Tune in: Do these 5 things to optimize the shit out of your home entertainment

Guest post by Scott Rocketship

222/365 tv toesWhether you’re a movie nerd with a hard on for hi-def or a socialite who needs a good movie night every month, this knowledge will help your current tech go farther and make future purchases snappier.

1. Your remote sucks. Get used to it.

I work for a tech company and we’re always focused on improving the user experience, or UX. UX is less concerned with features and functionality and more concerned with how a product makes you feel. Is it fun? Does it make you feel smart when you use it?

In the realm of UX, remote controls and TV menus are reviled for their frustrating and confusing designs. Tough it out. You could get a fancy expensive all-in-one remote that you’ll also have to figure out, or you can just grin and bear it for 20 minutes, dive into the user manual, and learn how to use that damn thing you just dropped half a paycheck on. You’d be surprised how many times I’m able to improve the picture or sound on a friend’s set with just a few minutes of fiddling.

2. Bigger isn’t always better

Buying a big expensive sound system you don’t have the time, knowledge, or interest to set up correctly is not a good use of your money. Think carefully about your situation and be honest about what you need and what you don’t. There are enough options available today — and the baseline for quality has gotten high enough — that shopping for “the best” isn’t a good idea for everyone.

A 1080p TV is great for blu-ray movies and the latest games, but if you’re only going to use it to play through your Sega Genesis collection, you’re probably better off with a well-reviewed CRT. Likewise, if you plan on having your TV set pull double-duty as a computer monitor for web browsing or word processing from the couch, a 720P set will be easier to read than a “better” 1080p television of the same size.

Ask around and tell knowledgable friends about what you want to use your set-up for and they’ll be able to help you out — just make sure you’re not mooching free tech support!

3. You paid too much for that cord

This is entering the realm of common knowledge, but it still needs to be said. If you bought the cables you needed from a big box or specialty electronics store, odds are you overpaid. It’s also important to know that, for all intents and purposes, all digital cables WORK EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. HDMI, the new standard for current sets and HD-players, is a digital cable. Digital cables either work or they don’t, there’s no quality difference.

Buy your cables at Monoprice.com or Amazon.com and you’ll be richer for it.

4. Discs are dinosaurs

Now there’s RedBox. Netflix. iTunes. Hulu (at least in the US!). Getting entertainment on discs seems increasingly obnoxious the more comfortable you get with digital content. Nowadays, I can find a movie on Netflix faster than I can find it in my home — especially since our last move.

My advice is to quit buying movies. The psychological benefit of not having to own, care for, or keep track of movies — not to mention the potential cost-savings if you’re a big consumer — far outweighs the negatives of occasionally not having access to a flick you’re really hankering for right then.

5. These technologies that are more trouble than they’re worth for the average person:

  • 3DTV. It’s dumb and you look stupid in those glasses and most of the at-home ones work like shit and give people headaches.
  • High-end surround sound. Do you really need Teen Mom 2 in surround-sound? Let your film-studies major buddy drop the dough on that set-up and go over to their place to catch your favorite flick.
  • Home Theatre PCs. If you are like me and enjoy building computers as a hobby, find babysitting a three hour Windows install to be a grand old time, and read Tom’s Hardware recreationally, the home theater PC route might be for you. However, if you just want some Netflix up on your TeeVee on the cheap, get a Roku box instead.
  • Projectors. Seriously. Don’t even bother. LCDs and LEDs have gotten so wonderful, large, and cheap that the projector route is really not the best way to get cinema-like quality on a budget anymore.

Embrace these rules and your entertainment will go farther. Other techies: what have you learned that the rest of the world hasn’t quite caught up on?

Comments on Tune in: Do these 5 things to optimize the shit out of your home entertainment

  1. Okay, that is definitely awesome. A good reminder that most stuff is available and I don’t always need to own it. There are still more reasons to buy discs if you live in Canada because the change in laws is so freaking slow that there are a ton of shows I can’t watch yet or would still be waiting years to watch. But since I just went through all my dvds and put as many in a book as possible, yeah, I’m definitely going to rethink buying dvds unless I plan to watch them frequently.

