New TV For The Bedroom

Circuit City offers a service where, for a fee, they’ll come to your home and set the TV up. Does anyone really need this? It was out of the box with the base screwed into place in two minutes.

element-lcd-tv.jpgWe went out today to buy a new TV for the bedroom. This is a set used by me when I wake up and by Helaine before she goes to bed.

Is it possible nowadays to not feel guilty when spending money? I definitely felt guilty. Isn’t that attitude going to take us farther into recession?

We decided we’d like something similarly sized to what we already have. Our old set is 27″, but it’s 4:3. All TVs today at 16:9. Have no fear there are websites that will calculate and compare. A 32″ TV is within 6% of a 27″ “old school” monitor in area with lots of extra real estate when the content is HDTV.

This was definitely a price based decision. We went with a Circuit City “Element” brand 32″ LCD TV at $399. It is a no-nonsense model with a single HDMI input, VGA and the other standard methods of moving video and audio.

Circuit City offers a service where, for a fee, they’ll come to your home and set the TV up. Does anyone really need this? It was out of the box with the base screwed into place in two minutes. I couldn’t believe there was a Phillips head screwdriver included!

I attached the coax and power cable turned it on and went to the menu to scan for channels. A few minutes later I was ready to go.

The analog channels are what I was expecting. The digital channels are a mish mash of repeats and weird channels with few things of interest. At least two digital channels don’t seem to be on my Comcast provided digital tuner in the family room. That’s some sort of screw up on Comcast’s part.

The digital companions to our local on-air stations are at their on-channel positions. So, though WCTX is usually Cable 9, WCTX-DT is on Channel 59. WTIC, the local Fox affiliate, is 61-1 squeezed between CNN Headline on 61 and CNN on 62. Now Homer Simpson is in the middle of a cluster of news outlets.

As I tuned I began to notice a lot of channels running HD programming on their SD channels but formatted 16:9 so it doesn’t fill the entire screen. What you get is a 16:9 picture on a 16:9 set but with loads of unused black on all four sides. I could hit a button an expand it, but it’s a manual job on each channel and the video will be pixelated as it’s stretched.

The tuner on this set reminds me of the tuner in an LG set at work. It probably is the same tuner. I assume there are mix and match modules used to build modern televisions. Companies like “Element” are more marketing than manufacturing.

The picture is bright and sharp and it’s an improvement over the old set. I’m looking forward to watching it.

Comcast Giveth–Comcast Taketh Away

Jose Candelario who I work with said he’d heard from friends this was typical and they’d disappear over the weekend. They did, just after midnight Sunday.

I didn’t want to write about this sooner because… well, I didn’t want Comcast to know what was on my new DVR/cable box. Remember the card from Monopoly: “Bank Error In Your Favor.” After we got our new HDTV DVR from Comcast it got ALL the premium movie channels.

“Wow, this is cool,” I thought.

Jose Candelario who I work with said he’d heard from friends this was typical and they’d disappear over the weekend. They did, just after midnight Sunday.

A few brief observations from my moment of free-pay-TV:

I enjoyed seeing Bill Maher. Pre-HBO we ran Politically Incorrect on the TV station until Bill became too politically incorrect.

Helaine and Stef have tried to get me hooked on Entourage. Now I am. I’ll probably continue to watch it via DVD.

I like Bruce Willis action movies.

Is it possible to find nubile young actresses willing to take their clothes off who can act? If so, Cinemax has not yet found them. These are a lot more explicit than I remember.

There are a lot of movies being played I’ve never heard of. Is there that much direct-to-cable?

Right now, for me, there’s not enough to make me want to subscribe. I already have enough channels with nothing worth watching.

Watching The New TV

In the past I’ve heard of people watching HDTV shows just because they’re in HD. I better understand now.

The DVR is set up. The TV is connected. The DVD is connected too. I moved it all onto the new TV table. Wow, it was so easy. I even programmed the universal cable remote for the TV and DVD player.

I need to read more about HDMI to find exactly what it is, but that’s the connection between the cable box and TV set. The picture looks amazing–bright and sharp on HDTV.

In the past I’ve heard of people watching HDTV shows just because they’re in HD. I better understand now. I got caught up in some Discovery Channel undersea adventure because the pictures were pretty. I switched off when I realized I wasn’t paying attention to what was being said.

The HD DVR Pick-up

Sweet. This is a brand new DVR model which has gotten reasonably good reviews from the on-line “gotta have it” community.

My “Secret Location in the Valley” friend from California thinks I’m crazy.

“You’re going to Comcast?” he asked. “Why?”

He’s correct. Comcast will come to me DVR in hand and make the swap moving me to HDTV. It’s what they do. It’s how my friend works. It’s how most people work–waiting for the cable guy.

