HDTV

Amazon Unbox

Send to Kindle

I haven’t had an interest in any of the movie download services (until yesterday). First, we don’t watch that many movies. Second, we have so many DVDs that we own, and probably will never watch. Third, since we only have laptops, disk space can become an issue if the download is purchased and is meant to persist forever.

There are a few TV shows that we really like. A number more that we watch regularly but don’t care about as much. One of our favorites is NCIS (Navy Criminal Investigative Service). We liked it from the very first episode, but not without reservations.

The stories are compelling and extremely well written. The twists and turns are clever without being absurd. On the other hand, for too long (at least 3+ seasons) the banter between the unit (specifically, one of the male characters with any female) was so juvenile as to be completely unbelievable, especially in this type of unit in these types of situations.

It was so maddening that we often discussed dropping NCIS from our regular habits (as we’ve done with CSI, CSI: NY, Cold Case and many others, after watching them for years). We didn’t stop, because the stories themselves were probably the best on TV, week in and week out, with very few exceptions!

Thankfully, at least a season ago, they toned down some of the idiocy, without losing each character’s individuality. It could still be less, and be a better show, but it rarely grates on me too badly.

So, being a must watch show for us, I record it on three separate DVRs each week. It records in HD on my Verizon FiOS DVR, and in standard definition on my DirecTivo and in the apartment (where it could also be HD, but I preserve disk space on that DVR more carefully).

We’ve been away for a few weeks, working and enjoying our godchildren’s graduations. When we got to the house, I saw that the FiOS DVR was 99% full. That’s because it’s the only one that I allow HD recording on. It had three episodes of NCIS on it (4/29, 5/6 and 5/13). It also had three or four episodes of House M.D in HD on it. All of those episodes were duplicated on the DirecTivo.

I knew that the stuff that was scheduled to record that night (this past Monday) would wipe out unprotected older stuff, so I chose to proactively delete shows to make room. I couldn’t decide between NCIS and House. In the end, I decided to delete NCIS because some of the scenes in House can be all the more disgusting in HD. 😉

We then ended up coming to the apartment a few days earlier than expected. When we got here, I was reminded that on occasion, the DVR here (supplied by Time Warner Cable) locks up, and even though there is plenty of disk space, nothing gets recorded until I reboot it. That happened the week of 4/21 and I didn’t get to reboot it until 4/30, which meant that I missed NCIS on 4/29 on the apartment DVR.

No biggie (or so I thought) since I have it up at the house on the DirecTivo. But, it also meant that we wouldn’t watch the remaining NCIS that we have here, until we got back to the house. Being the clever guy that I am, I connected my laptop to the DirecTivo via my Sling Box. I also connected my S-Video cable from my laptop to my TV.

I fired up the DirecTivo, found the correct episode of NCIS and hit play. A second later, it prompted me to save or delete the episode. Huh? After doing that a second time, I went into the episode information screen, and saw that the duration was 0:00. Ugh, for whatever reason, it failed to record.

What to do? Well, cleverly, I went to cbs.com to see if they offered up streaming video of the episode. Indeed, NCIS is one of the shows that they offer full episode streaming for (not all, and I have no idea why!). Unfortunately, they only offered the last three episodes, all of which I have on two DVRs.

I can understand (somewhat) why they don’t offer all episodes for streaming, forever. That said, it seems silly to cut it off at three, and to make the current ones available, which supposedly have more of a premium value to them. Then again, I don’t make these decisions for anyone, including CBS.

Searching the net, I came up with NCIS episodes being available for sale on Amazon Unbox. Like I said in the introduction, I’ve never had an interest in this, or any like service. That said, I’ve been delighted with Amazon’s MP3 Download service, so I at least trusted this brand and believed that the experience wouldn’t annoy me.

We decided to spring for the $1.99 to fill in our missing episode. The application downloaded and installed quickly. The 856MB episode file took a little longer to download (roughly 30-40 minutes). That part would have been a lot quicker if we were at the house, with our FiOS service. 🙂

I still had the video cable in my laptop, connected to the TV. So, once the episode downloaded I was able to fire up their player and watch it on the TV instantly.

The quality was quite good. We thoroughly enjoyed the episode, In The Zone, and were glad to spend the $1.99 to not have a gap in our collective memories of this show.

While each episode easily stands alone, even if it makes reference to past events, character development is always a nice touch. This episode focused on a cast member that rarely gets on air time, Nikki Jardine. If she ever plays a more prominent role in the future, this would have been a really bad episode to miss. Of course, she might never be on again, so who knows. 😉

We’re back to normal now, and can catch up with the rest of the shows on the normal DVR. We also watched the episode of House through the Sling Box, that wasn’t recorded in the city either (due to the reboot problem), so we can now watch the rest of those as well.

