1. My setup
I'd rather not dwell too much on the environment I have to deal with... It's a horribly shaped room, too much concrete, tiles on the floor and a vide that resembles a transmission line. I know, not good, but it's what I have to work with.
a central Windows XP bases server (downstairs, in the kitchen), a flat
screen in the living room, coupled to an old DVD player as well as a media
player. I use a 5.1 setup with 'vintage' (expensive word for 'old') speakers
driven by a decent Sony receiver. Everything is set up for the introduction
of a real HTPC and a SqueezeBox... but I'm not quite there yet.
(Do not start talking to your watch now! Oh dear, that's a very poor KnightRider joke, even for me...)
I haven't got the most fancy setup, but I'm fairly happy with it... You have to keep this in mind: all components were collected over time, and the aim was to have a good home theater setup without making concessions to 'normal' music. I don't have a dedicated room but have to settle for my (irregular shaped and acoustically horrible) living room.
I tend to listen to music in a regular stereo setup (analogue 2 channels using only the front speakers, or digital 2.1 with the added subwoofer). To watch movies I use a 5.1 setup. Subwoofer and rear speakers I use for effect, not for perfect accuracy.
I bought my first set in 89 / 90 / 91, a Sony TA-F220, a Sony pulse CD player (forgot the number), a seperate Sony tuner, and a set of Jamo Compact 70 speakers. They were followed by a Sony DSP and a Sony cassettedeck. Not a very good decision, and I quickly replaced the speaker set with a pair of Magnat Vector 4 and a much better cassettedeck Sony TCK-77ES. I tend to buy fancy stuff when it's discounted, so yes, the TCK-77ES didn't come too expensive :-)
This setup served me well until 2007, when quickly one after the other the Sony CD player and the Sony amplifier died on me. (Oh well, about 17 years of service, I shouldn't complain too much.) That cassettedeck is still working today!
A Philips Ambilight television 42PF9831, which had a year long life as a showroom demo model before I bought it. Nice television, loads of inputs, and theoretically able to browse a network. Unfortunately it's not entirely full-HD, as it seems to do 1080i (interlaced), not 1080p (non-interlaced progressive scan). Haven't tested that yet.
Why a Philips? Well, mostly because of the Ambilight. It takes a little while to get used to, and then you love it. At least I do.
I'm not sure if the DA1200ES lives up to the 'ES' nominator, but it's heavy enough to be considered a fair member :-) It doesn't feature all possible / modern high definition sound decoders, and I'm not entirely convinced it's full 7.1 but I cannot test because I simply don't have a 7.1 setup at home. Power wise it's a bit short on breath... 5x 100W isn't enough to drive real good high end speakers, but as I haven't got the money for those kind of speakers that doesn't hurt too much.
Why not a 7.1 setup? Simple. My living room has the wrong shape, and I simply can't place the mid speakers anywhere. Perhaps I'll buy a pair of Jamo A510 flat speakers some day just to try.
The DA1200ES offers good sound, but I've found out that I tend to switch off all digital enhancements, effects and what not, and simply play audio over the analogue inputs, bypassing anything digital.
Update. I've bought (yet again at discount, as it was a discontinued older model) a new CD player. Now audio direct as well as digital with AFD-Auto sound good but not identical. As to be expected, the new CD player is analogue as well as digital a vast improvement. My ears and my kit simply are not good enough. I can hear the difference but can't figure out which one's better. Sorry.
Three noteworthy aspects: 1. the self-adjusting calibration is pretty good, 2. night-mode actually works, and 3. do not trust the downmix quality when it comes to replacing elements of your 2.1 / 5.1 / 7.1 setup.
That downmix issue needs a little extra attention: it should be possible to leave out a subwoofer and use the front speakers for the bass, and it should be possible to leave out the center speaker and use the television speakers. I tried both, and never achieved acceptable results. I assume the 'leaving out option' wasn't supposed to be used much, and I can hardly fault Sony for failing exotic demands, but still it would have been nice to have my subwoofer properly support music, instead of having to choose between rich 2.0 without the deepest basses, and less rich 2.1 / 5.1 mode which does feature that low bass...
A model from Sony from the ES series, this TCK-77ES is as good as (old affordable) tapedecks get. Playing a cassette with some classical music shocks most visitors, as it sounds better than their own home cinema set playing a CD. I seem to never use it much these days though, and just keep it for its shear coolness (and the aforementioned shock effect :-))...
Sony 1 bit (forgot the model number)
When my old Sony broke down I used a JVC DVD player for a while as my CD player, but it wasn't very convincing. The subsequent IISonic DVD player / HDD recorder did a better job, analogue as well as digital, but still wasn't 'there'. At last, I decided to buy something decent. I've been reading up on CD players for months, and listened to a few in the different shops. Unfortunately, most shops are too noisy, and the few ones where you can listen at your convenience have a. way to good equipment, making my own kit sound awfully poor, and b. all too often carry only those models reserved for those with deep, very deep pockets.
