBS -- 15.1 & 15.2 [30] @ 0-90% : Man I wish I got this signal more clearly, some broadcasts have weird horizontal bars across the picture. Interference? I think it is a signal protocol problem actually. Good looking stuff in full 16:9 width too, too bad my Sony reciever has problems with their signal. Lots of wattage though. I don't think they broadcast at night either.

ABC San Diego - KFMB 8.1 [55] @ 52-90% : Not as wide screen as 7.1 and the surround sound isn't as good. Man these guys are cranking out some serious wattage for me to pick it up from here!

The Ones I Don't recieve:

PBS - KCET - 59.1 [59] @ 0% : The local Huntington Beach HDTV affliate, I don't think they are actively broadcasting any DTV signals at this time. I'll keep looking for it though.

San Diego - KNSD [40] @ 0%
San Diego - KSWB [19] @ 19%

Alot of the programming is just SDTV/NTSC resolutions or video sources upconverted to 1080i so it still looks a bit crappy. The big 4: CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS have some programming produced in HD natively though. PBS has some especially nice stuff.

I wish more of the stations broadcast in full screen 16:9 but many broadcast in 4:3 unless they are showing programming produced for HD or filmed in HD. The black bars are a bit bowed in on my Aconda coming from the Sony tuner, I think the problem was less severe w/ the RCA unit but still present. I was able to stretch the image proportinately by playing with the VGA geometry settings to get most programs to fill the screen, unfortunately, the settings for one channel sometimes aren't good for a different channel. That and the geometry you set in the service menu for regular TV/DVD/VHS viewing doesn't seem to apply when viewing in the VGA/480p/HDTV 1080i mode. Also, some channels are shifted to the left of center, namely CBS compared to the other channels. Dammit!!! For what it would cost for one of these HDTV Tuners (if I'd actually paid for one that is), it SHOULD be perfect. Dammit, another early-adopter tax.

Sorry for the long post, hope some of you find it interesting. Feel free to write in about your HDTV experiences. I'll update my channel information list as I play around some more.

Dave

Saturday, December 15, 2001

A nice DTS source

You know, I'm not really a Sting fan but he does put out some really well produced/engineered albums and he has always been on the cutting edge in terms of pushing the medium (ie. big proponent of the DTS format). So I was trying to find a copy of "Brand New Day" in DTS and I began to realize that most record stores don't really stock the surround audio formats (DTS, SACD, DVD-Audio), in fact, many didn't even know what I was talking about.

Forget your run of the mill Record stores or places like Barnes and Noble. Even the Virgin Megastore here in Costa Mesa didn't stock any surround audio formats. Tower Records had a weak little section buried in an obscure corner w/ a total of maybe 30 titles (though admittedly they're stocking more and more in the last few months). Amazon.com for the longest time didn't even have DTS as a search term and doesn't have a DTS/Surround Audio listing that I inow of.

Where did I finally find this thing? Actually, there was this place called "Ken Crane's Laserdisc Superstore" over on Beach Blvd. in Westminister/Huntington Beach but it has morphed into DVD Planet which offers some pretty darned good prices (about 10-25% off retail) in the store and over the internet AND they have a REALLY GOOD selection of Surround Audio titles. Heck, they even bother indexing stuff by DTS, DVD-Audio and stuff. I like it and I like that they're actually just around the corner so I don't have to wait for shipping!!! (P.S. Usual "I don't work for these guys and they don't slip me any $$" disclaimer cuz they don't. This effort is purely an act of love baby!)

Dave

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Dave takes a look at the 38" Aconda

