Help me design a new home entertainment system.
November 23, 2009 10:08 AM   Subscribe

My old tube television has died a terrible sputtering death. Help me get over my sense of loss by assisting me in replacing it with a new HD television and entertainment system.

Here are my needs: I'm working with a budget of around $2000. I want a HD LCD television set that's between 46-52 inches. I currently have an old-style Tivo box, a decent DVD collection, a Playstation 2, a Nintendo Wii, a DVD/VCR combo, an iMac, and a Netflix account.

I'm not interested in converting all of my DVDs to BlueRay, so I want a player that has a good conversion system for old DVDs. I'm fighting the urge to get a Playstation 3, because I have a tendency to spend too much time playing games--but I could probably justify it with my wife if it's the best option.

Here's what I'd like to be able to do: have 2 or three game systems hooked up simultaneously, stream Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu from my iMac.

Should I upgrade my Tivo to the Tivo HD/XL? Would that keep me from having to get the PS3?

Also: my home is very Mac friendly, but I've never really looked at the AppleTV. Should I?

So here's what I'm looking at:
HD LCD Television
BlueRay Player
New Tivo?
Whatever will allow me to stream Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu

Thanks in advance.
posted by ColdChef to Shopping (23 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (Tiny addition: I'm not much of an audiophile, but should I be getting a separate speaker system as well?)
posted by ColdChef at 10:14 AM on November 23, 2009

How big is your room? Can you run speaker wire to surround speakers? That will determine if you should get a separate speaker system and which one. In the mean time, have you checked out HD Guru. Also there is this from Gizmodo over the weekend.
posted by hariya at 10:23 AM on November 23, 2009

I just bought my boyfriend a Roku player for his birthday, and he loves it. It doesn't do much of anything besides stream Netflix and a few other things, but the $99 price tag is pretty sweet. A Roku might be good if you decide against something more expensive.

Also, my HDTV is a Sony Bravia, and I'm super happy with it.
posted by bluishorange at 10:29 AM on November 23, 2009

Best answer: You'll probably want a separate speaker system. Because of their slim profile most HDTVs have pretty anemic speakers. Good for dialogue and incidental music, but not good for games, booming soundtracks, or special effects.

Most Internet-connected LG and Samsung Blu-Ray players have Netflix support. One Sony player (the BDP-N460) now supports it as well, just as of a few days ago. The PlayStation 3 also supports Netflix streaming. It's possible that it will come to Internet-connected Panasonic players, but at the moment those are the only brands that stream Netflix.

Some LG players, though I don't think any Samsung players, support YouTube.

Some HDTVs from LG, Samsung, and Sony support Netflix streaming built-in, without a separate device. Similarly some LG TVs support YouTube.

I don't think any TVs or Blu-Ray players support Hulu yet. The PS3 managed it for a while but Hulu blocked it.

You have a lot of devices, so make sure the TV supports enough inputs. Also make sure it has an input that your VCR supports (probably RCA/composite or S-video), as I doubt the VCR has HDMI or component out. At the sizes you're looking at there will probably be inputs enough for everything.

As for the TV, for your budget and size preferences you'll probably be looking at 120Hz systems. There are some 240Hz systems that are within your price range if you're willing to keep an eye out for a deal on a 46" set or drop down to 42".

By the way, you should consult a chart like this one to make sure that the 46-52" range makes sense for the distance you'll be viewing the screen from. If you're closer than about 6 feet then you won't be able to take in the whole screen at once; your eyes will have to shift back and forth, like being in the front rows of a movie theater.
posted by jedicus at 10:39 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're going Blu-Ray, I'd suggest a PS3. Firmware upgrades are easy-peasy, plus you get a game system. Netflix is now included as part of the Playstation Network and it's cheaper than having the same access on the 360 where you have to pay for both your Netflix membership AND have a Gold subscription to XBox Live. And if you've got a good pc and wifi you can throw TVersity into the mix and broadcast just about any video format you've got stored on your PC to your tv. And with MultiAVCHD and a 16 GB USB stick you can even play up to 1080p HD videos straight from one of the PS3 ports. The PS3 can also play most DivX/XviD file formats natively from the stick as well.