After six months or so I decided to buy a Cambridge. One of their cheaper models, but still pretty good. Then, on my way home, I decided to drop in at a local but very large large 'consumer electronics' outlet. They did sell old stock of Marantz CD players. They had different models, so I skipped the Cambridge shop, and drove on home, where I (again) poured many hours over CD player specs and reviews.. Insert appropriate sigh, I know.
In they end I did buy one of those discontinued older Marantz models, the CD6002, and I've been very happy with it ever since. It's a superb player with digital and analogue outputs.
2009 IISonic IIPV5NU
A friend gave me an IISonic IIPV5NU DVD player / HDD recorder build using spare parts. There is not even a proper label on the bottom :-) I couldn't I find anything about this box on the Internet. But hey, it works, and you cannot complain about something you got for free :-)
It's a pity the harddrive in the thing makes such a noise, and I have been unable to find another drive that is recognised by it. Also, the DVD drive starts making noise lately, so perhaps this thing will have to go... soon. Especially as the HDMI output is limited to 720p, no 1080i to be found...
None here yet. But I've been considering buying an LG, a Samsung, a Sony, or even a PlayStation 3. Since 3D arrived on the scene, prices have seriously dropped (and the IISonic is starting to make noise).
Jamo Cmpact 70
Now there's a weird mix :-) All due to historical reasons...
As my front speakers I did use a pair of old Magnat Vector 4, which I bought new whilst in the army They simply sounded right to my poor and underqualified ears :-) These speakers may be old (1994) and many doubt the build and / or sound quality, but I like the way they sound. They definitely sound a lot better than many new 5.1 components, though perhaps lacking a bit in top high. Then again, I'm getting older, so highs are gone anyway :-)
I've now upgraded to a pair of Mangat Magnasphere Lambda 10, of similar
vintage. Somewhat affordable second hand, and they sound great for sound
The old Vector 4 front speakers replaced the small Jamo's. Once you've
got serious surround speakers you're not going to go back.
This little side project resulted in a nice bass which stays on the background most of the time but does deliver a (bit of a) punch when required. I'd love a bigger / heavier one with a bit of support for even lower frequencies, but there's a physical limit called 'living space'. And a financial limit called 'wife and kids' :-)
Update 2010. I still have to paint the thing :-) It seems the 'impact' of the subwoofer is slowly fading, for whatever reason. Less of a punch, more of a fill-in. Weird... It might be the speaker itself which isn't supposed to be used firing downwards.
Update 2011. I've now painted it, converted to front firing, and added some dampening material. All together this improved the sound and made it blend in better when playing music. (I think the driver sagging due to incorrect driver orientation was the major culprit.) For movies I prefered the downfiring configuration though. Here's that same sub after painting, next to the good ol' Magnasphere Lambda 10...
Just a few notes on (the use of and the need for) a subwoofer.
My Magnat Vector 4 front speakers go down deep, and do that fairly well. I think they were supposed to pick up somewhere in the 30 or 40 hz range, but to get serious around 50 to 60 Hz. The label on the back claims 25 hz to 25 khz, but that's marketing talk.
Anyway, when using test tones, there's nothing to be heard around 20 hz, but at 30 hz you can clearly 'feel' the woofers of the Magnat (front and surround) speakers moving. Literally 'feel' because, even though the drivers are moving, there's little in the way of 'sound'. I've been trying the same test sounds with my homebuild subwoofer, which at first glance doesn't seem to do much more. But then at those low frequencies 'listening' is only half the story, you need to 'feel' that bass. On top of that, music is not a continuous test-tone, it a harmonic, chaotic mix of frequencies and amplitudes, and the (analogue) filters in the Magnat front speakers, as well as the digital filters in the amplifier may behave rather differently when confronted with the messy chaos that music is.
In fact, the sub does add to the overall sound stage. When playing an analogue music CD over the analogue input, sound is clear, crisp, the soundstage is wide. Bass is clearly there. When playing that same CD in AFD, the subwoofer seems to be able to squeeze a bit more out of it, just at the bottom of the front speakers' range. Unfortunately, the amplifier's filtering is a little too aggressive, taking some bass away from the front speakers, even when those still have breathing space left. I might try to set all parameters manually to see if that helps, but I haven't explored all options yet.
Movies are a whole different story. There this little (?) sub delivers. Do not expect an extreme heavy overpowering thud (the speaker simply isn't powerfull enough for that) but there is enough going on to make you feel (un)comfortable. All in all well worth the effort of building one.
you use your front speakers for that deep bass when your speakers are good
enough? Yeah, you can. Or you could.