I finally got a chance to check out the 38" Aconda at the Good Guys here at the Tustin Marketplace in So. Cal today. Keep in mind that this was only a brief viewing under less than ideal conditions: There was alot of really bright overhead lighting (not at all representative of how you'd be viewing it at home) that made the screen look washed out and required cranking up the contrast (not good for the lifespan of the phosphors on your tube). Also, the unit in question wasn't calibrated with any sort of test patterns so in addition to there being too much contrast (with very visible blooming) to compensate for the lighting environment, the color and saturation were all off. I tried to adjust it by eye but we all know that this isn't really an accurate way of doing things. Luckily a very knowledgeable salesman by the name of Rob Manassero was there to help me adjust things. I've spoken with Rob on a couple of previous occasions and he is refreshingly well versed in the finer points of Home Theater, HDTV and the Acondas (as well as all the RCA's/Proscans, Sonys, Mitsubishi's and all the other 16:9 HDTV's this flagship branch of the Good Guys stocks. OK, I'm a bit jaded having met too many salesmen who are obviously just making things up and throwing around big terms/words to intimidate/impress to just make the sale. It's nice to meet someone who's an actual enthusiast and who knows what he's talking about). If you want to see this set in So. Cal, this is the only location that has one to show that I know of and you should ask for Rob as he is quite helpful, and a nice guy too (the guy spent all sorts of time with me knowing I absolutely WASN'T in the market for another Aconda. What?! I'm not made of money you know!).

The first observation: I have to agree that the Sony XBR 40" does look much brighter (as someone else who's written in has commented on) and has better color saturation. The picture is quite clear and I think that with some adjustments and a darker viewing environment the 38" Aconda could look much better but I am pretty sure that the Sony 40", the 30" Aconda and the 34" Sony 16:9 tubes are much brighter. I don't know if this is a limitation of the 38" Tube size or if it is a problem with the RCA/Thompson tube the 38" Aconda uses. The resolution and detail on this TV was quite nice despite the lack of brightness, it seemed to be at least as clear as the 40" and 36" Sony XBR's but not quite as good as the 30" Aconda. The picture just doesn't seem as vibrant as on the 30" and seems, well, more subdued. On a HD source you could make out the fine details quite nicely with good reproduction of the "Depth of Field" effect that gives a HDTV image it's "3-Dimensionality" as described by some. This was done much more nicely than on let's say any of the non-DLP rear projection TV's in the store (you loose some of this "Depth of Field" reproduction due to the softness introduced by convergence problems in a non-perfectly lined up CRT projection TV in my opinion). The Mitsubishi 65000 being the exception as it's DLP driven projector has to be seen to be believed, I think the Mits is even nicer than most of the Plasma displays I've seen, but man that $12,000 price tag is a bit heavy.

The good news is that the 38" Aconda's comonent video inputs seem to work just fine w/ the Denon 2800 Progressive Scan DVD player and Sony's newer Sony DVP-NS900V Progressive Scan/Multichannel SACD player. I don't know what the problem is with the chipset or signal timings on the DVP-S9000ES that gives the Aconda such a fit. They had one in the store but it was hooked up to the 40" XBR and I didn't get a chance to get them to hook it up to their Aconda. I think the 38" Aconda they had on display had either a problem with the Component Video cabling or one of the input jacks on the Component Video input cluster as there was a bit of a shimmering/jittering when playing back DVD's from the NS900V and the 2800 in the top 1/3 of the screen that wasn't present when you view the HDTV source. Also, the overscan and Horizontal and Vertical amplitudes/offests on the demo 38" Aconda unit were a bit off with the DVD picture being just a bit off center and a tad too small and thus showing some wierd lines at the top of the screen. We played around w/ the Service Menu settings and were able to correct these problems easily. However, Rob is going to have their Tech guy come by in the next few days to really get the set adjusted well. Maybe the sucker got a bit knocked around a bit on the long ride over from Germany? : ( If you get one of these, you may want to have it unpacked and checked thoroughly in the store before you go. For the money you're paying, I should think you'd have a right to see it adjusted perfectly before you take it home unless you're feeling really brave.

Also Steve brings up a really good point, bring your DVD player or get them to hook up an identical model (assuming they stock it) in the store to make sure it works w/ the Aconda. So far, it's only been the Sony S9000ES Progressive scan that has been reported to give the Aconda fits but it's a bit too much money to gamble with in my opinion and well worth the hassle of unhooking/hooking up your preferred DVD hardware. A little of headache now will save you alot of headache later.

This is a REALLY BIG TV, and really heavy too. You'd better make sure your floors can take the reported 220 lbs of weight, not to mention your furniture. I think the same styling of glass stand may be available for the 38" as was for the 30" but this store didn't have it. Make sure whatever furniture/cabinetry you put it on is stout. It is a very nice looking set w/ the surrounding black laquer border curving off to the same degree as the tube itself. Altogether a really nice looking package, though I am a bigger fan of flat screen TV's. I think the amount of geometry distortion you get at the corners when you go up to a 38" screen makes a Flat Screen Tube TV not workable (Someone correct me on this point if I'm mistaken).

