Today’s Show:

NuForce AVP-18 Processor and MCA-20 Amplifier

We don’t need to repeat ourselves, but we will anyways: Home Theater without surround sound isn’t really Home Theater at all. It’s only half of the experience. Without surround sound, you’re just watching moving pictures on the wall. But we’ve also stated that modern AV receivers are good enough and going the separate processor and amp route is overkill for most people. Today we put that theory to the test.

We caved under continual listener pressure and decided to take a pair of separates from Fremont, CA based NuForce for a test drive. They were nice enough to let us use the AVP-18all-digital HT preamp/processor (MSRP $1095) paired with their top of the line MCA-20 multi-channel amplifier (MSRP $1995). All-in the setup would run a cool $3090 – a bit higher than we’re used to paying for a self-contained home theater receiver. You can buy them online from a couple authorized resellers, but not Amazon, and not at a discount.

 

Setup

Setting up the pair of separates is in some ways a bit more work than a standard AVR, but in other ways actually much simpler. The one extra step is the RCA cables you have to run from the processor to the amp, one per channel. Audiophiles would recommend “high quality” cables for this. In reality you can use just about any RCA cable you have and never hear a difference (more on that later). You can pick up some good, short, RCA interconnect cables at Amazon for only $5.60. Each cable supports two channels, so you only need 4 of them for a 7 channel system. and a subwoofer cable.

Once you get your interconnects plugged in, you simply plug your speakers in to the amplifier like you would any other receiver (don’t forget the banana plugs), hook up your HDMI sources and your HDMI output (TV or projector), and you’re done. The part that is much simpler is the elimination of all the extra bells and whistles you get on the typical AVR these days. The features you get but never use. All the extra inputs you have to navigate through or figure out how to disable in a menu option somewhere. NuForce is all about the audio.

But the AVP-18 isn’t without all the features you’d want to see in a great audio device. It does have an auto room calibration option and includes the mic to make it work. The calibration works like most other AVRs – just plug in the mic and hit go. Once that is done, setup is complete and you’re ready to watch movies, listen to music or anything else that delights your ears.

 

Features

AVP-18 features and specs:

  • Fully HDMI 1.4 compliant
  • Supports the standard audio decoding from Dolby and DTS, and the latest HD audio decoding; including Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS Master, DTS Hi Res, etc.
  • Automated or manual room acoustics/speaker equalization option
  • Eleven programmable, fully parametric equalizers per channel
  • Four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output employing high-speed switching technology
  • Supports HDMI 1080P, YUV, RGB, DVI, HD audio, and 8 CH LPCM
  • 3D video playback compatibility
  • HDMI CEC control, HDMI ARC audio return
  • Video input compatibility: HDMI/DVI, 480P, 576P, 720P50, 720P60, 1080i 50, 1080i 60, 1080P 50, 1080P 60, 1080P 24
  • Support RS232 control for custom installation
  • Support HD Headphone Surround Sound

 

Please note that the AVP-18 DOES NOT support USB Audio (as in a USB DAC). The USB connector (B-style) is used for firmware upgrades only. The USB connector that looks like a USB-3 marked ‘Bluetooth’ is reserved for a future Bluetooth audio option that will soon be available from NuForce.

 

MCA-20 features and specs:

  • Proprietary high-speed, negative feedback design
  • Very high efficiency PWM circuit topology
  • Power Output: 278W/Ch. X 8 (4 ohm), 150W/Ch. X 8 (8 ohm)
  • Peak Power Output:352W/Ch. X 8 (4 ohm), 187W/Ch. X 8 (8 ohm)
  • Gain:26.5 dB
  • Input Impedance:20k ohm
  • Sensitivity: 0.89 V to rated power
  • Frequency Response:10 Hz – 50kHz

 

Performance

We compared the AVP-18 and MCA-20 combo with a few home theater receivers we had around; a Pioneer VSX-1120-K, a Denon AVR-3806 and an Onkyo TX-SR608. All three of the AVRs would have been significantly less expensive if bought brand new when they were released. The Denon, at $1300, would have been the most expensive but still not quite half the price of the NuForce setup. That said, we still went into the review not expecting to hear much of a difference, if any at all.

And we were wrong. We tried the comparison with Klipsch Reference speakers, HSU Research speakers and even some KEF T-series speakers. In all cases, when paired with high quality audio like we get from a typical Blu-ray disk, the NuForce system sounded better. The striking difference was the clarity of the sound. It almost felt as if we could hear subtle details in a soundtrack that we just weren’t picking up before. And at high volume the detail remained crisp and intact. Nothing went muddy or mushy just because we were pushing it harder.

