Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why I'm Going to Pass on Blu-Ray

Being a home theater buff, I jumped in early in the high definition movie game. I already had an Xbox 360, so it was relatively painless for me to purchase the HD-DVD add-on. I bought a handful of movies and the quality was always fantastic. In my basement I have a 106" projector from Panasonic and its much easier to tell the quality improvements of high definition movies on the big screen.

Now that HD-DVD has ceased to exist, I've contemplated whether or not to buy a Blu-Ray player. So far I've opted not to, and I will probably maintain that position. The reason is that I see movie downloads taking over in the near future. I have always been able to download a small selection of HD movies on my Xbox 360, but it takes a long time for the download to complete. But a couple of new options may soon change that.

Apple TV allows you to stream HD movies on a rental basis. From what I understand, HD movies begin playing within minutes with a fast broadband connection rather than hours. Furthermore, Apple recently signed contracts that enable them to offer downloads of movies on the same day the DVD is released. Its a great little device, but the prices are a bit expensive in my opinion. New HD releases are currently $4.99, but I've gotten used to paying a monthly flat fee at Netflix for 3 rentals at a time.

Netflix last week released a set-top box made by Roku that is HD capable. Free movie downloads are included with a regular Netflix membership and movies start playing right away. The downside is that HD movies are not currently available and the selection of films is currently very limited.

Apple TV clearly has the better library of new films, but I love the Netflix monthly membership model. Its only a matter of time before these services become full featured movie boxes with quick downloads and huge film libraries at low prices. If this happens soon, I'll be skipping Blu-Ray altogether.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Running Out of DirecTV Cables?

If you have a DirecTV DVR, then you may know that you have the ability to connect two coaxial cables to the receiver to record one program while watching another. Its a great feature, but one problem you may run into is that you need to run 2 wires from the satellite into the house in order for this to work properly. I currently have 4 wires running into the house....2 for the DVR and 2 to standard receivers. This configuration uses all of the wires coming off my dish and I have none left over if I wanted to add an additional receiver.

The new Swing Wire LNB from directv solves this by giving you the ability to run signals to all of your directv equipment from one wire using a standard high-bandwidth splitter. This equipment is not out yet and should eventually be worked into new installs. However, I'm curious to find out if this piece is compatible with my current dish. I'm not excited about installing an entirely new dish but I would consider a modification.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

RF Remote vs. IR Remote

The most common type of remote control receiver is the IR remote. It works very well, but it does have limitations. With an ir vs rf remote control, you typically must have a very clear line of site from the remote to the device that you are trying to control. Virtually every consumer electronics device is equipped with this type of remote. A great option for a full featured IR remote is the Logitech Harmony One (affiliate link).

There is another technology, however, that offers a far better range in terms of distance. RF remotes use radio frequencies that travel far and can easily pass through walls and floors. You can put a piece of equipment in the basement or top level and control it from the main floor. The advantage of this type of remote is the ability to hide your equipment for a better presentation. You could keep all of your equipment in a closet that is easily hidden from view but still have full control over your devices.

Most consumer electronic devices do not come equipped with this technology. Directv HD receivers do have this option built in, but most equipment does not.

There is a way to add this feature with an RF remote that comes with an RF wireless extender. The Logitech Harmony 1100 Universal Remote with Color Touch Screen and the Logitech® Harmony® RF Wireless Extender are a great combination of touchscreen remote and wireless extender. The remote can be programmed via your computer to control all of your devices. You can set up tasks like watch tv or play dvd. When you press the button, the remote automatically turns on the proper equipment the selects the proper inputs and sources. It can even control lighting in a home theater.

The extender works with the remote by taking the RF signals and translating them into IR signals that will communicate with all of your components. You can keep all of your devices in a cabinet up to 100 feet away from your television. This can be critical if you are trying to install a flat panel tv on a wall while hiding all of the wires and components in another room.

