Sunday, March 29, 2009

Home theater installed... mostly

I have to say only "mostly" because of two cables not being in place, a remote not fully programmed, and zone 2 speakers not set up -- though that's really a separate project.

But the receiver is in place, along with the center speaker on its shelf, the subwoofer, and four towers. The speakers are calibrated and the sound tested, and it's awesome. The subwoofer really makes the floor shake and this room has great acoustics. Movies rumble with sound effects, the soundtrack is sweet, and dialogue is so crisp even when it's up against effects and soundtrack. Even heavy accents and muddy sound mixes (like some episodes of QI) are so much easier to make out.

Music comes out great too (though I need to tweak the equalizer settings -- some music plays great but other things come out with too much base and a kind of thin sound, notably some Natasha Bedingfield I tried out, though that was before I changed the play mode and I haven't been back). Even the FM tuner that I didn't intend to use manages to pick up a radio station even out here.

The installation was pretty easy. I already had the holes drilled so running cables to the back speakers was surprisingly easy. I love having a full basement with easy access to the floor above me. The speaker cables were a little difficult only because the marking on the positive side was so subtle I barely noticed it and could barely see it even when I knew what to look for. At first I had the wrong pair of surround speaker terminals used but the automatic setup easily figured that out and explained it. The graphics from the Onkyo's built-in menus are kind of embarassingly clunky, reminiscent of Atari 2600s, but once you get through that initial setup you're not likely to be in them much anyway, so who cares?

It also took a bit of fiddling to get the DISH DVR remote to be able to control the volume and mute, mostly because the settings I found that worked did not control the power, which is the one they suggest you test with. But I really don't need it to be able to do anything but control volume and mute. I haven't yet experimented with making the Onkyo remote control the other device, but given how such things are usually dodgy -- you can't get all the buttons you need and remembering which one is which is usually more trouble than it's worth -- I won't invest too much time.

Now, as to the problems.

First, when I was ordering the subwoofer cable, I looked at the wrong diagram and so didn't realize that the subwoofer had both left and right inputs and suggested I get a Y cable. The cable I ordered is not, I'm pretty sure, such a Y cable, but it has yet to arrive (probably will arrive tomorrow). However, I've done a bunch of reading online and the consensus seems to be that the dual inputs are just for making it easier to run cables from systems that don't offer a subwoofer-specific mono out, and the Y cable is just a way to sell something you don't need. So I used an ordinary cable I already had, for now, and the sound is fine. Maybe the gold-plated solid-core cable that I ordered for this will do better, though; when it comes I might as well put it in.

It was the plan to run my four HD devices (PS3, HD-DVD, D-Link, and DISH ViP622 DVR) via HDMI to the receiver, and that's part of why I picked this receiver, its four HDMI inputs. However, what I had forgotten is that the HDMI port on that DVR is shot. Back when we first got the DVR, their manufacturing had a flaw (which they refused to acknowledge for a long time) that caused a lot of people to lose HDMI. We sent one back, which was a huge hassle -- all the timers, all the recorded shows, all lost. The next DVR had its HDMI port die in a week and we decided to live with it. I just used component instead and all was fine. Later, I used up my TV's two HDMI ports, and years passed, and I forgot that it was hooked up by component instead of HDMI because of the failed port (rather than having too few HDMI ports). So when I hooked the DVR up and got no picture it took a while to figure out why. I had to change the connection to component, which is just as good for picture quality. Trouble is the only way to run audio is digital optical (using a cable I don't yet have) or old-fashioned analog (which is what I'm using for now). A digital optical cable is on the way, and once it's in, our primary video source will also have great sound; and it's a testament to the receiver's quality that it could adapt to this situation with no problem. And even without the cable, the sound quality is noticeably better just because the speakers are great.

Oh, I suppose I should also note that the VCR that's been patiently sitting on the shelf unused for years died when I first turned it on and tried to make sure I hooked it up, but I had another one which was also sitting patiently. Once upon a time we had two VCRs which we needed to record all our shows, and lots of videocassettes. I was surprised how remote that time seems, even though we still had both VCRs sitting around, but we haven't even turned either of them on in years. Rescued the tape from the dead VCR and put the other one in, no problem.

Now all that's left is to think of what I need to watch again with this system and see how much better it is. Wheeeeee!

1 comment:

litlfrog said...

I am so happy this is mostly set up now! So what's first on the marquee--Eraserhead? Home Alone? Mamma Mia? Five Deadly Venoms? *crickets*