Posted by: htguys | March 26, 2015

Podcast #680: Wireless Surrounds that Work

Today’s Show:

Wireless Surrounds that Work!

We have been on a quest to find a wireless surround solution that not only works but works well! Maybe its because we live in a noisy home or neighborhood but we have not found a solution that has worked well. Either we would get static or in many cases we got nothing. Our last ditch effort took a product that worked with laptops and mp3 players and adapted it to work with our AVR.

The centerpiece of the solution is the Audioengine W3 Wireless Adapter (Buy Now $149). The W3 can process USB audio up to 16 bits/48KHz with no compression. However, for our application we used the analog audio input via a 3.5mm minijack which should be just fine for a surround application.

For use in a home theater application you would take the surround left and right preouts and hook them up to an RCA to 3.5mm minijack cable. If your receiver has a USB input you could connect the W3 to that and you would have power.

In our case we had neither. To get audio to the transmitter we used an adapter to convert speaker outputs to RCA (Rockford Fosgate RF-HLC High Level Speaker Signal to Low Level RCA Adapter $17.50) and then we used the RCA to 3.5mm adapter cable. The W3 includes a power adapter for either the transmitter or receiver. We used it for the transmitter.

The final connection to the Cerwin Vega VE5Ms requires an amplifier and the W3 receiver. The amplifier we decided to use is the Audioengine N22 (Buy Now $199) for two reasons. One, its has great specs! Two, it has a powered USB port to plug the W3 receiver unit into.

  • Power output – 22W RMS / 40W peak per channel (AES)
  • THD+N – <0.02% at all power settings
  • Frequency response – 20Hz-22kHz ±1dB
  • SNR – >95dB A-weighted

We could have gone with a much less expensive amp, and you can too to save the some money, but we felt the power and quality of the amp was worth it on our application. An alternative amp costing about $175 less that you could substitute is the Kinter 12V 2 CH Mini Digital Audio Power Amplifier (Buy Now $10.50) but then you would also need to use an adapter to provide USB power for the W3 receiver.

Performance

One word, success!! Ara’s wife had been giving him grief about having the surround speakers in the room just sitting there not making sound. The ultimatum was given, either get the speakers doing something or get them out of the room. This was the solution that not only got sound coming through the speakers but did so cleanly. The W3 has been transmitting sound to the surrounds for about four weeks now. There has not been one pop, click, or hiss in that entire time. And this is in an environment that has seen no less than three other wireless solutions fail miserably.

Another complaint some have with wireless solutions is that it may affect the wifi performance in your home. In the same period no one has complained about spotty wifi or sluggish performance. At one point Ara thought that some of the issues he experienced with Cox Communications cable may have been a result of the the W3 interfering with his wifi. the good news is that after changing his DNS servers those issues have been cleared up and all is good.

Final Thoughts

If you have invested a lot of money in your speakers and are in a position where you can’t run speaker wire to your surrounds, we recommend this exact solution. The N22 can provide enough clean power with little distortion which will put a smile on your face each time something blows up or flies over your head. If you need something that works but just don’t want to invest a lot of money, swap out the amp with a lower cost model and you’ll still be happy when you hear something fly over your head!

Download Episode #680

Posted by: htguys | March 19, 2015

Podcast #679: Speaker Terminology

Today’s Show:

Speaker Terminology

Ara has recently started a new hobby of building his own speakers at home. In the course of building them, talking about them and creating videos to show how he does it, we realized there quite a few speaker terms and some tech jargon we may throw around that not everyone is familiar with. Some of you may know this inside and out, for others it’ll be a refresher and for some, parts of this may be brand new, but we’ve compiled a glossary of sorts, based on some prior episodes and some new stuff, to make sure we’re all in on the conversation when talking about speakers.

Frequency Response

Measures the range of audible frequencies a speaker reproduces across the entire audio spectrum. This spec helps you assemble a set of speakers that allow you to hear everything you’re supposed to. The general rule of thumb is that we humans, with young, undamaged eardrums, can hear really low sounds down to 20 Hz all the way up to really high-pitch, piercing sound at 20 kHz. Many argue that the highest and lowest frequencies are less important because the human ear doesn’t hear them as well – and for some of us, not at all.  But for the lower range, it may not be as important to hear it as it is to feel it.

Driver

The scientific name for a speaker, or a loudspeaker, is an electroacoustic transducer. The transducer converts an electrical signal into the sound you hear when watching movies or listening to music. The individual transducers themselves are often referred to as drivers. The term speaker and driver can sometimes be used interchangeably. The word speaker is also used to describe a set of drivers in an enclosure – the speakers you buy at the store, online or in some cases, build at home. There are three basic types of drivers: tweeter, midrange and woofer.

  • Tweeter - A tweeter is a driver designed to produce high audio frequencies (typically 2,000 Hz to 20 kHz).
  • Midrange – Midrange drivers, sometimes called “squawkers,” are designed to reproduce the frequency range from approximately 300–5000 Hz.
  • Woofer – A woofer is the driver designed to produce the lowest frequency sound, typically from 20 Hz to 1000 Hz.
  • Full Range – A full-range driver is designed to reproduces as much of the audible frequency range as possible.

