Keith Combs' Blahg

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My HDTV Final Destination

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Introduction

I started my adventure many months ago.  It was one of those trips without a specific destination.  Those are my favorite kind of trips.  Because I’m a nerd, research and planning always comes into the equation.  Sometimes it is best to avoid those feelings and let lust take over.  I did that with my Infiniti G35 Coupe.  I did that with my HP DLP HDTV.  Lust rulz.

I planned to make this spiffy blog post about my final HDTV configuration, complete with videos, but the videos I shot sucked.  I guess I should have figured that since my Sony MiniDV DCR-TRV22 is a standard definition video camera.  It just didn’t do justice to my HDTV.  It probably has a lot to do with my lack of knowledge on exposure control.  Never mind.  Time to get down to business.

 

My HDTV

I ended up buying the HP MD5880N 58” DLP.  MD5880NI bought it directly from HP because Microsoft employees get a nice EPP discount.  Of course, I bought it back in October and it has already dropped $500 since then.  This is primarily due to the fact HP announced a bunch of new sets at CES a few weeks ago.

The set is flat black and very kewl looking.  The built in speakers are very nice and so far, I haven’t had a dying need to connect my sound system.  It has two HDMI 1080p capable connections, two Component connections, a VGA connection, and several composite and S-Video connections.

The remote and menus are easy to use.  I also trained the remote to operate my cable box and DVD player.

The picture quality is amazing although I am far from being an expert on the matter.  The only time I see anything that is sorta weird is when I watch a rock concert, or tight fast action shots.  During those times, the picture does some pixelation but I understand it’s pretty normal with todays technology.  It isn’t even remotely bothersome to me.  I also see some really slight rainbow effect on dark movies.  This usually only occurs when my eyes are tired late at night.  Nobody in my family has ever commented on seeing it.  As I understand it, it is the result of the color wheel spinning and some of the newer HDTV’s are using LED instead of the color wheel.  Again, it doesn’t bother me at all and is really minor.

The HDTV I bought got rave reviews initially.  I still give mine rave reviews.  However, as with all electronics there have been some reports of various defects, delivery issues and service issues.  You should probably review some of the forums on the internet and with all opinions, take them with a grain of salt.  Including mine.  Everyone gets different mileage.  So far, my set it doing great but I bought extended warranties from RepairMaster just in case I need it.

I use my HDTV with a wide variety of components and it has performed flawlessly with my Windows XP Media Center Edition PC, Xbox, Xbox360, DVD player and cable box.  Let’s dive a little deeper into those components.

 

My HDTV Connected Components

Your HDTV is only as good as the signal and content you feed it.  The first component I upgraded was the cable box.  That was followed by the DVD player.  I bought lots of cables, hard drives and gizmos to do solve various problems or to satisfy me.  I am not easy to satisfy as I found out. 

Cable Box

I use the Charter Communications Scientific Atlanta 8300 HD DVR. This DVR is fine but certainly not perfect.  My main complaints with the box are as follows:

  • Recording Schedule – it records the day and time, not the program.  It doesn’t have metadata (apparently) about a program so if a different program comes on in that time slot, it records anyway.  This was a bummer when the two day season premier for 24 occurred.
  • Hard Drive Size – 120gig fills up fast.  Fortunately the 8300 HD can be expanded with an external drive.  The 8300 HD has an eSATA connector on the back of the box.  So I purchased an external hard drive enclosure, eSATA cable (SS-1ESS Type “I” to Type “L”) and a 500gig Hitachi drive.  I figured this ought to keep me in HD hog heaven for some period of time.  However, the embedded Linux operating system did not like the big Hitachi drive and it would not work.  The avsforum.com thread on the subject indicated that a smaller drive might work more effectively.  So I pulled a 300gig Maxtor out of my MCE machine and used it.  It works perfectly now.
  • Power Saver – the box powers down at 1am each day.  This presents a problem if you are trying to control the box with a Media Center Ir blaster.  To Charter Communications credit, they created a custom provision for my cable box and it no longer shuts down at 1am.  Per their instructions, I power it off when no late night unattended recordings are planned.
  • HMDI connection – if you use a HDMI connection, it turns off video out on the coax and component outputs.  Again, this presented a problem with the Media Center connection and input to its analog TV tuner.

Upscaling DVD Player

I wanted a better DVD player.  I had heard that an upscaling DVD player could improve the signal and quality of the DVD playback for a high definition TV.  I didn’t want to spend a fortune on this so I bought the Sony DVP-NS70H at my local BestBuy for $149.  This has turned out to be a pure joy.  It does a nice job of scaling the 480p DVDs we all buy up to 1080i.  As with all things, the movie itself has a lot to do with the final result.  There is a big difference between the quality of “Revenge of the Sith” and “The Blob” with Steve McQueen.  Crud in equals upscaled crud out.  I can’t wait to see how the HD-DVD and Blu Ray drives work with my TV.  My Sony is connected via HDMI.

Windows XP MCE PC

I originally connected my Dell MCE PC to the HP via a DVI->HDMI cable.  It worked flawlessly but after testing Half Life 2, Doom3, email, etc., I started to miss that machine in my office.  1080p displays from the PC are kewl and all, but that machine is one of my workhorse machines.  So I disconnected it and moved it back to my office. 

I then attempted to stream recorded TV programs back to the HP across my wireless network.  Although that works fine for standard definition recordings, the network choked on the high definition recordings.  At this point I was just testing the DViCO FusionHDTV 5 USB Gold external USB tuner.  I had issues with the drivers for this tuner so I returned it and replaced it with the VBOX Cat’s Eye 150Dta-150 which I purchased at pcalchemy.com.  This tuner comes with MCE logo passed drivers and works very nicely.  It exposed my next problem however.