We had the biggest impact with the HSU speakers for some reason, with lesser impact noticed on the Klipsch and KEF speakers. But pairing the NuForce processor and amp with the HSU speakers made us very, very happy. We tried movies, soundtracks, video games, anything we could get our hands on, and loved it.

 

Conclusion

We freely admit that pitting the NuForce AVP-18 and MCA-20 against an 8 year old $1300 Denon wasn’t exactly a fair fight. A better comparison would have been with the Denon AVR-4520CI (MSRP $2499) or the Pioneer Elite SC-79 (MSRP $3000). But we didn’t have one of those lying around. Likewise we didn’t match the NuForce against a $20,000 setup from Krell, McIntosh or Mark Levinson. But what we did find is that there is clearly an audio difference between the $3000 NuForce system and a ~$700-1000 AVR. Whether the difference is enough to get you to fork over the extra money is up to you. But if you were in the price range already, NuForce is a great option.

 

Download Episode #631

Posted by: htguys | April 10, 2014

Podcast #630: Amazon Fire TV and Falcon Screens

Today’s Show:

Amazon Fire TV Review

Last week Amazon released a set top box the Amazon Fire TV (Buy Now $99) to compete with the likes of Apple, Roku, and a host of others. And of course the HT Guys got a hold of one and put it through its paces. This will be a shorter review than previous boxes because we have done so many and they are essentially the same. Today we’ll focus on the differences.

Features

  • Prime Support – Unlimited access to over 40,000 Prime Instant Videos on your HDTV, including Amazon exclusives like Downton Abbey and Justified
  • Large Selection of Content – Over 200,000 TV episodes – and movies, millions of songs, and over a hundred games.
  • Voice search – Say the name of what you want to watch and start enjoying in seconds.
  • Specifications – Quad-core processor, 2 GB of memory, dedicated GPU, plus 1080p HD video and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound
  • Easy to set up and use – Pre-registered to your Amazon account so you can enjoy favorite titles and personalized recommendations
  • Instant streaming – Exclusive new feature ASAP predicts what movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch and buffers them for playback before you hit play
  • Parental Controls – Amazon FreeTime lets you easily limit screen time and create personalized profiles just for kids (coming soon)
  • Games – Play titles like Minecraft-Pocket Edition, The Walking Dead, and Monsters University, plus free games and Amazon exclusives. Paid games start from just 99 cents

Performance

The Fire TV works like all other devices in this category. You connect it and start watching content. A nice touch is that if you buy this yourself, as opposed to getting it as a gift, it comes connected to your Amazon account so you can start watching Prime instant videos or ordering paid content through your Amazon account. You can go from out of the box to watching movies on demand in minutes!

The user interface is what we would call basic. Its fast and laid out nicely but is not what we would call elegant. Perhaps in a subsequent release. For now, it gets the job done.

Hulu and Netflix are supported but you have to download the apps as opposed to being pre-installed. That adds about a minute to the install for each application. Logging in requires you to type with an onscreen keyboard. It would be nice if there was a remote app that allows you to type on your phone instead of using a D-pad controller.  Both apps produced video quality that was similar to AppleTV and Roku. There are about 180 apps available for the Fire TV ranging from video content to games. The notable apps for video include: Netflix, Hulu, Watch ESPN, Youtube, Vimeo, and Showtime Anytime. There are also music apps like Pandora, and a bunch of radio apps. For a full list check out Amazon’s website (http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=7031433011)

The Fire TV also has games which makes it a great choice for casual gamers. There is a game controller that looks like your typical game controller for an additional $40 (Buy Now). We did not test the game controller however, we did download Asphalt 8 and attempted to play it with the remote control. Graphics looked good and game play seemed fine. We are not gamers by any stretch but for a $99 box mainly used for watching content having a fairly high quality game aspect to it seems like a major plus. While it won’t replace an X-Box or Playstation it sure will satisfy many who don’t need all that hardware. We suspect that as more games come online this aspect will only get better.

The remote is a typical remote for a device like this. It has has directional buttons, select, home, play/pause, ffwd/rew, and a menu button. What makes this different is that the Fire TV also has a voice search button. With this button you press and hold while you speak what you are looking for and if it exists within Amazon it will show up on screen. If it is free with Prime it will be indicated otherwise you will have to pay. What would be nice is if the search worked across all content platforms. Some content is free on Netflix but costs money on Amazon.

