Sunday, April 16, 2006

Considering HDTV

Toshiba 62HM15A recent article on HowStuffWorks got me reconsidering the idea of getting a plasma or LCD screen when I finally go to HDTV. Flatscreens are awfully gee-whiz cool, but they are really not the best option for many people. Rear projection systems like DLP are superior in many ways. Better picture quality, better blacks, no burn-in problem, longer life, no maintenance required, bigger sizes available, and most of all, far, far less expensive. The only real advantage plasma and LCD systems have is that they're flat; you can hang them on a wall in a small apartment. But if you already have an entertainment center, a DLP or LCoS system will fit into the same space and give you a better picture for half the price.

We're not quite financially in position to go buy one today, but now that I'm looking at DLP systems instead of plasma, we're a lot closer (especially in light of our income tax refund making a big dent in our debt). So I'm looking at options and doing some budgeting. Still more research to do.

I am pretty sure I've selected the TV we're getting and found a source for it at a good price. It will be a Toshiba 62HM15 (pictured above). CostCo sells this unit with its pedestal stand for about $300 less than BestBuy sells the less featurific 62HM95 (yeah, I thought the 95 would be a better model than the 15, but it's not!) without its pedestal.

So the next step is looking at HD services provided by the satellite providers (there's no cable in my town, and no OTA stations that come in at all clearly, so satellite is it for us). In particular, the sticking point is DVRs.

TiVoI have had a TiVo with lifetime service for over four years now and am desperately in love with it. But TiVo does not have, and has no plans to make, an HD system that works with satellite TV, except the barely-supported HD-DirecTiVo which runs an old version of TiVo software, and doesn't even support MPEG4 (so won't be able to get HD locals in most markets). Since the reason to stay loyal to TiVo is because of the superiority of their software, and going to DirecTV's TiVo offering would lose that anyway, there's no reason to stay with TiVo. I'm still quite annoyed by this and just starting to hit the "acceptance" part of the K├╝bler-Ross grief cycle.

VIP622 DISH DVRAs we've had DISH Network for a while now, and since they had their own DVR earlier than DirecTV, leaving theirs the more advanced and reliable of the two non-TiVo options, we'll probably get one of their DVRs. I need to call them to find out prices since they don't list them on their website.

So the HDTV and the DVR (with HD service) would comprise the initial purchase. My current TiVo, TV, and DISH receiver would go into another room and become a second, barely-used system. The very next purchase would be ways to replicate the networked-media functions of TiVo on the new system, so I could upload or stream video and MP3s from my PC to the HDTV, and extract video from the DVR to my PC if at all possible. Once that's in place, I'll probably end up moving shows from the TiVo to my PC and then up to the TV or DVR, since we have hundreds of hours of backlogged stuff on the TiVo to catch up on, and that's perpetually true.

Later purchases, which I'd love to make at the same time but financially, that's not realistic, would be as follows.

My living roomFirst, blinds for my doors and windows, with motors so they can be lowered and raised automatically. This is going to be expensive, but necessary. Most of the time, I want to live in this open, roomy space with a beautiful view of the trees outside my deck. I don't want to solve the glare problem by having a whole separate room for TV; that's not how we live and not how our house is designed. So blinds are going to be costly, particularly because of those angled windows, but necessary.

Second, a better surround sound system. I have a cheap one right now that gives me a little bit better sound than stock TV speakers, but not much. And since the volume controls are manual knobs, I have to go to the TV to turn it up and down -- net result being, it's usually too low to really make a difference. I'm going to hold off getting a new sound system until I can get a good one that'll really do the job well, even if that means suffering with this cheap one for a few more years. Probably get someone to come out and analyze the space and install it professionally, even.

I expect the HDTV and DVR parts will happen within the next few months. The other parts not for a few years. It's getting exciting.


HawthornThistleberry said...

Most of my concerns about the feature set of the DISH HD DVR were set mostly at ease by reading a review by C|Net which reassures me that, while it may not quite have the feature set of TiVo, it has most of the features I'd miss most.

TiVo pretty much got the whole DVR thing nailed a few versions ago, except for some small refinements. The biggest improvements since then have been in other features, primarily those related to moving content (audio, video, applications) to and from my computer network. Meanwhile, the other DVRs, which started out way behind on DVR functionality, have been catching up there, while falling behind on the multimedia appliance stuff.

Fortunately, those features I can mostly get by using third party devices. It's not quite as nice, but I can live with it, and it's worth it to get HD, I think.

HawthornThistleberry said...

As for those third-party media streaming devices, here's a comparison of several options. The D-Link MediaLounge DSM-320 looks like a good match to what I'd be doing, and tops TiVo in a few areas (no finicky, time-consuming video transcoding!)

HawthornThistleberry said...

We're going ahead with this.

The D-Link thing has been ordered.

We're ordering the DISH DVR and installation. DISH is giving us a runaround; we could get the satellite dish part upgraded in two weeks if we weren't buying a DVR, but for some reason, it takes five weeks to get the same guy to do the same thing when it's a DVR. We're looking for a way around that.

The TV itself we're probably going to go pick up on Saturday. Though maybe tomorrow night, still planning. We are getting a friend who can get a delivery van to help since it probably won't fit our Prius.

So at first we'll have our existing video setup feed into a different TV. Then we'll get the new DVR and that'll be the input. The TiVo will still be there on a secondary input for a while, though, with nothing new being recorded (in fact, no video signal coming in to record), just so we can watch what's currently sitting on it waiting. When it's finally empty, it'll move to another room, probably.

It's all very exciting. Though at the same time there's a hint of sadness at the idea of our TiVo's days being numbered.