The VBOX tuner is a PCI card tuner and has a connector for a terrestrial antenna.  Yea, it requires an antenna and cannot be hooked directly to the cable feed from Charter Communications even though there are a number of QAM channels (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, WB) on that feed that are unencrypted.  Apparently this is a limitation of MCE.  I don’t really know.  I do know that this exposed my next problem.

My VBOX card is only as good as what it receives.  In the digital world, you don’t get snowy pictures.  Either the picture is on or off.  Sometimes it will be a little jerky, but usually not.  I tried a couple of antennas before finding one strong enough to pick up the local ABC affiliate.  All of the other channels worked great but the local ABC affiliate broadcast is on VHF not UHF like the rest of them.  This was a bit frustrating because I was trying indoor antennas.  I didn’t really feel like running a cable into the attic and mounting a big antenna there.  Fortunately the Terk TV5 did the trick and I pick up all of the channels without issue.  This exposed my next problem to solve.  This is starting to sound like a broken record.

Now that I have my MCE box recording all of this stuff, I can’t get it to the HDTV across my wireless network.  You know of course that the Xbox 360 can be used as a HDTV extender, but my wireless network doesn’t stream the content smoothly.  Now the real work begins.  I ran CAT6 cable in the attic and down the walls to all of the locations I need.  I had planned on doing this years back but never found the killer app to force it.  HDTV streaming broke the camels back.  Crimping RJ45 connectors is a blast.

This means my Xbox360 now has a direct Ethernet connection from the switch in my entertainment center to the switch in my office.  Now it is streaming MCE recorded content the way it’s supposed to be.  This also means I have another recording solution with effectively unlimited storage space.  My MCE PC only has a couple of 500gig drives in it at the moment, but a SAN could be used down the road. 

Xbox 360 MCE Extender and Gaming

MceWhat hasn’t already been said about the Xbox 360 game console?  It simply rocks.  As a HDTV extender for MCE, it’s beyond belief.  You should see the jaws drop when the in-laws stop by for a demo.  I do play games but this was the ideal solution for getting the HDTV recorded content from my office to the den with the entertainment center.

Xbox 360 connects very fast and is very responsive to the remote control.  My only complaint with the extender technology is that I would like the Xbox to wake my MCE PC from sleep.  I do not leave my pc up and running all of the time.  After it records a program, it suspends after fifteen minutes.  If I get that to work, then I’ll never have to get off the couch.

I am connecting my Xbox 360 via the component video connection.  I wish we had provided an all digital HDMI connection, but component works just fine.  I use the 1080i resolution and it looks “killer”. 

I also have the Microsoft Xbox 360 VGA HD AV cable.  When I originally hooked up all of the above components, the HDMI and Component connections were all filled on my HP.  Since I pulled the MCE PC off a direct connection, I switched the Xbox 360 back to the component cable.  The VGA cable worked perfectly fine but I prefer the 1920x1080 resolution over 1280x720 or 1360x768.

One of the Xbox 360 benefits I had not expected was a new HDTV version of Halo 2.  When you logon to Xbox Live with Halo2 and the Xbox 360, the new version downloads.  Very very kewl.  I ended up playing through the campaign mode again because it was/is fun to see how nice Halo 2 looks on my HP set.

We still have our original launch day Xbox.  It is also connected via component and does a great job of collecting dust.  We still fire it up from time to time but we love the new white Xbox 360.  Actually, we don’t like the Xbox 360 color so I’m sure some mods are in its future.

 

Summary

I saved and saved.  I researched and researched.  I lurked.  I waited.  I purchased.  What the hell took me so long?  In hindsight, it’s been one of the best technology purchases I’ve made in a long time.  I really enjoy watching HDTV.  I should have made the plunge a year or two before I did.  There are a ton of great HDTV sets on the market.  Spend a lot of time looking at them in various stores, with various lighting conditions and various signal feeds.  You can only satisfy your eyes.  That is the key to buying one of these.  Let me know if you have any questions and enjoy your trip.

 

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  • Well, Matt Hester (http://blogs.technet.com/matthewms/default.aspx) came over the other day to barter for a high speed wireless bridge I had stuffed in a drawer.  

    He brought my Achilles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achilles) heel, which is of course Tequila.  Needless to say, he left with the bridge.  

    I gave him the run down on all of the goodies. Ever seen a grown man cry? :)

  • Sorry, I was just now able to wipe the tears away. Keith's system is fantastic, all I have to do now is figure out how to "decomission" my exisiting TV, does anybody have a spare sledge hammer?  :-)

  • I was hoping you would buy the Toshiba with THINC network.  I am having trouble hooking up my laptop via crossover ethernet cable... with no luck!

    I have a SIS-900 base PCI card
    Windows XP home with service pack 2
    and a cat 6 crossover cable.  
    I have WiFi with the router too far away from my TV to hook direct to.

    I believe the issue is the config or properties of my PCI card, but I am not able to find details setting up the card and connection.  Any help?

  • What does the owners manual say about it?  

    If it's going to be able to see files on your laptop, then it needs to have the appropriate tcp/ip addressing and it must also use a protocol for file transfer the both understand.

    This assumes it isn't being blocked by the SP2 firewall, and you have shared out your music or picture directories.

    Windows, OS X and Linux all have a variety of file sharing possibilities, but most likely the TV is using the SMB protocol to see Windows file shares across the crossover or any other network.

    Are there any networking settings in the MX195 menus?

    If you are familiar with using a network sniffer, it should be pretty easy to see what the TV is doing on the network.  Most likely it's sending the standard DHCP discovery packets in order to get an ip address.  I'd be surprised to learn it's using broadcast onl methods.

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