Wednesday, January 03, 2007

my technical quest: 100 day update

I posted last fall about my technical quest, and updated the experience a few weeks later.

Now we've had our new HDTV/DVR/Mac Mini setup for 100 days, and here's my report card on the performance:
  • HD programming and the DirecTV HR-20 HD DVR. The HD television experience is still a dream. But, as I've been blogging here, I've been entirely too inconvenienced by the bugs infecting the DirecTV HR-20's performance to leave me anywhere close to satisfied with this experience. The HR-20 has been so unreliable that I've taken to programming the old Standard Definition TiVo to record the same programs as backup. The DirecTV folks don't quite seem to understand that a satisfied customer doesn't set aside time to reboot their equipment (losing 10 minutes of live TV) when they plan to watch live TV. And by no means does a satisfied customer think it's acceptable that the DVR "lost" programs it was set to record. I don't record twelve weeks of Amazing Race only to have the DVR fail to record the finale due to a "known issue." Perhaps I'm spoiled by the fact we own a TiVo series one DVR that has never (I mean never) failed us once. If only the TiVo Series Three was reported to be just as reliable as the one, I'd quickly make the switch. Seems we're all on the bleeding edge of HD DVR technology. I feel bad for folks who don't have a technical inclination like I do (the DirecTV help forum is crawling with them, btw). grade: C- (down from a B- 90 days ago)
  • Plasma as Mac Mini monitor. I got the Wireless Mighty Mouse and the Wireless Keyboard (both are Bluetooth devices), and the setup is working great. Still using the analog switch to go back and forth between DVR and Mac Mini, but we've grown used to it. Given the TV's 42" size, I can sit at the dining room table fifteen feet away with the keyboard and mouse on my place mat and use the TV as my monitor when I forget to bring home the power adapter for my MacBook Pro. The Mini recognizes our Toshiba 42HP66 TV as a monitor in the setup, so the picture is sharp and clear and lossless. Well, the only nit I have to pick is that it looks like there's a 15 pixel band that's hidden from top and bottom of the display. Not enough to compromise functionality, but I can't see the bottom of the icons in my dock. Oh, and a bonus to the HD tv as monitor: we now iChat with folks via the big screen TV instead of huddling around a small laptop monitor. grade: A- (from an incomplete 90 days ago)
  • Mac Mini as music source. Still haven't bought a new optical cable to improve sound quality from the Mac Mini to the Receiver, but that's because I'm still waiting for the Harman Kardon to come in. Amazon notified me that it was backordered and then notified me a couple weeks later that they no longer had any units to sell. So I've ordered a Harman Kardon AVR 245 (due in four weeks) and will get the optical once that's come in (no sense doing it on the Yamaha at this point). I'll admit it's great having all my iTunes available on the Mini... and as a super-duper Laserium-laced flashback bonus, I turn on the iTunes Visualizer and put it on full-screen mode to get a high-def stoner special on the Toshiba. While I should really keep this at incomplete, I'm giving it a grade on the current setup (with the Yamaha HTR-5140) expecting it to get better with the HK hooked up. grade: B (from an incomplete 90 days ago)
  • Mac Mini as DVD player. This has continued to be the high point of the experience. I've had no problems using the Mini as our primary DVD player. grade:(steady from a A+ 90 days ago)
So what's left to do? Not that I'm in any hurry, but I could see the following items happening in the next year or so:
  • Hook up our new Canon Pixma 530 printer to our Airport network so we can print from any computer in the house
  • As mentioned above, acquire and install the HK AVR 245 receiver. It's a 7.1 receiver, so I'd be interested in getting another 2 speakers for 7.1 sound (or sending the signal to speakers to be installed above our patio out back)
  • Change the HDMI switcher to be an automatic switcher instead of a manual one.
  • Get out of the DirecTV HR-20 contract and get into a TiVo Series 3
  • Consolidate the four remotes controlling the system into one multi-function remote
  • Permanently install our rear surround speakers instead of having them on stands that we move into place when it's a movie night and then "store" at the front of the room all other times

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