A very long post, just to tell you that Amazon Unbox works well, as advertised. While I don’t anticipate using it often, it’s very nice to know that it’s there for any future emergencies, or even desires. 🙂

HDTV Transition Continues

Send to Kindle

In September, in this post, I reported that we finally broke down and bought our first HDTV. As predicted, after watching the new TV for nearly four months, I started presenting all of the holiday deals on HDTV’s to Lois, whenever I saw them. I know she considered it nagging, rather than presenting. 😉

Finally, she said “just do it”. Her rationale (and I’m not kidding) was that we’re more generous with our friends than we are with ourselves (generally speaking), and that it was a shame that I didn’t splurge for these new “toys” for myself.

So, we took the plunge and bought two new HDTV’s for the apartment (bedroom and living room). One is the identical model that we have in the bedroom in the house. It cost $300 less than it did in September, at the same Sam’s Club. The other one is slightly larger (47″) which was the perfect size for the living room. It’s a Philips.

We brought them to the apartment on Thursday. While Lois was dreading getting them unloaded and up in the apartment, it turned out to be relatively hassle free, with the help of the building staff. Both TVs were set up in a very reasonable amount of time. The only problem was that we didn’t have HD capable cable boxes. I also had two HDMI cables on order that were scheduled to arrive the next day.

The HDMI cables showed up at 6:37pm yesterday. This morning, I walked over to Time Warner Cable’s store, and exchanged our two DVRs for HD DVRs. When I got back, I wired everything up. When I turned it on, I got a mini heart attack. There was zero sound through the HDMI cable. It had worked perfectly in the house, with FiOS, with the same cable, and the same exact TV. Oh oh…

Since both TVs got zero sound, I knew it wasn’t the TV. A single Google search yielded a forum thread from 2005 where people complained about this exact problem, only with Time Warner (so it wasn’t the box, it was the software on the box). The solution turned out to be trivial. There is a software setting (available through the settings menu) where you can direct that the sound be sent through the HDMI interface. Whew. I have concluded that the Internet is a good thing. 😉

One last thing for the near future (just didn’t feel like hassling with it today). While these DVRs come with 160GB disks, the FiOS one comes with 320GB, and it is puny when it comes to recording things in HD. In particular, with our travel schedule, the disk can fill up fast. So, I bought an external drive the other day that supports eSATA. The FiOS boxes have an eSATA connector, but do not yet support that port (they claim that eventually, a software update will light it up).

Time Warner (supposedly) supports eSATA, so I can turn my 160GB into 660GB when I plug in the new drive. I’ll get to it in the next week or so, no rush since the disk is empty at the moment, and we’re around for a while to watch whatever we record.

This leaves only one TV that remains non-HD. That’s the downstairs TV in the house, which is an ancient 60″ rear projection Mitsubishi. We’re rarely down there any more, and the thought of moving that beast out is not interesting to either of us, so it will be a while before it succumbs. It will happen, no doubt, but not just yet…

FiOS TV Leads to HDTV

Send to Kindle

As much of a technophile as I am, including being a gadget freak, I am also a reasonably late adopter for many technology breakthroughs. This included being very late to the Compact Disc party, among others.

HDTV was no exception. I have friends who have had HDTV for a few years now, so I know how awesome the picture is compared to regular TV, but still, I wasn’t motivated to get one.

Usually, it’s pure laziness that causes me to adopt late. In fact, many of my most favorite gadgets were gifts. In that regard, I’m easy to get gifts for (albeit very expensive ones!), because I usually don’t rush out to buy the latest thing. I am thankful that my first Blackberry, first Treo, first GPS, etc., were all gifts, or I might never have gotten them, and I love(d) them all. 🙂

In the case of HDTV, it was more of a logistic/tactical reason, rather than pure laziness. In our family room (downstairs), we have a 60″ rear projection Mitsubishi TV that we bought when we first moved in to the house, over 18 years ago. After weeks of nightmarish repair calls 11 months after we bought it (one of the few devices that I ever bought an extended warranty for!), they finally agreed (reluctantly) to replace the motherboard with the newer model (Diamond Vision II). Since then (17+ years), the TV has been flawless. The picture is hardly state-of-the-art (not even close), but it’s big, clear (enough), and has tons of stuff sitting on top of the massive cabinet that it is housed in (in other words, it’s a useful piece of furniture as well as being a functional TV).

It’s (obviously) not HD capable. When we first bought it, we had sliding glass doors to the backyard patio right next to where the TV currently is. Getting this monster in the house wasn’t all that painful. A few years later, we sealed off those doors and they are now just a giant (un-openable) window. The thought of ever replacing that TV is daunting. I have no idea how we’ll get it out, other than completely breaking it up. That would be a shame, as it would make for a fine TV to donate, to the local VFW for example.

