27
Dec
08

The Future of my Home Theater

So after my last post, here’s where things stand now. The Olevia is still standing tall and proud. The cheapo upscale DVD player is holding up admirably, and the PS3’s gone. That’s OK, it was always going away, and that just makes it easier to hook up my Macbook Pro without having to juggle too many cables (and that DVi-HDMI adaptor). Plus, my Logitech Harmony 880 rules over the whole system like Sauron and his One Ring. While this setup is great for watching TV and Netflix, both DVD and streaming, there is a noticeable lack of HD content. Right now, my most reliable sources of HD content are the local OTA stations which broadcast in HD, and the latest season of Supernatural, which I’ve been downloading in HD .mkv format from the Pirate Bay. (I buy the DVD set and don’t feel the need to buy episodes from iTunes and pay again for the DVDs.) Oh, and various HD video podcasts from Revision 3, the Hubblecast HD and the Hidden Universe HD. Those last two are really great and if you’re at all into space science and astronomy are must-sees. Clearly, there’s lots of HD content that I’m not getting, so there’s more work to be done. So here’s my post-Christmas, but pre-Macworld plans of where I want to go with my setup.

What I’m NOT going to do

I’m not going to get Comcast HD. They charge way too much and their HD looks like shit. When you compare Comcast with OTA HD, OTA is by far superior. I’d rather not pay much more and lose what I already have, or have to do some cable-splitting hack where the Comcast box goes to the composite, while the unencrypted cable or antenna go right into the TV’s tuner. That’s too much work, too much hassle, and too much money. Fuck Comcast. If there was some way to get Discovery, Animal Planet, History, etc without poking my eyes out, that would be awesome, but they look good enough right now, and if I really want them in HD, there’s the DVD, Netflix or TPB.

Audio

The speakers on the Olevia aren’t bad. In fact, they’re much better than the speakers in the old TV. But, the fact remains that a 5.1 system is just that much better. I’m not an audiophile, and so just like the fact that I can’t tell the difference between 720 and 1080 on a screen that’s smaller than 50″, I can’t hear the difference between systems that are “good enough.” To that end, I’m looking at three low-ish to mid-range 5.1 audio systems. The power output on all three systems is similar and the only real differences between them, at least from my perspective, is the array of ports. I suppose I could always go the route of buying my audio componants seperately, but I have my doubts that I could build a comperable system for less money that sounds that much better than a system in a box.

The Sony HTDDWG700 is the least expensive and has the fewest ports of the bunch. It has no HDMI, and only a single optical and single coaxial audio in, as well as an AM/FM tuner and dedicated iPod dock port (proprietary, not USB) and RCA audio. It sounds good, but I’m clearly limited in what I can attach to it and there’s no room for expansion. Again, not bad, but I don’t want to spend $199 on something that I’ll likely want to replace if I add a few more content sources. I could route everything into the Olevia, and use its optical out to connect to the reciever, but that still limits my options.

I’ll probably buy it if it drops to $150 or less.

The Pioneer HTP-2920 is better than the Sony, with more audio inputs, but no HDMI. It is more powerful, but slightly. Its slightly more expensive than the Sony, but not too much at $220.

The Yamaha YHT-390BL is clearly the best of the bunch, even though its almost twice as much as the Sony. It has two HDMI in, two optical and coaxial audio in and a bunch of composite and RCA in. I can also buy the reciever itself for $199. This is the one I want, bar none. It retails for $349 at Amazon and $369 at Best Buy. There’s probably a price point that’ll make me jump, but I can’t say for sure what that might be. In the end, this will probably be the system I buy, simply because its that much more capable and more future-proof than the other systems. It makes more sense to me to wait and buy the better system that I’ll be more happy with for a longer period of time.

We’ll see though.

HD Video

Here’s the meat of the issue. Quality surround sound really brings the experience home, but that doesn’t count for too much without the video. There are three methods of getting HD content onto the TV that I’m looking into: OTA, Blu-ray, and the Internet. The local stations here in San Francisco all broadcast in SD and HD. For example, Fox SD is channel 2 and Fox HD is channel 2-1. Not every station is that simple, like the CW, which is channel 12 on cable, but is TV 44, so the HD channel (even on cable) is 44-1. Not the most intuative setup, but easy enough to figure out. Plus, the remote allows me to program channels, so its just a single button away now.

The other two HD sources, Blu-ray and Internet are more complicated mainly because of the componants involved. Since there’s not really an all in one solution, the setup that will give the features and flexibility that I want basically require some sort of home theater PC.

The Blu-ray issue is easier to deal with on its own. A stand-alone player is out of the question for two reasons. First, they’re too expensive. There’s no good reason why disc players should start at $299 and go up from there. Ignoring audio/videophile equipment, which is always overpriced, I just can’t justify that price to myself, let alone Nicky. I think if I do go the stand-alone route, the obvious and only answer is a PS3.

The other solution, an HTPC, is so complex itself that I’m just going to stop here and finish tomorrow, since this is already long enough.

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