Larger speakers tend to cover a wider range of frequencies, which is why you typically want larger speakers for your front and center channels.  You can get away with smaller speakers in the surround channels because the sound there doesn’t tend to be as dynamic as the front of the room.  Although some very large speakers will cover the lowest end of the spectrum, down to 20 Hz, most home theater speakers don’t go that low, so you need a subwoofer to fill that gap. Without the really the low end frequencies, a home theater tends to lack punch and the audio doesn’t feel as full.

Crossover

The Crossover is an electrical filter that could be a high-pass, low-pass or band-pass filter. It is used to divide the audible frequency spectrum (20 Hz – 20 kHz). Since most loudspeaker drivers are incapable of reproducing the entire audio spectrum, the crossover is used to make sure the correct frequencies are sent to the drivers that are built to reproduce a particular sound range. Without a crossover every driver would be sent the entire frequency range, resulting in muddied and sub-optimal audio experience.

Porting

A port in a speaker cabinet is a hole or vent that allows air to escape from inside the enclosure. A speaker without a port is referred to as a sealed enclosure, where no air is supposed to escape from inside. This design yields a more accurate response and produces a speaker with a bit more punch. A ported enclosure is more difficult to design, it requires a more scientific approach, and they tend to be larger than sealed cabinets. But a ported subwoofer allows for extended bass response, resulting in deeper bass and a stronger physical impact: you can feel the rumble.  Ported speakers are also more efficient. They increase the bass output of a speaker by around 3 dB, and that cuts the power requirements for your amplifier in half. More on that in a moment…

Decibel

Decibels, or dBs, are a measurement of sound level. Our ears detect changes in volume in a non-linear fashion. A decibel is a logarithmic scale of loudness. A difference of 1 decibel is an almost imperceptible change in volume. It takes about 3 dB for most humans to hear a difference and 10 decibels is perceived by the listener as a doubling of volume. On your receiver or amplifier when you go from -15 dB to -5 dB the sound volume hitting your ears is doubled. As a side note, it takes a doubling of wattage in your amp for an increase of 3 dB. That’s why paying an extra $200 for the next model up just because it is 125W instead of 100W is a waste of money. Provided, of course, that’s the only additional feature.

Sensitivity

This is the spec we use routinely to rank speakers when purley going by paper, not by sound.  If you’re doing your homework on Amazon or another online retailer, keep an eye out for sensitivity.  It gives you an idea of how efficient a speaker is; in other words, how hard it is going to make your receiver or amplifier work to play back those explosions you want to hear louder than you probably should.  What it really measures is how loud the speaker will play when given a standard test input and measured at a specific distance,  typically 1 meter.

As you can imagine, when fed the same test signal, the louder a speaker will play, the more efficient it is.  So sensitivity is a measure of the speaker’s volume, expressed (as volume often is) in decibels. The higher the number, the higher the efficiency and the better your speaker will perform.  Your receiver or amplifier won’t have to work as hard to produce the same volume level. Typical numbers are in the mid to high 80s; anything over 90 is considered excellent. Sensitivity won’t tell you how good a speaker sounds, but it will tell you how easy it will be to crank it up.

Impedance

This is another measurement, like sensitivity, that is of no value when it comes to the pure audio quality of the speaker, but it can help guide some buying decisions.  Where sensitivity tells you how hard the amplifier needs to work to produce a particular volume level, impedance tells you how much strain the speaker itself puts on your amplifier.  Most speakers are rated at 8 ohms, and most receiver specs are quoted assuming an 8 ohm speaker load. The lower the impedance number, the more strain, so if you come across a sweet pair of 4 or 6 ohm speakers, you’ll need to make sure your receiver can handle them.

Also keep in mind that impedance is something you can influence if you decide to add more speakers to your home theater. You can’t simply add more speakers to the same channel. When you do, you change the overall load or impedance for that amplifier channel. Adding a second speaker to a channel, when connected in parallel, will actually cut the impedance in half, so instead of the amplifier working to run one 8 ohm speaker, it now has to work as if it is connected to one 4 ohm speaker. This could have a negative impact on your amp. Connecting speakers in series, however, actually has the opposite impact, but that may be too deep a discussion for this episode. Bottom line, make sure you know what you’re doing if you decide to add multiple speakers to the same surround sound channel.

Power Handling

This tells you the maximum amount of power you can run into a speaker without damaging it. To be honest, the spec is somewhat useless. A 200 watt per channel amplifier will rarely, if ever, run at the full 200 watts to each channel.  If you tried it, you’d probably have blood coming from your ears before your speakers, that may be rated for 100 or 125 max watts per channel, would give out or blow.  The 180 watt or 200 watt receiver is probably going to be a higher quality item than a 50 or 80 watt unit, so even though the smaller ones will never have the chance to ruin your speakers, they won’t sound as good either. Use common sense and you should be just fine.

Download Episode #679

Posted by: htguys | March 12, 2015

Podcast #678: Review: Mohu Channels

Today’s Show:

Mohu Channels

Last year we saw a cool Kickstarter project called Mohu Channels. According to the project description you would be able to:

Create your own TV Channel Guide as a mash-up of streaming apps, websites & broadcast TV with Mohu Channels. We’re making TV fun again!