The "pro" version of TVersity supports Hulu
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:52 AM on November 23, 2009

Coldchef, let me point you to this thread. It was a very similar question that I asked recently. I updated it to show what gear I ended up choosing. I am very happy with my choices.
posted by bove at 11:19 AM on November 23, 2009

Best answer: I just went through this myself, including the "dead TV forcing the change upon me" part. My experience:

- I got a Samsung LED-backlit LCD, and they have them in that size range. As I looked at TVs, I scratched off plasmas due to power consumption, rear-projection LCDs due to high failure rate, and settled on Samsung as the best-reviewed panels in my range. While you can't get an LED-backlit model in that price range, there are plenty of "normal" LCDs that are, and are otherwise feature-identical. If you're even thinking of ever doing blue ray, then definitely go 1080p. I rarely use these features, but there's some internet apps built into the TV itself (including a very limited YouTube app, I think), and it'll play many codecs of movies/music off a flash USB drive.

- Samsung makes a flat "speaker bar" to match the TV. I got it out of laziness (the TV's volume control works on it, greatly simplifying remotes), but the sound is good (and way better than the TV's speakers, of course). Not audiophile quality, but good enough that I don't feel a need to upgrade the audio further.

- Absolutely replace your TiVo. The old one looking bad on the HDTV screen was a serious blow to me, the fact that I could pop a couple cable cards in and use it as my main HDTV cable tuner was the clincher. The HD TiVo isn't just better, it simplifies the entire system because the remote can handle basic TV power and speaker audio (the latter because I bought that matching speaker bar!). TiVo offers an upgrade discount, be sure to look it up. Note also that these TiVos will handle Netflix downloads, and I have my Rhapsody music subscription on there, too. There are other apps on the box, I don't think Hulu is there (yet). Not sure about YouTube.

- I already had an upsampling DVD-player, but there were plenty of non-expensive options if I'd had to get one. If you go PS3 or blue-ray, I believe that would also cover this.

- I additionally hooked up an Xbox 360 and an old PC, which look fantastic but I haven't ended up using much. I had no issues hooking them up -- the Samsung had a monitor port, and plenty of HDMI ports for everything else.

My one bad purchase? I picked up one of the Logitech Harmony remotes because I figured I'd need it with all that new equipment... the TiVo remote ended up winning instead, because everyone is comfortable using it. I went so far as to salvage my old TiVo remote and put it on the other side of the living room because it worked too.

For what it's worth, I'd probably have gone LCD + HD TiVo + PS3 if I had been starting completely from scratch... it covers all the basics, and between the TiVo and PS3, you know any internet video app of note will be covered soon if it isn't already.
posted by Pufferish at 11:35 AM on November 23, 2009

Response by poster: Okay. I'm definitely going for the Tivo HDXL. That covers most of the features that I want. I'm still on the fence about a BlueRay player. That may be something I purchase at a later point.

I'm looking at this: Sony BRAVIA Z Series KDL-46Z5100 46-Inch 1080p 240Hz LCD HDTV. Mostly because of the 240mhz refresh rate. Is this something I need if I only watch about a dozen sporting events a year?
posted by ColdChef at 11:53 AM on November 23, 2009

I'm still on the fence about a [Blu-Ray] player

I would recommend it. Not only will it play Blu-Ray discs and potentially get you access to NetFlix and YouTube, but it will also act as an upconverting DVD player, which will make your existing DVDs look considerably nicer on the HDTV.

I'm looking at this: Sony BRAVIA Z Series KDL-46Z5100 46-Inch 1080p 240Hz LCD HDTV. Mostly because of the [240Hz] refresh rate. Is this something I need if I only watch about a dozen sporting events a year?

The benefits of high refresh rate have been somewhat oversold. In my experience, even 60Hz HDTVs do fine with fast action. News tickers can sometimes be slightly blurry but they're never hard to read. 120Hz is fine. I would pay more attention to things like color gamut and contrast ratio. A high contrast ratio is especially important if the room is lit by natural light or if you want to leave lots of room lights on. You don't want to have to close the curtains and turn off all the lights every time you watch something.

