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Elgato turbo.264 mini-review

Turbo264big A couple months back, the people at elgato sent me a turbo.264 to test out. It's a USB-based hardware encoder for converting any video file to AppleTV or iPod format and comes with software that controls the device. It's a small black plastic stick not much larger than a keychain thumb drive and their site boasts large speed improvements over other conversion methods.

On my Mac Pro desktop (quad core, 2.16Ghz), my results were mixed. Comparing against the best AppleTV/iPod/iPhone converter I know, VisualHub, I did not see any speed improvements when converting an identical file using both the turbo.264 and VisualHub (with VisualHub set to the highest quality setting for AppleTV output). The software application that comes with the turbo.264 doesn't offer any quality settings beyond the output (AppleTV/iPod high quality/iPod low quality) and shows preview keyframes. I assume if I was using an older powerbook or slower macbook I might see some of the advertised speed differences.

On the positive side, the video quality on output files was great. I encoded several identical source files in both VisualHub and turbo.264 and even with VisualHub's settings on the highest "go nuts!" quality, video playback on my AppleTV was smoother and sharper with the turbo.264 output.

So in the end, I didn't see any speed increases, but video quality was noticeably better when using the turbo.264 over a software-only solution like VisualHub. Is the turbo.264 worth the ~$100 price versus a $23 piece of shareware? Possibly, if you're using a laptop mac or older G4 hardware, but for me the quality difference isn't enough to justify the price difference.

July 26, 2007 in Product Reviews | Permalink | Comments (11)

TiVo HD (series 3 lite)

Looks like the Series 3 lite version is official, dubbed TiVo HD. The "buy now" link currently goes to an error page, but I suspect any day now that will be a live order form.

The specifications are up and it sounds like it has a 160Gb hard drive instead of the full Series 3's 250Gb drive and the FAQ answers just about every other question imaginable.

It's good to see a cheaper dual-tuner HD recorder come out of TiVo and I think it'll sell way better than the Series 3 did, but as I've said before, it confuses their product line to have two products of similar capabilities at vastly different pricing.

July 23, 2007 in News | Permalink | Comments (12)

TiVo Series3 Lite info leaked and selling soon?

Tivoseries3lite Just the other day I was saying a rumored TiVo Series 3 HD "lite" version seemed like a bad business idea for TiVo, but according to TV Squad it appears to be coming out next month. If it all turns out to be true, I imagine the full Series 3 TiVo sales will grind to a halt, but this may get more HD TiVos in the hands of people that wanted to ditch their Cable-provided DVR, but didn't want to foot the large bill for a Series 3.

July 18, 2007 in TiVo | Permalink | Comments (2)

Planning, Budgeting, Research, and Goals: Part 1 of Building Your Perfect Home Theater


photo by JasonRogers

After I moved into a new house 18 months ago, I knew I wanted to take everything I'd learned over the past few years and set up my own personal dream home theater system. I spent several months thinking about the constraints on the space and my own goals. I then spent about six months doing research on various aspects while putting it together. About a year later, it was complete.

In this part, I want to cover the basics of how to define what would make your own perfect home theater. This is the earliest step in designing your own system for your own space, so it'll be just writing stuff down and doing research online.

Come up with a wishlist

The first thing you'll want to do is come up with a list of things you'd like to have in your own home theater. We'll talk about constraints later, so for now, think sky-is-the-limit on what you want. For me, my wishlist looked something like this:

  • For a screen, a large plasma or LCD wall-mounted
  • For a TV source, HD either from cable or satellite
  • For watching movies, I'd like HD as well, either blu-ray or HD-DVD
  • One or more video game systems
  • Some way to stream movies/music from computers in the house
  • I want all components hidden away or behind doors
  • I want any and all speakers to be as hidden as possible, no visible speaker wire
  • I'd like the room to be multi-functional and not solely for watching TV

Counter your wishlist with real-world constraints

A wishlist is a good start for your research, and you'll want to start using Google for a bit to see what sorts of costs and other limitations your wishes might include. Think about your space and whatever preliminary research you've done to hone your wishlist down to something a bit more realistic. It helps to break out the tape measure and talk to anyone else you're sharing the space with (spouse, kids, roommates).

