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Updated Oct. 1st, 2003
I will admit it, I don't watch much television. Kind of a bold thing to say as I am working to launch a local television show. One of my roomates owns a Tivo unit and it is the source of most of the content I watch from broadcast television. If I do watch TV, it would most likely be one of the following: Hardball, South Park, Crank Yankers, MTV Cribs, MTV Making the video, or WHRO's Hampton Roads Weekly. With the Tivo, all this can be accomplished in 3 hours a week excluding Hardball. This isn't to say I won't watch my show once it is on the air. I would probably like some of the shows that air on television, but I just don't seem to have the time.
When it comes to movies, I feel they are worth the time. Nothing is better than a good movie going experience, so when it was time to setup a home environment to watch movies, I decided it would be worth the time and effort to go the extra mile.
This doesn't mean that I don't go to the public movie theaters. I like to get out of the house often, and visit local movie theaters semi regularly. But nothing can ruin a good movie some some idiot talking on a cell phone, or some freak screaming every 5 minutes into your ear while waiving their arms around. Sometimes it is good to skip all the drama of the local cineplex, and spin a disc at home.
That is where the home theater comes into play. It is good for social events and good for avoiding the headaches associated with going out to the movies. It has drawbacks, mainly the cost of DVDs. But a $20 DVD is yours forever, and enjoyable until the newer HDTV DVD standard comes out in 4 years.
I'm a bit odd. I feel that the quality in alot of consumer electronics has decreased. It could be a fact of planned obsolescense, or the fact that modern digital equipment will grow obsolete quicker than older audio gear did. Dolby surround, then Dolby Prologic, then Dolby AC-3 RF then AC-3 coaxial/optical then DTS and who knows what next week. I'm not one to keep up with the latest trend, AC-3 is good enough for me.
When it came time to pick the equpiment for the home theater, I went a bit of a different route. I found a Sony SDP-E800 AC-3 decoder at the local Montgomery Wards (R.I.P.). The unit was ment to be an add on for home stereo receivers that were built before the 6 channel audio standard was set. The receivers would have 6 inputs on the back to accomodate the AC-3 decoder. It just so happens that this unit makes the perfect pre-amp without spending $2000 for a Harmon-Kardon. There couldn't be a more perfect unit. Some reviews talk of a hissing issue with the unit, I haven't quite noticed this because the amplifiers are really powerful and with the volume at 1/4 of the way up things are loud enough. I will probably replace it with the ES model eventually. The Yamaha DDP-2 is a competitor, as well as the Sony SDP-EP9ES, denon avd 2000.
By connecting the 6 outputs from the AC-3 decoder to 6 inputs on 3 stereo amplifiers, it is possible to end up with a theater only audio system. I chose this route so I could eventually purchase QSC MX-700 amplifiers for the home theater. 3 amplifiers would provide 6 channels of sound, and be perfect. Except I never got around to purchasing two more. I fell in love with the MX-700's sound quality and vowed to stick with QSC.
Then I stumbled across the QSC DCA-1622 amps used for the movie theaters. The DCA-1622 is the be-all end-all of cool amplifiers to me. The sound quality of the MX-700 with a switch mode power supply that doesn't crank out the heat. I managed to purchase two of them, and one CX model amp via used market and don't ever plan to upgrade. I worship these amplifiers.
Another unit I stumbled upon accidentially was the Behringher Ultra-Curve DEQ-8024. It can often be found for $180 new thru mail order houses. It is a 31 frequency dsp based EQ, that also features a real time analyzer. It can listen to the optional microphone and adjust the EQ to flatten the frequency response in the current environment. The unit has received mixed reviews, but for the price I'm happy. It did improve things, but it definitly shows where the shortcomings are with the speaker setup. I have two of these units currently, and will be purchasing a 3rd one to complete the audio rack for my home theater.