  2. and big isn’t always better
    our new HUGE 55″ LED LCD tv has too slow a refresh rate (or something like that) to make it any good to play xbox on 🙁

    • I think this is fixable. I personally don’t know HOW to fix it, but we had friends with a similar problem (they noticed the lag playing Smash Brothers) and they managed to adjust the settings so it was no longer a problem.

      • There are settings for “automatic” image corrections. Typically these act on the entire image so they are processor intensive kind of, or at least they have some kind of buffer. This causes the delay. First thing to try would be going in to your settings and shutting off anything that seems to be doing image correction aside from simple things like brightness and contrast. Then go back through systematically and turn “prettyness” features back on one at a time till you find the one causing the problem.

  3. On the point about not buying movies: I get that I’ll save time and money by exclusively renting/instant streaming movies. But the collector in me LOVES buying, organizing, and displaying my fav movies. Hell, I still have a few VHS tapes lying around. I have no way to watch them, but they’re part of the collection.
    Also, thank you for the tip about the Roku box! I hate trying to set up and navigate my husband’s PS3 to watch Netflix.

    • Some how DVDs and streaming HD are always compared with no mention of Blue-ray. While it’s true streaming is far far superior to old school DVDs Blue-ray’s are still far superior in terms of image quality due to the much lesser compression as compared to an HD streamed video. My recommendation to people is to pick out 3 or 4 of your absolute favorites. Those movies you watch over and over and invest in blue-ray for those. The rest can certainly go streaming.

  4. I have to disagree on the projector front from one angle: living in a SMALL home. When the issue is not necessarily price or quantity, but space and screens.

    Our 2 bedroom home is 650 square feet and we have 12 windows. We have NO wall space for screens or monitors, and like several of our friends prefer not to have screens in living areas on a permanent basis anyway. We already have laptops. I got a modest refurbished 3000 lumen projector for $250, and a screen. The screen fits perfectly over one of our windows, so I pull it down to watch a movie and zip it goes back up after wards to reveal our view of the neighbor’s house and our raspberry patch.

    Not convenient for people who watch TV every day but for those of us who watch movies a couple times a week at most (and the occasional hulu’ed TV show) it works just fine. I’m not a cinephile but the video quality seems just fine to me as well. *shrug*

    • Agreed – we’ve never had a TV because I didn’t want one sitting around looking ugly in our living room. Eventually we got a deal on a projector which has been awesome compared to watching movies on a laptop.

      We do have a blank wall that looks slightly odd (seems like we should hang a picture there), but otherwise not much intrusion of electronics in our space. The projector is ceiling-mounted. Anyway, this has worked great for us, but you do need to mess with the cable-ing a bit for the ceiling-mounting.

  5. Hm. I definitely don’t agree with rule #4. For one, I live in Canada, where Netflix sucks and Hulu doesn’t exist. And two, there is something satisfying about having all the 30 Rock or Scrubs seasons nicely looking at me on a shelf, or any one of the movies I love. I don’t buy a movie unless it’s one that I loooove (still need Star Wars and Indiana Jones, I’m waiting for the Blu-Ray versions). It’s kind of like saying don’t bother to see movies in theatres cuz it’s a waste of money…it’ll be out on Netflix in however long. There’s a homey, fun novelty about it. Like when you were 10 and your parents went out and rented a VHS tape and had a movie night. Something satisfying about popping a disc out of it’s case…

    • This is exactly what I was coming here to say myself. I am in Canada, and the Netflix sucks, and is barely worth the amount that we are paying for it.

  6. Roku has more than just Netflix, too. You can stream Pandora, Hulu PLUS, and allllll kinds of other channels that are available. There are many free channels as well as some (like Netflix or Hulu Plus) that you subscribe to in order to watch. The second we feel like we have enough money to work it into our budget, Hulu PLUS is going in the mix. The Roku is seriously inexpensive, and worth every penny spent on subscriptions and the set combined. Absolutely LOVE it.

  7. I couldn’t disagree more about projectors! They are awesome for people in small spaces who don’t watch much tv. For the price of a tv (or often much cheaper) you can get the big screen experience when you feel like a zombie movie marathon and then when you’re done, you just put the projector back in its box in the closet. No big ugly tv taking up valuable wall space or hiding in a giant cabinet!

