Philips Sound Bar (CSS2123)

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In additional to a new Blu-ray player, last weekend I also purchased a Philips Sound Bar (CSS2123) for our living room HDTV. The speakers included with the 32″ HDTV are OK. They’re not the worst. The ones in my smaller HDTVs are so bad they must be connected to external speakers to be tolerable.

Still, we like to watch movies in the living room. I didn’t want to deal with full-surround sound. That would require a heavier investment of money and space. Instead, I decided to add a relatively inexpensive sound bar.

Audiophiles may not care for this set but we both have enjoyed it. Music, movies, and television sound really good though movies that I have ripped from DVD to an Apple TV format do not (This was done using Handbrake. I’m not sure why – the quality may have not been good before but it’s only become apparent with the use of better speakers – my next test is to rip to a slightly different format or to try movies purchased through iTunes).

The set cost $99 at Wal-Mart. It includes the sound bar itself, a wired sub-woofer, and a remote. During the first movie that we watched I had to turn the sub-woofer down. It was actually much deeper than I was expecting and I didn’t want to annoy any of our neighbors.

I haven’t experienced any major problems though when I tried to use a coaxial digital connection only the sound effects from the Apple TV came through. None of the audio for Netflix, or from our Tivo, worked. I suspect this has more to do with the different audio formats (stereo versus true surround) and for now I only have it connected to the TV via the headphone jack, which is split out to RCA adapters that go into the sound bar inputs (stereo only).

Updated 05/22/2013: So far so good. We haven’t had any problems with the sound bar.

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Toshiba Blu-ray Player (BDK33)

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Last weekend I made a couple of purchases for the living room, which I’ve been planning for a while. One of these purchases was a Toshiba Blu-ray Player (BDK33). We’ve been able to watch Blu-ray movies on the PS3, but it’s in a different room and I’ve been wanting to be able to also watch Blu-rays in the living room (the other room has a larger television but it’s currently lacking comfortable furniture).

I looked at several different models in Best Buy and Target. I didn’t bother with checking Wal-Mart this time. I was surprised to find a real deal in Best Buy. It’s rare that they have anything, aside from movies, that I would purchase there.

It only costs $59.

I considered it a good deal because it has wifi capability built-in (unlike many that are “wifi ready”, meaning you’ll need some kind of adapter to use them on wifi). It also supports Netflix, Hulu, and some other services.

I was actually just looking for a plain Blu-ray player without those bells and whistles. After all, I already have an Apple TV in the living room. The price convinced me to go ahead and get it. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a regular Blu-ray player even for $59.

So far I’ve been happy with the purchase, though I haven’t used it much. We’ve only watched a single Blu-ray movie and though I do have it on the wifi network I haven’t tested Netflix or Hulu. It’s connected to my older 32″ TV via the HDMI switch. The movie played without any problems and it looked great on my older HDTV.

Range Problems with the 4×2 True Matrix HDMI Switch Remote

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I’m on my second 4X2 True Matrix HDMI 1.3a Powered Switch w/ Remote (Rev. 3.0) with the first one ready to be shipped back for replacement. When I received the new switch I noticed that the range of the remote was about half of that of the old remote and the spare remote in the bedroom.

The most likely cause was a low battery. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a spare 2025 “watch battery” at the house. I did have a fresh 2032 battery. Hell, I thought, why not? Even the circuit board in the remote has 2032 printed on it. It might have nothing to do with the preferred battery type, but I went ahead and replaced it with the 2032, which did fit.

The range is back to working the same as that of the other remotes. It’s possible this might eventually fry the remote, so if you choose to go this route then you’ve been warned that it could be damaged.

Philips DVD Player Changes TV Source Whenever Using the DVD Remote (Workaround)

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Note: Most of this information is probably only applicable to households with a Philips TV and DVD player.

Tonight I ran into an unexpected problem. While trying to watch a DVD in our bedroom the TV input was changed from HDMI2 (where the living room sources are connected) to HDMI1 (where nothing is connected). It happened any time I tried to pause or play the movie. In fact, it seemed to happen every time I pressed any button on the remote.

I quickly eliminated the possibility of the DVD remote sending signals to the TV by preventing the IR from reaching the TV. The problem still occurred.

