Maybe it's about time to enter the 21st century...

Reply Tue 27 May, 2008 11:28 am
E.G. and I have been talking TVs. It started with analog-to-digital changeover that will be happening February 2009.

We have an approximately decade-old Sony, roughly cubical (it's about as deep as it is wide), 22-inch screen. We're fine with it.

Our VCR is tetchy. We usually get movies from the library but they stopped carrying videos recently. Shortly after that we inherited a cast-off DVD player from one of E.G.'s graduate students. (That probably tells you all you need to know about the state of our "entertainment system" right there...) It works fine, though is also somewhat tetchy.

We still have the tetchy VCR, to play the videos we own. Eventually we'll convert the important ones (like a bit of video an uncle shot of our wedding) to DVDs.

We have Time Warner cable. Just regular cable.

We have no radio, or working turntable (we have a non-working turntable -- yes, really), or CD players, or anything. If we (they) want to listen to a CD we put it in the computer. (Mac.)

No speakers aside from the built-in ones on the computer.

We've been talking to friends about TVs and they're universally appalled. The graduate student who gave us his old DVD player has a flat-screen, enormous (50-something inches?) TV, and all this other stuff.

Some friends of mine who probably make far less than we do have a big ol' flat-screen digital TV, digital cable, a digital video recorder (that's what I really want), and VP capability (video phone -- they're deaf, and I'm about the only one of my deaf friends who doesn't have a VP system).

It was a really cool set-up.

What's amazing E.G. and I as we talk about this is that it seems to have become standard to have a big ol' TV, rather than a rare luxury. But they're still expensive!

We aren't in any particular rush, and we don't have much money to throw around, but we feel waaaayyyyy behind the times and kind of at sea with this whole thing and I thought A2K would be a good place to get more info.

What would you recommend as a sort of a starter kit, given what I've said so far? What brands or stores are good? Any other general thoughts or info?

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Reply Tue 27 May, 2008 11:32 am
Re: Maybe it's about time to enter the 21st century...
sozobe wrote:
It started with analog-to-digital changeover that will be happening February 2009.

More info:

What is the digital TV (DTV) transition?

The switch from analog to digital broadcast television is referred to as the digital TV (DTV) transition. In 1996, the U.S. Congress authorized the distribution of an additional broadcast channel to each broadcast TV station so that they could start a digital broadcast channel while simultaneously continuing their analog broadcast channel. Later, Congress mandated that February 17, 2009 would be the last day for full-power television stations to broadcast in analog. Broadcast stations in all U.S. markets are currently broadcasting in both analog and digital. After February 17, 2009, full-power television stations will broadcast in digital only.


See also:


If I have an older analog television, will I have to throw it away after February 17, 2009?

No. A digital-to-analog converter box will allow you to continue using your existing analog TV to watch over-the-air digital broadcasts. You do not need to get rid of your existing analog TV. In addition, analog sets should continue to work as before if connected to a subscription service such as cable or satellite TV. Also, analog sets should continue to work with gaming consoles, VCRs, DVD players, and similar products that you use now.

So there is no urgency. We just want to know more about this stuff. And if it seems feasible, may be interested in (gradually, if need be) building up some sort of at least semi-21st-Century set-up.
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Reply Tue 27 May, 2008 12:02 pm
I'm considering building my own media center PC. DVR capabilities, but also music and Internet.

Not really helping, I know.
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Reply Tue 27 May, 2008 12:18 pm
You will want to purchase an LCD flat screen TV. They aren't really that expensive. A 26" widescreen HD from Sharp is about $550 at Costco. Vizio is about the cheapest you can find right now, in any size, and they are damn good sets, only the very pickiest will find fault with them.

Right now I have the above two flat panel LCD sets, the Vizio in 37" in the MBR and the Sharp in the kitchen/dining area. I also have a 46" Sony projection set down in the rec room in the basement. All have DirecTV HD receivers. It costs about $75/month for the service (Total Choice Plus, HD package, and local channels). To be honest, I don't really need the locals because I can get them for the most part with a cheap antenna. More on that later.

You can spend vastly different amounts on sets that are exactly the same size. It varies by brand and features. Some sets have way more built in features and filters than anyone but the biggest videophile would use. And it sounds like you aren't videophiles, so I would recommend the less expensive route.

I hate cable. Typically only one company operates in any given market, meaning you have no choice but to pay out the wazoo for whatever lousy programming they offer.