Audio sounded great. It was so nice seeing the Dolby Digital + light up on our receiver. High quality audio streamed through the set top box for $99 sounds like a good deal to us!

Conclusion

There are a lot of set top boxes out there competing for your eyeballs.  No one of them is the perfect for everyone. Having access to a easy to use store where you can buy high quality audio and video is a major plus that the Fire TV and AppleTV have. Throw in an easy to use game market and a slight edge has to be given to the Fire TV. With that said, if you are not an Amazon prime subscriber you will be better served with the Roku 3. If you are an iTunes user, well we probably lost you after the first paragraph. If you are like Ara, you may as well buy both! Cut the price in half and its a must have for everyone!

Download Episode #630

Posted by: htguys | April 4, 2014

Podcast #629: Sharp 2014 Quattron+ Televisions

Today’s Show:

Sharp 2014 Quattron+ Televisions

We mentioned the upcoming Quattron+ technology from Sharp in our CES roundup earlier this year.The tech just got real. Sharp has announced several new LED LCD models for 2014 that feature the technology. Along the lines of JVC’s e-Shift technology we discussed a couple episodes back, Quattron+ looks like a clever bridge between the 1080p LED LCD televisions of today and the 4K and/or OLED televisions of tomorrow.

 

CES Information

Sharp Aquos Quattron Plus TV - At half the price of a 4K TV of the same screen size the Plus has 10 million more sub pixels than a regular 1080p TV. Retina Display for TVs?? The TV will accept 4K content and will scale 1080p content to make use of every one of the 10 Million sub pixels! Sharp claims they have put more TVs over 60 inches into American homes than any other manufacturer.

 

What is Quattron+?

Sharp has long held the belief that a fourth sub-pixel, a yellow one, in addition to the standard red, green and blue ones, makes all the difference in how vivid and real your TV can look. While a standard 1080p TV with red, green and blue sub-pixels has a total of about 6.22 million of them, that fourth yellow subpixel bumps that total up to roughly 8.29 million. But that’s just plain old Quattron; that’s yesterday’s news.

Quattron+ goes quite a bit further. These new displays use the same four horizontal sub-pixels (yellow, red, green, and blue) but also add an additional row of sub-pixels for every main pixel, effectively doubling the sub-pixel count to a total of 16.59 million and dramatically improving pixel density. Does that sound like JVC e-Shift to anyone? If not, you may want to take a listen to Episode 627.

 

The Models

Sharp has announced several TVs that will incorporate Quattron+ tech, ranging from the large to the really freaking large. There are three 60 inch TVs, three 70 inch sets and one 80 incher. The 60 and 70 inch sets come in three model ranges, the entry level SQ line, the middle tier TQ line and the top end UQ line. he 80 inch set is only available in the top of the range UQ line.

For price comparison, the top-end UQ line breaks down like: LC-60UQ17U is a 60-inch set with MSRP of $3000. You can find it at Amazon for $2499. The LC-70UQ17U is 70 inches, goes for MSRP of $4000 and is available for $3297 from Amazon. The big daddy, the 80 inch LC-80UQ17U has a suggested retail or $6500 and has landed on Amazon for $5499.

Every set in the lineup features:

  • The Highest Resolution Full HD TV

  • 10 million more subpixels than conventional Full HD for more detail, depth, and color

  • Plays 4K content; upscales any content

  • New SmartCentral 3.0 with integrated guide & search, mobile connectivity, and all the best apps

  • Quattron technology for finer details and a billion more shades of color

  • Native 1080p resolution, 240 Hz refresh rate, 3D capable

  • 4 HDMI ports with Audio Return Channel, 4K input (4K/30fps), HDCP 2.2 and MHL

 

The UQ line adds:

  • Dynamic Contrast Ratio of 12,000,000:1 (vs. 8,000,000:1)

  • AquoMotion 960 Refresh Scanning Rate

  • Sharp ‘Super Bright’ technology

  • THX Certified

  • 2 pairs of 3D glasses

 

None of the seven sets listed at Sharp’s website claim support for HDMI 2.0 nor HVEC. So while they may be future proof in some categories, they certainly aren’t on others.

 

 

Download Episode #629

Posted by: htguys | March 27, 2014

Podcast #628: New Pioneer Receivers

Today’s Show:

New Pioneer Receivers

If you are tired of the long cold Winter then these product announcements from Pioneer should warm your soul. What better way to welcome Spring than with new receivers? Pioneer introduced 5 new models.