For my own living room project, I listed my own following constraints for my living room:

  • Distance from top of fireplace to ceiling where I want to wall-mount a TV is about 34 inches
  • Bank of three windows along one wall will bring in lots of natural light
  • Hallway closet about 20 feet away if I wanted completely hidden components
  • House came with 5 speakers installed in the ceiling
  • A toddler in the house meant components needed to be in a kid-proof enclosure

Budget: let's talk about money

The biggest obvious constraint on anyone planning a new home theater system is likely to be money. For me, I was willing to spend several thousand over the course of a year getting the components, but not all at once. After looking at my wishlist and my constraints, I did a good bit of research on the various components I'd need and I made myself an estimated budget like so:

  • TV: about $3k limit
  • hi-def DVD: $500
  • video game systems: $500
  • Home Theater A/V unit: $500-$1,000
  • Component rack: $500-$1,000
  • Various other components (TiVo, streaming media server, etc): $1,500

I quickly realized by the end, I'd probably go over my mental $5,000 limit, but the estimated budget helped me get a handle on where I was spending money and what sort of things to look for when shopping.

Research absolutely everything before you buy

I'd say it only took me a couple weeks of living in my new house to write down lists of wishes, constraints, and a budget. I spent the next six months or so researching each and every component and purchase decision before buying anything. With your lists in hand, try these research tips:

  • Go to a local electronics retailer with a good selection of TVs to compare brands side-by-side. Try and watch a known source (your favorite movie or channel) on different screens. Don't base any judgments on demo reels optimized for each screen (they rarely show high-action)
  • Crutchfield is a great resource for shopping and comparing brands. They've got high-resolution photos of the back of every A/V unit, which comes in quite handy, as well as customer reviews.
  • The AVS Forums are a great starting point. While shopping for a TV, I would often venture into the LCD area to see what people were saying about the various models before going out to test them myself.
  • Amazon is a good way to check user reviews before considering some purchases. You'll learn a lot about the limitations of a device from owners.
  • Engadget HD is a decent source for new product information. If you're spending months researching things, you'll often find a new model may replace the one you were thinking of buying.

Conclusion

I would strongly suggest that you don't skimp on this planning and research stage. Spend at least a few months shopping around for the best model and best price before you plunk down your money. In my case, I was replacing an old TV, old A/V unit, and old DVD player, so after a couple months of research, I would upgrade each part until I was done a year later.

Also keep in mind the longer you wait to buy just about any piece of electronics, the bigger the chances are that it will be either hundreds of dollars cheaper a few months from now, or replaced altogether by a better unit (or both)

Next in part 2: Buying a TV and picking the right screen for you

July 16, 2007 in Build Your Perfect Home Theater | Permalink | Comments (6)

New Series: Building Your Perfect Home Theater


photo by Orange_Beard

I know it's been quiet here for the past few months, but I wanted to announce a new series of posts on how to build a perfect (for you, and your needs) home theater. It'll be about five parts total and cover the research I did to build my own living room system. I'll post a new section every few days so the whole series should wrap up in a couple weeks.


Stay tuned for the part 1: Planning, Budgeting, Research, and Goals.

July 16, 2007 in Build Your Perfect Home Theater | Permalink | Comments (1)

How to build a TV lift cabinet

Instructablestv Instructables has a great step-by-step how-to on building your own custom TV lift, which hides the TV when not in use. It does require a ~$500 kit and an old 6-drawer dresser that will become otherwise inoperable, but the end result looks pretty cool and lets you hide a TV completely from a room when not in use.

Custom built versions can often cost thousands, so this is a pretty economical way to build one yourself for much less.

July 13, 2007 in How-To | Permalink | Comments (11)

Spy Pics of TiVo Series 3 Lite?

Hdtivolite Gizmodo has a story on what may be the first photos of a stripped down HD TiVo. There was speculation soon after the $799 Series 3 HD TiVo launch that they'd eventually do a cheaper $299 version with less features, but the photos from this gizmodo post look pretty rough and show it having dual tuners which seems like a stretch for something supposedly thin on features.

A bigger issue with TiVo is their upcoming marketing strategy if this is a real product coming out. They've got the high-end HD cable market with the $600-800 Series 3 TiVo, and Comcast is now chipping away at the low end with their soon-to-be-rolled-out TiVo-powered Comcast HD boxes. If they introduce a cheap HD TiVo for say $200-300, I think it'd hurt Series 3 sales as well as be a confusing option given the cheaper Comcast box. At this point, it probably makes more sense to try and bring the Series 3 box down to maybe $399 and leave it as their only HD TiVo offering.

July 12, 2007 in TiVo | Permalink | Comments (5)

Amazon Unbox now directly on TiVo

This is good news, you can now access Amazon Unbox directly from your couch and buy/rent movies using your TiVo remote. You have to set a PIN here, and enter that PIN whenever you purchase anything. Of course, you will have to wait anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour before your entire movie gets downloaded, but it sure beats running to a computer anytime you're thinking of wanting to download something to your TV. Not even the AppleTV allows for direct purchases and downloads from the couch.

Screenshots after the jump

Amazon unbox on TiVo

Amazon unbox

July 10, 2007 in News | Permalink | Comments (13)