After a moment I remembered another problem we previously encountered in which the DVD player was turning the TV back on a moment after the TV was turned off. I neglect to post about the issue but long story short the EasyLink capability built into both Philips devices caused the TV to turn back on if the DVD player was still on (or was in the process of shutting down). The solution was to turn the DVD player off before powering off the TV (since then I’ve also shut off the available EasyLink options in the DVD player).

Tonight’s problem seems to be related. I disabled the DVD players EasyLink functions. However, even though the TV appears to have EasyLink support the setup menu does not include any options to disable it.

I noticed that when the TV source is changed by the DVD player it always reverts to HDMI1. Before I purchased the matrix switch we only used the DVD player in the bedroom, where it was connected on HDMI1. At that point I realized the DVD player’s behavior hadn’t actually changed. We hadn’t noticed it before because it was already on HDMI1 and tonight was the first time we had tried to play a DVD since adding the switch.

It’s not a true fix, but the workaround was simply to move the incoming living room HDMI connection from HDMI2 over to HDMI1 on the bedroom TV. Now the DVD player appears to operate as expected without changing the TV source.

 

ASUS EeeBox PC (EB1006), Boxee and Netflix Experience (Unacceptable)

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I have three projects for the ASUS EeeBox PC that I have yet to spend much time on: speech recognition, text-to-speech, and serving media files as an HTPC. Tonight I finally spent a few minutes with Boxee. This was the first night that I attempted to play any kind of video using Boxee and in this case I only used the Netflix app. I have yet to try ripped DVDs or other video content in Boxee, iTunes, or XBMC.

The Netflix Boxee app didn’t perform well on my system. The audio didn’t sound great, though I had set Boxee to play audio through the HDMI connection but for some reason it only used the speakers. The video streaming was very bad. It was choppy and stuttered a lot.

It’s difficult to know whether the problem is the Boxee Netflix app, using Boxee itself, or simply the fact that the ASUS EeeBox PC just may not have enough horsepower. After all, the ASUS isn’t a high-end system and running additional software on it probably doesn’t help.

I’ll continue this experiment and post updates as I learn more. However, I may jump ahead to working with XBMC and go back to Boxee if I don’t like the results.

Updated 08/24/2011: I briefly tested Netflix Instant Watch from Internet Explorer on the ASUS EeeBox PC and it seemed to run fine. The streaming problem I experienced appears to be limited to Boxee or the Netflix plugin for Boxee. There may be other factors involved, but it’s unlikely I’ll spend any time in the immediate future to identify the specific problem.

ASUS EeeBox PC as a Home Automation/Media Server

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I recently acquired an ASUS EeeBox PC (EB1006). My goal is to set it up to serve media, manage our home automation systems, and some additional security roles. I’m hoping this will be the last major change to the home automation setup for a few years.

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Slow iTunes Rental Downloads on an Apple TV (2nd Generation)

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The Short Version: My Apple TV (2nd gen) downloads were requiring far more time than necessary. I narrowed down much of the problem to a setting on my Apple Airport Extreme Base Station. By switching it over to “802.11a/n – 802.11g/b” from “802.11a – 802.11g/b” I noticed an immediate and significant improvement. 

A little while ago we tried to rent a movie from iTunes to watch on our 2nd generation Apple TV. The download was agonizingly slow. On average the load time showed it would be one and a half hours before the movie would be ready to watch. Obviously, this was an issue and made even more annoying considering it was already past 9 PM on a weeknight.

To make a long story short, I made three changes and though I’m not absolutely positive which one actually made the difference I think I know which change worked.

I came across several posts where users had improved their download speed by changing their custom DNS settings to instead use their ISP provided DNS servers. That did match my situation so I went ahead and set the Apple TV to use my ISP’s DNS. However, that didn’t seem to make a difference.

I also changed the iTunes rental preferences to only download SD (instead of renting HD when available). Considering I had already started the download of whatever format was available for the movie I don’t think this change made a difference and I may go ahead and set it back.

The one change that seemed to make an instant difference was to change my Apple Airport Extreme Base Station to use “802.11a/n – 802.11g/b”, instead of the “802.11a – 802.11g/b” configuration that it was apparently set to. This probably was the problem considering that the Apple TV does support 802.11n. Perhaps it just wouldn’t work properly on the wireless without 802.11n support enabled.