If you can, definitely take the time to go look at a big TV showroom. Don't use it to pick out a specific model (the lighting and viewing conditions are probably unlike your home unless you live in a warehouse and watch TV standing up 3 feet from the set). Instead, use it as an opportunity gauge the relative benefit of a higher contrast ratio, higher refresh rate, wider color gamut, etc. That will give you a good sense of what features are more important visually to you, personally.
posted by jedicus at 12:24 PM on November 23, 2009

Best answer: If you have any technical inclination at all you would be far better served by purchasing a regular TiVo HD and putting your own 1TB drive in it. All you need is a torx T15, torx T10, a hard drive, and a PC that you can hook the hard drive to.

WinMFS makes it really easy on the software front, and it will save you several hundred bucks you can put towards real speakers.

I've read that the PS3 isn't as good at upsampling SD DVDs as some other players. Since I don't watch regular DVDs, I wouldn't know. You might want to check it out before buying. Don't get me wrong, I love my PS3. It's a good Blu-Ray player and I have around 60 games for it. (and I originally bought it just for Blu-Ray and network video!)

Also, I've had good luck in the past with LG sets. They are usually significantly cheaper than Sony and Samsung for pretty much no loss other than the brand.

Lastly, rather than asking us here, [i]go look at the sets in a store[/i]. Preferably one with a controlled lighting viewing area (like CC used to have for some of their higher end stuff). Get the remote control. Take them out of torch mode and put them in movie mode. Watch them for a while. A long while. Turn off the motion interpolation. Turn it back on. Use the different settings. See whether you even like the soap opera effect that 120Hz and 240Hz can give you on some sets.

Play some Blu-Rays at 24fps on the sets that support 1080p24 input. See if you like it better than 1080p60.

Look at the sets from the viewing distance you'll have in your living room. Can you tell the difference between the 720p set and the 1080p set? Depending on the distance, you may not be able to see the difference. No sense in spending the extra money if you can't.

Don't go for the brightest TV, go for the best TV, which is generally the one that displays the most tonal variation in near-black scenes. If it can do that well, chances are it will do just about everything well.

You're making a big purchase with the TV set itself, you should treat it like one and spend the time to get to know your options and try them out in person.

As far as brands, I'd say LG, Sharp, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba tend to make the better sets.

If you have time, AVSForum is one of the best resources anywhere on this subject.
posted by wierdo at 12:29 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

In real-world application, there is not much difference noticed between 120Hz and 240Hz.

Blu-ray / VHS combo review: Panasonic DMP-BD70V, with Viera Cast (Browse YouTube, Picasa, Bloomberg News and The Weather Channel, and Amazon Video on Demand, but no Hulu).
posted by filthy light thief at 12:31 PM on November 23, 2009

Oh, I forgot one important thing: Buy from a place with a good return policy and be fully prepared to return or exchange the TV for a different model. Do not skip this step. ;)
posted by wierdo at 12:31 PM on November 23, 2009

Best answer: Various notes:

An upconverting DVD player isn't a big deal. Your tv will convert every single thing it receives into 1080p -- 1080p is all it can show, ever. The question isn't whether your dvds will be converted to 1080p, it's only whether they'll be converted by your tv or by whatever's playing your dvds. Well, that and which upscaler does a better job.

I would just get a PS3 and be done with it.
*It does the bluray thing.
*It plays dvds, so you don't need to have your dvd player hooked up.
*It streams netflix and youtube directly without bothering your imac.
*In the PC world, there are (nonfree) software solutions that let you stream hulu to your pc and have your pc turn around and serve it to your PS3. I assume there are mac solutions as well.
*It will play damn near any divx file you feed it.
*It will play 99% or so of downloaded high-def files (usually .mkv) with a very simple and painless conversion to avi.
*It will play mp3 etc files over your network.

TiVo is supposedly on the verge of releasing their Next Big Thing, so I might wait and see how that shakes out.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:45 PM on November 23, 2009

Best answer: Other random thoughts:

Yeah, you want a bluray player. This isn't something to be on the fence over. (well-produced) Blurays make high-def cable or satellite look like absolute dog shit.

This is a good time to use the dvd/vcr to copy tapes onto dvds and then throw everything VHS away. It's going to break sooner rather than later and then it will be difficult and expensive to replace.

