I've recently received a bunch of really cool gear here at the home office and need to talk about it. But first I had to assemble it all into a usable and versatile system that then allowed me to watch video from just about any source. This is sort of a review of the equipment that has facilitated that as much as it is a piece about my love for all things video and how much I consume video entertainment, streamed or otherwise.
Video, online, streaming, OTT, it's my job. Luckily, it's also a form of entertainment and much like my video game news gig, it overlaps a lot with what I do when I'm not working. They say love what you do and do what you love. Well, I've got that in spades between ReelSEO and Gamers Daily News.
No Cord Cutting
First off, I wasn't able to cut the cord upon my return to America. Simply because of one thing, sports. To watch the Packers, no problem, they're on a regular TV channel that I could actually get over the air (OTA). But I'm a massive baseball fan and the Brewers are, unfairly I might add, only available through a cable or satellite operator. Now this is my team, in my city, and I have to pay, even though I pay taxes for their stadium, to see them on TV? It's a crime if you ask me. I also like the Detroit Red Wings and they're not local and not available OTA, so that's two sports that required cable (because of the massively idiotic MLB blackout rules, even if I had MLB.tv, I could not watch the games....epic stupidity there). I suppose I could get NHL streaming but it's like $140 a year and I really just want to watch Red Wings games, not the whole league.
Anyway, I've got a set top box with digital cable and the HD extra package. Which is funny because Time Warner Cable claims they don't charge extra for HD, but really, it's an added level of service, ergo, they do and if you want the full HD stuff, you need that package.
And I need that HD service because I've got an Optoma GameTime 750 DLP Projector which is the centerpiece of the whole rig. That is an amazing, 720p, 3D-capable piece of tech for just $800. I've got it projecting on the wall in the living room at about 8-feet wide diagonally and when I take it out to the yard, it hits around 12-feet. I'm even contemplating getting that special paint for the wall.
Now, I have a goodly amount of output devices including the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, TWC set top box and my PCs. All four are HDMI equipped so I can take advantage of the highest quality that the projector can take in (1080p) even though it's only 720p out. It can't hurt, right?
Wireless Means Portability
Well, sort of. It at least means I can take the projector out to the yard, throw up a sheet on the side of the wall and show films and sporting events for friends. We've watched Brewers baseball, Packers football, Archer, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Casablanca so far. How?
It's all thanks to a cool WHDI device I got some time back. It has a dongle transmitter with an HDMI port and a USB port for power. Plug it into any HDMI output and power it up with USB and you're set. Take the receiver which plugs into a wall outlet for power and has HDMI output to and connect it to an HDMI display, like my Optoma GameTime 750 and you have send HD video wirelessly from pretty much anywhere in the house. So with the projector outside, all I needed to do was run power for it and the WHDI receiver. The device I got is a Shenzhen Crystal Video A/V Sender Stick Dongle (for review, I don't think it's available here). No, it's not a pretty name to say the least. But this was the first product I had heard of being able to do full 1080p 60Hz HD wirelessly. Since then Belkin has put out a ScreenCast AV4 Wireless AV-to-HDTV Adapter, which uses WHDI standard to allow you to wirelessly connect up to four home theater devices to your HDTV from another location up to 100 feet away. I have yet to get the Belkin unit but I imagine it's a bit more stable than the one I have which has some connection issues at times. I've connected that, with a 4-port HDMI switch, and I can send from all my HDMI devices to the projector without having to run anything but a power cable (and HDMI from receiver to projector).
Thin is IN!
HDMI cables are generally big hefty affairs that are hard to hide and need a lot of space. But not mine. You see I got a demo cable from RedMere who don't make consumer products really, but do make a pretty awesome chip that processes HDMI signals and allows for super thin cables. In fact, the cable I have is thinner than some of the cables on my computer mice. It's certainly no thicker than a standard S-Video or RCA video cable. That's pretty damned cool because I have a lot of cables that need to be hidden and the smaller the cable the better, obviously.
These cables are terminated at one end, the display end, with an A-type (full size) connector. The other end is terminated one of the following:
- A-type connector (Blu-ray players, cable boxes, game systems, satellite receivers, etc.)