Pioneer introduced three receivers in their VSX line. At the lower end is the 5.2 channel VSX-824 followed by the VSX-1024 and 1124 both of which are 7.2. These are the first receivers that support HDMI 2.0 which allows for higher data rates and better color that 4K TVs benefit from.  The receivers have a built-in MHL port and are Roku Ready. Plug in a Roku Stick and use the Pioneer iControl AV5 app to access your favorite Roku channels.

The VSX-1124 incorporates the ES9006S DAC (192kHz/24-bit) for high quality audio performance. They also added playback support for 96kHz 24-Bit 5.0- and 5.1-channel FLAC and WAV files on the VSX-1124. The receiver also supports other high-resolution music files including AIFF, WAV, FLAC, DSD (2.8 MHz), Apple Lossless, MP3, WMA and AAC.

The VSX-1124 supports the next generation 4K2K Ultra HD resolution standard to help provide the highest quality video image available, with the ability to pass through 4K video signals of up to 60 frames per second to any HDMI 2.0-equipped 4K display. It can also upscale lower resolution signals for viewing on 4K Ultra HD TVs.

The new Pioneer receivers will be available at the end of March with suggested prices of $399 (VSX-824), $499 (VSX-1024) and $599 (VSX-1124).

Pioneer also debuted two new entry-level Elite branded receivers, the VSX-44 and VSX-80 7.2-channel receivers.  Both models include HDMI 2.0 support and are Roku Ready.

Like the 1124 the VSX-80 also supports high quality audio and video. What you get for the additional $100 is advanced home theater control. The VSX-80 is compatible with the most popular custom control companies, Crestron® and Control4®, and offers custom installation features including full two-way RS-232C-over-IP control, with the ability to receive metadata from network and iOS connected devices.

The new Pioneer Elite receivers will be available at the end of March with suggested retail prices of $500 (VSX-44) and $700 (VSX-80).

 

Download Episode #628

Posted by: htguys | March 21, 2014

Podcast #627: JVC 4K UltraHD Projectors

Today’s Show:

JVC 4K UltraHD Projectors

We haven’t spent too much time talking about 4K projectors because, to be blunt, they’re just too expensive to be within reach for us, and for the majority of our audience. While they’re cool to think about, and maybe drool over, why spend too much time on them when you know you’ll never drop $28,000 on a projector? But what if they were a fraction of that cost?

At a recent stroll through our local Magnolia Home Theater store inside Best Buy, we happened across a JVC 4K projector for only $5000. The JVC DLA-X500R sounds like an amazing deal, but there has to be a catch. It turns out that when you read the fine print, JVC isn’t really selling 4K projectors, they’re selling simulated 4K projectors. The difference is subtle, but real.

 

The Projectors

JVC has three models in their 4K lineup, the entry model, DLA-X500R, for $5000. The mid-range DLA-X700R for $8000 and the top of the range DLA-X900RKT for $12,000. Magnolia carries them all, but they weren’t all available in our area; only the X500R. JVC points out very clearly on their website that these projectors, projectors in the Procision line, are not sold online. If you find one online, it isn’t coming from an authorized dealer.

The specs for all three projectors are fairly similar, with obviously some improvements in specs and technology as you move up in the models.  We’ll go over the specs for the top of the line X900RKT to see if the same thing we noticed when we started to look into them, jumps out to all of you…

DLA-X900RKT specs

  • Improved 150,000:1 Native Contrast Ratio
  • Intelligent Lens Aperture for Dynamic Contrast Ratio of 1,500,000:1
  • New 4K e-shift3 provides 3840×2160 projected image
  • Native 4K HDMI inputs that accept: 3840×2160 at 24P, 25P, 30P and 60P; and 4096×2160 at 24P
  • Clear Black Processing improves local area contrast
  • Upgraded Clear Motion Drive works in 2D, 3D and 4K
  • Adobe sRGB provides expanded color space
  • Improved Multi Pixel Control (MPC) with New Auto Mode. MPC improves 2K to 4K up-conversion
  • Matched 6th Generation 1920×1080 DILA devices
  • 1300 Lumens

 

 

Did you notice that there’s no mention of a native 4K resolution? Only a reference to a 4K projected image and a set of 4K compatible inputs. As it turns out, if you read between the lines, these projectors aren’t truly 4K at all. Instead they’re a special blend of two 1080p imaging chips that work together to improve pixel density. The technology does an incredible job eliminating any notion of pixel lines in the image, like retina for your 120” screen, but not a true 4K image.

 

What the …?

