Sunday, October 08, 2006

technical quest update

As I posted a few weeks back, I'm on a technical quest to simplify the HT setup here at home. Here's the status so far:

  • Signed up for HD programming and an HD DVR from DirecTV. The install was seamless, if a bit late in the day (service window: 1-5pm, after a courtesy call to say they were running late, installers showed up at 5:45pm). Rave: The HD programming is amazing and, in my mind, justifies the cost of this whole setup. Rant: the DirecTV HR20 receiver/DVR is by no means a TiVo. Still getting used to the setup (and is plenty of fodder for a post unto itself). From the reviews, it looks like I'm not alone in my dissatisfaction. Hopefully with enough software updates they'll squash enough of the bugs so that I can actually watch the shows I've asked it to record. Amazing to see how all these years of time-shifting have spoiled me. grade: B-
  • Plasma as Mac Mini monitor. The DVI-HDMI cable works like a charm. Since I only had room to run a single HDMI cable up the wall to the TV, I've got a manual HDMI switcher to go back and forth between the Mac and the DirecTV feed. The signal was perfectly clear with the Mac Mini feeding into switcher port 1. When I moved the Mini's HDMI to switcher port 2 (and put DirecTV on port 1), the Mac's image output got pixelated. I'm still working to figure that out, but I need to get a wireless keyboard/mouse for the Mini to do any serious diagnostics. The borrowed keyboard/mouse from our Tangerine iMac is just too frustrating to use in the new setup. grade: incomplete
  • Mac Mini as music source. I tried using my Belkin optical audio to connect the Mac Mini to the AV Receiver, but it didn't work. I took the RCA out instead, and it works sufficiently (but nowhere near as good as the optical, I'm told). I've got a new (Harman Kardon) AV receiver on the way, and will post again once it's here and hooked up. grade: incomplete
  • Mac Mini as DVD player. To test the DVD capabilities of the Mac Mini, we popped in Ice Age. Our jaws dropped at the detail and 75 minutes later the test was over to much satisfaction. grade: A+

Overall, it's a nice clean setup with just the three pieces (AV/DirecTV/Mac) in the entertainment center. In retrospect, I'm very glad we mounted the TV on the wall. In addition to cleaning up the look of the whole thing (no dangling wires), I don't worry about anxious little hands accidentally knocking the Plasma set over.

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