The project has been completed and is now available through the Mohu website for $150. Being that we have had great experiences with every Mohu product we have reviewed in the past we were quite excited to get our hands on the device and put it through its paces.

Features

  • Combine all your favorite programming on a single source
  • Arrange your channels in any order: Kids channels. Sports stations. Streaming movies. Web sites for photos, stocks or weather. Local TV stations. You decide.
  • Use a real keyboard or smart device to type in movie names, web addresses, email or any other text. No more on-screen keyboards!

Setup

Physical setup is trivial, connect your antenna, HDMI, Ethernet (if you are using the device wired), and power. Next turn it on and select the HDMI input on your TV and follow the onscreen instructions. You are given the option to train the Mohu remote to work with your TV. If you have a Samsung TV it works out of the box.

We skipped this step and moved on to selecting our time zone and language preferences followed by joining our wifi network. The last part of the setup was scanning for channels. The tuner is quite good and found more channels than the TV’s tuner did. Once the channels have been found you can delete channels that you have no interest in or you can change the order that they appear in your guide.

The basic setup takes about ten to fifteen minutes, add five more for a firmware update, and you can start watching right away. But there is much more to Mohu Channels than simply watching over the air HDTV. Next up we added apps through the Google Play store. There are so many that you can add but we stuck with Netflix and Hulu and a few network apps. You can also add web pages but honestly we can’t think of a reason why you would want to. Once we added all the apps and channels we organized them in the guide based on our favorites. It takes a little time but once you have them organized the way you want it makes using the device simple and easy.

Performance

This was hit and miss for us. As we said above the tuner is quite good. it picks up channels that out HDTV didn’t and would stay locked even with a weak signal. Using the ARC channel of the HDTV we were even able to get Dolby Digital audio. But lip sync issues would pop up from time to time. Changing the channel away and back usually fixed the issue.  The picture quality was outstanding!

Then we watched Netflix and were not happy with the picture quality. Its hard to tell if that is an issue with the Mohu Channels device or the Netflix application. The navigation within the app was quirky, using the D-pad for navigation was problematic. For instance you could not select episodes. The only way we were able to do so was with the pointer. The top it off the audio was only stereo. Compared to the Netflix app on the TV, Amazon Fire, or AppleTV, the device did not compare favorably.

Then we checked out Hulu+ and found video to be slightly better but in all the experience was not much better than the Netflix app.

The user interface took a little getting used to but after a little time it was acceptable. The remote’s pointer/mouse function frustrated us at first. To make the selection with it you need to press SEL and try not to move the remote. It took a little practice but as soon as we mastered it we were able to select anything we pointed at. It is nice having a full keyboard to make surfing and adding content easier. The pointer makes navigating around the various apps and GUI elements easier as well. Everything works as advertised but it just didn’t seem to flow nicely.

After speaking with the Mohu people we learned that the company is getting a lot of feedback and is paying attention to it. They will be releasing a Firmware update to fix a couple of issues in the next few days. They tell us they are committed to making the product easy and fun to use.  They are also working on the Netflix experience but admit some of the issues we experienced may be out of their control.

Mohu One

Mohu One is a web content aggregator that finds videos from Youtube, Vevo, Fox Sports, and more and presents them in a single interface grouped by category.  This is a web service so you can use the site with or without the device. We used the pointer to navigate this device because the D-Pad navigation had a few quirks.

DVR

Right now there is no DVR function available. The device does have a USB port that will allow for this capability in the future. Mohu wants to keep this a no cost to use device so they are trying to work the TV Guide issues associated with such a product. More info on this in the future.

Conclusion

Mohu Channels has the right idea but still needs a little work. There is a lot of potential in this little device. We’ll check back with it in a few months so see how it is progressing. Mohu Channels  may end up being the cord cutters Swiss Army Knife in the near future.

Download Episode #678

Today’s Show:

Enter the HT Guys 10 Year Anniversary Contest

Get your own HT Guys swag (well, shirts at least)

VidiPath Technology from DLNA

What is the worst part about subscription television service? Ask ten people and you may get a few different answers, but odds are a few of them would agree on the cost of the service. Not just the service, but all the additional fees, especially the fees to have a set top box in the rooms where you want to watch TV.  Can it really cost the provider that much more to let you watch in a second room? You’re already paying for the service.

The DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) is hoping their new VidiPath technology will make that easier on you. The plan for VidiPath is to let you view all of your pay TV content on multiple TVs throughout your home without the need to rent additional set-top boxes for each room. DLNA technology is certified and available on over four billion devices worldwide. Many of us have been using it for years to stream content, movies and music, from computers or network drives to TVs and other connected devices.

The addition of VidiPath technology opens up the possibilities of what you can stream over your DLNA connections.  According to DLNA executive director Donna Moore, “with the addition of VidiPath, DLNA has expanded its ecosystem to include the secure delivery of subscription-TV content.” So you can stream pretty much anything now, from movies stored on your video server to live content from your cable provider, to any certified device in your home.

