Saturday, July 28, 2007

Space Age Technology (for the price)

In various posts I mentioned that very few things that people buy are "assets" other than their house and the land under their house (or their view in the case of a high rise condominium). Flat panel TV's, for example, are plummeting in price and if you took out a home equity loan and spent some of the proceeds on such a system you are now paying interest on an "investment" that is becoming obsolescent FAST.

I helped my parents upgrade their home theater this weekend and what we could buy for the money was just amazing. We went to Costco which I like because the prices there are always very good; you can sometimes find something cheaper but not by a lot, and frequently you get the best price available. You can pretty much figure that you are getting a good deal if you are buying something at Costco, which saves the mental angst of going place to place. Costco also has a solid return policy and warranty extension, and offers technical support (which fortunately I haven't had to utilize).

Their room is pretty small so it limited the choices for televisions; either 32" or 37". I thought that they ought to buy the (no-name) "Vizio" 37" TV for $759 but they went with a smaller, clearer looking (at the store, at least) Sharp Aquos 32" LCD TV for $799 instead.

They watch over-the-air (no cable) television and have an antenna up on the roof; in Chicago all of the main television networks broadcast in digital and it came in looking great. There are other stations on the digital "tier" for each network; some broadcast news, other shows, or even music videos. Public Broadcasting in particular looks great in HD. In Chicago I used to have an HDTV tuner card in my PC to pick up over-the-air digital transmission (it looks great on your monitor) but when I moved into River North there is just too much interference to pick up the signal and I can't exactly put an antenna on the roof of my building.

Since they are now watching HD television their VCR is useless; you can't record digital broadcasts on an old VCR. I'm sure that there is some linux based solution to allow you to record high definition broadcasts as a VCR like device but this is too complicated for them. Virtually everyone who watches HD does it over cable or satellite and uses a DVR device for recording. This is a relatively small price to pay for the overall upgrade.

In addition to the TV, we needed a new DVD player. I wasn't really thinking about a home theater system because the Sharp speakers in the TV aren't terrible but I stumbled onto a Sony "Bravia" home theater system that included a DVD player with built in tuner and amplifier and full surround sound system (5 speaker plus subwoofer) for $229. At this price, I can't refuse...

The home theater was great. It came with this crazy space-age microphone (hence the title) that you put where you'd sit and then it somehow calibrated your surround sound for all of the speakers. It was very cool; you sit in the middle and you can hear it test all of the speakers. The surround sound was great when it was done, too.

I didn't use the HMDI high-technology connection; they hardly watch DVD's and it looks / sounds great as-is. Probably an audiophile would scoff at my off-the-shelf wires but, hey, I bought and set the whole thing up in an afternoon (didn't mount it on the wall, that's beyond my capabilities).

As someone who has worked on stereos for years I appreciated the little touches to make it easier; the end that went into the amplifier / tuner was a jack-like plug and the part that went into the speakers had the ends clearly marked positive / negative. This made setup a breeze, although online I saw some people sniping because that does mean that if you want to set up the speakers at a different distance (longer than the cord) you have to splice. At $229 I'd tell those people to get a life, because the lines were pretty LONG and if you have that big a space to populate with a home theater system this tiny system won't do it, anyways.

It was easy to program and tune the TV and pick favorite channels - this is necessary for HD televisions over the air because it takes a bit for each channel to come in and you don't want to scroll through the secondary channels or the old "analog" channel that is a poor duplicate of the HD version.

All in it was $1100 plus $15 for an extra set of cable (the Bravia inexplicably didn't have an audio cable for connection to the TV... what did they think you were going to do with it? Maybe they figured you'd just buy an HDMI cable, anyways) for a great looking and sounding system. And the directions were somewhat easy to follow, which is better than most things I purchase electronically (the manual on my recently-purchased camcorder was absolute jibberish and I never would have figured the damn thing out if a friend hadn't shown me what to do). Usually when I put all that stuff together I end up leaving frustrated but not this time... at least I haven't gotten the internal family technical support calls yet...

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