    • That’s really encouraging to hear that feedback. The husband and I want to get a projector as we don’t have a tv. They’re bulky (even flat screens), require super amounts of cables and set up, and I’ve wasted too much time in front of it when I lived with my parents. Do not want!

      We love watching films though, or tv shows on DVD, which means our entertainment centre is my laptop. I’d love to get a projector to hook up my computer to. Then we could host movie nights with friends; take it to church for projecting lyrics; have backyard movie nights; and pack it away in a cupboard somewhere until we use it again. So thank you for validating my option and confirming the reasons why I’d want one (and Esther above)!!

      • We use our projector without the screen at times too. It’s great if there are small kids or playful dogs (or adults) at a party – to protect the screen from damage we leave it up and project on our neutral wall. The quality disappears some, but we play music videos as background at most of our parties – still fun to use but no damages to the screen!

    • i *really* want a projector, as we don’t watch tv – only movies and wii playing. unfortunately, we have a very nice, large, new television that i’m trying to figure out what to do with. it’s lovely to watch, but the amount of our living room devoted to it is sort of appalling. and the fancy flat-screen couldn’t look more out of place in our 40s house with matching furniture.

  8. I’m another one who disagrees with number 4.

    Maybe I’m paranoid, or old fasioned or both but I don’t trust digital media in the long term. I’ve never yet lost my entire CD or DVD collection in one go but I’ve had plenty of drives wiped by viruses or damage or just getting old. Sure you can back them up, and then back up the backups, but it’s much easier to just buy DVDs and some shelves.

    I don’t trust streaming media either because it puts all the control in someone elses hands. When they decide a movie isn’t popular enough to keep offering it that’s it, it’s gone. Maybe you can find it on another service, maybe not, and if you do there’s no guarentee it’ll stay there either. Whereas no one is going to come around and take away my DVDs because most other people don’t want to watch them.

    Good to know about the HDMI cables though. We recently got a PC with a blu-ray drive and will be getting a HDTV soon and my boyfriend keeps saying we need to get HDMI cables for both. I’ve been kind of dreading the research I’d feel I had to do in order to make sure we got the best for us.

    • Although I dislike seeing lots of movies on display in houses, I agree with this. I also hate trusting digital media with my files and memories. Music and pictures especially, but the logic works here even better. What happens when the system breaks/website goes down/movie isn’t available to stream… ?

  9. I totally agree about 3D movies and T.V. (I am one of the ones that get a headache), 3D gaming rocks! It is a lot of fun, and I don’t know if I would be willing to give that up lol.

    • God, yes. I’ve several movies where I’ve watched the special features more than the movie itself. There’s several movies I haven’t bought yet just because I can’t find the two disc version.

      On another note, I too distrust digital media. I’ve had too many computer mishaps to let all my data stay there. I’m hanging onto my DVD collection. I like the picture quality. I find streaming shows tends to have a grainy picture and gets interrupted by buffering. Also, I tend to like obscure stuff. Streaming from sites often has only the more popular and well known films.

  10. I must beg to completely disagree with your assessment of projectors. My husband and I LOATHE TVs with a fiery passion. If it was a choice between not watching visual media at home, or owning a TV, we would choose the former. Fortunately for us, we have computers, but it does get a little tiring crowding around a computer screen to watch a film.

    Fortunately, we received a digital projector as a wedding present. We put it on a shelf in our living room and took the decorations off the wall across from it. The projector is virtually invisible until we turn it on, which means we NEVER have to stare at a turned-off “idiot box” when we’re not using it. We have no giant piece of electronics taking up space in our small living room. However, when the projector’s on, we have a wall-sized home theater!

    Our projector’s hooked up to a desktop computer that has a very small footprint, which means we can watch DVDs, Netflix, YouTube, or just read blogs if we darn well feel like it. It has amazing picture quality, and thanks to a very small set of 5.1 computer speakers, it has surround sound too. The “screen” is right next to a window, yet we can watch any time of day or night without the picture being hard to see. (However, said window never gets direct sunlight, so keep that in mind.)

    I think a projector is the absolute BEST solution for people who want a good home theatre system but either don’t have the space, or the inclination, to have a whole room in their house that’s oriented around a giant TV.