The technology will work over wired and wireless network connections (using WiFi), so you’ll be able to play content on wireless devices like tablets and smartphones in addition to TVs, game consoles, computers and other set top boxes. We’re hearing that the first VidiPath certified devices should come to market this quarter, so we should start to see them pop up later this month. Of course you’ll need a VidiPath certified device from your provider, but after that you can add any VidiPath certified playback device to get the content in any room you want.

Of course the initiative is led by the DLNA, but it has some pretty solid logos backing it as well. Providers Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications are in with both feet and have already committed to having VidiPath enabled set-top boxes or gateways available to their subscribers. Sony, Samsung and Broadcom are onboard as well. So we’d expect to see a smattering of televisions, tablets and other devices hitting the shelves soon.

A single VidiPath certified set-top box or gateway from a traditional pay TV provider like your cable company, or satellite provider will stream all the content you pay for, including High Definition content, over WiFi. So if you have a VidiPath certified device that can get on WiFI, that device instantly becomes a live TV viewer. Providers and manufacturers are working together to provide a consistent usage experience across all devices, including access to the program guide and, we’re hoping, all recorded DVR content, although we haven’t seen that stated anywhere.

No word on whether you’ll be able to pause or rewind live TV from a VidiPath player.  Also not sure if you’ll be able to initiate recordings. Also no word on how many devices will be able to stream simultaneously – how many rooms can be watching TV at the same time. We’re certain this information will come to light as devices start to hit the market.

If VidiPath players are fully functional, just like you get from your provider’s multi-room boxes in a whole house DVR setup, the technology could be a game changer. No more multi-room DVRs, just a standard DVR from any provider that would support VidiPath and you’d be responsible for adding your own playback devices to connect to it. Pay TV providers would have to find other features to differentiate on. That’s exciting.

Download Episode #677

Today’s Show:

UHD Blu-ray

Many of you either have or will soon have a new UHD TV that will be begging you to throw some UHD content at it. Right now you can stream UHD content from Netflix and Amazon but while good, its not nearly as good as you can get from disc. There aren’t any discs, or players, out there that can support UHD. But there will be in the near future. The Blu-ray Disc Association has released a new specification that may help you justify the purchase of a shiny new UHD TV. So what do the new players and disc give you?

Better Color

Simply put, the new specification allows your TV to display more colors than your current HDTV. You probably are thinking that your TV already does a good job with this but it can only display about 30% of what your eye can see. The new specification will display about 75%. At this writing we don’t know of UHD TV that supports this spec nor do we know when we will see content that does. But its nice to know that your player will be ready when the content is there!

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

If you have a relatively new smartphone you may have heard of this term. On your phone your camera takes two (or more) shots of the same image, one with the darkest exposure and one with the lightest. Then it combines the best of the images to create one that shows great detail in all areas, nothing washed out and blacks looking black. This will provide depth and greater contrast on screen.

10-bit

Bottom line on this one is that it makes better color and HDR possible.

Higher Frame Rates

Until Hollywood shoots at 60 frames a second, think of this as future proofing the standard. This will help 3D as well.

Better Compression

There is a lot of data that needs to be stored on a disc for 4K so a more efficient way of compressing it is required. That’s where H.265 comes into play. The High Efficiency Video Codec (HVEC) is twice as efficient as H.264 (mpeg4). As a side note, HVEC is what makes streaming 4K from Netflix and Amazon possible at 7 to 10Mbps. Now imagine how good it would be at a little more than 100Mbps. Yes it will be a while before streaming catches up to fixed media.

Larger Capacity

All those bits need to be stored someplace. The new discs will have capacities of 66GB or 100GB

Audio

TBD

Interview – Gary Yacoubian President of SVS Speakers

From the SVS Website:

SVS was founded in 1998 by four audiophile/engineers who noted that customers were paying too much for lackluster subwoofer performance because of a manufacturing to sales process that was stacked against the consumer. The conventional model, where just good enough subs were sold at high markups did a disservice to customers who wanted great audio experiences but didn’t have unlimited funds.

To fix a broken system, SVS pioneered a disruptive, future-facing model by investing heavily in product engineering and performance and reducing operational costs by selling direct to its customers over the Internet. Customers could demo world-class subwoofers and speakers in their homes exactly where the products would be installed, allowing them to make the most informed purchase decision possible, without risk. This strategy allowed SVS to establish a global presence and continues to earn acclaim from professional and amateur reviewers, in forums, and at audio shows, while continuing to grow retail and direct distribution.

Download Episode #676

Posted by: htguys | February 19, 2015

Podcast #675: Sling TV Review

Today’s Show:

Sling TV Review

The idea of cutting the cord, removing your reliance on Cable or Satellite to provide the hundreds of channels you rarely watch, has been a pipe dream for many of us. Sure, for those close enough to a transmitter, an over the air antenna really helps fill the void. Netflix and Hulu are great as well. But if you like to watch a lot of TV, you’re still left wanting. Until now. Sling TV may actually be the answer.

You’re right, Sling TV isn’t really cutting the cord. It’s just swapping one TV service for another. But it does allow you to trade in a bill of $80 or $120 or more per month for only $20 a month. So you haven’t cut the cord, but you’ve slimmed it down quite a bit. It’s like the cord on Zumba or P90X.

What is Sling TV?