So what exactly is JVC selling? They’re selling a future proof 1080P projector that outperforms almost any other 1080P projector in terms of image quality, but they aren’t selling a 4K projector. The secret is JVC’s e-Shift technology. E-Shift produces 4K levels of pixel density by utilizing two separate 1080P chips diagonally offset from each other by half a pixel. Pixel density, or Pixels per Inch, is great for producing very clear images with no visible pixel lines, but it’s different than resolution.

It turns out that since the projectors only have 1080P imaging chips in them, everything has to be converted to 1080P before being passed through e-Shift for the 4K-like display. Even the native 4K inputs have to go down to 1080P before being blast back out in Ultra density. The result is a very impressive 1080P display that approaches 4K in clarity, but from what we’ve heard and read, doesn’t stand up too well if you compare side by side with a native 4K display

The trade-off makes sense when you compare their prices with Sony, who is selling a true native 4K projector. After all, these projectors are 10 to 20 thousand dollars cheaper. But not for long. Sony has the new VPL-VW500ES available for around $10,000 that may force a change in JVC’s approach. But until more manufacturers are making 4K projectors for less than $5000, JVC will continue to have a marketable offering.

 

More than just pixels

But as with any TV or projector, resolution isn’t the whole story. There are so many other factors that go into how well a projector performs: contrast and black levels, color reproduction, smooth motion, the list goes on. When you consider contrast and black levels, especially at the $5000 price point, the JVC D-ILA technology is hard to beat. The quoted contrast ratios on the three projectors are 600,000:1, 1,200,000:1 and 1,500,000:1 Dynamic or and 60,000:1, 120,000:1 and 150,000:1 Native. That’s pretty awesome.

And the colors are great as well. The JVC LCOS technology, what they call D-ILA, has always been impressive, all the way back to the rear projection days of yore. (Yes, Braden still owns one). And that carries on in their projectors, and Ara owns one of those. Color representation is great; among the best you can get on a consumer-priced projector.

 

Bottom line

If you’re in the market for a new Home Theater projector and were thinking 4K was too expensive, you can pick up a pretty decent compromise in the JVC Procision lineup. They provide the inputs to natively watch 4K content when you can get your hands on some, while also converting your standard 1080P content into something quite impressive. Sure it isn’t 4K, but it’s every bit as good as a 1080P projector, with the e-Shift bonus for better pixel density. What do you have to lose?

Download Episode #627

Today’s Show:

Interview with Jack Sharkey of Kef Speakers

This week we sit down and talk with Jack Sharkey of Kef Speakers. Jack shares his experience in making a room that is acoustically unfriendly into a place where Kef can showcase their products. It’s a six part series.

 

Download Episode #626

Today’s Show:

Gefen TV Wireless Extender for HDMI 60 GHz

Through the years we’ve had the opportunity to check out several wireless audio, video and wireless HDMI systems.  Everytime we do it, the quality goes up and the price goes down. This week we’re adding one more option to your list of choices for wireless HDMI.  It’s the Gefen TV Wireless Extender for HDMI (GTV-WHD-60G). List price is $449. But if you look around, you can find it for around $300 online. The first Gefen wireless HDMI system we reviewed back in 2009 had a list price of $999.

 

Setup

Setting up the GefenTV unit is just as easy as any other wireless video system.  You plug your source equipment into the sender, marked with an ‘S’, plug your display device in the receiver, marked with an ‘R’, and you’re done.  The two units find each other automatically, link up and work with minimal intervention. The sender and receiver units are quite small, maybe the smallest of any set we’ve tested, making them very easy to place almost anywhere.

 

Features

  • Wireless extension of HDMI up to 33 feet (10 meters)
  • Supports resolutions up to 1080p Full HD
  • HDCP pass-through
  • 3DTV pass-through
  • CEC pass-through
  • Dolby® TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio™, and LPCM digital audio streams up to 7.1 channels
  • Lip Sync
  • Uncompressed High Definition A/V from source to display
  • Near zero latency (less than one frame)
  • Field upgradable via USB port
  • Frequency Band Range: 60 GHz

 

Performance

The manufacturer recommends a maximum of 33 feet (10 meters) between the receiver and transmitter and also requires direct line of sight between the two. This makes it a bit less flexible than other units we’ve tested.  We’ve had units that could go 50 feet and almost 30 feet through walls.  The GefenTV won’t do that.  We got a reliable connection at 25 feet line of sight and in that regard, in work exactly as advertised. The marketing spin is that this allows you to run multiple wireless HDMI systems in adjacent rooms or close proximity. We think it would be more convenient if it could go through walls or cabinet doors.