  11. A) I currently use a projector in lieu of a TV, and I love it. However, I do intend to buy a TV soon.

    B) Totally disagree about home theater PCs! My brother has one and it’s made our movie watching experience at his house SO much simpler! We use XBMC to play and organize the fils, and it’s awesome.

  12. definitely agreed on skipping the high-end sound. the only thing about our new LG flat-screen we didn’t love was the audio. but we didn’t want to gunk up our living room with more speakers (and my wife especially hates wires). last week we bought a $90 sound tube thingie made by Vizio at Costco. took about 2 minutes to unpack and plug in (it sits just under the tv/devices), and while it adds another remote to the table, the instant and easy upgrade to sound is totally worth it. (we figured out pretty quickly not to bother when we’re just flipping channels.)

  13. To be fair to Scott I don’t think the people in favour of projectors invalidate his point.

    He said there’s no need to buy a projector to get a home cinema set-up because modern TV’s are big enough and good enough to do it better. Whereas the argument in favour of them seems to be all about saving space by not having a screen set up all the time.

    It’s two different requirements, for one group of people a projector is the right choice, for another it’s better to get a TV.

  14. Yet another Canadian here who can’t quite agree with #4. My boyfriend and I do use Netflix a bit, and we have definitely noticed it improving since we first started using it and we’re sure it will continue to improve but I still buy DVDs if it’s a movie I REALLY like. If it’s something we’re not sure if we’ll like or we’re not all that excited about, we won’t buy it – we will try to find it on Netflix or I know friends of mine use iTunes and they really like using it as well. My teenage sister has found a hack for watching Hulu in Canada that she is all impressed with but we haven’t been bothered, and doing stuff like that usually gives you all sorts of lovely viruses (viruii?) on your computer, so not worth it… but maybe I’m just getting old? 😉

  15. This article really kind of rubbed me the wrong way because it felt uncomfortably akin to some of the tech blogs who talk at you instead of talk to you. I’m trying not to run up against the no drama comment policy, since the author is obviously trying to be helpful, but the whole tone seemed judgmental and that really came as a shock for a someone who actively reads all three sites.

    • For us the home entertainment is a stack of records, A Lenco L75 and hopefully soon, a pair of monoblocks. Am/worldband radio a close second and for me amatuer radio coming in third.

      When we want to watch a dvd, the laptop works well enough.

  16. I like this post.
    My sig other is the film geek in our group. We have surround sound, (a regular big tv), a projector and a screen. And we host sunday night movie night where all our friends come to watch hot movies w/ surround sound. He owns many discs, but we stream movies and tv shows. (He also works film production.)
    But I didn’t know about buying cheap cables, and I really do need to learn how to work all 6 remotes. And I’ve been thinking about getting a smallish tv to hook up to my laptop, so it’s good to know about 720 v 1080. Thanks!

  17. My heart skipped a beat at #4. Stop… stop buying movies? Oh man. I respectfully disagree! I’m one of those people who is so stupid proud of their DVD collection and obnoxiously displays it. To me, there’s something cool about having a tactile object to connect with the movie. I like being able to pick up a movie and flip it over to see when it was made, or who was in it, all quicker than my slow speed internet connection can get to IMDB, let alone streaming movies.

    Not to mention around our parts there are a lot of resale DVD/game shops, and most of the time buying used movies is cheaper than a subscription to any of the streaming sites. Not to mention, if you want to go ancient, there’s one store by us that resells VHS tapes. You can buy movies for .50 cents! We have another shelf for VHS’s upstairs. But I think inherently we’re collectors and that doesn’t jive for a lot of people. We have so many books, DVD’s, VHS tapes, video games, video game consoles… the only thing that we’ve really gone mostly digital on is music. But if I had a record player I’m sure I would start on those too!

    Edit: Also, something I forgot to mention. We don’t have cable. Something that my dude and I both hate: ads. After not having cable for about five years, and not having internet most of that time as well (technically we still don’t, but I go to the library a lot and sometimes we can float off a linksys network around here) we’ve grown completely adverse to ads. You get a lot of ads with cable, and I just can’t imagine to pay for something that still has ads. Not to mention I know a lot of people who always have that stuff on if they pay for it, for the simple fact that they’re paying for it. I know when I used to have cable, the TV was almost always on.

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