According to the website, “Sling is the way TV should be. It’s watching the season finale of your favorite show the moment it airs. It’s the latest episodes of your favorite shows and hot new movies on-demand. It’s ESPN, TNT, Adult Swim, and more without the cable company…With Sling TV, there’s no commitment, no installation, and no crazy miscellaneous fees. Just great TV for only $20/mo. Cancel anytime online.”

Bottom line, Sling TV is Live and On Demand television over your Internet connection. Whatever your friends with Cable or Satellite are watching, you can watch at the same time. The base $20 package includes 15 channels:

  • ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, Travel Channel, HGTV, El Rey, Adult Swim, Maker, Disney, ABC Family, Cartoon Network, CNN, Galavision

For an additional $5/mo, the optional Sports Extra package adds 9 more channels

  • ESPNEWS, ESPNU, SEC Network, ESPN Bases Loaded, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Goal Line, Universal Sports, Univision Deportes, beIN Sports

Also for an additional $5/mo, the optional Kids Extra package adds 5 more channels

  • Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV, Duck TV

And for yet another $5/mo, you can opt for the News & Info Extra package for 4 more channels:

  • Cooking Channel, DIY Network, Bloomberg, HLN

And it’s more than just channels. You also have the freedom to watch on whatever device suits you, or is most convenient at the time. If you want to watch on a TV in your home theater or a secondary room in the house, you can put a Sling TV app on your Amazon Fire TV or Fire Stick, Roku, and coming soon, Xbox and Nexus Player. The Apple TV requires the use of the iOS app for Sling TV with Airplay. If you want to watch on the go, add the app to your iOS or Android device. Or for ultimate flexibility, just install the player on your Windows or Mac computer or laptop.

Performance

The streaming quality of Sling TV is pretty good.  Coming from the company that practically invented place-shifting, you’d think they have some solid history with streaming video quality, and it shows. The video when watched over a high bandwidth connection looked great. Sharp and crisp. They support Dolby Digital 5.1 as well, so you can get some surround sound from the TV connected devices.

Content looked great on a high bandwidth connection including WiFi, only a few stutters occasionally. Things were a bit more hit or miss over 4G – but mostly hit. Our first test over 4G was terrible. Granted it was Sprint 4G, but it was really bad, nearly unwatchable. Ara, being the more methodical of the two of us demanded a recount. Testing over Verizon and AT&T 4G was actually very good. Further tests over Sprint 4G also yielded much better results.

When things were bad over 4G, video would come in sporadically but spent more time stuck on a random frame or a blank screen than actually streaming TV. It is obvious to most, but as you would expect, the quality of the stream is totally dependent on the quality of the data connection. Sling TV is more than capable of looking really good on a phone or tablet over 4G, but if your connection is spotty, the video will reflect that. No streaming technology can overcome a really bad data connection.

Then there are the limitations in the service. For one, you can only watch one thing at a time. So if you have a couple devices in your home that can connect to Sling TV, they’ll all be watching the same thing – or you’ll have to get multiple accounts. Which somewhat defeats the purpose of the $20/month.

Most channels do not provide the ability to pause, rewind or fast forward live television. A few others like HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, and a couple others do. On those channels skipping back or forwards is a bit slow since the stream needs to rebuffer. Often the skip buttons didn’t work at all. It would just stutter for a second and start back up right where you were before.  You are better of dragging the timeline slider and moving forward once enough of the stream has buffered.

So while getting TV over the Internet is super cool, and super high tech, handicapping the essentials we’ve all come to love in the DVR is like going a decade back in time. To a time before DVRs and the freedom to stop anything for a snack break or skip commercials. Some channels allow you to watch previously aired shows as if you had recorded them. Some channels don’t have that ability, probably due to the contracts they have with the owners of the syndicated shows.

The user interface is pretty easy to use, although it is a bit quirky and takes some getting used to. But the overall usage patterns are the same for any device, so once you figure it out on one, you’ll have it nailed on any.  We can envision some pretty major usability changes over the next few months as they gather feedback from real users, but it isn’t bad, just…different.

Conclusion

All in all, the Sling TV service is a a great idea, but it may not be the next big thing quite yet.  For a secondary TV in your home that doesn’t have a coax connection, or maybe for a college student, it could be really cool.  As a replacement for your Cable or Satellite service, and especially if you use a DVR, it’ll probably come up a bit short at least at this point in time.

Download Episode #675

Today’s Show:

Dayton Audio XRA25 Wireless Rear Channel Amplifier

Since the beginning of this podcast we have been on the lookout for a product that will wirelessly transmit audio from your receiver to the surround speakers. To date there have been a few that sort of got the job done. To be fair, a lot depends on where your live. In areas that do not have a lot of interference you have a much better chance of success with most products. In areas where home are right on top of each other, or have a lot of wireless devices you may be better off running cable.

About six months ago I (Ara) went through the process of finding a product that would get me a 5.1 system in my master bedroom via wireless surround speakers. I tried three products all of which failed miserably. Again, it may have been because the environment has a lot of interference but the bottom line was no joy on the wireless solution. I had resolved myself to running cable to my speakers. Because of the layout of my bedroom I would need about 100 feet of speaker wire and speaker hiding channels (Wiremold C110 White Cordmate Kit) to run cables along the baseboards. The actual surround speakers are only about 15 feet away from the receiver but require a path along the baseboard that pretty much run the entire perimeter of the bedroom. Since I had to move all the furniture to snake the cable I had put off the project instead enjoying a 3.1 system. Then I found the Dayton Audio XRA25 Wireless Amplifier (Buy Now $99) and decided to give it one more shot.

