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Entertainment &Hardware &WesleyTech Steven Kippel on 13 Nov 2008

It's time to upgrade your system

It’s time to upgrade your system

If you do not have a surround sound system, you really ought to get one. Evan an inexpensive home theater in a box style system is better than the crappy speakers that are attached to your TV. Those speakers are under 15W and not optimally placed, with drivers no larger than 3″.

Right now is a good time to buy. Black Friday is coming in just two weeks time! Add to that the depressed economy and stores are doing everything they can to increase revenues, including huge savings on audio/video gear.

If you don’t have an HDTV, this should be on the top of your list for Black Friday. K-Mart is offering a door buster Samsung 42″ plasma for $699, that’s hard to beat. But I assume most of you reading this already have a high-def display. So make sure to upgrade your sound.

While I would recommend to get an upgradable system, anything is better than those cheap TV speakers. By “upgradable” I mean a system you can swap parts out on. Home theater in a box systems (HTiB) usually don’t allow this. Usually the subwoofer holds the amplifier for the entire system and is connected with a proprietary cable to the receiver. This amp also doesn’t have enough power to handle upgraded speakers. Other HTiB systems have the amps in the receiver, but the subwoofer does not have an amp built in it. These also don’t have enough power for upgraded systems.

Don’t let that stop you though, get a system to hold you over while you save up for a better system. But make sure the system you get has digital audio inputs (at least one) so you can get surround sound from your cable/satellite receiver or game console.

Upgradable systems usually come separately, so you have to piece it together. This includes a receiver with 5 to 7 amp channels for 5.1 and 7.1 channel systems. Look for HDMI repeating ability. This means they accept audio and video over HDMI and send out an HDMI signal to your TV. If you have a source without HDMI you should also make sure to get video conversion so you don’t have to change the inputs on your TV.

Another feature to look for is automatic speaker calibration. This allows for quick and easy setup for optimum speaker levels and time delay.

Home theater

The speakers you will get rely on your home set up. The most crucial speaker is the center channel as almost 80% of a movie’s soundtrack comes from this speaker. It determines how well you will be able to understand dialog, and it will prevent you from having to ramp the volume up to hear talking just to turn it back down during the car chase.

Next up are the front left and right speakers. Some people prefer floorstanding speakers. If you have the room these are the easiest to set up and they usually have good low-end response. But if you don’t have the space you can find good bookshelf or wall-mounted speakers. These speakers are from where most of the music and sound effects emanate. If possible the front three speakers should be from the same speaker manufacturer and model series for a transparent front soundstage.

The rear speakers don’t get used in most movies except for fly-arounds and other loud scenes where sounds come from all sides. This is what makes surround sound so cool! These don’t have to be as big as your front speakers, but for the best effect they should match the front speakers. Don’t worry about this too much though because most people don’t have room for matching speakers front and rear. You might look for dipole speakers for a wider rear soundstage.

Finally the subwoofer! This is the “.1” channel in “5.1.” You will want an active, or powered, subwoofer. This means the amplifier is built in, or has its own outboard amplifier. This will allow you to change out the receiver and keep the same subwoofer. But what size should you get? This depends on how much bass you want and what size room you have. If you love your room shaking, get a bigger sub. If you just want low end sound representation a smaller sub will do. What matters most is determining the right size is room volume. Velodyne has a great chart on their website to help you determine what size sub is right for you. Do keep in mind that this chart is based on high-powered, high-output Velodyne subwoofers, but it should be pretty close for most subwoofers.

Get on this! You won’t regret it.

Entertainment &Hardware &WesleyTech Steven Kippel on 27 Sep 2008

Upgrading home theater on a budget

Upgrading home theater on a budget

I read a lot of home theater magazines, and online ‘zines. They’re great, but they tend to focus on the cool new products, which are priced a lot higher than most people can afford. When I visit online forums, or when I visit with my friends, they tend to be in the budget category, paying hundreds on their entire surround sound setup, not the thousands you would spend if you used the recommended products in most of these magazines.

