My Home Theater Setup

Realized I never posted about what is normally a geek’s pride and joy, my home theater. It’s been done for over a year now and have gotten to really like it. Here’s the quick rundown:

  • 42″ 720p Panasonic Plasma (TH-42PX77U)
  • Onkyo TX-SR605 A/V Receiver
  • Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player
  • AV123 X-SLS tower speakers and X-CS center speaker in Palisander Natural Satin
  • HTPC/PVR running Vista
  • Adesso Wireless RF Keyboard with Touchpad (WKB-4000US)
  • FireFly RF remote

I didn’t go the cheapest route possible, but I wanted to get the most bang for my buck. I looked for the sweet spots in terms of price and planned the system with these goals in mind:

  1. Finding a TV that met my expectations
  2. Full range speakers to avoid need for subwoofer
  3. Minimal amount of cabling
  4. Minimal living room footprint
  5. DVR and media capability

Solving Goal #1 – Choosing the right TV

There’s basically three types of HDTVs: LCD, Plasma, and rear projection. LCD viewing angles can be hit and miss, some panels perform better than others, but I find picture quality lacking. Rear projection sets also suffer from viewing angle problems. That left Plasma which also happens to produce a superb picture and was a bit of a premium when I bought it (about half the price now, but that’s typical of technology). Research and comparisons sold me on the 42″ Panasonic which has a really effective anti-glare coating and just overall spectacular picture quality.

Solving Goal #2 – Getting great sound without a subwoofer

A condo isn’t exactly an audiophile’s paradise. Low frequencies like to travel in all directions and aren’t really impeded by things like walls. Hearing bass thumping through the wall is not fun and I didn’t want to be that neighbor. I was able to rule out a lot of speakers since they wouldn’t cover enough frequencies without a subwoofer. I discovered the world of internet direct speaker manufacturers and finally decided on AV123’s X series speakers which feature real wood veneers and solidly built enclosures. I made the purchase without listening to them, but after many glowing reviews and personal testimonies I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. They’re big, but they produce great sound, very natural and transparent with a wide soundstage.

Solving Goal #3 – Reduce cable clutter with HDMI

If you hate having lots of cables, HDMI is a dream come true. High definition video and audio over one cable helps to reduce the clutter behind your entertainment center. The Onkyo 605 has HDMI upconversion so only one cable to the TV is needed if you have non-HDMI connections. I did run an optical cable down to the receiver to get audio while watching live TV. Using a 50′ HDMI I was able to get my HTPC out of sight and prevent more clutter. How many cables did I need for the entire system including power, HDMI and speakers? 11.

Solving Goal #4 – Keeping the footprint small

We don’t have a huge living room and it would be easy to over do it. With a couch and chair the only place to put a TV stand was in the corner. I found a minimalistic corner TV stand that would accept both my receiver and center speaker and fit in the corner well. The one thing I hadn’t really anticipated was placing the speakers on the side required pulling the stand out of the corner more than I would have liked. Even with it pulled out, the system only occupies one corner of the room and doesn’t really dominate the room.

Solving Goal #5 – Serving up fun with a Home Theater PC

I took a different approach than most people do with my HTPC; I didn’t want it in my living room. First off we don’t really have space for it and trying to silence a computer can become expensive. HDMI capable video cards are pretty common now so I did some research about long HDMI runs. Turns out 50′ isn’t hard to do with a lower gauge cable. This let me keep the HTPC up in the loft where I didn’t particularly care if it was silent. The Adesso keyboard and FireFly remote are both RF based and have more than enough range.

Footnote on HD-DVD and Blu-ray

I cashed in credit card rewards for Circuit City gift cards and got my HD-DVD player for free so I don’t really mind that Blu-ray won. I don’t buy movies so my migration will be fairly painless if I ever buy a Blu-ray player. I would have had to buy an upconverting DVD player anyways and the Toshiba does a great job with standard definition discs. If prices on Blu-ray computer drives keep dropping then that might the direction I go.


Well not exactly like Tivo, but close enough. I had gotten tired of trying to tape shows or download them after they had showed and I wanted a better way to do things. Being the practical person I am (it also helps that I’m cheap) I decided to turn my computer into a High Definition Personal Video Recorder (HDPVR). I had been watching shows on my computer for a while and thought why not make the process easier and get better quality at the same time. Tivo would be nice but I’d rather not have to pay a monthly fee to get full functionality and I’m looking towards the future and an HD tv.

I decided on pulling down over the air (OTA) high definition because I don’t want to pay for TV and 90% of the shows I care to watch are broadcast for free. Next I bought a HD tuner card, VBOX DTA-150 ATSC HDTV receiver, and ran coax from our rooftop antenna to my room. The funny thing is you don’t need a special antenna to get HD signals but they’d probably try to sell you an “HDTV” antenna at one of the big box stores. I hooked up the 20-30 year old antenna on our roof and it works great.

Next I had to decide what software to run to manage and schedule all of my recordings and playback them back. I started off with GBPVR, open source, and it worked ok but I just wasn’t very satisfied and had to fuss with it. I looked at the commercial offerings, I didn’t want Microsoft Media Center so I tried the trial of BeyondTV. Wow, what a difference and the nicest thing about it is that it works great with minimal configuration. Trial was only for 21 days and it was reasonably priced, but they were throwing in a decent Firefly RF remote for free for a limited time so I bit and ordered it.

In this process I also found out that an hour of uncompressed HD video can take up about 6-8 GB on the hard drive so I had to order a new 250 GB Western Digital SATA drive to expand my 160 GB storage capacity to about 400 GB.

So I pretty much have all the functionality of Tivo for a fraction of the price, considering the new HD Tivo they just released is well over $600, plus the monthly $13.