- C-type or mini connector (many Android phones and tablets, some cameras)
- D-type or micro connector (some tablets, smartphones, and newer cameras)
As I said, they don't make cables, they sell to companies that make cables like Vizio, Samsung, Radio Shack, Monster and PNY. Their technology is being included in a wide range of cables. How do they do it?
RedMere's technology is based on tiny, self-powered chip built into a cable connector with HDMI technology. The RedMere chip boosts the signal so that the cable can be thin – even thinner than an iPod USB cable – and still handle the required high speed data rate (10.2 Gb/s). Cables with RedMere technology, also known as "active" cables, are the world's thinnest, lightest, and most flexible cables for products that connect using HDMI technology, according to the company.
Sometimes you Want a Cable
There are times when you might need a cable, or rather, you might want that full network speed for streaming from the PC. Yes, I've got a device for that as well, this time, from Diamond Multimedia. They actually sent me two devices. The first, which I haven't used yet, is the Portable 300Mbps Wireless-N Repeater to expand the range of your wireless network. My place is pretty small so I haven't been able to test this just yet.
What I have been able to test is a product that I have been using for years. Well, rather, I've been using the technology for years (in Europe), just not this exact product. It's their HomePlug AVS Ethernet-over-Power adapters. This thing is just brilliant, I plugged one unit into the wall near the router, an ethernet cable to the router and then the second unit in the bedroom. That's where I've got the Netbook and my Microvision ShowWX+ Pico Projector. While I pretty much just watch some Hulu Plus in there, sometimes I like to pull from the DLNA server in the house and the 200Mbps is far better than wireless for larger HD resolutions and offloads some work for the poor netbook. Sometimes I also take the netbook out to the yard with the projector and this gives me wired Internet access speeds out there as well since I've only got a 802.11G router. So I can even project from Hulu onto the side of the house. We might even show the Criterion Collection just for fun.
Even in 3D
On top of that, the Playstation 3 and the TWC box are 3D output devices and the Optoma projector came with a set of active shutter 3D glasses and a transmitter. With multiple Optoma 3D glasses, a whole group of people could enjoy 3D here with me. That has yet to happen since glasses are expensive and I've found that even just a half hour of it makes my eyes amazingly tired. I tried playing PES 2012 in 3D and after 30 minutes my eyes were beyond cooperating on anything so I just rested them.
But it works, it definitely works, it's just not something that I am all that interested in doing for any great length of time. In fact, I think it might have something to do with the amount of floaties I've been seeing lately. I think the refocusing of my eyes changed their shape or something. I'm no doctor, so don't quote me, it's just my own self-prognosis.
My Video Lifestyle
As you can see, I'm serious when it comes to my video entertainment. Not only do I get immersed into the world of video games, but I am also, often, enjoying some streaming video and even some broadcast stuff. I actively DVR just ten shows and half of them are just in case I don't feel like waiting for them to hit the On-Demand or Hulu queues. Maybe one or two are not available online but I bet that within the next six months I won't have to really DVR anything.
I know, ten shows is a tiny amount, but they keep canceling all the good stuff. Now that's not just ten shows I watch year round, that's really, in any given season I am watching that many. There are of course some shows that are infrequent, Doctor Who and Archer for example, and some that are offset like A Game of Thrones, Warehouse 13, Eureka, etc. So I've always got something to watch. Plus, since I rarely watch them first run (CBS Thursday is the general exception) I get much of it from Hulu Plus or on demand. The only thing I really wish I had, was one device that managed all my stuff. One device that could pull it all together and give me a queue that pulls from everything without me having to hop from app to app, service to service. One electronic programming guide that pulled in everything I wanted and tells me where it is and lets me create a playlist. Hulu is great, but it doesn't have everything, so then I have to hunt and peck, so to speak, to find what I want. Windows Media Center does some of this, but they don't have full coverage (mostly just CBS really).
So that's the holy grail to me. A single interface that ties together a dozen streaming video services. That's what makes this new Microsoft Xbox TV initiative so interesting, it could be that one interface I need. Plus, I might be able to just speak, or swipe my hand in the air to get to it? How every Star Trek meets Minority Report. I'm totally down with that.
Finally, just a quick note. A thank you to everyone who has sent products to date and who have all waited quite patiently for me to get organized, settled and get this piece written. It's a long list, you know who you are and I look forward to the next product in the queue. As you can see, I put them all to very good use when you send them.