Back to talking about home A/V stuff

I’m taking a brief detour from my origin story to talk about what I used to talk about on this blog.

This blog is about 10 years old now, and was started when I got a Squeezebox and a Kuro Box to convert my CDs to digital audio.  AT the time, I had a Sony STR-835 receiver, and I upgraded to a Denon AVR-3805.  I love the Denon–it sounds great, it’s well built, and has generally met my needs well.  However, it may not anymore.

We were watching “How to Train Your Dragon 2″ last night, via Netflix on the TiVo Roamio.  I love Netflix on the TiVo, it works well, the kids have their own profile, and it’s nice not having to switch sources to play it.  (And with the new OnePass feature it’s actually really convenient to catch up on shows, since usually one of Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon have the back episodes, and you can record the new epsiodes on cable.  But I digress).  Anyway, I thought it would be fun to play the audio through the receiver, but when I tried to it only was playing stereo audio, not Dolby Digital.  Turns out Netflix on the TiVo does Dolby Digital Plus, which is much better (much higher audio bandwidth) but due to the high bandwidth cannot be passed over a S/PDIF optical connection (which is how the TiVo is connected to the receiver).  It also looks like the TiVo can’t be set to downconvert the Dolby Digital Plus to regular Dolby Digital AC-3 for output on the S/PDIF (which actually would be fine for me.)

I thought I’d be slick and try and do it through my Blu-Ray player, but the Netflix on that (nearly 4 year old player) is ancient, and doesn’t support 5.1 audio of any kind.  Since I’ve already set the Blu-Ray to output dts to the optical, it would work fine, but again, Netflix is too old.

I had at one point tried to use the TV to get Dolby on its optical out, but that didn’t seem to work either (perhaps for the same reason.)

I may be able to use my upstairs Blu-Ray player with a coax digital out to send downsampled 5.1 to the receiver, and I might try that, but that would mean putting the bigger, older Blu-Ray player upstairs.  Maybe not a big deal but I like how the smaller, newer one fits in the bedroom.

At any rate, that only solves the problem of getting surround sound in movies on Netflix, and doesn’t deal with audio from other programming on the TiVo, some of which is multichannel as well.

So the only alternative seems to be to upgrade to an HDMI-capable receiver and let it sort everything out.  It looks like the Denon receivers have an HDMI pass-through which lets you select a source to output to the TV when the receiver is in standby, which would mean people could watch TV from the TiVo without having to turn on the receiver, so that’s good.  It’s just a chunk of money, so I’m not sure if it’s a good idea.   Then again, I have a 10 year old receiver (which would get downgraded to the living room, and the old Sony would probably get used either in the bedroom, or perhaps down in the basement.)

Or, I could do what the rest of my family does, and not care about multichannel sound when watching movies, but that’s no fun.  Some of the sound editing is actually quite interesting, and done well really enhances the movie watching experience.  I’ve got the speakers and the sound system, why not use it?

The ultimate portable device

I’m thinking about my next gadget purchase, and outlining the things I’d like to be able to do:

  • I would like a new portable music player.  Right now my 60GB Nomad Zen doesn’t have enough room for everything I own at 160Kbps MP3 which is about as low bitrate as I want to go. So something with at least a 100GB drive or more is necessary.  Also note that you can’t really buy just a music player anymore, it has to be a “media player”
  • I’d like to have a handheld device I can reliably use as a SlimServer remote.  Any PDA would probably do but the device of choice seems to be a Nokia 770.  The 770 can also be used as a Wi-Fi streaming player which would be cool for interfacing with SlimServer as well.  What’d be even better would be a dual Wi-Fi/EVDO or HSDPA device with an unlimited data plan so I could stream from nearly anywhere.
  • A universal remote.  Something like the Harmony 1000, perhaps.  The Harmony also does IR and RF (z-wire it’s called) so I could use it anywhere in the house with an IR repeater to the stereo systems.

I’m intrigued by the PepperPad, which seems to do the IR remote and WiFi okay, but it’s got a tiny 30GB hard drive and is actually a bit big.  An OQO is interesting for the same reasons and in the same way but it’s also got a tiny hard drive and is pricey.  other UMPCs like the Sony one are also neat but expensive. The ARCHOS 504 has a 160 GB hard drive but doesn’t do WiFi or IR since it’s just a media player.

So what I want is a device with several hundred GB of file storage, Wi-Fi  and wireless broadband connectivity, that can be used as a universal remote and a media player with local and streaming capability, preferably running Linux, and can be hooked up both to a TV (make it HDTV) or a computer monitor and keyboard, but with a built-in hi res display and a decent input device for mobile use. It should be easily switchable from function to function and have enough horsepower to be responsive whatever it’s doing.  It should fit in my pocket–perhaps not my shirt pocket but baggy pants or a jacket.  I guess while you’re at it let it be my Blackberry and hi-res digital camera too.

The funny thing is there are pieces of this device in all the things I’ve mentioned–I could make it with those devices and a bunch of double-sided tape–but it would cost upwards of $2k and not actually be logically interconnected.  I do, however, believe that in 5 years we will be able to do exactly this.