When comparing IR remotes vs. RF remotes, they each have distinct advantages. IR remote devices are nearly universal and work with nearly every relevant consumer electronics device. However, RF remotes offer great advantages when controlling a device from a large distance or a device that is tucked away in a cabinet.  

Thursday, May 22, 2008

How to Create an Obituary Online

There are a number of tools available online to show you how to create an obituary. automatically composes an obituary for you after you answer some questions online. You can then use it for a newspaper obituary or for family members.

If you are looking for sample obituary formats, try the funeral directory . Free obituary templates are available at

Its not a tool you want to use often but it is available to help when needed.

Locate a cell phone on a map with Iphone

Iphone has a cool relatively new feature that allows you to locate a cell phone on a map through the use of google maps. I tried this out with an iphone and the feature worked great. It basically works by using cell phone tower information and enabled local wifi networks. Just select the maps function on the iphone and then select the crosshair in the bottom left corner. After a few minutes your location appears on a map. Its not a pinpoint location like a GPS system would provide, but it does give you your general location. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Roku Netflix Player Looks to Revolutionize Home Movie Downloads

Netflix has partnered with streaming media specialist Roku to create the Netflix set-top player. Its a very cool $99 device that allows you to stream Netflix instant watch movies for free if you have a Netflix account.

Netflix has about 10,000 movies available for instant streaming. Up until now, you could only watch these movies on your computer, or by hooking your computer up to your pc. Its a nice option when I want to download movies and watch them on my laptop instantly. But this box frees Netflix from the computer and allows you to access and play full length free download movies on your TV.

The box is about the size of a paperback book and is HD capable. You can connect the box using a HDMI, component, or s-video cable and it includes an optical audio cable.

Early reports suggest that fast-forwarding and rewinding doesn't work well yet. You also need to add movies to your queue in order to see them available on your set-top box.

The only other downside I see is the lack of new movies. Lots of new releases are not available for streaming at this point. Also, HD is not yet an option.

Will a low-priced subscription model eliminate But if Netflix can boost the movie count and include HD, it could gain a big following.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Set Up Email Forwarding in Gmail

Email forwarding is a great feature that Gmail gives you at no extra cost. Setting it up is simple and I've included a guide below for you to follow. You can choose an email address that you would like your mail forwarded to, and decide whether or not to keep a copy for yourself. You can also set up an email filter that allows you to only forward specific emails of your choosing.

Yahoo Mail also offers this feature but you need to sign up for mail plus for $19.95 a month. Hotmail allows you to forward to one other email address but does not give you additional options.

Email Forwarding for Gmail:

Log into gmail and select settings. Click the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab. Select Forward a copy of incoming mail to and

You can also archive gmail's copy or delete gmail's copy.

To set up a filter, select settings, filter, and create a new one. You will see the following selections:

Choose search criteria Specify the criteria you'd like to use for determining what to do with a message as it arrives. Use "Test Search" to see which messages would have been filtered using these criteria.
Has the words:
Doesn't have:

Show current filters

After selecting your criteria, you will see the following options:
Choose action - Now, select the action you'd like to take on messages that match the criteria you specified.
When a message arrives that matches the search: from:tigerdirect, do the following:

(Archive it)
Show current filters

Click the forward box and type in the email address that you want this filter forwarded to.

How To Set Up Google Apps For Your Small Business

I recently set up Google Apps at my business for email and calendar. Its a great set of tools that Google provides businesses free of charge. Here are a few of the features that you will get with Google Apps.

Overall, its very easy to set up. I moved my company email over to the Google mail server because of the cheap storage and all of the great features included in Gmail, particularly Imap which lets you sync your email account with either a mobile device (Google app iphone) or outlook, rather than download multiple copies like a POP server. If you send a message on your mobile device, it will automatically update and show in your gmail account.
  • Gmail with customer email addresses using your domain and almost 7 GB of storage per user. Plus, mobile access, integrated contacts and calendar, virus and spam protection, and IMAP, POP, and email forwarding.
  • Google Calendar - Share events with other employees.
  • Google Talk - IM contacts
  • Google Docs - Create and share word processing documents, spreadsheet, and presentations.
An administrator can create accounts for users, set privalages and reset passwords. Setting up your domain name requires you to create user accounts and then change the MX records with your domain host. Instructions for changing your MX records on Google Apps varies depending on who your host is, so be sure to look at the specific instructions.