Man, this is getting a bit long in the tooth. OK, realize that I only spend about an hour with the thing and only auditioned 2 DVD players and the HDTV mode (via a Loewe HDTV Decoder box) in the store (as stated before, a less than perfect setting) without a perfectly calibrated TV. So, What do I think?...

Honestly, I'm a bit dissappointed with the flatness/dullness/lack of brightness of the tube. I think for the serious $$$ involved, it should be a bit more of a stunner. It doesn't have any Firewire or DTCP expandability so it does seem a bit dated compared with the Sony XBR units (though much prettier asthetically) which are looking like a bit more of a bargain considering the Sony 34" 16:9 comes WITH a HDTV decoder built in. I would like to see the Aconda again after it's been adjusted properly and parked in a better viewing situation before passing final judgement though, I think it has potential. Loewe, I know you can do better!!!

Dave
A 38" Aconda Owner's initial impression of his new toy...

Steven Madoff was kind enough to write in and share his thoughts on his new 38" Aconda.

"The picture is terrific, but it doesn't give the impression of depth that a really fine flat-screen TV offers. That would include the Aconda 30" and the Sony 34". I've spent a good deal of time looking at the Sony in their anchor store in New York. It's a superb picture, but it doesn't have the fineness of either Aconda. The color of the Aconda 38", after tweaking, is wonderfully subtle. It captures motion perfectly, without any artifacting that I can tell--and I've watched a lot of movies with it now. If this were a flat screen, I think it would have definitely been more impressive--and yet it's still incredibly good. There is no question that if I could use the progressive scan of my Sony, the picture would be even better. I think it's a shame, and a bit astonishing, that Loewe and Sensory Science didn't catch and correct the chipset issue with the Sony player that forces me to use the TV's progressive scan, while putting the DVD on interlace."

"I'm using a B&K AV307, two pairs of Vienna Acoustics Bach speakers, the Vienna Acoustics Maestro center channel, a REL Strata III subwoofer, and the Sony 9000ES DVD/SACD player. It's a knockout system."

"I'll try to write more about the TV soon. But definitely tell your readers to watch out for this problem by finding out about compatibility with the Aconda 38" and their player before making the big investment."

Thanks for the writeup Steve, I just got to see one in person today and I'll post a write up later tonight (gotta go to the gym and work out some post X-Mas party flab). I don't own a 38" Aconda personally so I don't feel qualified to post more than some superficial impressions but those of you who went and bought one of these babies pipe up and send in your reviews/thoughts and I'll put it up for all to read.

Dave
Dave's Aconda turns 1 year old

That's right folks, my Aconda is now 1 year old (well 1 year plus 5 days) with 1,746 hours of viewing time on it according to the Service Menu. Whoohoo!!! That and the Aconda Insider web site had over 10,000 hits as of a week and a half ago. Forgot to commemorate that milestone.

But, I think a summary of my personal ownership experience would be a more usefull thing for you guys:

Overall: I am VERY happy with the Aconda. It's gotten to the point that I can't really stand watching "regular" TV's any more. I have all the connectivity I need in my current setup (5 Disc DVD Changer, VCR, HDTV Tuner and all audio played through my Denon Reciever/Amp to my 5.1 NHT Home Theater speaker setup) and room for a few more components yet to boot. The picture quality remains unparalleled by any other set I've seen recently except maybe the new 40" Sony XBR (but that's the nature of technology: constant forward motion and improvement for cheaper. As things should be : ).

I have not had any major reliability or functionality issues. The geometry problems seen with the side black bars bowing in at the lower left and right corners were easily corrected with some tweaks via the Service Menu. There appear to be for slightly "Hotter" spots (lighter patches when the screen is showing a completely black image when viewed in a completely dark room) that were of some concern but honestly, when I am viewing an image/movie/DVD/broadcast, I don't even notice this. Apparently a ROM upgrade might correct this (and I have an older ROM version) however it hasn't bothered me enough to go through the hassles of getting an upgrade (that and I'd have to re-calibrate w/ Home Theater Essentials afterwards, a 1-2 hour affair that I don't relish having to re-do. Come to think of it, I think I'm supposed to re-calibrate every 6 months according to the really anal experts right? Yeah right!).

