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…

 

Why do I have sweater subtitles?

I was watching A Very Long Engagement via iTunes on the Apple TV, and was trying to get Siri to disable the second set of subtitles (since it’s a French film, it comes with English subtitles embedded within the film itself and cannot be disabled – but despite this, apparently a separate subtitles track exists and displayed).

This was the result:

ohsiri

I highly recommend going to Settings -> Audio & Video -> Subtitle Language = Off.  It’s set to Auto by default.  Don’t bother asking Siri, she lies.  After the above failure, she eventually understood what I said and told me that subtitles were off.  She lied!  So I disabled subtitles in the Settings menu and all was well.

Sky Q UHD: It’s here, but we don’t have any content yet..

Sky has enabled UHD (Ultra High Definition) output on the Sky Q Silver boxes, and thankfully it works with my TV.  My biggest gripe with UHD has been that it has taken so long for engineers and their Lord High Muck-a-mucks to agree on a set of standards that make UHD a possibility.  The transition to UHD/4K has been quite the palaver in comparison to say, standard definition to HD.

But anyway, Sky has enabled UHD 2160p at 10 bit colour resolution, and we’re ready for all that lovely 4K content.  Except, ALAS, most TV and film workflows haven’t taken 4K into account either due to budgetary or technical constraints.  For example,  UHD content takes up more disk space, has a higher bitrate, and working with it on most systems is a PITA unless you’ve got decent disk I/O, RAM and CPU – which, trust me, isn’t the case for a lot of TV companies. Plus of course, you’ve got to record video in 4K in the first place – a lot of professional film & TV digital video cameras can do this now, and have been for a while – and at even higher resolutions too – but due to everything I’ve just mentioned, hasn’t developed a full 4K workflow yet.

Then there’s the delivery issue.  You’ve got to generally have fast enough bandwidth to get the data to your TV.  This is helped in part due to the video codec.  With Sky Q, 4K content will be delivered via just one of the 12 tuners in the Sky Q box.  Other content will be delivered via the Sky Q download service which uses broadband.  Since Sky’s VoD system downloads rather than streams, this won’t be a big problem for a vast majority of Sky Q customers with slower connections.

I already watch some 4K content via Netflix streaming.  Amazon Video is still lacking considerable content.  In both cases you can normally see a difference from normal HD – but it depends on the DoP and director as to just how much 4K will matter.  Your camera phone may record 4K video as well, but it makes no difference if you’re just recording people falling over or having amusing accidents.

I’m replacing my Xbox One with the XBox One S next week which will give me the ability to watch UHD Blu-Ray discs.  It will be the cheapest way to watch UHD Blu-Ray content versus expensive (£500+) from the likes of Samsung and Sony.  Also, better integration with Windows 10 makes an Xbox a good companion in the living room.  Well, that’s what I told myself anyway.  Although I do wish Microsoft would have released a better remote control for the Xbox One.  The official one is a PITA.  I’d like something resembling a normal Blu-Ray player remote, and not a cut-down game controller.

The UHD revolution is finally here, but we need Sky to start pushing out content – both live (especially sports – but I don’t subscribe to those channels), and on demand (Sky Cinema movies in 4K – yes please!)

A last bite of the Apple pie..

Well.  I’ve decided.

Given that innovations in laptop, tablet and smartphone technology aren’t going to get much better over the next three years, I figure that Apple are pretty much done and dusted for a while.  They used to be a company you could trust – with a secure and tight ecosystem between hardware and software that put the customer first.  It was stable.  It was well developed.  It was decent.

But over the past 6-8 years, things have taken a turn for the worse.  We’ve now got multiple generations of iPads, iPhones, MacBooks, MacBook Pros, iMacs and everything in between.  Keeping these machines up to date with the latest OS is almost – but not quite – up to Windows standards.  Each generation and model use different components and that means that multiple drivers have to be included.  My almost 4 year old MacBook Air at work has been experiencing some random weird driver related issues over the past few releases of OS X (but with .5 release of El Capitain, things look to have settled down).

We now have four distinct operation systems: OS X, iOS, tvOS, and watchOS.  Maintaining each and every one of them must be a pain.  And for developers of these platforms, doubly-so.  My fourth generation Apple TV hasn’t been used very much because it seems that outside the US, little work has been made by UK TV broadcasters to put their on-demand services on there.  There is no All 4.  There is no ITV Hub.  And we can pretty much say bye bye to Amazon Prime given Jeff Bezos’ recent comments.

I’ve not found watchOS to be particularly brilliant if I’m honest.  Apps never operate standalone, and opening any app takes an age.  With my recent visit back home to North West London, it took two or three attempts to check in and out of TfL’s contactless barriers.  Almost all the time, “Seek Assistance” popped up.   I had to wait for somebody else to go through to try again – when I was then let through.  So Apple Pay is becoming a pain.

iPad Pro development is slow – all the recent comments I’ve made about the lack of higher resolution support still stands.  We then have the firmware bricking issue with the small iPad Pro.  There’s still no fix other than to have the hardware physically replaced.