In addition to that, I have DirecTV (non-HD version!), and had Cablevision without a cable box, and therefore without HD service either. I could get a new HD capable dish for DirecTV, but then my current DirecTiVo (with 250GB disk in it) would become useless. Painful upgrades, including installing the new dish outside, but still, I’d have to deal with the TV itself. In other words, status quo was the perfect solution. 😉

Upstairs in the bedroom, where we actually watch TV 99% of the time anyway (the downstairs mostly gets watched on Football weekends, by me alone), we had a 27″ regular TV. This TV also showed a nice picture, but it’s as pedestrian a TV as you can find. Only two inputs, coax and red-white-yellow audio/video input (which is called Game mode, for Nintendo-like consoles). The size of the TV was determined by the available shelf space in our wall-to-wall built-in. Given how deep the TV was, and the size of the only opening made for a TV, this was as big as it could get.

Enter FiOS TV a few weeks back. Previous to this, all of our equipment was downstairs. There was a single coax connecting the downstairs to the upstairs TV. Using a remote control extender, I could turn on various devices downstairs, and watch the DirecTV upstairs, etc. If all downstairs devices were off, then the basic cable was automatically passed to the upstairs TV.

With FiOS TV, we had our first cable box in the bedroom, including our first DVR in the bedroom. Of course, it is also an HD box (both DVR and live). After thinking about it for a whopping two weeks, I decided to break down. Yesterday, Lois and I went over to Sam’s Club to buy an HDTV. I don’t know all that much about them, so I spent about 30 minutes doing very light research (difference between Plasma and LCD, etc.).

Given that these sets are flat panels, I knew that I could go bigger than the current 27″, since the TV could be wider than the opening that the current one is in. I figured that I could go as high as 46″, but 42″ was likely optimal. Sam’s carries lots of HDTV’s, in all sizes and capabilities. After browsing for a long time, I narrowed it to a JVC 42″, a Sharp Aquos 42″, and a Magnavox 37″ (that I knew would be much more pleasing to Lois, aesthetically). All were full HDTV, 1080p, 1920×1080 resolution. I was leaning toward the Sharp. The JVC only had a 1200:1 contrast ratio (I have no idea whether that’s good or bad, but some other sets there were 15000:1, yes 15 thousand), so the JVC sounded puny next to that. I think the Sharp was 6000:1.

Well, it turned out that on the shelves under the demo TV’s, there was no Sharp, but there was one JVC, and one Magnavox (the 37″). I grabbed the JVC and ran. 🙂

Amazingly, the TV comes with zero cables, other than the power cord. Clearly, they assume that whatever source you are connecting to the TV, had to come with cables, or you prefer (yeah right) to buy your own. This, on a TV that can accept 5 simultaneous inputs of varying types! (actually more, but who’s counting)

Having not had any experience with HDTV, or even component cabling, and having hooked it all up before bothering to read either the JVC manual (which I eventually read cover-to-cover) or the STB (Set-Top-Box) manual, the only way I was able to get a picture was to use the lower-end red-white-yellow audio/video connection. That doesn’t carry full HD on it. So, while the TV looked very good (very good indeed!), it still wasn’t awesome. So, I got online and ordered an HDMI cable, which will arrive in a week.

After reading both manuals, I realized what I had done wrong, and I was able to use the component video plus separate audio cables, and I now have full HD working on the TV. Wow, cool! The HDMI cable should be simpler from a cabling point of view, but I doubt the picture will be materially better (if better at all).

Of course I was right about the aesthetics, as Lois wished (after the fact) that we had gone for the 37″ model. I (of course) am delighted that we went with the 42″ one. 😉

Lois also wished that it came in either white or grey, rather than the stark black (our built-in is cream colored), but there really was no choice at all, especially given that there was exactly one 42″ 1080p in stock. That said, none of the other demo models were really anything other than black or charcoal gray either…

At the moment, we can’t (without a lot of pain) watch the DirecTV upstairs. While I have a pair of video extenders somewhere in the house, an exhaustive search didn’t locate them (it’s been over 10 years since they were used). I ordered a new pair from X10 on Friday, and they too should get here by the end of the week, when the HDMI cable shows up. That should easily let me switch between FiOS and DirecTV. I still won’t have HD from the DirecTV dish, but it should still look awesome on the new JVC.

While it’s still likely off in the distance, we can both already feel more HDTV’s in our future. At some point, I’ll break down and replace the ancient TV downstairs, especially now that the FiOS stuff will immediately work on it. We had also already discussed getting one for the apartment living room. We never watch TV there alone, but it’s a gathering place when we have company in the city, which is reasonably often, so we might break down and do that in the near future. We’ll let this one sink in first though… 😉