The GefenTV is very finicky on the line of sight requirement. It doesn’t just want the two units to be visible to each other, they need to be pointed at each other. Turning one to face a different direction kills the signal. We didn’t have any trouble getting them to work in normal installation scenarios, but it’s something you need to keep in mind if one will be in a TV equipment stand and the other up high near a projector, or perhaps facing down or sideways mounted near a flat panel TV. It also cannot be mounted behind the TV,but needs to be next to, above or below the TV depending on where your sender will be located.

Despite the installation speedbumps to overcome, the GefenTV really shines in where it counts: audio quality, video quality and reliability.  It is a champ. Other units we’ve looked at have been good, in fact, we’ve even made the statement that we couldn’t tell the difference between an actual cable and the wireless version.  That was mostly true, specifically from a pixelation, loss of signal perspective.  But with the GefenTV it is as close to a reality as we’ve ever seen. We even did some blind taste tests with a few family members and they couldn’t see or hear a difference between wired HDMI and the Gefen.

We had a strange overscan issue with the Gefen on one of our test TVs, a Vizio LCD, that we didn’t see with any other sources on the same TV. We didn’t experience the same issue on a different test TV or on our test projector. It was tough for us to blame the TV or the Gefen, and could have just been a compatibility weirdness between the two.

We tested using HDTV, Blu-ray and a Windows 7 laptop.  With a good signal, the video quality was great.  We even tried 3D and it worked as expected.  Movies and TV looked and sounded great. Video games played without a hitch. Web surfing and documents and spreadsheets worked, and had no delay, but lacked the fine detail resolution you typically want for that kind of activity. Web video,however, like Netflix and Hulu, was great.,  No matter what we threw at it from a video perspective, it handled the task with ease.

Conclusion

The $449 price point is still a bit high, the $300 street price is closer to many other wireless HDMI units on the market. Sometimes, however, you get what you pay for. If you need a solution that will go 50 or 60 feet, or allow you to hide your devices in a closet somewhere, the Gefen isn’t the right choice for you. But if you want to run a front projector or mount a flat panel TV, and want the best possible video you can get from a wireless HDMI solution, the GefenTV is pretty awesome. Not as flexible, but it makes up for it in quality.

Download Episode #625

Posted by: htguys | February 27, 2014

Podcast #624: Channel Master DVR+ Review

Today’s Show:

Channel Master DVR+ Review

If you are a cord cutter you know that one thing that is difficult to live without is a DVR. You can buy a Tivo Roamio and pay a smaller monthly service but you cut the cord so you wouldn’t have to pay a monthly charge. What most cord cutters are looking for is a way to record over the air HD without having to pay any monthly fees. Channel Master has you covered with theDVR+ (MSRP $249.99). The DVR+ is a subscription free DVR that allows you to cut the cord and still watch late night network TV on your terms.

 

Features:

  • Watch broadcast programming in pure, uncompressed HD – the highest quality available<
  • Easy installation with on-screen setup wizard
  • Supports SD and HD video resolutions up to 1080i and 1080p
  • Works with all digital TV antennas for instant access to broadcast programming
  • Supports external USB hard drives (EHD) for full DVR functionality
  • Dual tuners allow you to record one program while watching another or record two programs at the same time (using EHD)
  • Records, pauses and plays back live TV up to 2 hours out of the box 4
  • See what’s on now or later with the user-friendly Electronic Program Guide (EPG)
  • Easily search for shows and set timers with name-based recording
  • Broadband connection provides automatic software updates, enhanced EPG and access to Internet video streaming services
  • Get Wi-Fi connectivity with optional USB Wi-Fi adapter
  • Supports Dolby® Digital Plus surround sound
  • Ultra-low power consumption

 

Setup:

When you take the DVR+ out of the box the first thing you notice is how thin it is. Its barely bigger than the HDMI cable that you plug into it. You can pretty much put it anywhere with little issue. To physically install the device you need to connect power, HDMI, antenna, Ethernet, and an external hard drive. Without the external drive there is little that you can do as the DVR+ comes with 16GB internally. A Terabyte drive will get you about 160 hours of HD recording. We had a spare 80GB drive which was reformatted by the DVR+ and was ready to go in a few minutes.

The physical install took about 15 minutes. You will need a network connection for the program guide or if you want to use the Hulu service. Right now that’s the only network service available. Channel Master says they will add more over time. If you don’t have a wired connection you can buy a Wifi adapter for an additional $40.