We currently have 2 Alesis Monitor Two speakers as the front left and right, some recycled garbage for center channel, two JBL bookshelf speakers for the rear, and a JBL powered sub for center. All of the equipment does not belong to me, the sub and Alesis speakers belong to a roomate, as does the rear channel amplifier. It is the next thing that needs upgrade.
I will admit it, I purchase a good amount of my equipment thru eBay and other used markets. Most of the equipment I seek cannot be purchased on the current market. In the case with the QSC amplifiers, they are used in industrial applications and are prohibitively expensive to buy new. It really is my only hope of getting this grade of equipment at my current means of living. I don't have a problem with this, and love giving the equipment a 2nd home.
But sometimes there are problems. The 1st QSC DCA-1622 was prestine, new in box. New Old stock or purchased and never used, this surplus amp is perfect. However the 2nd QSC I bought was probably pulled from a dumpster. This is the danger of eBay. Basically, after warming up the audio cuts out. If you give it a technical tap (smack it) the audio comes back. This is easily diagnosed as a solder issue. I checked it out, and from the top of the board everything looked allright. I noticed the fan in the 2nd one doesn't run all the time, where as the first one did. I contacted QSC support, and was informed in earlier models the fan didn't run until it reached a certain temperature. Ah hah! She melted down and scrapped because of this. The tech further told me what the service bulletin said in terms of changes! I couldn't believe it! Get this information from Sony, I dare you! *THIS* is customer support! I quickly opened the amp back up and removed the suface mount resistor that makes the fan run all of the time. I couldn't find a local replacement for the other part so I left it at the original value. This probably changes the point at which the fan changes speeds. I just want it running slowly at idle. The fans in the QSC amps are very quiet compared to the fan(s) in the Sony projector hanging overhead.
There were a few bad looking solder points on the bottom of the board, I reworked them and thought I was good to go. But the other night the problem hit again, so obviously I didn't fix the right part. Now that I know how to remove the board completely, I will bench test it in operation and hunt for my troubled solder joint. Hopefully it isn't a component that is bad. My guess is it is related to a component that heats up, as the problem occours after the amp is well warmed up. More in the future on this one, but I snapped a pic of the internals of these amps. (Update, appears to be fixed). (Update, appears not to be fixed, seems to only occour when it's remounted in the rack, go figure).
There is quite a few components on the board, ranging from surface mount to large transistors and caps. Defintily more than the QSC MX700 had.
The DCA series has the ability to be managed by computer from a unit known as the CM16a. Unfortunately they are $2500 new. Some day though, I will be able to SNMP poll my home theater along with the household network switches.
Before I moved out on my own I purchased a Barco Graphics 800 3 gun CRT projector from a local guy that I ran across on the internet newsgroups. After doing research I realized that I could spend the same amount for a projection television only end up with a 3 gun CRT projector capable of SVGA resolutions.
So I purchased the Graphics 800 projector before renting the house we live in. At first it was nice. I built a complete structure to hang the projector upside down without drilling into the ceiling.
But then problems errupted with the projector. First the high voltage supply went bad. Then I got a cold solder joint on the board that controls raster shifting for convergence. Then trying to get that working I hit a scan failure that burned a dot into the middle of the green CRT. This caused a pinkish-red dot in the middle of an all white screen. That was a very bad day! Then the 5 volt supply started giving problems. Unwilling to dump any more money into the Barco, I yanked it down.
After mentally debating it for a while, I started searching eBay for for a Sony VPH series 3 gun CRT projector. I found a company in Baltimore selling some on eBay, and talked to Alex. After some talk I took a day off from work and drove to Baltimore to buy a Sony VPH-1272Q. They had several at BPAI, and the 2nd one was right. Paid up and drove home with the replacement projector. I can't say I ever want to see a Barco again.
People tell me the Barcos have more convergence points, and maybe a bit higher resolution. But I was never impressed with the quality of the PCB cards in the Barco. The Sony has done me right, and to this day hasn't let me down at all. Maybe I got a lemon Barco, and there is a good chance the Barco was put together from parts from several projectors.
