Help me fix my entertainment system.
December 30, 2014 8:43 PM   Subscribe

AV experts, can you help me? I set up my current home entertainment system 11 years ago, and it's worked well for me. Now it is failing, and consumer electronics have moved on. I can't just replace the failing component with a new one because it is not being manufactured any longer, and I only need some parts of it. I'm having trouble integrating new things into the old setup. I need to upgrade/reconfigure my AV, and possibly wireless. Details inside.

I have:
• Samsung flat screen HDTV (720p, good enough for a 32-inch TV I watch from eight feet away).
• Series 2 80-hour dual tuner TiVo that updates via wifi (but the signal strength is often too weak).
• Philips LX3750 DVD player and digital surround sound system with amp and receiver that is starting to be unreliable at reading DVDs. I no longer get surround sound, just stereo. Some of the smaller speakers are shot but the subwoofer is still good.
• Netflix plan (no longer offered) that suits me: two DVDs a month, one at a time ($5.37/mo). No streaming media.
• Metric buttload of physical media (CDs and DVDs) with content that I do not want to pay for again.
• Laptop that belongs to my employer. I don’t want to use it to store personal content.
• Digital TV antenna (aka peasant vision). I get a dozen broadcast channels and I’m not interested in cable or satellite.
• Amazon Firestick that I have not been able to set up because the wireless signal is too weak.
• Two vintage JBL 2800 bookshelf speakers, circa 1989, in perfect condition.
• Two JBL Pro Performers J225 speakers, likewise in perfect condition.
• Actiontec 802.11g wireless DSL modem/router that lives at the other end of the house, in my office.

Here's what I want to do:
• Watch DVDs (my own and from Netflix). Preferably with excellent sound quality. Surround sound would be nice; I get a kick out of knocking pictures off the wall occasionally.
• Watch broadcast TV.
• Listen to AM and FM radio.
• Listen to audio CDs.
• Listen to Pandora in my living room. Actually, I want to do all of this in my living room.
• Get the Firestick working. I have Amazon Prime and I’ve been missing out on a ton of already-paid-for programming.
• Stop worrying about whether the TiVo will be able to update itself via wireless.

Here’s what I’m asking:
• What can I buy to replace the DVD player/tuner/surround sound system? I’m resigned to buying a Blu-Ray player, but haven’t seen one with a tuner/amp that does not also include speakers or sound bar, which I do not need. Do I have to buy these things (player and receiver) separately?
• Do I have to replace the Actiontec in my office in order to boost the signal enough to make the Firestick work, and the TiVo update reliably, in the living room at the other end of the house? It's a small house (1100 square feet) but there are a lot of walls in between.
• Is it possible to get surround sound with the four JBLs, one of the small Philips speakers, and the Philips subwoofer? Is there some reason any old speakers won't work with whatever player/receiver/amp I get to replace the Philips system?

Are these stupid questions? Don't judge! Old ladies need home entertainment too.
posted by caryatid to Technology (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd recommend buying a receiver and player separately. Not only will they probably be better than any combination units you can find, but when/if one needs to be replaced in the future, you can just replace that one. You can often get good deals on previous model year receivers (which are rarely missing anything important compared to the most recent model), and I'd suspect that the most basic surround receiver in the lineup would suffice for your needs. Just make sure it has enough of the right kinds of inputs for everything you have. These days most devices use hdmi and the old series2 tivo doesn't have hdmi, for example.
posted by primethyme at 9:14 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


What can I buy to replace the DVD player/tuner/surround sound system?

A PS3 and a receiver. It doesn't matter if you'll never ever play games. A PS3 and a receiver. The PS3 will play just about anything disc-based except HDCD or SACD or whatever they called those, and will do amazon prime, HBO Go when they start to sell that by itself, or Netflix if you decide to create a second account for streaming. It's the reference bd player so you don't need to worry about it being abandoned and not receiving needed firmware updates.

Which receiver will depend on the inputs you need it to have and your tolerance for switching inputs on the tv. However, you can for sure get a receiver that will take in a mix of hdmi and component video+digital audio and output through an hdmi cable.

Do I have to buy these things (player and receiver) separately?

I wouldn't be surprised if you could find some manufacturer somewhere that would sell you a bluray player with an amp in it. I would be the most surprisedest person ever if it delivered excellent sound quality.

Is it possible to get surround sound with the four JBLs, one of the small Philips speakers, and the Philips subwoofer? Is there some reason any old speakers won't work with whatever player/receiver/amp I get to replace the Philips system?

The JBLs should be fine. The small Philips, which I assume you intend to use as a center channel, might or might not be a pain in the ass to deal with depending on its inputs, and there's some small chance that Philips did some dumbshit thing that makes it effectively impossible to use. Things might sound funny because the center channel wouldn't be timbre-matched to the JBLs. Any modern receiver can create a phantom center from just the two mains, though.