While they might say a $1,000 pair of speakers is “affordable,” people in my tax bracket find that to be clear out of the budget. Of course some serious video- and audiophiles say if you’re serious about home theater/audio as a hobby, you can make it work. This is true, if you dropped your nights out with friends, if you didn’t go to Disneyland on your three day weekend, or travel as much, you might be able to do it.

I want to help those of us who work paycheck to paycheck up their quality on a budget. In the future I’ll be reviewing budget products you can purchase one at a time that will give you real-world value. But first, I want to start with a few tips to use when shopping to get the most for your money. Five quick tips to consider as this years holiday season begins:

1. Don’t buy the latest and greatest home theater

My clients are the wealthiest people in the country, they buy the highest quality products on the market, or coming to the market. They also spend tens of thousands of dollars in each room for audio and video equipment. For the other 97% of us, we don’t need the latest and greatest equipment out there. It’s cool stuff, but if you wait a year or two, that quality will make it to the commodity-priced products.

Theater on a budgetYou don’t even have to wait years to get this high quality gear, you can wait until new product is announced and then buy last year’s product. For example, I was at Best Buy last night and a sales associate told me all Klipsch speakers were 50% off because they were making room for next year’s models. This wasn’t even an advertised sale, so you might have to visit these stores every once in a while. Klipsch speakers are high-quality product with many years of accolades, and just because a speaker was made a year ago doesn’t mean it won’t perform nearly as well as this year’s model. If you have small satellite speakers, a pair of these floor standing speakers and a center channel will get you a vastly superior front sound stage for only a few hundred dollars.

2. Buy used home theater equipment

This is a great way to save money. eBay, Amazon and Craig’s List are great places to find good equipment on the cheap. You can also pick up floor models at your local big-box store. Just make sure they come with all the required parts – the remote, power cable, etc. If possible, give the product a test drive prior to purchase, or make sure you can return it.

One thing to watch out for with used equipment is the speakers. Sometimes the floor models at the store might have the speakers collapsed by children pushing on the drivers. Speakers used at home may have been overdriven, blowing the speakers. Always double check speakers.

3. Predict future home theater purchases

Make a game plan. Before you go out and buy anything you should research what would work best in your room for your tastes and make a goal for the future. Every tax return (Christmas, or whenever you can spend the money) add to your collection. It might take a few years to get where you want, but it will be worth it. This will help guide your budget, as well as make sure you make wise purchases early on so you don’t have to make repurchases in the event you have incompatible products.

A lot of the home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) products aren’t compatible with regular subwoofers. If you begin by purchasing a HTIB, you will more than likely have to purchase an A/V receiver later on when you add that sub. The receiver should be the first purchase you make, and then get an inexpensive speaker package to hold you over, upgrading one piece at a time. With the right receiver you should be ready for any subwoofer, speaker or component you’ll look for in the future.

4. Sell your used home theater equipment

As I hinted at above, you might be making smaller purchases on your way to the bigger ones. A lot of people load their old equipment in the garage, or hook it up in the bedroom. Sell it.

Your goal is to have a high-quality home theater, make that your priority. Selling old equipment will help you make your future purchases. When you get to a satisfactory place in your theater system, then look to your other entertainment locations in the house.

5. Stick with your home theater budget

A home theater is a place to relax, and spend time with family and friends. Don’t let your theater add to your debt. Debt leads to stress, and stress is not the goal here. If you follow tip three you should have established a rough budget for the theater. You may consider making a theater fund to place money aside, and when properly funded you can go get your next piece of quality gear.

While it is tempting to go all in and buy a whole system right now, not only will you beat the stress, you’ll also have a lot of fun piecing the system together over time. You’ll soon create a system you can be proud of.

Blu-ray &Random &WesleyTech Steven Kippel on 11 Nov 2007

Armistice Day

Armistice Day

Today is Armistice Day, the day set aside to commemorate the end of The War to End All Wars. While there are certainly wars ravaging all across the world, for some reason I’m caught up in the middle of the most trivial of all wars, the high-def format war. It’s not really a war at all, it’s more like two-year-olds arguing over the same toy. “Mine,” they say with that whiny voice while huffing with an air of disgust and fury.