Imap or POP can easily be set up by logging into your new gmail account and clicking settings. Simply, enable IMAP and then set it up on whatever client you will use it with such as Microsoft Outlook. If you want to know, how to setup an smtp for email forwarding or IMAP for outlook, visit the Google help center for specific instructions related to your email client.

Calendar is a great feature that allows you to share meetings and appointments with other employees. Anytime someone updates a calendar, you can see it on your own calendar. Great feature, especially for free.

Google docs allows you to share documents and spreadsheets with other employees. You can start a spreadsheet and select who you want to share the document with. Then another employee can make changes or finish the document.

For a small business, these are great tools that would cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to purchase software for. Its easy to set up and manage and will give your employees great flexibility.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Gallery Player is Stocking World Galleries Photos

Gallery Player is stocking world galleries photos for download including this set of National Geographic Traveler: Asia series. The photographs are simply beautiful. The only downside to Gallery Player is that you must pay for each image. Images start at $0.99 each and can quickly add up.

But they do offer a level of convenience and quality that is tough to beat. I've searched the web for other options and there is simply nothing close to the service that gallery player provides.

The only downside is that you must either connect your computer directly or own a Panasonic compatible HDTV. You can download Gallery Player software on your computer for free and get 10 free HD images to get you started.

Tivo Sunrise Earth for a Great Photo Show

Photo Uploaded on March 22, 2006 by ccgd

Here is an alternative to using Gallery Player for a photo show on your hdtv. Simply record a few episodes of Sunrise Earth on Discovery HD Theater and play them back on your flat panel TV. Each show is an hour long and features still video shots of a particular location from sunrise through the morning.

You may have to restart an episode every hour but it runs commercial free and features relaxing ambient sounds from the featured location. Or you can mute the sound and play music as well.

Build a photo gallery web site

In my last post I discussed Flickr as a great source for digital photography that you can stream to your flat screen television. But its also a great place to build a photo gallery web site.

Its free to set up and account. You have a 100MB limit per month and a 5MB limit per photo with the free account. Photos can be marked as public (for everyone to view) or private (you choose who can view it....friends, family, or just yourself).

Its a great way to easily build a photo gallery web site for free and I suggest you try it out. Its also fun to spend hours browsing the millions of photos that have been uploaded by other people.

Use Your HDTV as a Digital Picture Frame

After hanging my LCD TV in the dining room, I decided that it would work really well as a digital picture frame. Fortunately, the DirecTv HR21 DVR receiver comes built in with the ability to stream photos from your computer. This option worked great for me, however, there are a couple of alternatives available for you as well.

If you have an Intel Vivv PC you already have the necessary setup to stream photos and music to your TV via the directv receiver. If you don't have Intel Vivv, a simple install of Windows Media Player 11 should enable it as long as you have a relatively up to date computer. My Windows vista PC worked without any extra steps involved.

Simply connect your directv receiver to your internet router via ethernet cable and navigate to the network function on your directv box via the menu key on your remote. After clicking on network, press the setup key and the receiver will take care of the rest. It should recognize any computer on your network that is set up to stream media. On your directv remote press menu and select music, photos, and more. You should see the name of your pc listed under my computers.

You can then stream music and photos via the menu. It will automatically find your photos and display them for you in a slide show. I also used Flickr software to create photo gallery of great images uploaded by thousands of users on the web. There are some real great finds on that site.

If you don't have the directv HR21, there are other options. I selected this option because I could stream photos without having to attach any additional devices. But you can also use an apple TV, xbox 360, or a playstation 3 as a photo streamer. Or you can simply connect your PC directly to the tv. However, if you are unable to hide the additional cables, it does lose its "wow" effect a bit.

