Chesapeake Home Theatre & Hi-Fi

Larry Dent is the owner of Chesapeake Home Theatre & Hi-Fi.

These articles were written for the Islander Weekly.

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Larry's Tech Talk

Apr 2011

3D?? You gotta be kiddin’ me!

So, what’s new in home entertainment? You have audio and you have video, what could be simpler? On the audio side, we first had a single signal called monaural (mono). Mono wasn’t bad, then they figured out that 2 separate soundtracks (left and right) gave audio depth (key word here, depth!) and realism. It was called stereo. Now we have surround sound which can have up to as many as 11 separate soundtracks for amazing audio effects. On the video side, we first had black and white, then color video (remember the word “technicolor”?). Then the DVD improved the standard video resolution. And then we were given high definition! What could be better than that? Razor sharp images, brilliant colors all from a device that was maybe 3 or 4 inches thick.

About a year ago TV manufacturers starting shipping 3D high definition TVs. Sales were disappointing, and there wasn’t a whole lot of 3D video available. If you bought one, you purchased a fabulous hi-end 2D TV also capable of 3D video. Life on the “bleeding edge”! But really, what’s the big deal? Will 3D really catch on? And what’s with those glasses?

Kind of like our old friend 2 track stereo, 3D video is produced with 2 lens cameras giving images depth. And yes, at least for now, you have to wear special glasses to experience the third dimension. Hollywood is not exactly jumping in the 3D ocean. But they are maybe getting their toes wet. The NFL aired a playoff game in 3D this past season. One of the satellite video services has one channel with 3D programming. So what’s it going to take to make 3D video mainstream?

It’s hard to talk about technology without offering an opinion. And here comes one. 3D will catch on when the glasses go away. I’ve read that in 2 to 5 years that will happen. Manufacturers are working with surfaces on the front of the TV that will work like 3D glasses do now. And of course Hollywood will have to embrace the “depth” dimension. If NFL games are produced in 3D, count on it becoming mainstream. To be honest, I have not sat through an entire 3D movie. But I have seen 3D demo videos, and yes, 3D is for real.

You will need a 3D capable TV, and a source that produces 3D. The source could be a 3D BluRay player or a cable or satellite signal. Oops, your monthly video bill just went up! Don’t shoot! I’m just the messenger! Imagine Ray Lewis jumping out of your television and into your Family Room! Or a movie like Jaws in 3D? Nobody will ever get in the water again! Ahh-nold is almost done being a governor, maybe he’ll make a new action movie in 3D?? He said he’d be back! And how about the video game industry? That’s a whole additional market that will explode with 3D.

Don’t feel obsolete, you’re hi-definition 2D TV is still awesome. But, if they figure out how to get rid of the glasses, 3D will happen. I’m not kiddin’!

HooRay for BluRay!!

In case you didn’t notice, Hollywood is and has been a huge influence in our lives. And how those guys have delivered their audio/video productions to the public has been an amazing evolution. Going way back, if you wanted to see a movie you went to the theater. Then television brought an in-home experience (to some extent) in black and white. Hey, my Dad watched Gunsmoke the day I was born. I’m talkin’ Marshall Matt Dillon baby!! Color television was invented and then the Video Cassette Recorder. Cable and Satellite gave us HBO and Pay Per View.

The VCR became one of the fastest selling consumer devices ever, starting out with prices around $1000 (remember the Sony Beta-max?). That price didn’t last long, and now you couldn’t give a VCR away. Video stores appeared on the scene. The pessimists said it would be the end of the movie making business. But, actually it was a boom in entertainment revenues. A few movie theaters are still around, but not like back in the day. And now video stores are disappearing fast, i.e. Kent Island Blockbuster.

The DVD player (that’s short for Digital Video Disc) improved on the VCR’s video capabilities. And the audio was better too, with on-board surround sound processing. You might still be using yours. Then like everything in electronics, another one bites the dust.

Blu-discs look very similar to their predecessor (the DVD). But, the major technical difference is a BluRay disc holds around 20 gigabytes, while the DVD maxed out at 6 gigabytes. We all know more is better, but what can 20 Gigabytes do for us? Basically it can squeeze the highest definition digital video and audio onto the same size disc as a DVD…… I get it, 20 vs.6, that’s easy enough to figure out.

OK Larry, but you already said that video stores were disappearing and streaming movies via the internet will become the norm. Why should I buy another disc player? Great question! And here’s your answer(s). First, BluRay players are downward compatible, meaning they will play standard DVDs and CDs. Your existing collection can be played from a BluRay player. Secondly, most BluRay players can connect to the Internet. So, if your slightly older TV is not net-workable, a BluRay player can be used to download Netflix, Pandora, Rhapsody, and other services without upgrading your other components. And yes, it integrates easily with your home’s audio/video system. The third answer to your question, it will actually upconvert your DVDs to make a better video image. I think of DVDs as mid-def, and BluRay discs as Hi-Def. A BluRay player will upconvert your DVDs to true Hi-Definition (automatically).

