Monday, December 31, 2007

Is it possible to have a single remote?

Why, yes it is! My brother and his family gave us a Logitech Harmony 550 Universal Remote, to augment our setup. You can read my review on for details, but the upshot is, after setting it up, it allowed us to dispense with the other remotes and use it exclusively. Initial setup was easy, although I had to do some additional customization before it would operate everything in a logical way.

Having used it for a few days, I still prefer the layout of my TiVo remote, and my consider swapping it for the Harmony 670, which appears to be better suited for heavy DVR/TiVo users. But for now it solves a big problem.

Next up is to get a subwoofer and perhaps replace the center speaker with one designed for the purpose.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Home theatre setup

The home theater is mostly set up. But it took a little bit of doing, and a lot of cursing. So I'll tell you what I did to spare you some trouble if you're looking to do the same thing.

First off, I ordered my TV (a Sony 52KDLXBR4 52 inch LCD TV) from -- I just couldn't resist the name! It was far cheaper than buying it locally. I checked that it was in stock before I ordered (I called them, having been warned in advance that some sites list that the TVs are in stock and they aren't). They upsold me from free shipping (which uses a slow carrier and lands the TV at the curb) to a shipper that specializes in shipping big TVs and will take it to the door. This cost an extra $129, but the total price was still $800-$1000 less than buying it from a local store. The TV arrived about 10 days after I ordered it (or so). The shippers took the TV downstairs, where I turned it on to make sure everything was working okay. And everything was.

Oh, word of warning. When the store verifies your order, they try to upsell you to buy the extended warranty, wall mounts, and other things you might not have researched. Don't bite -- it's just not worth it.

The next step was to get our home theater guy to come hang it on the wall. He also is a dealer for Denon receivers, and we had been planning to get the receiver he recommended: the Denon 2308CI A/V receiver. Craig (Bever Electronics) and his assistant came the next day and installed the wall mount, mounted the TV on the wall, fished the wires through the wall to the outlet below, and set up and configured the receiver. I should have paid more attention to what they did with the receiver, because the Denon manual is unbelievably bad, and the remote control for the receiver is also very hard to use. (Eventually I figured it out... more on that later.)

The one thing that we didn't do during the remodel, which one of the many of us should have noticed, was to put the power outlet high on the wall so the TV power cord would be hidden by the TV. When the electrician comes for the (hopefully) last time to finish up the undercabinet lighting in the kitchen and a few other remaining things, we'll get him to move the outlet so that the TV cord isn't visible.

I moved my two TiVos downstairs, and my Slingbox (which still isn't set up again... and after a couple of weeks of fussing and cursing, I was able to get things set up to mostly use the TiVo remote to control everything. That being said, it's quite clear that I will need to buy a universal remote control (like a Harmony) to control everything the way I want it to.

Here's what I did. First, I borrowed a newer TiVo remote from a friend of mine. This TiVo remote has a 1-2 switch that allows you to tune each TiVo to a different frequency so that you can control each TiVo separately. (I wish I'd known this months ago, because it plagued me when I had them in the same room with the Slingbox.) I was also able to program the TiVo remote to control the volume on the A/V Receiver, and the power on both the A/V receiver and the TV. I set the TV up to operate like an LCD monitor (since we use the built-in speakers, not the TV speakers, and we use the tuners on the other devices, not the TV), and the only time I need the TV remote is if I want to adjust some display property of the TV.

So now, I use the TiVo remote for everything but changing the source input (TiVo 1, TiVo 2, or VHS (like I'm every going to watch a video tape again!)). I use the Denon remote for changing the source input, since I haven't yet figured out if it's possible to set the TiVo remote to do that. It turns out that I still have to use my old TiVo remote to access some functions on the built-in DVDs though. A universal remote would solve that problem. All in all, it's workable, and I think I could even explain to someone how to work it!

It would have been nice to just be able to buy an LCD monitor rather than a TV. Given that we have an A/V receiver, and built-in speakers, a lot of the functionality on the TV we just don't need or use, so we've paid for functionality we're not using.

The quality of the display is good, but I can't help thinking how much better it would be with real HD input (this is the danger in buying a new HD TV). So, come the beginning of the year, I'll "trade" one of my TiVos in for an HD TiVo. And later in the year, once the HD DVD formats settle down (if they do), I'll probably buy a separate HD DVD with HDMI outputs that will output true 1080p resolution. Finally, I will need a universal remote. But I will wait on all these things until after the holidays, as the setup I have now is quite workable.

It would be nice, however, to have some place to sit downstairs, so since the upstairs sofa appears to be months off (at which point the sofa upstairs will move downstairs), I will need to figure something else out, as sitting on the floor or in a hard-backed chair just isn't cutting it! Beanbag chairs are my current thought... other ideas?