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New Home = New Home Cinema System

Posted by Ub3rG33k on Nov 9, 2015 in Apple, Films, Tech

As some of you may be aware, I finally got my butt into gear and bought my first house back in June. When C and I were looking for a new house, once of the criteria was my very own ManCave, containing all the previous home cinema and gaming equipment that previously lived in the front room at the old house. These consisted of previous speaker system, Pioneer VSX922 amp, and all my games consoles.

Below is a pic of my current ManCave, Although it needs a lick of paint, all the tech is in place and fully functional in its new home.

ManCave

I got the thumbs up from C that we could get some state of the art tech for the front room, as I didn’t really want to be forking out again for a wee while.

First tech added was a new shiny 4K TV (LG 60UF770V). Although there’s not a whole lot of content out at the moment, the 4K up scaling works well, the TV is now smart (compared to the previous Samsung Series 5 dumb TV). Although the TV does widen the sound with its build in 4 speakers, it wasn’t a patch on a proper home cinema system.

The next piece of tech was the new AppleTV, with Apple Music now being a part of the new TV, I decided it was time to finally drop on the remainder of the home entertainment system so I could hear the music through a decent system. I did a reasonable amount of research, and with wanting to stay cutting edge, I had my eye on amps with either Dolby Atmos or DTS:X technology. Now if you’re unsure what these are, these works similar to 7.1, however instead of just sending any non-directional sound to the front high/rear speaker, they have their own dedicated front high track. This means that any scenes that have the likes of helicopters flying over, or rain, will sound amazing.

My first, TrueHD amp was the Onkyo TX-SR606, it was good, but had a known issue that meant it didn’t live too long. I then upgraded to the Pioneer VSX922 which was a great improvement as had network capabilities added Airplay support, a companion app and internet radio. Being happy with the Pioneer amp, I started looking around for one of these but with the new tech, however after a bit of searching around, I couldn’t find anything in my price range. Then a little Denon AVR-X2200W receiver caught my eye, not only was it Denon, but it came with but Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, so I decided to drop on it.

As all the speakers were being used in the ManCave, I took the opportunity to spend a little more of the new speakers to compliment the Denon amp. I went with the Mission MX3 floor standing speakers, Mission MXC1 Centre Speaker, Pioneer SHS100 5.1 Speaker Package for the surround, front high and subwoofer, (as I’ve previously bought this package, and the sub is good, and the rest of the speakers are good for surround speakers).

After a day of wiring and mounting speakers, it was time to give it a test run, however, I had no Atmos or DTS:X content. I did a little googling and found an every growing list of Atmos encoded blurays. Being a fan of the Transformers films, I decided to get Transformers: Age of Extinction on next day delivery. Wanting to also test DTS:X I did a similar search, to find there was currently only one bluray encoded in DTS:X, and that’s Ex Machina, again eager to test the system, I ordered it on next day delivery.

While I waited for the blurays, I decided to simply play with the new audio options. As long as you had at least a Dolby Digital track (which most of the HD channels on my Virgin box seemed to have), you can enable Dolby Digital + Dolby Surround. This works similar to Dolby ProLogic IIz which works out which tracks should go to the high speakers. Initially, it took a little getting used to, as what was previously quite a focused sounds, now felt the sound was coming from the entire wall. This is however now my default settings, as it really does add a lot of height and width to the audio, whilst maintaining a clean centre focus.

The following day both blurays arrived, so it was time for the final test. Now I had somehow managed to convince C that with the price of the Xbox One dropping like a stone, maybe we should get another for the front room to use as a media player/bluray player, so decided this would be the player of choice to test the new system. I dragged mine down from the ManCave and plugged it in. Unfortunately after about an hour worth of playing around in the settings on the amp and Xbox, I resorted to google, only to find the Xbox will never be able to pass the additional tracks to the amp. Without going into too much detail, for an amp to even receive the additional tracks, you have to pass uncompressed bitstream audio to it. The bitstream options on the Xbox One are currently DTS bitstream or Dolby Digital bitstream, neither of these contain the additional tracks. The default audio setting for the Xbox is 7.1 PCM which is good, but again, not compatible with Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. So I went to plan B, go grab the PS4. This worked a treat, switched the output to uncompressed bitstream and I got the lovely Atmos symbol appear on the amp. I flicked through Transformers and some of the scenes definitely had a lot more height to them. As a sanity test, I took the PS4 and bluray back up to the ManCave to listen through the 7.2 set up there. Although the same helicopter tracks did sound high, they weren’t a patch on the downstairs Atmos setup.

Happy with the Atmos test, I took everything back downstairs to test DTS:X. I popped in Ex Machina, played a couple of chapters for it only to show True-HD. I check the back of the bluray, only to find no DTS:X track listed!…..after a little googling, it seems only the US version of the bluray had the DTS:X track, and the one I have only has 5.1 TrueHD…bummer. Although I quite enjoyed the film, I’m not sure it’s a good test the technology, so await American Ultra being released so I can hear how good it sounds.

Once I’d finished testing, I took my PS4 back to the ManCave and decided to buy a standalone bluray player, as I didn’t really fancy lugging my PS4 up and downstairs every time I wanted to watch a bluray, so popped out to the local Currys store and picked up a Samsung BD-J5500. For £50, it’s not bad at all, not only is it network enabled, it had Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and a DLNA player built it, and also had the option to output audio in uncompressed bitstream.

