Archive for the ‘Home Theater’ Category

About that Zune HD thing

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

I am a huge Microsoft fan, the Xbox 360 is my favorite console, Windows is my favorite OS, and the Zune has been my music player ever since it was first released (The Dell DJ was my music player before that). On the day a new model of the Zune is released it is somewhat of a tradition that I run out to Best Buy and pick one up. There are currently four Zunes in my household.

In the past the Zune has not been without its problems, it seems to take the development team a incredibly long time to fix issues with the software, it is very easy to lose all of the music you have purchased in the marketplace, the accessories feel very cheaply made, and there is no support for the device in cars or home theater audio systems. Another sore spot for the Zune has been its marketing, in the past there was no way of knowing what the commercial was trying to sell you until the Zune logo popped up at the end as opposed to Apple marketing where the entire commercial centers around the devices.

Although almost any device these days is a ‘music player’ I am more excited about the ZuneHD than I have been about any other Zune device. Built on the Tegra (NVIDIA) platform which offers a great amount of power and including a new OLED screen, a web browser, the Zune 4 software, the application store, and the inclusion of HD radio; this is most likely the largest step the Zune has taken in its progression thus far.

I will be picking up a ZuneHD as soon as the local Best Buy opens up, but if the issues continue this is likely to be the last time Microsoft wins my business. I might have to hold my nose and buy an Apple product, after all.

-Drew

Xbox 360 transfer woes…

Monday, December 29th, 2008

I admit I am quite the gamer, I have every modern gaming system including a DS Lite. I have had an Xbox 360 since the very day it came out (I even had to buy it on eBay like a good sheep, baaaa). Although mostly useless, with the upgraded “Xbox experience” Microsoft is now allowing gamers to install their games onto their Xbox 360 (possibly to encourage sales of the 120GB HD toting Elite system). As I installed Fallout 3 onto my system and saw the final drop of my disk space dwindle, I decided it was time for an upgrade.

Now, as many of you may know (if you’ve ever read my banter) I am somewhat practical. So spending $400 to simply achieve the simple goal of having more disk space would be, somewhat un-like me. If you read my article about the Best Buy Geek Squad (and my new home theater installation) You can imagine how annoyed I am that my Xbox 360 is currently connected by a measly component video cable and is incapable of delivering full resolution (1080P) output to my delicious new display.

So, to recap $400 for additional hard disk space AND an HDMI port, now that’s more like it! So maybe I am not that practical after all. I suppose there is also a slim chance that my 360 won’t sound like a jet engine taking off anytime I am trying to play a game, or that it will use slightly less power (and of course the Elite comes with a Black controller, and for some reason I find myself collecting the controllers I have the Halo 3 one, the Red/Black “Gears of War II” one, the Blue one, etc etc).

So why, then with all of this gaming goodness at my fingertips am I sitting here writing this tripe? Because, the Xbox 360 Elite is still in it’s box and the sheer amount of grunt work you have to go through to transfer your data from one system to the other is staggering.

Lets examine the process. First, you need a cable and software which you can only get via two places. A) For Free From Microsoft by mailing or Faxing a form or B) By buying a $149 hard drive. This in itself is probably the most silly limitation. The Xbox 360 is a network connected device. One could simply connect one Xbox 360 to the via other via Ethernet (or USB, since Microsoft appears to love USB so much) and use the dashboard to do the transfer.

Assuming you are patient enough to wait for them to send you the free cable (which is totally superfluous, really) you will then be treated to the task of dismantling your new Elite so that you can connect the new disk to your old console and then connecting your old hard disk to the rear USB connector. At this point, if you were silly enough to actually use your $400 Xbox 360 Elite (while waiting 10 days for them to send you the free cable) everything on your Elite is deleted and the data from the old 360 is copied to the new 360).

At this point, the hundreds of songs you purchased for Rock Band and Guitar Hero as well as all of the level packs, and any other licensed content you purchased must re-licensed and re-downloaded. Yes, one by one and manually. This brings up the question, who thought this was a better idea than simply doing a system to system copy over the network?

I realize that they needed a solution that would work for any situation and that most people are going to upgrade their hard drive rather than their entire system but surely someone at Microsoft has to see the pure insanity in this design.

My point here is really that even if you are just upgrading your disk there is a better way than the current method. Why wouldn’t they simply just include the transfer cable with all drive kits why only the 120GB? Why make the people who have a 20GB who only need to upgrade to a 60GB wait what is an eternity in 2009 to use a product they’ve already paid for?

My solution for doing a 360 transfer would similar to this:

Ethernet or USB cable between the two machines, boot the target machine up put it in ‘target mode’ boot the sender machine up go into the settings and hit the transfer option, it auto discovers the machine sitting in target mode, it copies everything over and then puts the sender machine back to factory default settings. Problem solved.

Oh if I ruled the world.

Best Buy Geek Squad – Use Them

Monday, December 8th, 2008

I consider myself somewhat of a perfectionist – if something isn’t just right, every time I look at that particular thing, it will bug me until eventually I will have to fix it (usually at great expense). That is why when I decided to upgrade my ‘living room theater’ I decided to let the professionals handle it. I am not saying I am incompetent (much), but cabling and mounting things is just about the only part of networking/IT that I am not heavily involved in. With some apprehension (spurred by opinions I read online) I tapped Best Buy’s Geek Squad to perform the installation and I am glad I did.