Apple Music went TITSUP (Total Inability To Support Usual Performance) yesterday (so I hear – at least for some people), with playlists vanishing and even the ability to download purchased music.

I try to show a work colleague some photos from my iCloud Photo Library, and Photos on OS X went mental – showing other pictures instead.

Apple have lost the plot.  And I’ve figured that as Apple can’t be as bad as Android or Windows, I’m replacing my gadgets accordingly.  I’m still keeping the iPads – they still have their uses while they work – but everything else is being replaced.  I’m not going to have a smart watch anymore.  The smartest it’ll be is having the time adjusted automatically via radio signal.  My laptop will be Windows.  My phone will be Android.  I will accept these will be a pain in the arse on the odd occasion, but I’m willing to accept that given their development cycle.

Besides, I think I’ve become far too Apple-fied over the years.  I struggle to answer Windows related questions at work from time to time because I have never used it on a daily basis.  So I think I need to change that.  Plus it’ll help me fix family PC problems too.  And I miss the olden days of getting stuck under the hood – something you can’t do with Apple products now because they’re all pretty much solded to the motherboard.

I’ll post my experiences of switching as and when they happen.  But the first step is the Android migration which should take place over the weekend.  I’ve gone for a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge – one of the highest rating Android phones on the market.  The downside to it, however, is that Samsung is not known for rolling out timely security or major OS updates.  That’s one downside to Android – but Google are preparing to kick Android partners’ bottoms to try and rectify this.  We’ll see how well that goes….

Sky Trek: The Next Generation, with special guest star Q..

As my regular readers know, I am a streaming TV and movie junkie.  How far we have come from 3 channels to 4, then 20 years later, 300+.

Yes, I was there at the dawn of the fourth age of British television when Channel 4 came online.  As a little kid, (I’d have been 6 at the time) I would eagerly watch the test C4 transmissions until the channel launched good and proper.  And when I was a little baby, my parents took a photo of me with my face right up against the old 70’s CRT TV.

I have been, and always will be, a TV addict in some form or another.

So you can imagine my happiness when Sky launched their new service, ‘Sky Q’.  Memories of Spike Milligan playing this theme spring to mind:

But that aside, Sky Q is a new premium service that’s intended to allow multiple TVs and tablets to stream everything available from Sky (and let’s face it – Sky is pretty much EVERYTHING relating to TV these days), eventually give us 4K content (and let’s hope for no fee hike for it, otherwise untuned pianos will be aimed at Sky HQ), and provide for an overall better TV service than we have with the increasingly antiquated Sky+HD boxes.  The Sky Q Silver box can store up to 350 hours of HD TV and record FOUR channels at once (whilst watching a recording).

The other thing Sky has changed is that they will be lending you the equipment (rather than letting you flat out keep it).  Which will hopefully mean they’re replace or fix it should it fall over.

Oh, and it supports apps too.  So one hopes that you could have Netflix, Amazon Prime, MUBI, and other service providers on board for a truly centralised, no faffing around, streaming experience.  Unlikely given that we still don’t have an All 4 app for LG TVs or Apple’s tvOS.  Ditto for ITV. The streaming service industry is still too darn fragmented for my liking.

I’ll be able to hook Sky Q up my bedroom TV via the Sky Q mini box to the service at no additional cost, which is nice.  And the hardware is small and can be kept out the way.

Anyway, all this fun and laughter requires that I take out Sky Broadband.  But I have Virgin Media.  But I don’t have a landline.  And Sky Broadband is free for 12 months.  Which is when my Virgin Media contract runs out.  I’d consider going the whole hog and opt for Sky Broadband Fibre Pro Plus Distinction MegaSpeed (or whatever they’re calling their 76Mbs service these days) – but it’s not yet available in my area.  They have 12 months to get it in my area.

Not that I dislike Virgin’s broadband service.  It’s nippy (200Mbs download, 11Mbs upload).  The SuperHub AC router supplied works with Apple kit without crashing every 5 minutes like it used to (or with BT, every 2 minutes).  Super long lease times on the IPs (so if the broadband connection is every interrupted, I’m very likely to get the same IP – which is great if, like me, you have firewalls that don’t work with dynamic IP services).  I’ve not gone for a landline with Virgin Media is that the cheeky so-and-sos want 50 quid to activate the line.  Sky do not charge this.

So for a year, I’ll have landline and I’ll have broadband for the Q service.  It also essentially gives me a backup broadband connection if the Virgin Media connection goes down.   In a year’s time, I’ll evaluate what’s what and will either ditch Sky Broadband and stick with Virgin, or ditch Virgin and stick with Sky Broadband (hopefully upgrading to their superdupermegawotsit).

I intend to give Sky Q Silver the thrashing of its life over the next few months (once everything is installed – it does require an engineer visit) – and you can be sure that I’ll review as and when.