Whatever, I love the Sony projector. It was made in the early or mid 90's, but was made to display computer resolutions. This means it is possible to feed it the video from a computer system at high resolutions (1280x1024@72hz). Good enough for now, and better than the HDTV specifications call for. Ready for the future, 8 years ago.
By using a PC based DVD player, it is possible to get progressive scanned, antialiased output to the projector. Normal television and DVDs were not ment to be displayed at 110" diagnal, and suffer from very visible horizontal lines. The computer takes care of these issues without purchasing a line doubler.
I do own a laserdisc player, but unfortuntely the picture doesn't come close to the quality of the computer based progressive scan DVD player. The same thing would happen if I were to connect sources such as standard broadcast television or video game consoles. There is a unit that costs around $500 that does outboard progressive scan conversion, but with the computer and the DXR3 DVD rom drive/MPEG2 decoder I never bothered. I do not watch broadcast TV on the projector.
The projector is HDTV ready and if our cable company offers the service for HDTV at a reasonable price I will most likely subscribe. Since it will probably not be a reasonable price I've been watching the prices of the stand alone Samsung decoders drop -- eventually I might pick one up and try out 1080i on the projector. It is mostly a curiosity of how the image will look that keeps me interested in the HDTV offerings in our region.
Downside to the projector...
There is one drawback to 3 gun CRT projectors. They require a good amount of time and effort to setup. Careful attention to focus is required. They seem more difficult to setup over LCD/DLP projectors. Each gun has to be focused. Then the guns have to be converged so that the image from the red, green and blue guns sit on top of each other. It can be a long tedius process. You also have to take into account that it can take a few hours for the unit to warm up fully, and you must converge it at this point.
Another drawback is the room has to be very light controlled. I do not have a projection screen, but with the blinds closed and covers over some nearby windows the picture is visible during the day. I still end up watching movies on the system mostly at night.
The CRTs in the projector have to be respected. If an image is left static on the screen for too long of a period, it will burn into the phosphor of the CRT. This is a drawback to front projection systems using CRTs. The brightness has to be there to project the image. Rear screen projection TVs use similar guns, but since they aren't filling a wall they don't need to be as bright. This helps them some, but they can still burn in. There are some CRTs made differently to help resist burn in, but those are rare.
DLP/LCD versus CRT. CRT projectors supposidly produce a more filmlike image. CRT projectors can black out 100%, as the projector cuts power to the CRTs. CRT projectors are rumored to oversaturate a little if there is only a small bit of one color on the screen. If there is just a red sign in the background, it might be a little too bright because in order to get the gun to illuminate, it takes a certain level of power.
DLP and LCD projectors enjoy a quick setup time. Easy to focus the thing and it is normally 100% razor sharp. So sharp you can see the pixels. The LCD or DLP elements are fixed at a optimal resolution, they cannot change resolutions without affecting the picture. (if there is 1024 x 768 pixels and you switch to NTSC 720x480, something has to give, the 1024x768 pixels have to be filled!).
LCD/DLP projector bulbs do not have a linear light output over their life. They can be very bright at first, but then slope off shortly after. They cost about $400-500 for a replacement bulb. On a CRT projector, the guns can cost $600-800 each. At this point, you pitch it and buy a new one.
I suggest to people that they do not rush out and purchase CRT projectors until they know what it will take to align them and care for them.
Future plans are to add the last DCA amp and two more 8024 EQs. A real center channel speaker is defintily needed. Friends have integrated all in one receiver/amps that are very impressive. I would also like to get a motorized screen sometime in the future.
If I manage to purchase the house from the guy we rent from, I would like to hardwood floor the room including a raised 2nd row, add a motorized screen, paint the walls a grey color, and add motorized roller shades to the windows. I'm also thinking about french doors, and the possibility of having motorized roller shades on the doors themselves. DMX-512 light control and dimmer packs are a must.