I’m a hands on geek. I want to screw the N-connector hooked to the coax cable and string the HDMI cable between the DVR and my set. This is my fun. No one’s taking that from me.

I headed to Comcast on the way to work. They have a New Haven office a few minutes from the TV station.

The line was long. Only two of the four windows were open.

Standing in line at the cable company isn’t always pleasant. People are there to pay past due bills and get their service restored. Some are angry. Many are perplexed. Few people are there for routine customer service. The place is not built for privacy. You hear everything.

The long line moved surprisingly quickly. I put my old DVR in a large drawer which delivered it to the agent across the glass from me. She went to a cabinet, looked, stopped, moved farther down the cabinet and came back with a Cisco RNG200 HDTV DVR.

Sweet. This is a brand new DVR model which has gotten reasonably good reviews from the on-line “gotta have it” community.

The back is loaded with plugs and sockets. There’s a USB 2.0 connector. Why? I want to know. Same for the Firewire (aka IEEE 1394) port. What can I do with it? There’s HDMI to provide highest quality video to the HDTV. It looks like there’s a port for an external SATA hard drive.

As far as I can tell, there’s no instruction manual online. None came with the box.

Tonight I start the final phase of the switch-over. The new TV table gets moved into position and the DVR, DVD and possible VCR go underneath. Then the TV gets lifted into position.

Helaine can reclaim the family room.

The New HDTV Makes Work

Meanwhile, what about all the saved stuff? You know the shows you just want to keep over time.

Imagine a home with just Stef and me–no Helaine. That’s what the family room looks like now! It’s is ripped apart and randomly strewn. Welcome to HDTV.

It started innocently enough with the old TV going kerflooey. Finding and buying a new set was its own adventure (does anyone really know?). We’ve now got a 47″ Vizio which seems very nice.

Today I built the TV stand, a low, black two shelved table chosen to fit in our old school 4:3 ratio space. My electric screwdriver wasn’t charged so I brought it down and plugged it in, but never needed it. Actually, the TV table is very nice and went together easily. The instructions seemed to be in the original English. All the parts were neatly sealed in plastic–present and accounted for, sir.

We have a Comcast issue SD DVR. That’s gotta go. I stopped in at the New Haven Comcast office yesterday and was told “no extra charge” to go from SD DVR to HD DVR. We’ll see.&#185

Meanwhile, what about all the saved stuff? You know the shows you just want to keep over time. That sent me upstairs to a combo VCR/DVD-R in the bedroom. It’s now inserted in the chain between the DVR and HDTV. Sheesh!

Unfortunately, you dub in realtime. A 60 minute show takes 60 minutes.

By tonight the copying will be done. The VCR/DVD-R will go back upstairs. The DVR will head back to Comcast for a swap. The HDTV will go on its new table. The wires will be tucked away. We’ll be back to normal.

In the meantime it looks like a bomb went off.

&#185 – Over the weekend I mentioned that at&t’s u-verse looked like a good alternative to Comcast. One of my blog readers who works for at&t in Connecticut was nice enough to check out its potential availability for me. Not a good result.

“I hate to tell you, or any any potential customer, that according to the schedule she has, it will be a while before it is deployed at your location. Basically, Stef may be in graduate school…or worse…married by the time it is deployed there.”

The New TV Seems Like The Beginning

Yeah–this TV is going to cost us more money. As soon as I watched a little HDTV, SD (old school analog television) looked shabby.

IMG_2172-1.JPGA few weeks ago our family room TV died a horrific death during a thunderstorm. You can still see the picture, but the blue gun no longer lines up with the other two. It’s not a linear error either. Straight lines from the offset blue channel now form an arc. Everything appears on the TV twice… on the TV twice.

I did a little shopping and some online searching before deciding on a 47″ Vizio SV470XVT1A, which we bought this afternoon. Our old projection model was a hassle getting home. This LCD model fit nicely in the back of the SUV and Helaine and I were easily able to carry it in.

vizio-tv.jpgYeah–this TV is going to cost us more money. As soon as I watched a little HDTV, SD (old school analog television) looked shabby. We’ll need HDTV service and our SD DVR will need to become an HD DVR.

Actually, this whole episode sent me looking at AT&T’s U-Verse service. The website says it’s not available on my street. I suspect it is, because it’s available one street over and I’ve seen AT&T’s boxes in the neighborhood.

If you work for AT&T or know someone who does, will you help? Drop me a line.

The U-Verse package (including moving my home phone and Internet access over) looks like a good deal. Plus, AT&T’s DVR is in the midst of becoming a real media center, feeding any TV in the house from one location. It looks like they offer more than Comcast for less money. Gotta pay for the TV somehow.

Back to the TV for a second. It set up easily and has a very sharp picture. Right now it’s on the floor, but we’ve got a stand on order. This set was bought as much for its ability to fill a ‘built-in’ physical space as much as anything else.