More HDMI inputs then there are in heaven..

My latest project is replacing my gaming set-up with a home cinema set-up.  I’ve pretty much given up on the Odeon Limitless pass.  I’ve spent a few weekends at home on call more than is perhaps absolutely necessary of late, plus when I am off-call, I spend the time going food shopping and running errands.  Oh, and let’s not forget the railway improvements which stops me getting to and from Guildford easily.

I’ve pretty much given up on the Odeon Limitless pass.  I’ve spent a few weekends at home on call more than is perhaps absolutely necessary of late, plus when I am off-call, I spend the time going food shopping and running errands.  Oh, and let’s not forget the railway improvements which stops me getting to and from Guildford easily.

So home cinema is what I’m aiming at.  So far I’ve replaced the Xbox One S and Sony RX100M4 with an Oppo UDP-203 UHD Blu-Ray player.  It’s certainly not cheap, but it’s currently the best player on the market.  Will hopefully last a good few years.  The firmware is regularly updated, plus the bonus is that their UK HQ is based in Norwich – specifically in an area I used to go through each day on my way to work.  The Oppo is a good choice for superb picture quality and sound, and Deadpool UHD/4K looked particularly good during testing.

The second component is the Pioneer VSX-S520D AV receiver.  I originally opted for the Denon AVR-X2300W, until I realised that the unit wouldn’t fit in my shelf space underneath the TV.  This is what happens when you order without measuring stuff first.  The Pioneer is much slimmer and is even smaller (in height) than the Blu-Ray player.  I’ve still had to re-arrange stuff  – moving the Virgin Media Tivo V6 box to just behind the TV (I can still see the status light).  The AV shelf now consists of the Oppo UDP-230, the 4th generation Apple TV and the Pioneer AV receiver.  The Tivo, Oppo, Apple TV and an HD Google Chromecast are all plugged into the receiver’s HDMI inputs.

Is is strange to buy an AV receiver without speakers?  Yes.  Yes it is.  The main reason was to buy it initially for HDMI switching, but giving me the option to add speakers at a later date.  I usually listen to the TV through wireless headphones to drown out the neighbours.  The Pioneer allows me to plug the headphone transmitter into the front of the unit and I’m able to listen to all devices through the receiver without any issues.  The best thing?  No lip sync issues at all.  But at some point I will buy speakers to give me full 5.1 surround sound (neighbours be damned).

Picture quality from the Pioneer is good.  It supports 4K passthrough and upscaling, and everything I’ve thrown at it has been fine.  The Tivo V6 has actually seen a substantial improvement!  I couldn’t use the 2160 Passthrough option directly through the LG TV for some reason – the signal would just drop – but through the Pioneer it’s working really well and has got rid of a lot of the jerky 4K playback I reported after initially getting the Tivo V6 set-up last month.

The Pioneer also supports DAB and FM radio, though I still have to get the aerial to work properly – so far I’m just getting static.  It also supports music streaming services such as TuneIn, Spotify, Pandora (not in the UK), TIDAL and all sorts of things.  It also has built in ChromeCast and AirPlay services – albeit for audio only.  At some point I’ll hook up the turntable and will likely add a CD player to the unit – there’s space to hook those up thanks to the myriad of connections at the back of the Pioneer.

From Breaking Bad’s prequel series, Better Call Saul – I dread to think what we’ll get in the next season..

In short – very happy with the current set-up.  It’s my first steps to proper home cinema.  It’s a shame my TV supports 4K, but not HDR.  This is the result of the film studios and electronic manufacturers failing to agree on things in a timely manner.  4K has had a troublesome birth, and continues to do so, but it’s getting better.  I doubt we’ll see 8K for quite some time given that 4K is still so new.

Meanwhile, did you know that movies used to ship on vinyl discs?  Watch this for a fascinating look into a video format of old…

 

The Samsung Galaxy S8+ is the Note 7 I wanted..

.. but, alas, it is too late.

(Update: Having thought about it, plugged in some figures into a spreadsheet, I am able to switch.  I am giving Samsung one more chance.  So I’ve pre-ordered the Samsung Galaxy S8+ and the Gear S3 Frontier smartwatch.  Stand by for a review at a later date.)

I would have absolutely remained on the Note 7 had it not been for the battery issue.  But it forced me back to Apple’s iPhone and Apple Watch ecosystem as I was already familiar with it, and given that I went back to the Mac, it made sense at the time.

The Note 7 was a beautifully designed phone – it felt good in the hands, the display was absolutely gorgeous, and Android felt properly polished.  And looking at what Samsung has done with the Galaxy S8 and S8+, they’ve absolutely taken the best design parts of the Note 7 and put them in the design of their new phone (obviously without the S-Pen).  The display is bigger, and the shape and size of the S8+ feels as though it’ll fit into my hand without any issues.  Well, maybe one.  I’m not entirely convinced that the fingerprint scanner is positioned well.  And I have my doubts about the face and iris scanner recognition – the iris scanner on the Note 7 wasn’t accurate (since I wear glasses).  It’s possible that Samsung may have fixed it for the S8 series, however.

