Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

There's A New A/V Receiver In The House - Denon AVR-3808CI

A couple of posts ago, I talked about the need for a new A/V receiver. The basic problem is that I now have a fair few input devices and two of them have HDMI outputs, whereas my TV only has one HDMI input. It'd be nice to route the video and audio signals through the same place.

Problems solved:

  1. Mismatch of what's being shown to what's being heard. You know the problem - you hit 'TiVo' on the universal remote and you get the TiVo coming out of the speakers and the AppleTV on the display. The Logitech remote handles that nicely with it's 'help' button, but it's still a pain.
  2. If you don't use the remote you've got to switch both the TV and the receiver.
  3. My TV only has one HDMI input which means that the TiVo is plugged into that so that I can watch HD content (HDCP being required). This means that I can't watch HD content from the iTunes Movie store as it also requires HDCP - having the receiver route the video signal solves this problem.
  4. I wanted outside speakers and to have different things playing inside and outside. I.e. the kids can watch Dora on the TV while we're listening to music outside courtesy of the AppleTV.

So I picked up the Denon AVR-3808CI and all my problems are solved. I also got a few bonuses into the bargain:

  1. TiVo and AppleTV hooked up via HDMI. Xbox360, Wii and DVD player hooked up via component and sundry audio connections.
  2. Outside speakers can play audio sources independently of what's playing in the living room.
  3. Switching inputs is a breeze.
  4. The unit has an ethernet port and can stream internet radio. You can also manage it via a builtin webserver. I must say though, the design of the web content served leaves a lot to be desired.
  5. Nice GUI. As the unit is routing the video, it overlays it's own GUI on top, such as audio levels and it's setup/management interface.

The two spare HDMI inputs are also handy, as I suppose I'm going to have to get a Blu-ray player at some point…

Overall, pretty nice. It even met with spousal approval!

I did have one problem during setup though. The multi-zone support is nice and the idea was that I could be outside and listen to music from the AppleTV. Unfortunately it took me ages to get working.

The problem was that the Denon unit wouldn't let me send audio sourced from an HDMI input (which the AppleTV is connected to) out to the second zone. I have no idea why.

To solve the problem I simply connected the units using an optical cable and had the receiver use that as the audio source for the AppleTV rather than the HDMI audio source. At that point, it would route the audio outside.

Anyhow, highly recommended.

And after setting it all up, I realised that every piece of A/V gear except for the DVD player in the living room is now on the internet - the Denon receiver, TiVo, AppleTV, Xbox360 and the Wii.

Wow.

On a related note, you might be thinking “Well, if the kids are watching the TiVo in the living room and you're sat outside supping on an adult beverage, how do you control the AppleTV, sucker? The interface for it is on the TV which is being used by the kids!”

Well, I have my iPhone. On that iPhone I have the 'Remote' application which lets me browse the content and control the operation of the AppleTV over WiFi. And I can do it whilst sat outside supping on said adult beverage!

Sweet!

CableCard Installation Woes, TiVo Goodness and Amazon Unbox

You get your moneys worth with this post…

As I posted a little while ago, I had finally had enough of the piece of technological rubbish that is the Comcast HD DVR box and purchased a TiVo Series 3 through Amazon. All that was left to do was actually have the two shiny cablecards installed by the “qualified” Comcast technician.

To be quite honest, I have no idea what they mean by “qualified” as he took a couple of hours to plug them in and sit on the phone chatting to a friend back at base while said person back at base kept pressing a button to send a signal to activate them.

My present and non-present technicians quite happily took ages to attempt this feat of technical brilliance and also failed to actually achieve it.

You see, it took my “qualified” guy eight cablecards to find two that actually worked and then left telling me that it was all working.

Well, at least it appeared to be working.

Later that day I figured out that you couldn't have both tuners set to channels 118 or above. One would work and the other would just show a black screen.

Uh oh.