In the original (Dolby) 5.1 encoding scheme (intended for cinema use) the LFE channel is a fully seperate channel, totally unrelated to the normal front channels. It is limited to 120 Hz (in DTS it's not limited to 120 Hz) and it's intended to be used for Low Frequence Effects or LFE. It's not a regular sound channel, or at least it's not supposed to be. Movies are supposed to sound good on 2.0 and 4.0 systems as well, with sufficient bass. In other words, the LFE channel is not the bass channel, the front speakers should be able to handle regular bass which is provided over the normal left and right channel
As every modern home theater setup has a dedicated subwoofer, and knowing the source of lower frequencies is harder to locate, and wifes tend to dislike larger speakers, many manufacturers have decreased the size of the front and surround speakers, moving more and more bass to the subwoofer. Unfortunately, they typically go too far, leaving you no other choice but to put the subwoofer in the center, below your screen, as it's getting too easy to locate. Obviously, manufacturing smaller speakers is cheaper, and small speakers are what the wife wants :-) Still admit it... they sound worse. Sorry.
the physical subwoofer has nothing to do with the LFE channel, except
that it is perhaps the most suitable speaker in your setup to handle low
frequency sound, but that's about it.
What a difference a CAP makes...
It's possible to 'upgrade' a speaker by modifying the filters. In general, MKP sounds better than MKT, which sounds better than regular bipolar capacitors, but beware! Sometimes replacing the capacitors may bring other shortcomings to light, and the resulting sound will be worse than the original sound. If you want to try to upgrade, do so only one component at a time, and listen to the results... Upgrading might make more sense if the speakers are very old (capacitors can age). My experience (most to least impact, and I haven't tried replacing coils):
they are great when used as surround speakers, and yes, I know that's a
bit of overkill :-)
hear any difference between expensive and cheaper speaker cable. However
the difference between sufficiently 'thick' speaker cable and the often
standard 'thin' stuff was incredible. Make sure you buy speaker cable that's
thick enough! (And pretty much ignore expensive interlinks and the like.)
convinced that the sound changes over time, as components age. Think of
capacitors, speaker rubber / foam rings and capacitors... I'm not that
convinced of burn-in affecting the sound quality of some other components
cables... (To be honest, the idea of 'burning-in' pieces
of copper seems to me fairly nonsense, but feel free to start sponsoring
me so I can be enlightened...)
Wifi is a pain. Get yourself some CAT5e cable and start running them through your house for the best experience. Restrict Wifi to mobile devices such as an iPad.
If you buy new equipment, buy Gigabit stuff. The price difference is marginal, and Gigabit makes copying lots of large files a bit more comfortable.
There are three ways of getting media information from a central device (server or NAS) to your player, then onto your screen...
DLNA is a standard to allow devices to share their content across a home network. See http://www.dlna.org/home.
UPNP allows different devices on a home network to exchange information without the user having to configure anything. UPNP-AV is an extension to that standard.
Simplistically put, if your media device talks UPNP and / or DLNA there's a good chance it will work. That's good.
Unfortunately, not all those devices play nice, and not all of them talk the same language. That's bad.
Perhaps worst of all, all those applications and devices cannot seem to agree on a certain feature set. For example my Philips LCD television, the 42PF9831, cannot resize the screen / aspect when playing something from a UPnP server. That's silly. There are also some controls lacking, and if you look around on the Internet it seems that there is still a lot to be done: many players / devices do not support thumbnail previews, others can't properly fast forward, do not support all formats, do not properly identify themselves, and the list goes on.
This makes DLNA / UPnP a lot less interesting, to be honest... And, to make things even better: the two terms are sometimes intermixed. Godoy.
If you got a home network with a server (Windows or something else) you could allow other devices to access the shared files on that media server. Pretty much it's using the SMB (AKA Samba) protocol. Of course, these devices have to talk the same protocol on both sides, meaning most (dumb) non-PC devices can't access these shares. If your server is a PC, and your HTPC is a PC, no problem.
When using shares, the client (player) is actually accessing the files on the server, and it's the client that does the thinking. This is perhaps the easiest way, but the client needs to have the right software (codecs) to play whatever file is on the server. All intelligence is local.
It does make sense to stay organised, see organize below for a few suggestions for possible paths and share names.
Here the server is spoon feeding the data to the client. For this purpose some program is running on the server side, and some other program on the client side. There's intelligence on both sides (beyound normal file sharing) to make this work. Typically, this is used when watching movies in a browser, or listening to Internet radio stations. Clients can be a bit dumber but servers have to be a bit smarter. Quality may not always be the best possible once you deal with 'on the fly' conversions (AKA transcoding).