Finally, Panasonic LCD's and Plasma TV's now have the built-in ability to play gallery player hd images with the use of an SD card. This is a nice option if you have one of these TVs. You'll have thousands of images to choose from.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Long Run HDMI Cables - 45 feet

In order to mount my LCD TV, I needed a long HDMI cable that would run from the basement, up the wall, and out to the TV. I had heard a lot about because they provide a great value on HDMI cables. I decided to try a 35ft cable from them which I purchased for about $42.....great price.

When I received the cable, I thought it looked very sturdy and solid. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a picture when I hooked it up to my LCD tv. Monoprice was very nice about providing a return. I thought about exchanging the cable, but I decided instead to return it and try a different brand.

The second cable was from a company called Cables to Go. It was significantly more expensive. I went with a 45 ft sonic wave cable. It also was packaged very well, nicer than the monoprice, but more importantly, it worked when I plugged it in.

Here is a tip. Before you run cable through a wall, plug in all of the components and make sure everything works first. It will save you a lot of time.

I've heard a lot of good things about monoprice. Cnet has a great article on the merits of buying cheap hdmi cables. Unfortunately in my case, it did not work out. However, I believe that they do have a cable of similar length and of higher quality for just a bit more.

Cables To Go provided great service and the cable worked without any problems.

Friday, May 16, 2008

How to Wall Mount a Flat Panel LCD TV - Part 4: Install Wall Mount and Hang TV

The last step of this project, wall mounting and lcd tv, is to install the LCD wall mount, hang the television, and connect the cables. In many ways, this proved to be the easiest step. See part 1, part 2, and part 3 to learn about necessary equipment and hiding the hdmi cables and power cord.

To recap, I selected a Samsung LN32A450 32" LCD for my television and a Peerless Articulating LCD Wall Arm (SA740P) for the wall mount. The articulating mount was a nice choice for my location because it gives me the ability to point the screen in any direction for viewing in various parts of the upper level.

This particular mount was also easy to install. It only required 2 screws to be drilled into the stud. I marked 2 drill holes on the wall by holding the mount on the stud and circling the two mounting holes with a pencil. Use a level to ensure that you drill evenly. Have someone help you hold the mount against the wall while you drill and be careful not to overtighten the screws. Once you have the screws in the mount is solid and secure. This mount will position the center of the tv about 3" to the left or right of the mounting bracket so take that into consideration.

The next step was to secure the lcd mounting bracket to the back of the unit. This is a simple process of screwing it on, but again do not overtighten.

The final step is to hang the lcd tv onto the end of the mounting bracket. It literally slips onto the top of the mounting bracket and then snaps in. One screw at the top secures the tv in place. This is really quite simple and just a matter of following the included instructions.

The rest is easy. This mounting bracket includes a nice cable management system that can hide 2 cables in the arm of the mount. Run the cables through the arm channel and plug in the hdmi cable in the back of the lcd tv. Plug the other end in the back of the directv receiver. Plug in the power cables and you'll be up and running.

You may want to spend some additional time hiding the cables. A twist tie can help give you a cleaner look. Also, make sure your tv is set to the proper input to receive a signal from your directv box.

Have fun and good luck.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to Wall Mount a Flat Panel LCD TV - Part 3: Installing HDMI Cables

(This is part 3 in my series on wall-mounting a flat panel LCD TV......part 1).

The key to any great flat panel installation is to hide the cables in such a way that you only see the TV. This is the most challenging part of the flat panel lcd tv installation. To do this, you will need to accomplish 3 tasks.

First is to install a new electrical outlet directly behind where you will be mounting an lcd tv. I'm no electrician, so I'll provide a link here to a site that helped me out. If you are unsure about how to do this, please hire a professional. I was able to run a new wire up from an existing outlet directly below where I installed the tv. This was an easy solution because the outlet was inside the same stud bay.