Not a war at all. For surely there would be no war if it weren’t for the media’s inherent ability to sensationalize everything. Without the “format war” there would have been a year of “slow news days” or the poor “journalists” would have to fabricate some other random controversy to generate web clicks.

Format War 2007Here in the States we’ve changed Armistice Day into “Veterans Day” – and in the British Commonwealths to “Remembrance Day” – after World War II (The Great War). Apparently the entire western world was naive for the first half of the 20th Century thinking one war was going to be the last ever. It would be just as naive to think this high-def war would be the last format war as well. Certainly we would hope the mega-corporations would have enough sense to avoid another one, but egos always get the better of the two sides and it’s inevitable. This is how shooting wars start after all, two sides can’t agree on something so they start killing each other. Yes, it’s obviously the most ridiculous concept ever devised by humans, but it sure is good for the economy! (I say this in jest obviously.)

I may just be the only person watching this war who is jaded (I sure hope not), but I’m over the whole affair. It appears some in the industry are also growing weary. Sony’s Howard Stringer appeared to be tiring of the canard. Reflecting back to before he was CEO he declared that he wishes he would have stuck to the negotiations and unified the two formats. He blamed egos for the quagmire we’re in (isn’t it always one ego trying to prove something to the world?).

You may have noticed I haven’t posted last week. It was not because I was enjoying my amaretto sours while I wasted away at home, or because I am sick of the “format war.” It was because I was away on vacation. I was in Las Vegas where I had neither fun nor relaxation. I am back now and I will be writing more articles for your education or enjoyment. I will be enjoying an amaretto sour, however.

Blu-ray &Entertainment &WesleyTech Steven Kippel on 08 Sep 2007

The question of value

The question of value

Last night I took my wife out to a nice steak house and wine bar for dinner, as I do sometimes. It was a pleasant experience in the casual, but elegant, restaurant dining on a filet mignon with a glass of Pinot Noir from Sonoma, CA. Of course, if it wasn’t nice I would have been disappointed and I would have really missed that $160. But where am I going with this?

You know in the film 300 when Leonidas says to his men, “Tonight we dine in hell!” I always ask the question from the perspective of one of his soldiers: “We’re going to Sizzler?”

800px-tempranillowine.jpgIt is this gulf between a quality steak at $32 and a mediocre steak at $19 that I began to muse over. There must be many people who think a $19 steak from Sizzler is fantastic, or at the very least it’s adequate. There are others, like myself, who would never consider the over-cooked piece of left-over meat as worth $19. In this regard I relate to the food critic, Anton Ego, from the Pixar film Ratatouille when he exclaims, “I don’t like food, I love it. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow.” In the same way, most people find their standard-definition DVD collection as more than adequate, thus they do not see the need to spend a good deal of money to upgrade (for surely everyone has DVD equipment they’re replacing) to Blu-ray and/or HD DVD.

It’s probably a good bet that the majority of the population have not had the pleasure of dining in an up-scale steak house. When you haven’t tried the best, you really have no benchmark to compare mediocre to. In fact, mediocre is all you know, but to you it is not mediocre, it is good. When something is good, why would you want to replace it? What benefit is there to pay thrice the price for the “same” steak you could get at Sizzler? Ah, but it is not the same! And, no, it doesn’t taste better just because you pay more.

We’re still in an era of standard-definition. Only about 55-million households in the U.S. have an HDTV, but over 130-million have DVD players. The sum of all HD DVD and Blu-ray players is still a fraction of the total HDTV install base, let alone the DVD market. This is the reason why Blu-ray and HD DVD will always remain a niche product.

Over two thirds of HDTV owners believe DVD is “high-definition.” This is probably because DVD did a bang-up job promoting the format’s higher-resolution than VHS a decade ago. Most HDTV owners also think anything they watch on their HD set is high-def. How they can think the picture they have at home is the same as the one they saw in the store is mind-boggling, but it’s still a problem the backers of both next-gen formats have to face. Before the market is going to buy into Blu-ray, they’re going to have to buy into high-def. Before they’re going to buy HD DVD, they’re going to have to know the benefits of high-def.