DirecTV and Dish are national players, and competitors. DirecTV has more HD stuff than anyone, BY FAR, and is launching new satellites on a regular basis to keep up with bandwidth demands.

You have to "buy" your satellite receiver, which is a negative. It costs about $85 for an HD model and you don't really own it. It would cost a lot more if you did. You need one receiver per TV for satellite service.

Now about that antenna bit. Any HDTV or cable/satellite box that has an HD tuner, should have an ANT IN coaxial port (coax is the fat, round cable with one wire in the middle). You should be able to buy a cheap antenna (most are labeled "HD" these days), for about $10 that has a coaxial output cable. That is what I use to get most of my local channels including HD because it is better quality than satellite, and it's about 2 seconds ahead of satellite (due to latency - satellite is, after all, a long ways away).

For an upgrade, for about $25 you can get a "DB2" antenna from Amazon that will greatly extend your range, if you don't live within 40 miles or so of the broadcast tower(s).

If you already have a rooftop antenna, just use that. You may need to convert the old ribbon cable to coax - it's worth it.

And that's the secret of HD. You don't need cable or satellite to receive it, just the ability to decode the digital signal.

Any questions feel free to ask.
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Robert Gentel
Reply Tue 27 May, 2008 12:25 pm
I like using a Media Center PC. It replaces a DVR, DVD player, and can handle all your music. Then you can network it and "extend" the content to other rooms etc.
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Reply Tue 27 May, 2008 12:32 pm
There's a lot to be said for that as well. You still need a content provider, but media centers are cool. Apple TV is like cinnamon sugar applesauce, delicious.
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Bella Dea
Reply Tue 27 May, 2008 12:54 pm
Here's my suggestion: since you don't do the tech upgrade often, go with the best you can afford. Get it now because eventually you'll have to anyway.

Like cj said, go with the LCD flat and I'll add get a 1080i and widescreen. It's what everything will eventually be going to anyway.

Just an example (and we all know you can probably find this cheaper elsewhere but it's just an example)

Insignia TV

We have an Insignia portable dvd player and it works great. You don't have to get a Sony or a Sharp or whatever unless you are brand loyal.

If you can, get a Blu Ray player. It's been made official, Blu Ray has won out. You can play regular DVD's on a Blu Ray but not vice versa. They are a little bit more but worth it if you watch movies.

For a speaker system, if you want one, always go with the individual amp and individual speakers, not a set. That way, if one craps out, you have the warranty on just that one speaker. Makes life easier. JBL makes some good speakers.

HDMI cables are for HD. If you get a High Def tv (which is likely since most if not all are HD ready) you might want to go with the HDMI cable. It gives a better picture and all that. Optical cords for audio are best for digital HD sound. There are a MILLION things you can get to upgrade your stuff.

I'd go to several places like circuit city, best buy, whatever and just talk to the sales people. Get a feel for what's what and then go find the best deal.

Good luck.
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Reply Tue 27 May, 2008 01:21 pm
FYI, Costco sells more TV's than anybody, but they don't always have the latest and greatest. I don't mind paying less for last year's model, new in the box with full warranty.
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Reply Tue 27 May, 2008 01:55 pm
Great! Thanks for all the information thus far. Still way over my head but one of those things I can gradually learn more about and then start asking more intelligent questions.

We're not, like POOR, but $550 is still a lot... and sounds like it's just the starting point. We currently pay about $40/ month for cable, for example (vs. almost twice that for satellite). We have nothing on the roof now.

Robert's point is a good one though, part of why I want to think about this before going and buying any equipment -- completely different equipment involved in his set-up, right? (I didn't know about being able to do DVR from your computer, can you tell me more?)

Interesting about Blu-ray, Bella, especially that you can play DVDs on Blu-ray but not the other way around.

We're not really big "entertainment center" people in general. I barely watch sports anymore (and the last holdout, football, will probably fall into the abyss too now that Brett's retired). Mostly if the TV is on it's sozlet watching Spongebob and such. The only thing I can think of that we regularly watch now where it would be nice to have a "real" TV would be nature shows on Animal Planet. Well and movies of course, though we don't watch them very often.
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Reply Tue 27 May, 2008 01:59 pm
20 years ago a 19" tube TV that weighed about 100 pounds cost $500.
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Bella Dea
Reply Tue 27 May, 2008 02:56 pm
Blu ray is HD and a regular player can't read it. You can get a Blu Ray for about $300. Which is a lot compared to what you can get a regular player for.
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Reply Wed 28 May, 2008 06:13 am
The PS3 is also a Blu Ray player. That way you get a game system (more for your money).
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Bella Dea
Reply Wed 28 May, 2008 06:25 am
We have a PS3. But I didn't figure Soz would be interested in that.