Second is to run an HDMI cable from the location of your receiver to the LCD or Plasma tv. I use Directv, so it was necessary to use a receiver box, but if you have basic cable you may be able to run the coaxial cable directly to your LCD depending on the tv. By running an HDMI cable from a receiver, I am able to maintain a lot of great features like HD DVR.

The best location in my house for the receiver was in the unfinished basement. I found a nice spot for the receiver and then ran a 45 ft CL2 rated (In-Wall Installation) HDMI cable (see part 2) up through the floor and directly into the center of the drywall on the main level where my tv would hang. The directv receivers have a built in RF remote that easily passes through walls and floors so I did not lose any remote functionality by installing the receiver in the basement and I saved myself a lot of work.

Its important to measure very carefully and mark all of your studs inside your wall where you will mount your tv. A stud finder is pretty much essential for this job. Find a location on the wall where you want to mount your TV and mark all of the studs that are in the vicinity of that location. You will need to install your tv mount on the studs, but you will install the new outlet and hdmi cable box between the studs. In my configuration, I installed the tv mount on 1 stud with the new outlet directly to the right of the stud and the new hdmi cable box directly to the left of the stud.

Once I located the spot on the wall for the HDMI cable, I took an electrical box and drew an outline around it. I then used a drywall saw to cut through the outline. In the lower level I drilled up through the floorboard directly below the section of the wall where I cut out the drywall hole. I then dropped a string through the drywall hole using a washer for weight. From the lower level I pulled the string through the hole, tied it to the HDMI cable, and then pulled it up the wall using a string. I threaded the hdmi cable through the electrical box and then left about 15" of slack hanging outside the wall.

The most difficult part of this job is measuring properly. Make sure you are directly below the proper spot when drilling through the floor.

Part 4 will finish this series with installing the wall mount and hanging the lcd tv.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How to Wall Mount a Flat Panel LCD TV - Part 2: Supplies

I needed to gather quite a few supplies in order to wall-mount my flat panel lcd tv. Here is a list of everything I used while installing it.

The wall mount I purchased was very easy to install and had an articulating arm that allows me to tilt, extend and rotate the screen so that it can be viewed from any angle in the room. It also included a nice little cord management system to conceal the power cable and hdmi cable.

Part 3 will cover the process of installing the HDMI cables.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How to Wall Mount a Flat Panel LCD TV - Part 1: Planning the Cable Routes

I finally decided on a spot to wall-mount a new flat panel LCD TV. I have an open floor plan in the house and I found a spot on the dining room wall that would be visible from every part of the room. I wanted to mount it the right way, that meant on the wall with no cords showing at all. I have directv so I had to work out a plan to hide the receiver in another part of the house.

The first thing I did was plan out the route for all of my cables. I knew I needed to do 2 things. Install another outlet directly behind the spot for the tv and run an HDMI cable from another part of the house to a spot directly behind the tv. If I couldn't get the cables routed to the right location, the entire project would be scrapped. I did not want cables running down the wall, even if I could hide them behind a plastic cover.

I considered a number of areas, but I finally decided that it would be best to leave the receiver in the unfinished part of the basement. The directv HD receivers come built in with an RF remote so it would not be a problem to have the receiver on another floor. The RF signal easily passes through walls.

Having the receiver in the basement meant that I needed to run an additional coaxial cable from the satellite to the receiver, and then run an extra long HDMI cable from the receiver, through the floor and up into the drywall on the main floor.

I already had an electrical outlet directly below where I planned to mount the TV, so installing a new outlet off of the existing one would not be too difficult.

I also needed to decide what size TV would fit the best. To do this, I cut out cardboard pieces for TV's sized 32", 37", and 42". The 32" was clearly large enough for the space and seemed to just fit the best. After doing research, I decided on the Samsung LN32A450 for both the quality and styling. I wanted a nice looking TV since I would be hanging it in a prominent location.

In part 2 of this article I will discuss the list of equipment needed to install a flat panel LCD.