Archive for the ‘Home Theater’ Category

Home Theatre Seating – Octane Contour HR (Review)

Friday, September 14th, 2018

It’s been a while (apparently 7.5 years) since I’ve written something about home theater here. To be honest, not a lot has changed in my setup. I’ve moved from having satellite TV and watching (buying) lots of DVDs to primarily streaming content – Netflix or Amazon Prime. We still enjoy the occasional Blu-ray, but the quality of streaming is good enough and the convenience factor is high. I think there is also a social aspect to keeping up with what your friends are watching as well.

There are many many options out there for seating. We’ve had two rows of couches from the start, but while couches are comfortable if you want to stretch out you either end up with some sort of foot stool – or you’re lying sideways. Honestly couches are a great solution, but they don’t have that fancy feel to them. Recliners are fancy. Many (all?) of the movie theaters today in our area have fairly nice recliners now.

This got us looking at recliners. Ideally we’d go for Canadian made, but after searching around buying local drives the price up to double or more (and the quality). The couch we had in the front row was really showing it’s age and needed replacing. Specifications I was looking for: leather with power reclining, Jenn also wanted to make sure they looked ok because quite honestly many options are fairly ugly.

With leather there is a lot of variation. You want to avoid any of the gel or bonded leather, these tend to be in the very low end of the market and simply won’t last or feel all that great long term. Sadly, leather appears to be completely unregulated and ‘top grain’ leather has a huge range as well. The other gotcha here is that the selection is nearly 100% online (at least in the price range we were looking at).

This is what we ended up getting:

BestBuy had a fairly good sale on, and they seemed to have real leather. When you go digging there are not very many reviews of these, and the result vary quite a bit. You can find Octane Seating – the company that makes these (in China). If you dig around, you find out that Octane allows for orders with custom fabric, and they have quite a range of grades they support as well. I think this explains why there is such a variety of reviews for products that are described similarly.

I think we bought a day before the sale ended. While I was waiting for the delivery, I couldn’t help but check the website – and I wasn’t very surprised to see this.

Ok, so the 3 day sale didn’t really end after 3 days, it was extended. Maybe they are trying to drain stock or something.

Yeah, at this point it’s starting to get a little bit silly. It’s the sale that goes on forever. I was wrong, on the 17th it returned to normal full price.

But… other models were now on sale. It seems there is always a sale for entertainment furniture, in fact – while I was writing the post they were back on sale for the same discount.

We’ve had them a few weeks and have really enjoyed them. Going for the power recliner was absolutely the right choice, it was worth the price increase for that. The Octane Contour HR have motorized headrests which I would recommend, as a feature it seems like a gimmick, but it is really useful (and comfortable).

The leather is not as nice as the love seat we bought a couple of years ago for basically twice the price. That said, the product that we received felt like it was worth the sale price. I wouldn’t pay the full price for these, or at least not what BestBuy is asking as full price. While these exact chairs may not be on sale, there seems to always be some of the models on sale. I’d also consider CostCo as another source.

The motors are audible, but quiet enough that it’s not too intrusive if you adjust while watching. I’m basically 6′ tall, and I fit but I suspect a taller person may not be as comfortable.

Oddities. The two seat pair, ships in 4 parts. Both back rests come off (and are easy for 2 people to put back on). You get 1 full chair (two arms) and 1 with a single arm. You simply place them together on the floor – and the weight keeps them in place. I expecting there to be some sort of locking / connection mechanism but no, it’s just placement.

Overall very happy with the purchase, already thinking about converting the 2nd row of seating to recliners too.

Pros:

  • Power recline and power headrest
  • Much more comfortable than the worn out couch they replaced
  • Fancy looking, premium seating at home

Cons:

  • Seats are not physically attached
  • Kids play with the controls
  • Leather quality is ‘ok’ and may vary from vendor to vendor

Footnote: We initially tried to buy a set of seats that EastPorters carries, but was sold / shipped by Staples. The ordering process seemed to go off the rails, so a week later we assumed they had just cancelled the order. Weeks later, a shipping company calls to arrange drop off of our assumed cancelled order. They ended up leaving seats on the front step with no signature. They did come get the unwanted delivery and we eventually got a 100% refund, but only after chasing them a bit. I wouldn’t recommend Staples for this type of purchase

Convert DVD for PS3 with 5.1 under Ubuntu

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

There are many, many questions on how to convert video to be suitable for streaming to the PS3 – and as many solutions. Some of the issues I ran into are due to the configuration of my home theater, and others were because I was trying to accomplish this under Linux.

My setup for playback is a PS3 connected wirelessly (but wired will work fine) to my home network. The PS3 outputs the video over HDMI, and the sound over TOSLink. I run XBMC on my Ubuntu desktop to serve up the video content stored there.