The promoters of both formats do know this, and that’s why you see so many ads for them on Discovery HD-Theater. It’s also why Panasonic and Disney embarked on their Magical Blu-ray Tour, and Panasonic is also setting off on their own bus tour promoting high-def and educating the public on high-def, plasma and Blu-ray Disc. Toshiba is also set to start airing HD DVD ads on Sunday Night Football on NBC (an NBC Universal company).

While I posit that both formats will remain niche, I also contend that the market will dictate a winner and will eventually support one format nearly exclusively, and that this will be a good thing. High-def is a growing market, and nearly every TV sold today is a high-def set. DirecTV and Dish Network are adding hundreds of high-def channels to their network. Adoption will grow and as the consumer is educated, they will be interested in high-def movies. Of course with the two formats, ennui will reign in some of these hopeful shoppers. However, some people will buy a player and be happy getting a limited selection in high-def while enjoying the rest on DVD. If the market favors one format, it will inevitably favor one format in the long run. There is historic precedent for this as the Betamax war lasted over a decade but did eventually end with one format as the standard. I feel the sooner this happens the better. One format will help the high-def market grow much faster as all the companies can focus all their attention on educating the market on high-def instead of trying to explain why they should chose whichever format they support.

If there isn’t a winner soon, video-on-demand just might win. I know a few people already who do not rent movies and aren’t interested in buying either next-gen format opting to use the free video-on-demand they get from Time Warner Cable. Their options are limited, of course, but they figure they only watch a few things a week and they can wait for new releases to hit the free channels. It’s possible Time Warner or Comcast could make their service unlimited and load up every title they can get the rights to and it would be like Netflix’s “Watch Now” feature, only in high-def. This is the most likely VOD type service as the biggest criticism of streaming content is the bandwidth issue. Of course if the cable providers can do it already, it’s not just a pipe dream.

I’m holding out hope that one of the next-gen optical formats will finally win this ridiculous war because a lot of people like collecting movies, and you don’t get the same satisfaction with a hard drive. Of course it’s hard to say if any format could match the pure joy of a nice Syrah.

Blu-ray &WesleyTech Wes Novack on 09 Jun 2007

Popular articles you may have missed

Because of the jump in RSS subscribers, I thought I would take a moment to point out some of the best articles on that you may have missed. If you have not yet subscribed, feel free to do so using the Full RSS Feed.

BackupBluray rip utility released
BackupBluray Guide
Copy HD DVD freeware
DVD Fab Decrypter is now DVD Fab HD Decrypter
Blu-ray vs HD DVD replication costs revealed
Blu-ray vs HD DVD replication costs part 2
Is Star Wars coming to Blu-ray?
$1 DVD Rentals at your grocery store

I normally save the best stories on the top articles page, but some really good ones can slip through the cracks, so feel free to use the search page if you are looking for a particular topic. If you have any suggestions for the top articles page or you would like to contact us at any time, feel free to comment on the articles or use the contact form. Thanks for reading WesleyTech!

WesleyTech Wes Novack on 28 Mar 2007

New header graphic and WesleyTech updates

Thanks to Shawn Knight for providing the photo that I have used in my new header image. I was tired of the same old blue image and I believe this new fiery picture fits well with the theme of “DVD burning” and optical storage.

A few people have asked me why I am not updating the website daily any more. This is due to a few reasons. 1) It is very time consuming to write an article every day 2) I felt that the quality of the daily articles was not as good as they could be and 3) I am also working on other projects such as Due to these reasons as well as some others, I will not be updating daily any more. HOWEVER, I will be trying to focus on posting articles that are very interesting and of higher quality content, so please continue to visit the site on a regular basis.

As always, thanks for reading and if you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please let me know!

Video Rental &WesleyTech Wes Novack on 15 Mar 2007 taking off

DVD Rental Forum community
Hello everyone, I’ve been pretty busy the last week over at, my new forums dedicated to DVD Rental service discussions. Due to this, there have not been many updates over here at WesleyTech. I hope to start posting more again here at WesleyTech starting tomorrow and I’ve got some really good articles in the works.

If you have any suggestions for future articles or any questions that might spur a tutorial or a guide I would love to hear them! Otherwise, stay tuned for some good stuff coming up soon and thank you for reading!

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