Features:

  • Subwoofer channel for placement of a powered subwoofer at the rear of the room
  • 25 watts per channel output power at 4 ohms, 12.5 watts at 8 ohms
  • 2.4 GHz transmission band with 34 transmitting channels
  • Transmitting range up to 100 ft.
  • Adjustable output level for achieving proper volume balance

Setup:

Connect the transmitter to the receiver surround speaker outputs with either RCA or speaker cable. The receiver we used did not have pre-outs so we used speaker wire. On the receiver side you connect the speakers via speaker wire. If you made the subwoofer connection then you connect the subwoofer out to the subwoofer via RCA cable. Power on both units and you are good to go! To pair the devices you simultaneously press and hold the “M” button on both the receiver and transmitter. The LED on the front of the units will blink green and blue. When they are both blue they have found an open frequency on the 2.4 GHz spectrum.

Performance:

Or lack or performance as it were. The issues I had started right out of the gate. I could not get the units to sync. The receiver would show a solid blue LED but the transmitter never would. The manual says to make sure there is a signal so I put a test tone on the surround channels. I even disconnected the speaker cable running from the AVR to the wireless transmitter and connected directly into a speaker to make sure there was a tone.

Next, thinking that there could be interference, I turned off my wifi and cordless phone and tried again. Still nothing! The next morning I called customer support and verified that I did everything as I should. In the end I decided to send the unit back.

Apartment dwellers would be ideal candidates for a product like this, but that environment is even noisier than living in a tract home. I have one last hope but its expensive. I am going to use a couple of devices from Audioengine and see if I can get this to work.

The system will consist of an Audioengine W3 Wireless Audio Adapter (Buy Now $149) which is primarily for sending music from your PC to some powered speakers but can definitely work for this application. On the speaker side I will use the Audioengine N22 desktop amplifier (Buy Now $199) to bring the speakers to life. The N22 has a USB port so it can power the receiver side of the W3 without need of a power adapter. Like I said its on the expensive side but I know it will work because we reviewed the W3 with great success a couple of years ago.

Download Episode #674

Posted by: htguys | February 6, 2015

Podcast #673: Dish Upgrade Time

Today’s Show:

Dish Upgrade Time

This is the time of the year when HDTV and Home Theater take a quick nap.  CES has come and gone, the Super Bowl is done, and there’s a bit of a lull in activity until March Madness kicks in. Sure there may be some mid-season shows that pop up, but we’re always looking for ways to spice things up. So what better way than a full revamp of our Dish Network gear?

In some areas we strive to be early adopters. Braden, the Dish representative in the HT Guys duo, jumped in on the Hopper and Joey system as quick as possible almost three years ago (Episode 527). Sure Dish may not have been the first to the party, but the Hopper has been a consistent innovator for them, and has kept them in the news, both good and somewhat controversially, quite regularly.

For those not familiar, the Hopper is Dish’s whole-home DVR. The Hopper itself isn’t much more than a standard DVR, other than a few killer features we’ll talk about later. But it uses MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) to also alloy the little Joey boxes to playback any live content coming into the Hopper tuners, or any recorded content sitting on the DVR’s hard drive, in any room in your house. Any room with a coax cable.

Our upgrade involved swapping out the original version 1 Hopper for the updated Hopper v2 and swapping out two Joeys for more modern ones, a Super Joey and a Wireless Joey. The Super Joey works like a standard Joey, but also adds two additional satellite tuners to pair with the three already in the Hopper. That gives you five tuners, and during prime time, allows you to record up to eight shows simultaneously. The Wireless Joey is exactly what it sounds like, a Joey you can use even in rooms without coax.

Hopper Features

The standard features on the original Hopper, like Auto-Hop, or the ability to automatically skip all commercials in a show recorded using Prime Time Anytime the day after it aired, or Prime Time Anytime itself, which is the ability to automatically record all primetime shows on the big four networks: ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, using only one of the DVR’s three tuners, are all still there on the Hopper version 2. But the update adds a couple great new tricks.

First and most importantly, the new Hopper has Sling technology built right in. With Sling you get the ability to watch live shows anywhere in the world where you can get an Internet connection, and you can browse your guide and schedule recordings from anywhere as well. A little added bonus is the ability to transfer recordings to your iPad for offline viewing later, like on a plane, a train or a long road trip.

Second is the Netflix app. You no longer need to jump out of your TV experience to fire up an Apple TV or a Roku to watch Netflix. You now get it natively in the same interface. This isn’t anything groundbreaking, Tivo has had this for years, but they are the first major pay TV provider to offer it. And, although it isn’t there yet, a future update will include Netflix results in a standard search on your Hopper, in addition to the live, recorded and On Demand results you get now. The Netflix app should be rolling out to the Joeys soon as well.