The first, and most obvious path to success is to use HandBrake – it is available across platforms and is simple to use. More recent versions have dumped the specific PS3 encoding options, but the iPod/iPad encoding settings seem to create videos that work just fine in my experience. Where Handbrake fell down for me was that the default encoding settings change the audio into stereo. I’ve got a 5.1 setup and wanted to keep the surround from the DVD.

HandBrake will let you create an AAC 6 channel encoding if you poke around a little in the configuration. Sadly for me, the TOSLink connection does not have enough bandwidth to handle 6 channel PCM, so the PS3 re-encodes the 6 channel mix into a 2 channel mix. This was a bit of a downer after a 2hr encode. If you have your audio going over HDMI, or don’t care about 5.1 then HandBrake may be the perfect solution.

It is also worth mentioning that ps3mediaserver can handily deal with .iso files (and lots more) and re-encode on the fly. I specifically didn’t want to go this route, for no reason other than I didn’t want to be bothered to set it up as I already had XMBC handy. I’ll assume there are others out there as stubborn as I am and they may find this useful.

My path to success turned out to be using k9copy to create an .avi file from the DVD that contained only the movie and the AC3 5.1 sound track. Then I used ffmpeg to convert that .avi file into a VOB format file that the PS3 would accept for streaming.

ffmpeg -i video.avi -acodec copy -vcodec copy -r 23.976 -f vob video.mpg

Once done (and it was fast as there is no actual re-encoding happening in the ffmpeg step) the resulting file streamed just fine from XMBC to my PS3 over wireless. As with most solutions, I spent plenty of time banging my head on more complicated paths until arriving at this very simple solution. I do have to give credit to a blog post that helped me reach the ah-hah moment. What I really like about this solution is the video and audio are exactly what appears on the DVD, only the wrapper they are stored in has changed: k9copy extracted the bits from the DVD that I wanted to have, and ffmpeg fiddled the container around to make the PS3 happy.

I’m still a huge fan of HandBrake and will continue to use this for converting video for portability (Android phone, iPhone, etc). However, k9copy has earned a place in my video conversion toolbox.

DVD vs Blu-ray

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

I was a fairly early adopter of the DVD format, buying my first DVD player (a Toshiba 2109) back in 1998 for a bit more than $700.  That player is still going strong and doing duty at my sister in-laws place, replacing their Sony player that stopped working reliably.   I’ve got more than 250 DVDs in my collection, and friends and family regularly borrow and watch them.

It took me a while to make the leap to Blu-ray.  Initially the format war gave me a good reason to stall.  My previous projector being a CRT didn’t have HDMI inputs and was not capable of a full 1080p display (1080i  worked fine).  Moving the Blu-ray also means fewer people are able to borrow the media and enjoy it.

Eventually my will power crumbled, I think what tipped me over the edge was the pack-rat in me.  The sheer volume of data that the Blu-ray format represents is just so cool, so many bits – in such a neat package.

The first Blu-ray movie we watched was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  The menu system and intro to the disc look really sharp, much more crisp than any DVD menu.  I did find that the special effects (groundhogs) tended to look a little unreal.  I was very pleased at the detail visible in long shots, it never felt constrained like DVD can at times.  In general terms the amount of detail helped make the picture much more engaging, things just looked “wow” all of the time.   Any time there was a limitation in detail, it seemed to be specifically the directors intention (ie: depth of field) vs. a limitation of the format.

I did have a chance to compare directly to the DVD version, switching between my PS3 (for Blu-ray) and the Oppo 980 (for DVD).  For Indian Jones, the special effects seemed to blend better into the overall image – they were more convincing on the DVD.  On the flip side, you could tell in the direct A/B comparison which was the Blu-ray and which was the DVD – there was clearly more fine detail in the image.  However, in isolation – both looked really good.   Similarly Wall E on DVD vs the Blu-ray version had similar observations – in side by side A/B comparison it was easy to see the extra details in the image, but if you switched to the DVD for a minute or two you quickly forgot and didn’t feel that you were missing anything.

It is probably important to note here that to see the difference you may need to have a fairly high end system, and a pretty big screen.  I’m using the Epson 1080UB and a 80″x45″ screen (more than 6 feet wide).  The first row of seating is about 11 feet away, so its a big sharp image that helps make the difference more obvious.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the challenges for Blu-ray.  Today the cost of the media is generally more expensive.  Large displays are certainly getting more common, but considering that DVD will look really good – without a direct A/B comparison Blu-ray may be a tough sell at the increased price point.  The Blu-ray players are also more expensive, and they are relatively slow compared to a DVD player (for menu operations and start-up).

I still intend to buy movies on DVD, but I suspect that the majority of my future purchases will be Blu-ray.  While DVD does look awesome with my setup, Blu-ray is awesomer.