Next we fired up the unit and scanned for channels. The DVR+’s two tuners found 45 digital channels which was better than the HD Homerun but not as good as the tuner in our Panasonic plasma television. All of which are connected to the same antenna.

Twenty five minutes after taking the DVR+ out of the box we had a picture on screen and were able to record anything coming over the airwaves!

Performance:

What can we say, the DVR+ works like a DVR you would get from your provider. The program Guide is provided by Rovi (no additional cost)  which allows you to search or browse to find your programs. You can tune to a program if its currently on or you can mark it for recording. Season passes are set up based on title names, which is a little less sophisticated than say the Genie but it will get the job done.

You can setup up the skip forward and skip back lengths in the menu so if you want to skip back 30 seconds and forward by one minute you can do it. The user interface is basic but very responsive.

We recorded a few programs to the external drive. All but one recorded but that was on a channel that did not have the best reception. On channels that have a solid signal every timed based recording went off without a hitch. We even recorded two programs at the same time. Like we said, it works just like every other DVR we’ve ever owned.

We had to turn on the DVR to see if it was recording because the record light does not come on unless the DVR is powered on. Yes, the device always has power and can record even if its “off”. But we would like to see the light come on anytime the DVR is recording something.

Playback was flawless and skipping through commercials was easy. We had the skip forward set to one minute so it was usually five or six presses to get through a commercial break. Skips were instantaneous. The only drawback of a 60 second skip is that if you miss the entry point after the commercials you’ll have a lot of backing up to do so you may want a 30 second back button instead of the typical 10 seconds

 

This and That:

  • The DVR+ has been designed to work well with the Slingbox 500.
  • Current firmware does not allow you to set up a season pass that only records new shows. So you end up with some repeats that need to be deleted.
  • The buttons on the remote are very small. But you’ll be using a Harmony anyway right ;-)
  • There is no user guide so be prepared to hunt around through the menus to see what’s possible

 

Conclusion:

Up until now if you wanted to cut the cord and totally eliminate monthly fees you needed a HTPC. With the DVR+, a cord cutter can be free of cable and satellite without missing out on timeshifting. The only thing the DVR+ doesn’t have is a rich set of network apps. Although we’re sure they are already on the way!

Download Episode #624

Posted by: htguys | February 20, 2014

Podcast #623: Home Theater Calibration Discs

Today’s Show:

Home Theater Calibration Discs

If you don’t think your home theater looks or sounds as good as it should, you probably want to calibrate it. Calibration is the process of dialing in all the settings on your TV and receiver to optimize the viewing and listening experience for your home.  There are a ton of options for this, from buying a calibration disc for the do it yourselfers, buying a calibration system likeSpyderTV for the almost do it yourselfers, to hiring a professional calibrator for those of the just do it for me persuasion.

 

Your Options:

Nothing beats the professional calibration, but if you want to save some money and give it a go on your own, there a bunch of discs to choose from. The website 2014 Best TV Calibration Disc Comparisons and Reviews gives you a quick glance at a few to help you make a more informed buying decision. Some of them may be available at your local library, or even via Netflix, if you don’t want to buy it for yourself.

 

DVE HD Basics 
Buy now, $39.95

Created by home theater industry veteran Joe Kane, HD Basics is a great High Definition home theater calibration tool. It promises to improve your picture and give you an understanding of the concepts that are vital to getting the most out of your HDTV.

Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark 
Buy now, $29.97

They claim that whether you’re a home theater novice or a professional calibrator, you’ll find all the tests you need to set up and adjust your HDTV in the Spears and Munsil HD Benchmark. The previous edition of the HD Benchmark was recommended by the New York Times, Widescreen Review, Home Theater Magazine and dozens of other print and online publications.

Disney WOW World of Wonder
Buy now, $19.99

The Disney WOW: World of Wonder disc is a “how to” guide for in-home high definition (HD) optimization of home entertainment systems featuring the help of classic Disney character Goofy and including HD demonstration clips from popular Disney titles including Toy Story, Up, Bolt and Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End. The easy to follow on-screen guide is designed to help consumers get the best quality experience from their home theater systems.

Proximus Calibration Toolkit 
Cost, $25 if you can find it

This disc appears to be out of print, or at least difficult to come by. It reviews quite well if you can find it. Use the Proximus Toolkit to help check the hookup and settings of any home theater system. The Proximus Toolkit allows you to adjust components for most screen imagery and multi-channel sound levels.