Third are the little bonus features and easter eggs you get just by having the new Hopper. One example is the recent reverse Auto-Hop feature they added for the Super Bowl. If you’re a fan of Super Bowl commercials, you’d love this. It gave you the ability to watch the game the day after it aired, but skip all the pesky football parts and just watch the commercials. Maybe not the most useful feature, but a fun one, and a good indicator of how Dish plans to use the Hopper.

Super Joey Features

The Super Joey isn’t much more to talk about than the original Joey. It is quite a bit larger, and requires special installation to make it work, but once you’ve got it, you can’t really tell any difference – other than the fact that you can now record up to eight shows at once during prime time, five shows at once during other times. The Super Joey doesn’t have any hard drives of its own, it just adds the tuners and the content is still recorded on the Hopper.

Wireless Joey Features

The Wireless Joey is pretty awesome. Not because it does anything more than you’d expect, but because it does exactly what you’d expect. Want to add a big TV to a room without coax? Go for it. Put a TV in the garage, a shop or work room, wherever you want. The Wireless Joey uses a custom Wifi network, so you don’t have to worry about any other devices on your home Wifi killing the HDTV on your Joey. To make it work, you just plug the Wireless Joey access point into a coax connection somewhere in your house, ideally somewhere fairly close to where the wireless Joey will be, and you’re done. It takes all of 5 minutes to get it running.

What’s Next

One thing we’ve noticed over the years is that Dish installers are typically big fans of Dish Network. You can be positive because they sign your paycheck, but that’s different than being an evangelist when you’re already doing an install. You already have a closed deal. This time was no different. Our installer couldn’t stop talking about what’s coming next for the Hopper. Since some of it sounded pretty cool, we thought you may be interested as well.

Evidently in the coming months Dish will be jumping into the Sonos killer game just like everyone else. They’ll allow you to stream music to your Joeys, either all of them in sync, or different content, or a mix of both. You’ll use your smartphone to decide what plays in each room and also control the volume. To us, it looks like the TVs will need to be on in each room to take advantage of the TV speakers, but the Joeys do have stereo audio output jacks, so you could probably connect a pair of powered speakers just as easily.

But perhaps the killer app may be Hopper automation integration. The Hopper already integrates with the big Automation platforms like Crestron, AMX and Control4, but the next big move, coming in the fall, is DIY integration with support for Zigbee and Z-Wave. The setup will require a USB dongle plugged into the back of the Hopper. Once you have the dongle plugged in, you’ll get access to all your automation devices from directly within the Hopper UI. You’ll be able to monitor and operate your lights, thermostats, cameras, door locks, and we assume many other devices as well.

The automation server part of the Hopper will also be able to fire events based on information in the electronic programming guide. So the standard use case of wanting to dim the lights when you play a movie, or brighten them when you pause it, will be built right in – no need for an IR adapter or anything like that. If the doorbell rings, the system can pause what you’re watching and switch over to your front door camera so you can see who’s there. All your cameras show up in the guide as unique channels, which means you can view them, or a couple of the with PiP, from anywhere at home or away from home using the Sling technology.

Conclusion

In all, Dish continues to innovate, perhaps more than any other Pay TV provider. They push the envelope of what you can do with a DVR and are doing the most to provide an experience that matches what you and I the viewers are really after. Top that off with great prices and really good customer service, and Dish is a really strong option if you’re fed up with what you’ve got. If you’re a die hard football fan, you may be locked in with DirecTV, but if not, Dish is an excellent option for those who like to be on the cutting edge.

Download Episode #673

Posted by: htguys | January 29, 2015

Podcast #672: Howard and Joe Rogers of RSL Speakers

Today’s Show:

Top Ten Blu-rays At Amazon for Week Ending 1/30/15

  1. Big Hero 6 (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD) Pre Order $18.90 With all the heart and humor audiences expect from Walt Disney Animation Studios, BIG HERO 6 is an action-packed comedy adventure that introduces Baymax, a lovable, personal companion robot, who forms a special bond with robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada. When a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to Baymax and his diverse group of friends — adrenaline junky Go Go Tomago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred — who transform into a band of unlikely heroes. Bring home Disney’s BIG HERO 6, featuring comic-book-style action and hilarious, unforgettable characters — it’s fun for the whole family!
  2. Interstellar [Blu-Ray+ DVD+ HD] $22.99 With our time on Earth coming to an end, a team of explorers undertakes the most important mission in human history; traveling beyond this galaxy to discover whether mankind has a future among the stars.
  3. Fury [Blu-ray] $19.96 April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened Army sergeant named Wardaddy commands a Sherman tank and his five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered, out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.
  4. Game of Thrones: Season 4 (Blu-Ray+Digital Copy) $39.96 Game of Thrones is one of HBO’s signature series and a huge runaway hit for the network. This year, a plethora of compelling storylines will play out to their inevitable, and bloody, conclusions.
  5. Masterpiece: Downton Abbey Season 5 [Blu-ray] $27.99 Season 5 of the international hit finds the Crawley family and the staff struggling with responsibilities and choices as they adjust to life in the Roaring Twenties. Over 40 Minutes of bonus video.
  6. Guardians of the Galaxy (3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray + Digital Copy) $24.96 An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits—Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last desperate stand—with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.
  7. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 [Blu-ray] Pre Order $22.93  Katniss Everdeen is in District 13 after she shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta and a nation moved by her courage.
  8. Lucy (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet) $19.99 From La Femme Nikita and The Professional to The Fifth Element, writer/director Luc Besson has created some of the toughest, most memorable female action heroes in cinematic history. Now, Besson directs Scarlett Johansson in Lucy, an action-thriller that tracks a woman accidentally caught in a dark deal who turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic. Lucy also stars Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman.
  9. American Sniper (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack) Pre Order $29.99Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle’s pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. Back home to his wife and kids after four tours of duty, however, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.
  10. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Combo Pack) Pre Order $27.99 Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the Lonely Mountain from falling into the hands of a rising darkness.