Maybe I'm wrong? Soz, looking for a good gaming system?
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Reply Wed 28 May, 2008 06:40 am
Not so much. I'm sure sozlet wouldn't object, though. She definitely wants a Wii. Not a priority for us right now.

I debriefed E.G. last night on what you guys have told me so far (thanks!!) and we agree that we want to get a big-picture idea of what we're going for before we start assembling parts of it.

PC Media Center people (DrewDad and Robert) -- can you change channels if the mothership isn't in the same room? Like, say the PC itself is in the office, and a separate monitor (the "TV") is in the family room. I get watching movies, but what if you just want to channel surf or something? (Yes, I'm clueless, that's why I opened this thread...!)
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Robert Gentel
Reply Wed 28 May, 2008 11:48 am
A media center can be built to do just about anything, which is why I like them.

Here's how I'd set it up.

1) I'd decide what kind of casing the PC needs. I'd usually put it in the living room (or wherever the most TV viewing happens) so what furniture etc you have makes a difference.

If you can get away with a big ugly computer tower (e.g. if you can hide it in furniture) you can do the media center on the cheap. Otherwise you either have to learn how to make a small one, or spend a bit more money on one that is built with a entertainment center case (e.g. one that will fit right in in any entertainment center's "stack" of hardware).

2) The computer is any old PC with these additional requirements and recommendations:

- A TV card (otherwise no TV)
- A decent video card with compatible output to your TV (can be phased in and changed later)
- Lots of hard drive space (recorded TV can take up a lot of space, you want a bare minimum of 100GB and the more the merrier). Note that you can put more storage space elsewhere on the home network for the recorded TV etc.
- A media center remote.

3) What you can do with it:

- First of all, I like it for it's non-computer like interface to digital music. I can have my entire music library available through remote control. The key is that it has all the extensibility and flexibility benefits of a computer (mp3s, syncing with portable players, networked libraries) but on a remote controlled interface that can be used at a distance.

- Secondly, I like it for its timeshifting abilities in TV with it's TV recorder. It connects to the internet and downloads a TV Guide and you can program it to record what you want in many ways (including a metadata search e.g. any show that has "keyword" in the title or description). You can also pause and rewind live TV because whatever you watch live is being recorded temporarily anyway. You can view live TV or record live TV on one channel for every TV card you have (there is sometimes a limit of 2 cards depending on software etc) but the recorded media can be streamed to many other "media center extenders".

- That brings me to the networking. You can network it with other computers, media centers, and media center extenders. So you can make it so that any other computer can access it's music and tv, and with media center extenders (the xbox is a media center extender, and there are many products around a dvd player's size that will also do this) you can you can also control the media center from other locations.

The advantage is that you can build out your network the way you want, the disadvantage is that it's still a bunch of computers and computers don't work out of the box the way a DVD player will.

Additionally, you can often get a DVR player for free or for a nominal fee from your cable provider which takes a big part of the media center's benefits away.

So if you want to be able to build over time the way you want, it's cool. But if you want something that is easy then the dedicated hardware options (e.g. a dedicated DVD player, a dedicated music player, a dedicated DVR etc) is more limited but easier.

The cost can be the same for either scenario. It's possible to find a $300 media center and build from there but it's also possible to find a $20 DVD player and rent the DVR player from the cable company.

You can learn more about the Microsoft Media Center software here:

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Reply Wed 28 May, 2008 12:11 pm
Great! That's extremely helpful, thanks.
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Robert Gentel
Reply Wed 28 May, 2008 01:02 pm
To specifically answer your question, yes you can take a computer in the office and network it and then control live tv from the living room through a media center extender.

That works fine, but if it's the office computer and is used much it might be a bit of a pain. I prefer dedicated media center boxes, though mine often have had other uses as well.
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Reply Wed 28 May, 2008 02:35 pm
We also had an old Sony TV for about 20+ years. Then I bought a
Sony LCD about 5 years ago - no problems whatsoever and the picture
quality is superb.
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