It actually took me a while to figure out which of the cards wasn't working correctly, but once I did I called up Comcast and spoke to a sharp lady who actually appeared to know what she was talking about. She had me pop the duff card out of the box and read her the physical serial number.

Two of the digits were transposed between the actual serial number and the number that they had in their database.

Hmm. So my original “qualified” technician, didn't really check anything at all. I wonder if those other six, duff cards were actually ok, that he just couldn't read and that he just gave up?

Anyhow, I thought that now Comcast had the right serial number they would now be able to send the correct activation signal and all would be well?

No.

I had to take the card to the local retail store and exchange it for another one. I have no idea why and couldn't get anyone to explain it to me.

I did as I was bid, wrote down the serial number of the new card and called up Comcast again.

“You'll have to bear with me as this is the first time I've done a cablecard pairing.”

Oh joy.

After thirty minutes I was told that I was all set and the new cablecard should be activated within ten minutes.

No joy after another thirty…

So I call up again and speak to another seemingly intelligent Comcast droid who looks at my account, says “Umm, the signal was never sent. Hang on a second.”

Bing! All channels received!

Thank you, mysterious Comcast technician…

And as for the actual TiVo itself? What more can I say, this thing is exceptional. Snappy and beautiful UI, gobs of storage (with the ability to add more via USB), lots of online features, the ability to move recorded shows around the net, etc…

And so far, the best thing is Amazon Unbox. Order TV shows and movies via the TiVo itself or via the web and have them show up almost immediately via the internet is a thing of beauty.

At the moment, the wife and I are heavily into Heroes (which we missed the first time around). All delivered via Amazon Unbox.

Highly recommended.

Pre-review: Back in TiVo Land

Back in 2000, I moved into Nabila's town home and was astounded by the tiny TV and less than basic cable. I know that A/V systems weren't high on the lovely lady's priorities, but something had to be done! Along with me, came by 32“ TV, so her 27” was relegated to the bedroom. Next up - what to do about the pitiful amount of available channels?

Public access TV can only yield so much amusement.

A couple of years prior I got on the local cable company's digital cable beta program. The company was TCI (then AT&T, then Comcast). The main reason for this was access to BBC America and the fact that it was “digital”. All that really meant was crappier picture quality.

Anyhow, I set up a time for an install for digital cable and crap loads of channels at Nabila's place.

They never showed.

I rescheduled.

They didn't show again.

I'm done. Time for some drastic action.

I'd heard good things about DirecTV, so I bought one of the basic Sony units, a dish and a drill. I then set about drilling holes in Nabila's house, mounting the dish and really enjoying the new picture quality.

A few months later I heard that TiVo had teamed up with DirecTV to produce a TiVo unit that recorded the stream direct from the satellite - no re-compression which had been the main thing keeping me away from TiVo. Anyhow, I picked one up and was hooked on TiVo for the next seven years.

Prior to our move to the new house earlier this year I had an HD TiVo and loved it and the DirecTV service apart from two niggles:

  1. As an early adopter of the DirecTiVo and HD DirecTiVo, I was the last person to see any of the new features such as folders. Things like TiVoToGo and network access totally passed us by.
  2. Locals in HD had to come in via an antenna.

When we moved to the new place, I decided to go back to cable and see what I was missing. The channel lineup looked good; they provide the boxes; you pay month on month - no contract. If it didn't work out, I could also go back to DirecTV.

What I missed was that the HD DVR box completely sucks!

Laggy response, bugs, crappy UI, shitty scheduling, etc… And that was before they downgraded the box from Microsoft's software to the even more shitty Comcast software.

I'd had enough. I want my TiVo back. Even Nabila green lit the idea!

Today my shiny new Series 3 TiVo arrived via UPS. I lovingly unpacked the box. I caressed the classic peanut remote. I fell in love with the unit. I'm going gooey inside with the thoughts of TiVoToGo, sleek UI and cozy nights in.

It feels like a jilted lover has returned home.

On Wednesday the cable guy arrives with two cablecards to consummate the relationship.

I can't wait.

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.