Interview: Howard and Joe Rogers from RSL Speakers

We received an email from a listener in early January asking us to take a listen to some speakers manufactured by RSL Speakers. We are still in the process of setting up the review samples but we thought that RSL had such a great history that we asked Howard and Joe Rogers to come on the show and share with us their experiences in the speaker industry. We hope you enjoy!

Download Episode #672

Posted by: htguys | January 22, 2015

Podcast #671: Best of CES 2015 Winners

Today’s Show:

Best of CES 2015 Winners

We did our personal roundup of CES and told you about our favorites, but it is nearly impossible for the two of us to see everything, much less take the time to absorb it all even if we caught a glimpse of it. There are a couple items in the official winners list for Best of CES 2015 that we didn’t talk about it our prior roundup.

Presenting the Best of CES 2015 winners!

This year the Best of CES Awards were chosen and presented by Engadget, a {hopefully}  neutral third party, to eliminate at least some of the potential for talk about conspiracy and conflict of interest. For those who don’t remember, last year’s controversy was over Dish’s Hopper being snubbed by the awards because they were chosen and presented by CNET, whose parent company CBS was in a legal battle with Dish over the Hopper and it’s ability to auto-hop over commercials.

Sling TV

So this year Engadget took over, and the big winner, receiving the Best of the Best award was…Sling TV (a Dish Network Company). Sling TV took home two individual category awards for Best Home Theater Product and Best Software / App. We would tend to agree. Although there were a lot of great televisions at the show, and some cool whole house audio products, the thing we went away most excited to try was the new Sling TV service. Could really be the cord cutter’s dream.

Engadget says: “In a show where software and apps rarely take center stage, Sling TV was an obvious choice for both candidate and overall winner of this category. The $20-a-month service by Dish makes cord-cutting that much easier, offering premium content from the likes of ESPN and HGTV right off the bat. Not only that, but also the app itself — available on Android, iOS and select set-top boxes — is intuitive, user-friendly and surprisingly well-done.

Energous WattUp

One of the products we didn’t get a chance to check out, the Energous WattUp, won two awards: Best (Connected) Home Product and Best Innovation (Disruptive Tech). It sound part science fiction and part death trap, but they claim to be able to wirelessly charge your portable devices from up to 15 feet away.  It sounds very intriguing. Just drop your phone on the counter or your normal resting place and it’ll charge all by itself: Even keep it in your pocket.

…it works using a mix of RF, Bluetooth and a lot of patent-pending technology. The transmitter is where most of the magic happens. It communicates with and locates compatible devices using low-energy Bluetooth. Once they’ve established contact with a device, they send out focused RF signals on the same bands as WiFi that are then absorbed and converted into DC power by a tiny chip embedded in the device. These transmitters can be built into household appliances, TVs, speakers and standalone “energy routers.”

LG Art Slim 4K OLED

The official winner in the Best TV Product category was the LG Art Slim 4K OLED. We agree. We liked the LG OLEDs. There was something very striking about OLED color and 4k detail. Very impressive.  Like Engadget, we’re also concerned about the pricing. As good as they look, will they ever hit price points that will allow them to get mass adoption? Or will they be able to do it fast enough before something else, like quantum dot, comes along that makes them irrelevant?

Engadget says “So how could LG improve on last year’s OLEDs and their impressive picture quality? Show an impressive pace of price drops, crank up the resolution and give us a flatter option — and that’s just what it did. Despite a strong showing of quantum dot-loaded LCDs, this “Art Slim” OLED packing webOS 2.0 is the one we most want on our wall. The only question remaining is how much will it cost to get it there?

Razer Forge TV

Another product we didn’t get to see, one that took home both the Best Gaming Product award and was also the People’s Choice winner was a little gaming set top box called Razer Forge TV. Perhaps not being gamers we don’t quite get the appeal, but for hard-core PC gamers, it could be great. It is an Android TV based system, so you get the same games you can get on something like the Amazon Fire TV. But it doesn’t stop there. The box is well powered, they have a bunch of peripheral aimed at gamers, and it can stream games from your PC.

That must be the secret ingredient. For the dedicated PC gamer, you no longer have to have a big loud computer connected to your TV. Instead you can use the tiny Razer Forge TV box and use their “Cortex: Stream” technology to play the games on your big screen. It is supposed to be much better than the “laggy PC streaming of other systems” and it will give you up to 1080p resolution.  It can operate over WiFi or a wired Ethernet connection and supports any DirectX 9 or higher game.

Download Episode #671

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