Updated 06/27/2011: Ever since I made these changes the rentals have started immediately. We’ve rented two TV episodes and three movies and all have worked great. I didn’t set the quality back to HD. Everything I’ve viewed has looked great at the SD setting and usually saves about a dollar per rental so I haven’t bothered to change it back.

Using a 4X2 True Matrix HDMI 1.3a Powered Switch w/ Remote (Rev. 3.0)

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A while back I purchased a 4X2 True Matrix HDMI 1.3a Powered Switch w/ Remote (Rev. 3.0) from Monoprice.com and it’s proven to be a good investment. This switch has four inputs and two outputs. One of the features I’ve enjoyed is the ability to mix and match the inputs and outputs in any way.

For example, I can have the same source go to both TVs or any one of the sources go to different TVs at the same time. The switch has only three buttons on the front. A power button and then two output selectors. Each button press of an output selector (A or B) alternates between one of the four inputs.

It also comes with a very easy to use IR remote for changing the input/output combination. Since we use an IR repeater to control multiple devices from two rooms I went ahead and purchased a spare remote from Monoprice.

In general, the HDMI switch is a solid product but it’s not without its hiccups. There have been a few times when I had to reset the HDMI switch, but so far those events have been very rare, especially when compared to my first, single output HDMI switch. The rare problem I ran into was a very distorted display and perhaps once or twice I wasn’t able to receive audio until I reset the switch. Of the few times I’ve had issues I think I only had to physically unplug the power from the device just one time. Hopefully, problems will remain few.

Before I bought this switch I had an issue with my Philips 32″ LCD HDTV, typically when used with the PS3. It had a tendency to drop the HDCP signal, which is a problem with an DRM content such as video-on-demand. For a while I put an unused 2×1 HDMI splitter in line to boost the signal and that worked. Since I put the new 4×2 in line I haven’t had to use the other switch – it also seems to do a good job of boosting the signal.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the switch, especially when considering that the cost is lower than many other high-end HDMI switches that provide these capabilities.

Updated 08/28/2011: In June of 2011 one of the output ports on the switch died. I purchased a 4×1 switch for temporary use but that didn’t work out. Instead, I went ahead and bought another 4×2 switch (same model). Last week I mailed the defective switch back to Monoprice for replacement.

Philips 32″ LCD HDTV Flashing Green

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Last night my wife called me into the living room. She had been trying to watch something on the Tivo but at one point the television screen began alternating between black and green. She tried turning off the TV and then turning it back on but each time it powered up it was flashing.

I powered off the Tivo. At first, it seemed to work. The Tivo startup screen displayed. But I guess when it switched over to a different part of the startup sequence the TV went back to alternating between all black and all green.

I tried switching to different inputs on the HDMI switch and even powered off the unit and unplugged it, but still the TV flashed.

Finally, I went for the more elegant trouble-shooting solution and did what I should have tried first.

I unplugged the television from the power outlet.

When I turned the TV back on it was working fine. I’m hoping this was just some odd fluke in the HDMI port and not an early sign of a soon-to-fail TV.

You Can Play Xbox 360 and PS3 on Your LCD Monitor (with DVI)

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Yep. It’s possible. It’s not as good as using an HDTV with HDMI input but it will work if your LCD monitor has a DVI connection. I came across this on accident when I needed to connect my work laptop to an external display (but I forgot my DVI adapter).

All you need is a DVI to HDMI cable. Monoprice has some great prices.

Just connect the HDMI end of the cable to your console and then connect the DVI end to the monitor.

I never tried this in the past because I had always assumed there were electronics involved that would only support the connection one-way. However, it appears that HDMI truly is nothing more than DVI with audio and a different connector.

I don’t have a true widescreen monitor so I don’t know if it will work better on one. My screen is between a standard widescreen and a standard fullscreen display, oddly. When I’m playing on the Xbox 360 I see the typical black bars above and below the screen that you would expect. However, there is some minor distortion – everything is slightly narrower than normal. It’s actually not very obvious and is easy to get used to.

I haven’t experienced any artifacts, the smell of burning plastic, etc. So far, it’s worked great.

There is one problem, though. I don’t know if it’s specific to older monitors or something that can’t be transmitted over DVI but the Xbox 360 does not receive the digital rights management information that it expects (yes, DRM here to ruin the fun once again). This means that Netflix streaming and probably any other video rentals or purchases will not work.

I haven’t tried this with my PS3 but I would be surprised to learn that it does not work the same way.