So the S8 series looks to be lovely phones.  But I still cannot switch because I’m still too heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem at this time – which includes any possible upgrade to the iPhone 8.  Of course, if Samsung were feeling generous and felt like giving me an S8+ and a Gear 3 Frontier smartwatch – it may convince me to switch (since no outlay on my part until the next cycle of Samsung devices).  But the chances are so remote that it is highly unlikely I’ll switch back to Android for another 3 years.  By then Google will have had the Pixel 2 out on the market.  Possibly even the Pixel 3.  The Pixel was a lovely Android phone too – let down by flaws in the camera lens (lens flare galore) and wireless issues (Bluetooth).

Anyway, here’s hoping that Samsung turns around the misfortune of the Note 7 with the S8.  There’s certainly much to love with with the S8 for those that loved the Note 7 as much as I did.

BTW, the upgrade to iOS 10.3 is well worth doing.  Apple have switched to a new filesystem called APFS which replaces the 30 year old HPFS+ and the whole system feels a lot more responsive (of course, Apple have also tweaked animations too).

Forget the Nintendo Switch, I’m having fun & games with a different kind of switch..

My electricity & gas supplier recently announced an average increase of £82 based on my existing usage.  While I have been a loyal customer for many years, I’m happy to jump ship if I’m able to find a better deal elsewhere.   Especially when the same company recently made news headlines when their smart energy meters started registering silly figures.

So I used uSwitch to look at better offers.  I found one in Green Star Energy, and put in the order to switch.

ALAS!

I attempted to register an account at Green Star Energy’s web site, and was immediately foiled by their password rules.  As this guy says, password rules are bullshit (well worth a read, BTW).  I have been using a very well respected password manager for many years, along with sensible ways of generating unique and strong passwords for individual web sites.  But to be foiled right at the first hurdle makes my blood boil.

So I cancelled my switch/order with Green Star Energy.  I have just placed an order with another firm for whom I had no problems generating a password.

So remember people – password rules are bullshit.

Fixing iTunes/Apple TV’s Breaking Bad Deluxe Edition audio commentary issue

While Apple did not directly get me there, they pushed me in the right direction. It turn out that if you go to Settings -> Audio and Video and set Surround Sound to Stereo, you’ll be able to hear the audio commentary tracks on the episodes of iTunes Breaking Bad Deluxe Edition. 

Why it doesn’t work when set to Best Quality Available or Dolby Digital I don’t know, but it sounds (haha) like a bug.  While you can swipe down during playback of video, to change some audio options – whatever you select doesn’t affect the audio track at all – you must select Stereo from the Settings menu.

When I told Apple about this, they wanted me to do a complete wipe and reset of the Apple TV.  I politely told them no.  Apple can go away and do their own tests – unless Apple want to pay me £500/hour to test their kit for them. That’s my professional fee.

This is with tvOS 10.11, the latest publicly released “stable” version.

I also just want to say that the online chat support from Apple is nearly useless. In the end I had to wait for a phone call, which failed, then I was put through – then finally figured out the issue – then received a further 4-5 automated calls at random intervals.

Some updates..

Odeon Limitless – I’ve not been to the cinema in months, so this has become a money waster rather than a saver.  I’ve preferred to either watch movies on Sky Cinema, or buy movies on iTunes.

Virgin Media – The HomeWorks 300Mbs package has proven itself a most worthy purchase.  It’s quite amazing to watch things download over 200Mbs.  A 5Gb movie is downloaded in a matter of minutes.  Good Wi-Fi coverage throughout the house.

What’s less impressive is Virgin’s presentation of Sky Cinema.  There are titles that aren’t available in HD, and watching them on the Tivo V6 in SD is probably like watching a very badly pirated movie.  Additionally, Virgin doesn’t update their What’s New This Week movie section daily with each new movie Sky Cinema adds each day.  So I’ve removed Sky Cinema from my package, and upgraded my landline package to Talk More Anytime.

I’ve added Sky Cinema to my NOW TV subscription which costs half of what I’d be paying with Virgin.  The downside is that the LG app only offers 720p resolution, but upscales far better than Virgin’s offerings – and to be honest, you won’t see much difference in quality between 720 and 1080p.  In short – if you want the proper Sky Cinema experience, you’ll really need to take out a Sky satellite package.  But with Sky Q allegedly going broadband only next year, I’d be interested in checking out again then (but keeping the VM broadband).

BT8160 Call Filtering phones – Working like a treat.  VIP numbers won’t be filtered, but everybody else has to announce themselves before the phone even rings.  That’ll stop a lot of automated diallers for starters.   I do find the blue status light on the base station is a bit too bright at night on the handset I have in my bedroom.  Nothing a bit of gaffer tape can’t fix, though.