Home Theater Sound on the Cheap

In 2009 I got my first HDTV, a Digital Lifestyles 42″ from NewEgg. The reviews were mixed but the common theme was that this screen had a great picture and terrible sound. I decided to take a chance, and if the sound was really that bad I’d figure something out.

Well, turned out the sound was, in fact, terrible. Not merely tinny, the speakers crackled and popped, and were essentially unusable. To my relief, the TV had a headphone jack on the side, so I got a set of Logitech X-230 computer speakers, plugged them into the headphone jack and the problem was solved – for a mere $35. The sound was really impressive for such a cheap setup and best of all the volume could still be controlled via the TV remote.

Fast forward to 2013. On Black Friday I took a trip to the local PC Richard and picked up a Panasonic TC-L58E60 58″ for a good price. The TV is great but the built-in speakers are weak and unfortunately it doesn’t have a headphone jack, so I couldn’t hook the speakers up to it. What could I do?

I did some research and ended up buying this Digital-Analog converter. It’s powered by USB and converts the optical signal to standard headphone output. For the power, I plug the USB cable directly into the TV, which is handy because then it gets powered on and off with the TV. Unfortunately with this setup the volume can’t be controlled via the TV remote any longer. I plan to get a 2.1 soundbar with wireless subwoofer eventually, but for now this mostly works. So if you’re looking to get pretty good sound your HDTV for relatively little cost, this might work for you.

Going back to FiOS

I’m not sure why these guys operate this way – they’re more than happy to lose me as a customer and then throw huge discounts at me to get me back. If they’d just give me a good price I’d love not to have to go through this rigmarole. But after being with Cablevision for 2 months I checked Verizon’s pricing and it beat my current deal with Cablevision.

FiOS digital voice with number ported for free; 25/25 Mbps internet; HMDVR free “forever” plus a second HD STB, Showtime, Movie Channel and Flix. Since I already had the battery thing installed last time I had FiOS they gave me a fair discount. Basically the whole package for $87/month + tax, price locked for 2 years, no contract. Not as great of a deal as I’d had with FiOS originally, but it’s pretty good, and FiOS’s service is definitely better than Cablevision’s. I’ve heard Cablevision was rolling out their “DVR plus” service with all programs recorded “in the cloud” rather than on the actual box, but it’s been two months and I haven’t heard of it coming to Long Island. So basically 2 years later Cablevision’s service is exactly the same while Verizon has iPhone apps to control the DVR and use the phone as a remote, plus DVR that’s much faster and just generally better service.

On a side note, I noticed tonight I was having problems trying to stream Netflix to my Wii. I tried loading netflix.com on my laptop and that also didn’t work, it said “couldn’t find server movies.netflix.com.” I tested this via dig on my linux box and sure enough, movies.netflix.com isn’t resolving against the default Cablevision nameserver (167.206.3.206) – getting a SERVFAIL:

[evan@lunix ~]$ dig movies.netflix.com

; <> DiG 9.3.6-P1-RedHat-9.3.6-4.P1.el5_5.3 <> movies.netflix.com
;; global options:  printcmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: SERVFAIL, id: 17569
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;movies.netflix.com.            IN      A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
movies.netflix.com.     232     IN      CNAME   merchweb-frontend-1502974957.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com.

;; Query time: 2129 msec
;; SERVER: 167.206.3.206#53(167.206.3.206)
;; WHEN: Sun Apr 24 01:23:58 2011
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 103

I tried the same query against Google’s nameserver (8.8.8.8) and it resolves correctly:

[evan@lunix ~]$ dig movies.netflix.com @8.8.8.8

; <> DiG 9.3.6-P1-RedHat-9.3.6-4.P1.el5_5.3 <> movies.netflix.com @8.8.8.8
;; global options:  printcmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 43718
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 2, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;movies.netflix.com.            IN      A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
movies.netflix.com.     300     IN      CNAME   merchweb-frontend-1502974957.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com.
merchweb-frontend-1502974957.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com. 39 IN A 174.129.220.6

;; Query time: 34 msec
;; SERVER: 8.8.8.8#53(8.8.8.8)
;; WHEN: Sun Apr 24 01:37:26 2011
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 119

I set my router to resolve against 8.8.8.8 rather than whatever Cablevision provides and now it works. I’m not sure if this is related to the big EC2 disaster of the past few days but it looks more like Cablevision’s fault than Amazon’s or Netflix’s.