I wouldn't do it now unless you're feeling quite flush, but yeah I'd recommend picking up a decent home-theater receiver and a 5.1--7.1 speaker setup. You don't need to be a crazy audiophile to enjoy the surround; if you like it in the movie theater you'll like it at home (and conversely if you don't give a crap in the theater you won't give a crap at home).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:52 PM on November 23, 2009

Mostly because of the 240mhz refresh rate. Is this something I need if I only watch about a dozen sporting events a year?

Bear in mind that IIRC, nothing is filmed at greater than something like 60 frames a second. HD games may edge up a bit on that, but nothing in the ballpark of 240. Mhz refresh rate's like megapixels on a camera -- past a certain point, you will see zero difference. The biggest thing is to be sure that it is faithfully rendering the video -- if it says it's a 1080p TV, that it actually renders 1080 lines of information on the screen and doesn't drop any along the way.
posted by middleclasstool at 2:45 PM on November 23, 2009

I love my PS3. It just happens to play games, but it also streams media from my NAS drive, allowing me to watch the Wire while I prepare dinner (window from the kitchen onto the living room). For larger media files, I can just plug a USB drive into the ports and watch crystal clear HD. It does upscaling on DVDs and, seemingly, media files. And, the key? The online services are free, unlike the Xbox. Also, for me, the games are region free, which is crucial, and many of the games are fully bilingual (put Little Big Planet in a PS3 set for Japanese, it will play in Japanese, in an English system, everything will be in English, and for me, that's crucial, but also kind of snazzy). If you set up spare PSN accounts in different regions, you can get things available there, but not (for whatever reason) available in your own.

Plus, with the slim out now, with a decent hard drive, it's worth using as a media center. I imagine it will play nicely with the Sony tv you're looking at, though I happen to love my Sharp Aquos (worth looking at, sez I).
posted by Ghidorah at 2:45 PM on November 23, 2009

I have to say you timed this exactly right. I mean black friday is THIS week. Whatever you do, make sure you check out the deal sites first. Right now there are GOOD BIG 1080p TVs WITH blu-ray players in a package for 1000 bucks out there.

But make sure you buy with your AMEX card for the purchase protection.
posted by rileyray3000 at 3:10 PM on November 23, 2009

Response by poster: Okay, so...Sony has a 46inch Bravia V Series HDTV WITH a PS3 for $1000 for Black Friday. Is there any reason that this is NOT a great deal?
posted by ColdChef at 3:29 PM on November 23, 2009

Just from the specs, that looks good. It's true 1080p, and looks to be a very good deal. I have no experience with Sony TVs, but I've used their stereo components for years and found them good and reliable.
posted by middleclasstool at 3:42 PM on November 23, 2009

Plus, with the slim out now, with a decent hard drive, it's worth using as a media center.

Don't buy the PS3 with the larger hard drive unless you really REALLY hate doing basic computery stuff. Just buy a 500GB notebook drive and swap it out; it takes 5 minutes and is if anything easier than swapping the drive in a laptop. Doesn't even break the warranty.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:31 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

rou_Xenophobe, the thing is, the Slim is cheaper than the old PS3, and the 250GB drive often comes bundled with games. Even so, the 120 is a nice bump up from my measly 40, which, like you say, I need to take care of at some point. Some instructions.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:54 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Okay, so...Sony has a 46inch Bravia V Series HDTV WITH a PS3 for $1000 for Black Friday. Is there any reason that this is NOT a great deal?

Yeah, that's a good deal. You're basically getting the PS3 for free, and it will get you Netflix, YouTube, and Blu-Ray. The TV gets good reviews, has solid specs (120Hz, 8-bit panel, 50k:1 dynamic contrast, 178ยบ horizontal and vertical viewing angle), and looks like it has all the inputs you need to have your PS3, PS2, VCR, Wii, and Tivo hooked up simultaneously with your cable/satellite/antenna.
posted by jedicus at 5:36 PM on November 23, 2009

There are four Bravia 46"ers, as listed on NewEgg today, with differences (that I noticed) in contrast ratio and dynamic contrast. The model on sale through Sony has the 3rd best configuration (the top 2 are rather close, it seems). Good find!
posted by filthy light thief at 9:32 PM on November 23, 2009

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