Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Joining the 21st Century

I joined the 21st century in home entertainment this week. I replaced the 22-yr-old TV set in my den/sitting room with a new internet-capable flat-screen TV and Blu-ray DVD player. I'd like to share several observations:

The Shopping Experience. I'm not much of a shopper. I went to two big-box stores, Best Buy and H.H. Gregg, and got good help and advice from both. Both came up with the same basic suggestions for what I needed and prices were similar. I checked both companies' web sites and was surprised to find Best Buy's web prices seemed to be $100-$200 (on a $1,600 purchase) less than the in-store price. The Best Buy salesman said he didn't work on commission, so I wondered where the difference came from.

I bought from H.H. Gregg. I opted for the 12-mo.-free-credit offer. We'll see if that turns out to be a mistake.

The Setting-Up Experience. In trying to learn about what I needed to do to get my cable service into the 21st century as well, I had a lot of trouble getting in touch with the cable folks ( at TWC). I visited the local office twice in person but both times there was a long line for counter service so I didn't wait. I phoned several times but could never get through to a person. There were several frustrating tries, but that's another story. I finally googled "time warner" and tried one of those ads on the right-hand-side of the screen for something like "" and, after another long trip through voice-mail got connected with a person who could answer my questions and, finally, set up an appointment to install digital cable. Because of the circuitous route of getting to TWC, I wondered if I had fallen victim to some sort of phishing scam, but the installation went off as planned on Sunday afternoon.

The TWC installer was on-time and got the system up-graded with a minimum of fuss. He was quite competent in the TWC equipment but didn't offer much help in other areas: best way to connect the DVD player, how to connect to Netflix or the internet, or other non-TWC direct issues. He gave the barest instructions on using the DVR and none on other features part of the system. After he left I plunged in and tried to make sense of things. Early in the installation he had asked me where I wanted the cable box located and I pointed to the side of the TV opposite where the DVD was. This turned out to be in front of the remote sensor for the TV, which I didn't realize until after he had left and I was working through some or the how-to-use-everything issues. I'd have thought he should have been aware of this problem and warned me of it.

The First Few Days. I had set up the TV using my old cable service prior the digital upgrade, and had come across a couple of issues (the question of aspect ratios primarily), but managing the greatly increased number of channels is still an open question.

I got the system connected to Netflix with a minimum of problems and was able to set up instant viewing through my in-house router without a problem. It took a call to my nephew to solve a couple of non-intuitive Netflix issues, but that system seems to be working well.

I had to call TWC customer service to get help in setting up DVR recording, but they got me on the right path and I was able to test-record several programs on Monday. Playing-back those programs presented a problem when the fast-forward and rewind features didn't appear to work properly (they moved at 15-min increments rather than slowly or by seconds). Another call to TWC customer service couldn't resolve the problem so they scheduled a technician visit for Thursday. I thought that was prompt service.

Continuing issues. I still have several continuing issues:

1. Managing the greatly increased number of possible channels is a problem. (Remember the Confucian proverb "He who has a choice has trouble".) The TWC customer service rep advised that the technician could help me with setting up the Favorite Channels feature (which we couldn't find while I was on the phone with them. I subsequently found it but it seems pretty lame and difficult to set-up).

2. I haven't been able to get the DVD player (actually a "home entertainment reliever") to connect with my computer to access my library of .mp3 music and play-lists.

3. I haven't been able figure out how to connect to Hulu, YouTube, or other internet video sources. Maybe another trip out to talk with the salesman at H.H. Gregg will help. Any other suggestions?

4. I don't like the Three Remotes issue (Cable, TV, DVD). My next step is to try to get the cable remote to operate the DVD. If it will turn the DVD player on and off and control the basic playing functions, that will be a help, but moving from cable to internet and back to cable is harder than I wish it was.

5. The new system presents some new furniture problems. The old entertainment center I had made to hold the TV and related stereo equipment is obsolete, as is most of the old equipment (speakers, receiver, cassette player, maybe VCR player). I look forward to replacing this with a 21st century solution (or maybe an 18th century solution).

Overall the process has been very positive so far. I'm impressed with the quality of the HD picture on the TV channels and with the surround sound of the DVD player. I haven't tried a blu-ray disk yet, but regular dvd's look great! I love the convenience of Netflix instant viewing. I wish there were more choices, but I haven't been able to watch all the ones on my current list so I haven't needed more choice yet. My one-DVD-at-a-time Netflix subscription isn't perfect, but so far turnaround time has been very good: return DVD today and get a replacement in two business days.

I hope the positive experiences continue.


Greensboro Daily Photo said...

Hey Preston:

That 3 remote issue drives us nuts too!

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Greensboro Daily Photo said...

Thank you Preston for your great pointers regarding photographing the moon. I'm terrible at moon shots and will have to try some of your tips!

How is the TV working out?

Preston said...

I'm still working on the problems. As I commented at Ed Cone's, I think the biggest problem is that I didn't appreciate just what "Internet TV" is. It isn't like a browser experience on a TV set.