We had just spent the previous week furiously painting the living room to get everything ready. The Geek Squad and delivery folks arrived simultaneously (5 minutes before my stated 5 hour window), my brand new Panasonic Plasma TV, Peerless mount, and my new Pioneer receiver in tow. They quickly brought everything in and unpacked it. I was amazed at the professionalism and attention to detail displayed by the installers Best Buy sent.

I had what I considered a nightmare of a plan for them to follow. My house is technically a condo, and the builders decided (for some reason) that every one of these homes should have a giant ‘gash’ above the fireplace where one would install their TV. The problem with this theory is that the ‘nook’ or ‘’gash’ (as I call it) is made for a 27” CRT TV (or possibly a 32”). Our plan was that we would install a dual-arm peerless mount in the back of the ‘nook’ and the TV would sort of float in-front of the opening. To me this seemed like a big deal, but the fine folks at the Geek Squad had seemingly done it 1000 times before.

They ran in wall HDMI, CAT5, and COAX from my TV to the various switching components. They installed wall plates and tied everything off and it looks really clean (like something I would do if I could). They up-sold me a wall mounted surge protector to put behind the TV to keep everything safe and clean. They setup my entire laundry list of components to work with the new Pioneer Receiver (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, HD Cable Box) all the while sweeping up any dirt or debris they caused while they were there.

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They installed the dual-arm peerless mount, one of the installers even hung off of it to make sure that it wouldn’t fall under the weight of the behemoth TV that would sit on it. They mounted the TV (which looked like a hell of a job) connected the HDMI and CAT5 (for VieraCast [more on this later]), then they even calibrated my new receiver using the microphone Pioneer provides for this task.

They positioned the TV so that it fits perfectly flush with the wall, it appears to be perfectly centered and they even left enough room for my center channel speaker to sit below the TV on the bottom of the ‘nook’. At that point I was astonished as they began running speaker wire under my carpet (without me asking or paying for it) for my surround speakers. You must understand that previously we had cables running all over our home (down the stairs for CAT5, speaker wire and coax running along the carpet) and to see virtually no wires to trip over was a breathtaking sight.

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All-in-all the Geek Squad unit from Columbus Ohio did a tremendous job and I feel that they went above and beyond what I had expected (and paid for). An installation of this caliber would most likely have cost me thousands from a specialty home theater installation company. Keep in mind that there are different installers and units of the Geek Squad in every area, but if my experience is any indication of the average quality of their work – You will not be disappointed. I will post pictures in a few days once I can pull myself away from the living room for more than 5 minutes to get my digital camera. Updated 12/09/08 – pictures added.

I will also be posting a ‘review’ of Panasonic’s VieraCast once I have had more time to play with it.

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-Drew

Linksys PLK300 – Failed attempt to be lazy

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

These days pretty much every home theater device has a wired Ethernet port. In my case there is a Xbox 360, a PS3, and a Panasonic Plasma TV that all need to be connected to the home network. Sure wireless has come a long way but nothing beats Cat6 for that delicious low latency/high throughput satisfaction.

Powerline networking is not a new technology, in fact home automation companies have been using it for years for things like turning lights on and off and security systems. Recently electronics manufacturers along with networking giants such as Cisco have formed an industry alliance "HomePlug", with the goal of pushing this technology out of the ‘obscure home automation catalog’ segment into the mainstream home segment.

HomePlug 1.0 is this alliance’s first "ratified standard" for this new version of an old technology. This technology is sold in kits and separate adapters, and promise different theoretical throughput levels (From 85Mbps to 200Mbps). Devices from Linksys/Cisco, NetGear, and Belkin (among countless others) have begun springing up all over the brick and mortar electronic retailers such as Best Buy within the last few months.

My experience with the Linksys PLK300 was a pleasant one. The Linksys PLK300 is a 200Mbps kit with one single port adapter and one four port adapter. It comes with everything you need to get started including Cat5 cables and stands for the adapters. Installation was a breeze and took less than 5 minutes. I connected the single port adapter to one of the outlets in my home office (cough: video game den…) and the four port adapter to an outlet near my home theater.

Using iperf (which is widely seen as one of the best tools to test throughput) I was able to achieve the following results.

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As you can see the throughput achieved through the PLS 300 installation was actually worse than my current 802.11G Network (I didn’t think that was possible). I never considered it even remotely possible that I would achieve 200Mbps through this system, but less than 18% of the stated max throughput is a little silly. I will note that while the throughput of the connection was considerably lower, the latency was much better on the HomePlug connection versus the Wireless (802.11G) and did not vary as widely.

I contacted Linksys to see if perhaps there was something I was doing wrong. (The system is fairly foolproof but they’re making new fools every day…) I was told that perhaps the wiring in my built in 2003 home was too old or of poor quality and that I should be getting much more than 11.3Mbps (avg). I asked if there was some software or a way that I could see what "rate" the unit is connected at and the technical support representative indicated that this was not possible.

So it says on the outside of the box that the unit will do up to 200Mbps but there is no way of knowing what speed the unit is "linked" at? It seems like either they intentionally omitted including a "speed indicator" on the units themselves so that you won’t know what speed you’re getting unless you’re anal (like me) and test it.

It could also be that there is no sustained connection speed and that it constantly varies (like wireless). Still, it would be nice to know what level of quality the signal between the two devices is.

Ultimately, I decided to return my units as I found that the cost wasn’t worth the performance but I urge anyone who is in a similar situation that I am in to give these units a try. Linksys is one of the best home networking companies around, and it is very possible that the wiring in my McCondo is to blame for the throughput issues.

If you have a similar or different experience with these particular units, please note that in the comments.

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