But how much will this technology cost?? And when I hear the word “network”, I get nervous. OH-KAY! (remember Alvin and the chipmunks?) One question at a time… can buy an excellent BluRay player for under $200. And as for connecting to your home’s network, no worries. A blind-folded teenager could do it! (What is it with the young people and their intuitive abilities with today’s technology?) Anyway, I call it “Plug and Pray”! But in reality, it is almost always Plug and Play! If your network is up, the BluRay should connect.

And, one more major detail. Everyone expects BluRay players to deliver outstanding, razor sharp video, and they do. But honestly, my big attraction is the AUDIO! BluRay players sound AWESOME! But more on that later.

So, Hoo-Ray for Hollywood! And Hoo-Ray for BluRay!

Talkin ‘bout my generation

Not too many years ago a west coast software company was dominating the world’s computer technology marketplace. Revenues were skyrocketing and competitors were being crushed. Companies like Intel, Dell, HP, and Compaq partnered with Microsoft and profited in a huge way. Bill Gates, the founder and CEO was the world’s richest man. Microsoft was everywhere and everything, or so it seemed. How could any company ever challenge this giant?

Meanwhile, rival west coast Apple Computer was sinking fast. Their computers cost more than Windows-based units. Apple’s technology marketshare was well below 5%. Microsoft was crushing its competitors with the Windows Operating System and its application software. Products like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint became market leaders and even Gov’t and Corporate standards. Remember Lotus and WordPerfect? Maybe??

What could a company named after a fruit (not that fruit is bad, I’m just setting you up!) possibly do to turn itself around against Microsoft? And what does this have to do with audio and video, dude?? Answer; EVERYTHING!

Miniature hard drive music players were just hitting the market, and there were plenty of them. The Sony Walkman was doomed, nice unit in its day, but the cassette tape was doomed. TA-DA!! Enter the Apple iPod. The iPod was the slickest handheld music device ever seen (and still might be!). It had the touch wheel, the display, even the box it shipped in was really cool. And the device that fit in your shirt pocket could store hours and hours (maybe weeks) of music. Did I mention it was really cool too?

iPods sold like hotcakes. Anyone that was into music had to have one. Sure, teenagers were probably the big market, but older (the rest of us) folks that commuted and traveled scooped them up too. The iPod was great with headphones and could easily be added to a home or car audio system. The iPod easily stored entire music collections, 100’s of CDs! WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN THAT??

Well, better than that, was already in place. And it was FREE! Apple invented a free software download called “iTunes”, which allowed anyone to download music or video via the Internet to their computer and sync to their iPod.. Sure, songs were $.99 each, and movies or videos cost $$. But the required iTunes was free. Free razor, just buy the blades concept?? GO APPLE, GO APPLE! So, Apple pays the artists a royalty, and takes a minor fee, everyone is happy. Except the record stores! They are ALL GONE! Apple re-invented, perfected the audio/video distribution business and spanked Microsoft in a big consumer computer related marketplace. Apple’s Macintosh line of computers also grew major market share from the success of the iPod. I think of this as bottom-up marketing.

Of course the skeptic in me had to think, what is this cool device lacking? I still have to travel with an iPod, a laptop (for e-mail) and a cell phone. Nobody could ever package a device that does all that. WRONG!! Enter the iPhone! It does all that and more! Then enter the iTouch, the iPad (an awesome 9-inch touch screen tablet) and you have become a member of the “i” Generation! Think you’re a Baby Boomer? Hippie Gen?
Gen-Xer? NO, we are all members of the “i” GENERATION!

Remotes… Out of Control?

If you are as old as me, you remember back in the day when you had to walk over to the TV to change channels (and volume). Thanks to Infra-Red Technology we have total control of our electronics without getting off of the recliner. But, sometimes technology (and convenience) comes with a price. And that price is that each device comes with its own remote.

How many are in your collection? In a basic system there will be a TV and a satellite (or Cable) receiver, that’s two. Add a DVD player (or Blu-Ray) for 3, surround sound and we’re up to 4. Maybe a CD player for 5 remote controls. I won’t say how many I was up to, but you see where I am going with this.

To resolve this dilemna, and lower the divorce rate, several companies sell universal remote controls. With a little bit of programming and the correct codes, you can eliminate most (if not all) of that remote collection. They range in price from under $100 to over $500. Like a lot of things, you will get what you pay for. If you only need to change channels and volume, a basic remote will do just fine. If you want to change surround modes, change the XM station in Zone 2 (while sitting in the hot tub), and dim the lights, you will need a more sophisticated unit. If you really want to show off, you can close the shades, start the fire, lower the thermostat and turn on the ceiling fan.

Not bad, but how complicated are these devices? The more sophisticated remotes allow for “activity” programming. Think about this, to watch TV, you turn on the TV, the cable box, and sound system. That’s three devices to power on that can be programmed to turn on with one button. These cool remotes can be programmed to know that the cable box changes channels, not the TV. And the sound system changes volume, not the TV, etc, etc. Simply put, “activity programs” are several commands being executed by one button. So now my wife can actually watch TV! She just hits one button and the system comes to life.

You might be thinking, that is pretty cool, but the coolest device ever, is my IPhone (or Droid). And yes, there are apps that allow for your IPhone to become a universal remote control. So, clean up that coffee table, empower your wife, and take back “control” of your audio/video system!