Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Home Theater

I having been meaning to document my home theater for a while now. Here is a first attempt. Eventually I may have to devote some posts to the individual components. Unfortunately my setup is very outdated at this point, nothing supports 1080p. I bought my TV in 2005, before LCDs really came down in price, so I opted for a CRT HDTV, so even though it is only 26" it weighs around 100 pounds. It is also natively 1080i, which goes against the norm. All in all though, I am happy with the way everything is working. I don't plan on changing for a while, all efforts are currently pointed toward buying a house.


  • Samsung TXR2678WH 26" CRT HDTV

  • Series 3 TiVo

  • Samsung DVD-HD950 HD Upconverting DVD Player

  • Roku Netflix Box

  • 40GB Apple TV

  • Samsung AV-R601B DTS Receiver

  • Octava SW4A HDMI, Optical and Coax Switch

  • ConnectGear HSP12 HDMI Splitter

  • Sony LocationFree LF-B10 Media Streamer

  • Nintendo Wii

Above is a rough sketch of how everything is connected. As complicated as this looks, it is very easy to control thanks to my trusty Harmony 880 universal remote. The setup is also overly complicated because of certain limitations with individual devices. I had to go with the expensive Octava switch, over just a plain Monoprice HDMI switch because my TV does not support passing through surround sound from the HDMI port, and also because my the DVD player doesn't support HDMI audio. The Apple TV used to be connected to the Octava switch, but once I downloaded the 2.0 Firmware suddenly the Apple TV would become stuck showing the Apple logo when using HDMI. It is much more stable using the component cables. The Apple TV has all sorts of problems with many different HDMI devices, so I don't think the problem is with the Octava switch. In fact, the Octava switch has worked very well. It does a great job of auto-sensing signals and switching automatically.

I am also in a bit of a conundrum going forward because of my SACD collection. I own maybe a dozen or so SACD and DVD Audio discs, including Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and Nine Inch Nail's the Downward Spiral. Unfortunately at this point it is basically a dead technology. Most Blue-ray players don't support it. Only the first run of Playstation 3's supported SACD, but only through HDMI because it didn't have analog Multi-Channel output. I may have to keep my DVD player around forever because of this.

Another key feature of my setup is that I do not have cable or satellite TV. I use an antenna to pick up terrestrial HDTV channels. At first this wasn't by choice because I live in the one building in all of Pasadena that doesn't provide cable, and I would violate my lease by putting up a dish. However, I am now proud not to have that monthly bill and I am happy with the content that I do receive.

In terms of usage I would say that the TiVo is used 50% of the time, the Roku box is used 20% of the time, the Apple TV, the Wii and the DVD Player are each used around 10%. I am really a fan of the Netflix box. I like the subscription model much more than paying per rental. I pay 17.99$ a month to have 3 physical DVD's out at a time and on top of that I can stream as many movies as I want to my Roku box. We probably stream 2-3 movies per week, which is about 10 movies per month. With the Apple TV model, that would be at least 30$ per month, plus I still have the DVDs to fill in the gaps. I only have rented a few movies on the Apple TV, mainly new release action movies to take advantage of HD and Surround Sound. The only downside to the Netflix box is the availability of content, but it is getting much better. Netflix recently partnered with Starz, and that has brought in a much better selection. As of recently the Roku box supports HD as well, although with a very limited selection.

The Apple TV usage has gone up lately. I recently got an iPod Touch, and it has a nifty remote control application for the Apple TV so that selecting music to listen to is a breeze. I also like the photo screen saver functionality. When I first bought the Apple TV my intention was to convert all of my DVDs to MPEG-4 and make them available to the Apple TV. I was using Handbrake to rip the movies and I was running into all sorts of stability problems. However, Handbrake is much more mature now. It is much more stable. It also now supports retaining the surround sound made possible by the 2.0 version of the Apple TV. However, this introduces another conundrum. Do I rip each movie twice, once for Apple TV compatibility, and once for iPod compatibility? Or do I just live with the iPod quality on the Apple TV. I also wish that iTunes included built in support for ripping movies, because it is fair use. They support ripping CDs, why not DVDs?

Another thing that has deterred me from starting this project are rumors flying around that internet that Apple may soon release some sort of media server product. I want to wait a bit to see if this thing is real before I invest a lot of time converting my DVD collection, because it may influence my decisions. I have also been reading a lot about Boxee lately. Boxee is an application that can be installed on many things including the Apple TV that includes Netflix, Hulu, and much more. I have yet to do it because it is not supported by Apple, and it makes me a little nervous. Hulu may be the tipping point though. If I install it I will definitely write a follow up post.

I am now kicking myself a bit for being an early adopter because it seems that all of my gadgets are slowly starting to converge. I can now watch Youtube on the Wii, Apple TV, and TiVo. I can stream Netflix to my Roku Box, TiVo, and even the Apple TV with Boxee. The TiVo and the Apple TV can both stream video from my computer. Oh well.

1 comment:

Louisa Hemstreet said...

As long as your TV is still functioning well, it deserves to be displayed in your home theater regardless of its model and size. Hey, I like that drawing you’ve shared. It’s informative and it can be a guide to all who want to have a safe yet efficient home theater setup. = ) You’ve got some impressive gadgets packed in your room, btw.

Louisa Hemstreet