Though at first glance it doesn't seem to matter much, power consumption could be an issue. Obviously, it all depends on the usage, costs of electricity, etcetera. So:
Do consider power consumption!
I've added a little table here to show you some power figures I've measured in my setup, using different hardware. Note that in many setups you may end up with more than one box consuming power... besides your television and eventual 7.1 800 Watts receiver that is :-) Some example setups:
compiled some numbers for some platforms. The table below shows operating
costs as of 2011 using Dutch energy prices based on my own typical usage
pattern. (And no matter what I put in this table, it's going to be different
in your case anyway, as no two PC's are alike, and no two users have exactly
the same habits...)
To keep things in perspective I added a few lines with different devices and their yearly costs when switched on all the time. Scary numbers, even when I'm not a tree hugger. I still have to add some numbers for AV kit, but when you're dealing with (always on) Class A audio amplifiers things start to get really interesting ...
you want to download the actual sheet, it's here: mediasoup
1. If you use a NAS, and media player without WOL, and you do not want to 'switch on' your NAS or server, you need to run that NAS 24 hours a day. This is pretty silly, even a SqueezeBox has a WOL, so why is there no such feature on most mediaplayers?
2. If you use a SqueezeBox player and you want snappy (web) response then take a Windows / Linux based server, or one of the more expensive NAS boxes (a cheap NAS is too sluggish in responding, causing lots of frustration).
3. If your server has to be able to transcode 'on the fly' (TVersity) consider at least an I3. Otherwise an Atom D510 will do fine.
4. If you use older hardware (P4, Amd 64, perhaps even the Athlon X2) you need WOL, without WOL you should consider upgrading to an I3. Note that there is a huge difference in power consumption between early and later incarnations of the I3.
5. Idle power is largely defined by (the efficiency of) the power supply and the mainboard, NOT the CPU (unfortunately documentation is often scarce, and who can afford buying multiple mainboards just to check on idle power consumption).
6. Consider upgrading other machines at home as well, but have a good look at the payback time. Actual real life usage of the old Amd64 listed above seems to be less than 90 euros per year. A new machine would consume perhaps half, but if it would cost 300 euros, it would take 6 years to get the difference back. Within that timeframe, the (10 years old) Amd64 is certain to fail, which is a good moment to replace it at that moment. That's called delayed investment :-)
7. Do you need a torrent running 24/7? If not, just have it run in the background on your normal desktop machine. Whenever you use your machine, it will download, which makes sense as your PC probably isn't doing much most of the time, except waiting for the user :-)
8. Consider one of those 'all in one' media players as well. Some of them come with a 2 TB drive, file sharing, torrent client, and more.
all comes down to costs vs. performance vs. requirements. Note that results
on the Internet vary wildly. For example, some sites report the I3 idling
at 40 W, others as idling at 90W though this may be due to the generation
of I3, but sometimes it's hard to figure out. Sigh. Still, it seems the
I3 is a safe choice if you want to do a bit more than just storage.
Real life example of recycling older machine(parts)
Media 4 - using a mix of new and old parts:
Buy or build a machine suitable for your purpose. Pick the right CPU and consider power consumption. Get yourself a good power supply unit.
To play everything you'll need a HTPC. There's no other option with so much flexibility. HTPC's are full PC's and thus may suffer from the same problems, including blue screens and fan noise :-)
I have been using two old laptops as HTPC's, a Dell Lattitude D510 and a Dell Lattitude D810. Just load XP on it, install XMBC for Windows and you're pretty much done. They won't run XBMC Live (well) due to missing graphic drivers. But an old laptop is not a real HTPC, and I'm perfectly aware of it.
The MyGica is a 2011 media player from the far east. It's typical target group is Chinese and it offers some special streaming functions for chinese TV channels and movies. Though that does not stop you from using it as a regular media player outside China :-)
Sorry. Still have to add a few lines on this thing but it's working fine :-)
Or you could use the real thing: a Logitech Squeezebox...
If you're not bying into the complete Apple universe, but still want to use that iPad you have to get fancy. Still, there's probably nothing better but an iPad to leisurely browse through your photo collection whilst relaxing on your couch... There's enough stuff on the web on setting up the client side. Check out this little list for the combinations and tools I tried or am using.
The Apple alternative. Again, there's enough on the web for the client side. Check out this little list for the combinations and tools I tried or am using.
Sorry. Only got an Android phone and an iPad, but feel free to donate an Android tablet :-)
More on the BB8900 here.
Pretty much useless, but fun nevertheless :-)
Note: the names of the different browsers may differ from model to model and provider to provider. You're not so much changing the browser on the device itself, but the way it retrieves information. I use a T-Mobile Curve 8900 which offers me three options:
not entirely sure what causes the problems. It seems to be related not
only to codec but also to filesize, which is weird. It's not important
enough to investigate though.