PixelProtector Blu-ray 
Buy DVD Edition V2, $29.95

The Blu-ray edition isn’t available for sale as far as we can tell, but the DVD is. It is a DVD based premium screen diagnostic and calibration tool for all types of LCD, plasma and rear projection TV screens. Using test signals PixelProtector allows you to accurately adjust your screen to its full potential. Specific test signals are provided for aligning and calibrating Plasma, LCD, projection sets, over head projectors and rear projection. PixelProtector also has unique screen washes they say will recalibrate pixels uniformly and supposedly keep your TV’s picture looking good for years to come.

Avia II: Guide to Home Theater 
Buy now, $29.99

For years, the original AVIA Guide to Home Theater DVD was the gold standard for calibrating your entire home theater. AVIA II added new tutorials to make it easy for beginner and expert alike, and hundreds of video and audio test patterns and signals. But it’s still a DVD, not updated to Blu-ray yet. Adjusting your audio and video system for maximum performance is easy with AVIA’s step-by-step instructions. Professionals (or those who want to learn more) can directly access advanced calibration signals with on-line explanations.

 

Conclusion

There’s a disc to fit the needs and budget of just about any do it yourself calibrator. Read the amazon reviews, they can be quite helpful if you need to decide which one is right for you. Some are more basic, others more advanced. Some are more helpful, others assume you know more about what you’re doing. Some are boring, some are fun.

There are even some apps now that can help with calibration. Maybe we’ll take a look at them in a future episode.

 

Download Episode #623

Posted by: htguys | February 13, 2014

Podcast #622: Skybell Doorbell Review

Today’s Show:

Skybell Doorbell

Last August a listener alerted us to an Indiegogo campaign for a Wifi doorbell that would allow you to answer the door from anywhere in the world provided you had an Internet connection. At that time to contribution was $125 and for that you would helping a startup company bring their product to the market. A product that was supposed to be available around Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then in time for the Holidays. We ended up getting our Skybell in late January but these are the problems of being an earlier adopter. Today, Skybell is available atSkybell.com and Amazon for $200.

Features

  • Answer your door from select Android and iOS devices – Anytime, Anywhere.
  • Exclusive Motion Sensor starts a call even when the person at your door doesn’t press the button (Coming Soon)
  • Quick and easy installation. Requires direct power and analog doorbell chime.
  • Manage multiple cameras in the same account

 

Setup

Please read the manual! Ara decided how hard is it to connect two wires and mount the doorbell so he did just that. Then he tried to sync the doorbell. Nothing! Total frustration. Then he finally decided to read the manual and that’s where he learned that the doorbell needs to charge a battery before syncing. That process takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Once the battery charged the doorbell synced with no issues.

Ara’s install did have another issue, the Skybell draws a small amount of current to power the unit. This caused a humming noise to come from the doorbell transformer. For the short term the doorbell was disconnected which has not gone over well with the family. Ara is still looking for a solution. The phone app does make a doorbell chime when the front doorbell is pressed but you only hear that if the sound is on. On the tablet, the sound is a generic notification so if you have some of those laying around with the sound on you won’t know if the notification is a doorbell or you just got a sports score update. By the way, there is no native tablet app.

The last setup nit pick. The camera is moveable so you can try to get an optimal viewing angle. It is very hard to move it so it requires the use of a screwdriver. There is a video at Skybell.com that shows how to adjust the camera angle.

Use

Once installed the doorbell works as advertised. Within a second or two of the doorbell being pressed you get a notification on all the phones and tablets connected to the doorbell. At that point you can see who’s at the door and even speak to them. If someone else answers the door you won’t be able answer. Skybell will be adding a notification to let you know someone else answered the door.

Picture and audio quality are adequate. There is a lot of background noise coming from the doorway. The picture quality allows you to see who’s there and you can take a snapshot if you choose. Night quality is terrible.

Skybell is promising improvements including:

  • Motion Sensor Activation
  • Motion Sensor – On/Off Toggle
  • Doorbell Sound for Push Notification Alert
  • Alert that another user answered the call
  • On-Demand Camera Access
  • Special SkyBell Alert Tone
  • Image Balance for backlighting

 

Bottom Line

Being able to see who is at the door and speak with them while you are away from home is quite powerful and Skybell lets you do just that. The product as it stands seems a bit rushed to market and is missing a few features. The good news if you have already bought one is that your Skybell will be updated automatically. Our recommendation is that if you are an early adopter type go ahead and jump in. Skybell works, albeit with a few incomplete features. If you want something that’s been fully buzzed out. Wait a few months and then jump in.

Download Episode #622

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