Below are a few unboxing pictures of the amp, some work in progress setup picture. Please note, no cows were harmed during the installation.

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Apple to dominate the streaming world?

Posted by Ub3rG33k on Jul 24, 2012 in Apple, Films, Tech

Before you read, this isn’t based on any official news, just my speculation.

Over the past couple of years in the UK, more and more steaming companies have been popping up and as  internet speeds rise in the UK, it’s becoming more practical for the like of BBC, ITV, Channel4, Channel5 and various other terrestrial providers to offer a steaming service. Youtube now host many TV programs and films, and it won’t be long until they offer a monthly set fee subscription model.

Personally I cancelled my Sky ‘normal TV’ subscription over a year ago now, and have been fed my visual entertainment via streaming and rental services.

Until recently, I had the Lovefilm streaming service as well as Netflix, however I made the choice and decided to kill off Lovefilm. Personally I prefer a ‘all you can eat’ service if I’m paying a monthly fee, not a monthly fee plus an additional ‘pay for anything that’s worth watching’ fee.

Sky have recently released NowTV, offering either pay as you go model or a set fee ‘watch as much as you want’ service. This currently only has movies, but they plan to add everything Sky subscribes have been able to access via SkyPlayer.

This all led me to think, why the hell don’t Apple offer this kind of service, I assumed it was some kind of licencing, however as of Friday, all my previously purchased movies were available to stream from the iCloud, which hopefully they’ve now signed whatever contracts are needed to allow movie streaming in the UK (and 35 other countries).

Apple do have a huge range of TV programs and Films on a ‘pay as you go’ rental and buy model (probably a larger library than Netflix and Lovefilm put together (in the UK)), and if they offered this at a reasonable monthly price, this would surely increase the sales of Apple TV, as well as collecting a monthly subscription.

I hope that Apple doing things the Apple way, possibly, hopefully in the near future Apple will offer a streaming service ?

Fingers crossed!

ps, I would however like to point out my previous prediction of the AppleTV being Apples game console haven’t yet come try….but I live in hope.

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Finally digitised

Posted by Ub3rG33k on Oct 31, 2010 in Apple, Films

Many many moons ago, I spent the best part of 3 months, ripping all my CD’s to mp3, ensuring all the meta tag info was correct, and the album artwork was present.

This year, it’s time for my DVD collection.

As some of you may know, I’ve recently bought an Apple TV (well 2 actually), and a 4TB Raid Storage device to store all my media.

After playing around with the Apple TV, I noticed the feature of “Computers”, and how this would stream anything from my iTunes library on my MacMini. As a test, I added a few more items (as I only had the “Digital Copies” from some of my recent DVD purchases), and these streamed fine, so decided to work on ripping my entire collection.

So, about a 2 months ago, I set to work using Handbrake to start ripping all my DVD’s to a “iTunes happy” format. Handbrake comes with a number of default settings, and I found using the default “Apple TV” format gave a good balance between quaility and file size. Another great feature of this default setting is that not only does it rip the 5.1 audio stream (allowing this to be played via the Apple TV), it also took the 5.1 track and down sampled this to 2 channels, allowing this to be played on any other device that can read mp4 format.

So two painful month have passed, and I’ve finally ripped all my DVD movies, meta tagged them, and added them to the iTunes library on the MacMini.

To get all 276 DVD Movies, and multiple TV boxsets ripped into iTunes I had 5 Macs all running Handbrake 0.94 and spent every spare moment at home switching disks as they finished. I had no problem with 95% of the disk, as they ripped first time. I did however find problems with some of the newer disks, and had to use either MacTheRipper to rip them to my hard drive, or if that didn’t work Ripit seemed to get it done. Once on my hard drive, I was able to then covert them.

As you can imagine, the disks were all finishing at different times, and initially found myself checking the progress every hour or so. If a disk had finished, I then started the next disk going. After the first 50 disks or so, I decided there had to be a smarter way. After a little research, I found I could redirect the growl messages (for when the encoding was complete), to my iPhone. The software I used on my iPhone was Boxcar, this combined with a plugin for growl would then send me a push notification upon completion.

I noticed after I’d ripped them all, the some of the media looks a little “jaggy” (namely the animation, and some older films), after reading the forums, people suggested turning on the Detelecine setting in the Picture setting, and this worked a treat. I did have to re-rip a handful of disks, but it was no biggy.

Once I’d ripped a film, I used a piece of software called iDentify, this searches TheMovieDB, tagChimp and TheTVDB and fill in all the meta information, including chapter names (if available), actors, rating, artwork etc.

I soon realised that if I named the film by it’s IMDB name, eg tt0092610, as in http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092610/, this would allow the software to instantly find the correct film. With the TV episodes, I learnt to look on TheTVDB.com first, and made sure the episodes I was ripping matched the naming on there, eg “Battlestar Galactica (2003)”, and then adding s01e01…and continued this throughout the boxsets. The result of this was the files renamed to either the IMDB name or TVDB name.

1 slight bugbear I had, was the TV boxsets that didn’t run in order. An example of this was the run order of Star Trek TNG, on one of the disks I believe it went 108, 116, 115, 117, or something like that. This meant I had to fire up the disk, and check the episode list before ripping, so I could name the files correctly, ensuring when the meta data was applied, it was correct for that episode.

All in all, a worthwhile task, I now have instant access to all my music, TV and movies from either the bedroom or front room.

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