The Aconda works well with my (now rather old) DVD player in interlaced mode. As I've expressed before, I'll wait for the next really big jump in image quality/performance (ie. HDTV DVD's) rather than invest in the minor incremental improvements in video quality of a Progressive Scan DVD player (a hassle as I'd have to run it through the VGA port so that means a European or custom modified DVD player or using a Component to VGA transcoder). I do enjoy hooking up my PC and playing some really nice looking video games in 640x480p. I gotta tell you, even in such a low resolution and with the weak i810 based graphics accelerator on my poky 466MHz Celeron PC, it looks WAY BETTER than any PS2 or console based video game I've ever played.

At 1,746 hours of useage on the Aconda, I'm averaging 4.72 hours a day of useage. I'm pretty sure this is well below the national average for this country (it's like what, a really disturbing 6-8 hours a day of TV viewing right? No wonder our kids are getting dumber and fatter!!) and most of the viewing time is my girlfriend watching Animal Planet several hours a day. This number works out to about
1000 DVD's of viewing time assuming about 1.75 hours per movie (and I'm pretty sure I haven't watched 3 DVD movies a day for the past year!).

Oh yeah, I did accidentally break off one of the four plastic retaining tabs off the rear cable cover/clutter cover so it doesn't stay on quite as well anymore, oops. This happened on the day I brought it home when my friend took a turn too fast and the Aconda slid across the back of his Toyota 4 Runner and tilted over. Man did my heart stop, I think I yelled at him too. A tense situation, but the sucker is built SOLID and none the worse for wear even after Eric's driving and one year of use. I suspedt I'll be getting many more years of great viewing from this set, that is until something better/cheaper comes along and it gets retired into the bedroom...how decadent.

Projects for the new year: A better TV stand that also holds all my HT components behind some dark glass doors so that nasty rats nest of cables is hidden from sight, a nice look rack/storage system for my expanding collection of DVD's and Surround Audio CD's/DVD's, sneaking up onto the roof and putting up a better antenna for HDTV reception, finding a HDTV quality VGA cable, and upgrading my amp to a Denon 2801 or 3801 (but then I'd have to figure out how to add wiring for a second set of REAR Speakers, dammit!). The saga continues...

Thanks to all the regular readers and fans and thanks for all the kind mail. Keep the questions , informations and E-mail coming. Especially needed are reviews of 38" Acondas from those out there who have gone out and bought one. I have only seen the 38" Acondas in a store and don't feel qualified to comment on them except in passing. We'll all keep going as long as this stays fun eh?

Dave

P.S. I know, I write with ()'s way too much but wasn't an English major OK?

Monday, December 10, 2001

The Winter Olympics in High Definition

NBC & NBC'S DTV Affiliates in association With Mark Cuban's HDNet (Mark Cuban's High Definition Sports Network) will be providing selected 2002 Winter Olympic coverage from Salt Lake City, Utah in High Definition (1080i) and 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound. The broadcasts will be available via local NBC Digital TV Affliates as well as HDNet on DirectTV Channel 199. This is quite nice as those of us who are not DirectTV subscribers can enjoy the Olympics in it's full High Definition glory via OTA (Over The Air) HDTV broadcasts for my favourite price...FREE!!

Check out this article on Excite.com for more details: NBC and HDNet To Present Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games In HDTV. Good stuff!

Dave
Great Deals on DTS Audio/Videos

Those of you who have been following this site know that I personally really like DTS soundtracks/audio products. They just sound better to my ears and on my system. Unfortunately, they are a bit hard to find and tend to be a few bucks more expensive than standard audio CD's and non-dts DVD's. Check out the DTS Online Store where they have comprehensive lists of what is available on the DTS format as well as great prices on some clearance items. Some DTS CD's are at over 60% off the MSRP!! (Note, I do not work for DTS nor do they give me anything for my endorsement...but they could if they wanted to : )

Dave