Home-Theater Journal (3rd Installment)
Here is an update on the experiences I had in 2004 updating my PC home-theater system. My working premise continues to be that DVD-Video can provide better video and sound than other affordable TV delivery systems and much more affordable content than HDTV. Realizing the full potential of DVD-Video playback is not trivial, however. You might not get the full effect even though you have a DVD player with progressive-scan and component-color outputs and an extended-definition TV with compatible inputs. You might need one of the newer DVD players with high-definition outputs and a compatible HDTV-ready display or receiver. Of course, you would then incur most of the costs of upgrading to HDTV. I prefer to use personal-computer components instead. This might not be a big incremental cost for you because you probably need a PC anyway. Furthermore, your home theater can be a great environment for PC activites like gaming and browsing the web with friends or family members. Of course, PCs aren't trivial to configure and keep running. That's the dilemma.
I borrowed a Panasonic DMR-E55 recorder to make recordings that could be played back by the PC and vice versa. This recorder has progressive scan with component color outputs but no electronic program guide capability. However, it can pause live video by simultaneously recording and playing back video from different locations on a DVD-RAM disc. Of course, you can also record one program while playing a different one on the same DVD-RAM disc. The DMR-E55 is relatively affordable starting at slightly under $200 online, which is substantially less than I paid for my first VCR many years ago. CNET and Consumer reports  gave it favorable reviews, although neither mentioned the optional use of a cartridge as a feature. I think consumers may want that extra protection for recordings that are especially important to them or for media that they handle frequently. An example of the latter would be using the same disc over and over for time shifting but ejecting it frequently to playback pre-recorded DVDs.
The DMR-E55 uses the DVD-VR format on rewritable DVD-RAM and the DVD-Video format on DVD-R media. Not all DVD playback software can play both formats and run under Windows 98SE, which I still prefer to use. The software that I ended up using is InterVideo's WinDVD-6. I also have a newer Panasonic SW-9572-C Multi Drive, which can burn CDs as well as DVD-RAM, -R and -RW discs. My 4-year old 32-inch Princeton Graphics AR3.2T monitor doesn't have component inputs, so I had to connect the consumer recorder to it with an S-Video cable. DVD playback from the computer at S-VGA resolution (as recommended for the AR3.2) was clearly better, and I think it is good enough on a 32-inch screen. I suppose standard DVD-Video content could also work on somewhat larger screens. I would be very interested in 16x9 screen with about the same picture height, which implies a diagonal of slightly over 39 inches.
My AverTV tuner card is a year old, and I thought it didn't work very well at first. After moving the card to the XPC recently, I realized that AverMedia's software relies on the user to fine-tune each channel manually. Most of my cable-provider's channels didn't work at all with the default tuning. Now I think the tuner works fine, but I still have a few problems. One minor problem is that I lose audio from the SPDIF output while recording. I can get it back at the audio receiver because the line out from the XPC is active at that time. By the way, the microphone input of the XPC seems to work ok with the line output from the AverTV card, although I would expect the wrong level. The NForce Control Panel has an option for boosting the microphone level, so maybe it should be labled as a switch from line in to microphone in.
I could not get consistent sound playback after recording with the AverTV application software, which is freely available at AverMedia's website. Next, I tried the trial version of Showshifter, still using AverMedia's WDM drivers, but the problem persisted. By then I was starting to think there must be a problem with the XPC, so I ran Norton WinDoctor and reloaded the XPC's chipset drivers. Following a recommendation posted at DVDRhelpby Jim Prince on August 19, I tried WinDVR 3with the AverMedia's WDM drivers next. This combination is now working for me except that I haven't gotten WinDVR 3 to integrate with the TitanTV electronic program guide yet. InterVideo has a patch for decrypting TitanTV, but I got an error message saying the WinDVR path could not be found. Hopefully, this problem will disappear when I get a registered copy of WinDVR 3, but I would like to confirm that before paying for it.
WinDVR 3 can, of course, record to a DVD-RAM disc inside its protective cartridge. This protection is useful if you intend to use an optical disc like a VHS cassette, because handling a disc before you are finished writing causes more problems than the same amount of handling would cause afterwards. By the way, I have also confirmed that my drive can write on a DVD-R disc inside a DVD-RAM cartridge. You might want to use this media with the extra protection of a cartridge in cost-sensitive applications where careless or excessive handling is a problem. Currently, the only source of empty DVD-RAM cartridges that I know of is Opticord, Inc. in Palatine, IL.
(last updated December 28, 2004)
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Copyright 2004, Terence J. Nelson