Thursday, February 11, 2010

HDTV Accessories

As with all technology upgrades, getting an HDTV involves getting new cables and, for me, a new Blu-ray player to take advantage of the higher resolution. Once TiVo announces their new products next month, I'll probably be upgrading to one of those as well. But that's another post.

First, the cables. Currently, everything I own is connected by the ancient S-video cables and RCA for audio. HDTV's latest cable is the HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) that does both audio and video. In stores like Fry's and Best Buy, these are hideously expensive. $10, $20, and $30 are common prices. HDTV's dirtiest little secret: They are screwing you on the prices. CNET.COM did testing and recommends buying cheap cables off the Internet. I had several bookmarked in my browser, but last week one of the blogs I follow had a link to a site that sold three cables for $7.50 with free shipping. I jumped on that offer and they arrived a few days ago.

As for Blu-ray, I did lots of research on Cnet and other sites. Most new Blu players meet the Blu-ray Profile 2.0 specs that require an Internet connection. Most players have an ethernet cable port, but many newer ones can used USB wi-fi dongles. Some even include the dongles have have wireless built-in. Since my cable modem and router are in another room and the front door is between the home theater and said room, I wanted a player that could do wi-fi. After going through the reviews and pricing them locally, I decided to get an LG BD390. It got great marks on Cnet and has wi-fi built-in. It also can stream Netflix, another feature I wanted. After looking at other stores, I went back to Fry's and to my intense happiness, they'd dropped the price by $20 since my first visit two days before. That brought the price within the same range as my second place choice, the Samsung BD-P3600, so I splurged and spent the extra few dollars on the LG. I connected it to my existing TV via a composite video jack and within a few minutes, I was watching Dirty Harry in Magnum Force streaming from Netflix. Setup was easy and the picture quality was excellent even with a lowly composite connection.

For DVR, at least for the short-term, I'll probably trade in our Cox SD DVR for a Cox HD DVR. Once I get the TiVo equivalent, I'll just ax the Cox one.

The new TV should be here on Monday. It arrived in Phoenix tonight, though. Wish I could get delivery tomorrow.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Now (almost) in HD

Being the technowhore that I am, I've been wanting some sort of HDTV setup for years, but haven't had the spare change to piece one together. Finally this year the stars semi-aligned and I got enough money between my State and Federal tax refunds to afford a decent HDTV.

I did my usual research on screen sizes, ratings, prices, brands, ad nauseum. Since I'm replacing my old 35" Sony Behemoth, I mean, Trinitron, I didn't want to give up any size. I found that diagonal screen measurement isn't as important as the height between standard def 4:3 TVs and high def 16:9 TVs. I eventually found the simple ratio that I was looking for to determine the right sized HDTV. Take your old 4:3 TV's diagonal measurement and multiply it by 1.22 to get the equivalent 16:9 HDTV. So for my 35", I'd need a 42" HDTV to keep roughly the same picture height. So I had my minimum desired HDTV size.

Next I started looking at the various brands. I wanted to avoid the lower-end, no-name brands that I've never heard of or the store brand at Best Buy. While they are cheap, that quality usually shows in uneven pictures and early deaths. Out at various restaurants, I'd seen Vizios and Samsungs with great pictures. LG got some really good reviews as well. For slightly lower energy bills, I decided to go with an LCD over Plasma. I wasn't overly concerned with added bells and whistles because honestly, ANY HDTV is going to be an improvement over a 12 year-old CRT-based TV. The Sony still has an awesome picture for it's age and design, but time marches on.

I spent a lot time driving around the area looking at the local stores (Wal-Mart, Ultimate Electronics, Best Buy, and Frys) to get some idea of local pricing and how their pictures looked. I liked the LG sets and they were in my price range, but they lacked S-video inputs. Since ALL my current devices are S-video, this was an unfortunate deal-breaker. Vizio had some sets in my range, but I'm still a bit leary of their longevity. Ultimate had a low-end 46" Sony that had some positive reviews online but the closest store that had it was shown in Chandler. Wal-Mart had the same Sony on sale, but the only store that had it shown in-stock didn't have it when I went to check (it was only 3 miles from my house). After that, I decided to re-evaluate my search.

The biggest problem is that I don't have an SUV or pickup and the TV won't fit in my car. I'd need to rent a truck (uHaul had cheap rates that fit my needs) but the mileage charges to Chandler would be quite high. I decided to search online and see what I could find. I found the same TV online with free shipping and no sales tax, so I just bit the bullet and bought that one. It was shipped earlier today and should be here by early next week.