The Philips subwoofer might work fine or be unusable depending on how integrated with the other Philips crap it's intended to be; the makers of complete systems like that tend to fuck with you to make it harder to swap out individual parts.

Do I have to replace the Actiontec in my office in order to boost the signal enough to make the Firestick work, and the TiVo update reliably, in the living room at the other end of the house? It's a small house (1100 square feet) but there are a lot of walls in between.

Replace? No. But you'll need to get some sort of modern router and demote the actiontec to just doing the dsl. Something with AC or N. Or you could look into powerline networking, or coax networking if you have cable throughout your place, but those aren't likely to be much cheaper unless you're willing to do lots of annoying setup.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:47 PM on December 30, 2014


I'd say you have a cheap simple method and more expensive comprehensive methods.

On the cheap side, I'd work on trying out WiFi boosters, so you can stream music and get any networking going to properly use the apps/devices you have. You could just go with the things you have if your WiFi was stronger it sounds like.

The more comprehensive approach would be moving into the modern age and buying a ~$300 A/V receiver that has plenty of HDMI inputs (they can be bought w/o speakers), buying a cheap blu-ray disc player (I think Costco has them for about $80 now, and they include a zillion web apps too). If you bought a new TV (probably well under $500 at 40" or smaller) you'd get a slew of smart tv apps that method and well and get a 1080p screen.
posted by mathowie at 10:55 PM on December 30, 2014


Yoi want a cheap (refurb) Onkyo AV receiver and a separate DVD or Blu-Ray player. This should be doable for $250 or so, if not less. If the Actiontec router is one from Verizon that includes a coax cable connection, you can buy a second used one from eBay for around $20 and use the existing coax in your walls to extend your network into the living room.
posted by wierdo at 11:18 PM on December 30, 2014


If it were me, then whatever combination of stuff that I bought, I would supplement it with a good universal remote. If all of your devices are controllable by infra red and all of them are in a line of sight to you (rather than hidden in a cabinet) then a Logitech Harmony 650 would do the job. If not then there are pricier variants that use RF signalling.
posted by rongorongo at 12:17 AM on December 31, 2014


I would recommend a Yamaha Reciever. We bought one refurbished from Newegg 3 years ago and it's worked flawlessly. We paid $250 for it. It has everything we've needed and I don't see any reason to upgrade even 3 years later. In fact, I would buy the same one today for the same price if I needed a receiver.

You might want to invest in a better router. You could get an airport express, plug it into your current router, and use it's wifi instead. That way you get a/b/g/n so you can use your Fire Stick.

We don't really watch DVD's or Blurays. We stream everything through our Chromecast. So I don't have any recommendations for that.

I would definitely avoid those all in one deals. You can get much better quality buying individual components. It's much more versatile, future-proof, and repair-friendly. Most of the all-in-one systems I've seen have terrible audio. My friend has one made by Samsung and you can barely understand the dialog when we're watching a movie.
posted by a2a87 at 8:49 AM on December 31, 2014


Higher speed wifi standards have more band with, but lower power, so they don't penetrate walls as well. I'd look into either MOCA (network over coax) or powerline networking and plugging your equipment into a network switch in your rack, or putting another wifi router there, instead of trying to find one that will power your whole house.

I also echo getting a separate DVD player and receiver. Onkyo, Yamaha, or Denon are great products.

The comments about speakers are spot on. You might be able to find a used JBL for your center channel.
posted by reddot at 7:21 AM on January 1, 2015


It occurred to me that if you would like an AP that can cover your whole house, you could get a UBNT UniFi AP. They require some goofy software to set up, but the controller doesn't have to be running all the time. The range on the not-long range one is far better than most routers. The Pro version is dual band, but 5GHz is much worse at penetrating walls, so probably wouldn't make it all the way across your house regardless.
posted by wierdo at 2:57 PM on January 1, 2015


Oh hey, I just successfully updated my system. All I had to do was wait a few months until just what I needed magically appeared.

My neighbor advertised a Panasonic Blu-ray player/home theater (3.1, but that's fine, and it's upgradable) on Nextdoor. The Panasonic does everything the Philips did, plus it has an iPod port. I had to buy an HDMI cable, but otherwise it integrated smoothly and I did it all myself. My pre-existing universal remote (Logitech Harmony 550) handles it perfectly.

The total price of upgrading my system: $55.

Also, thanks for the suggestions to upgrade my TV and TiVo and buy components instead of all-in-one systems, but unlike AV mavens, I have neither golden ears nor eyes. My idea of "excellent" sound quality probably wouldn't even rate "good enough" for you, and like most people, I can't tell the difference between 720p and 1080p on a 32" screen from eight feet away. Personally, I can't understand how people get by with analog TVs and only TV speakers, and yet many do.

Still to be sorted out are the weak wireless signal and the Firestick.
posted by caryatid at 10:57 AM on May 14, 2015


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