Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Denon AVR-4306

I recently added a Denon A/V receiver to my theater. What an incredible difference it made. They use a third party system called Audyssey MultEQxt Room EQ to do an automatic calibration of the speakers in the room. My background includes running sound systems for concerts, from a 200 seat club to a stadium. With this background I never thought setting up the surround system was a big deal until this came along. It was night and day between my manual setup vs. Audyssey!

Our theater is a room about 20 x 14 with a 12 ceiling that is sloped on both the front and back sides. The RPTV and equipment is on one long wall with a section sofa surrounding the back and side walls. The front left, right and center speakers are all mounted above the RPTV at the same height (roughly ear height when seated), about 4 feet from each other and about 5 feet from the side walls. The surrounds are trapezoids mounted on the angled ceiling above the sectional about 8 feet from the side walls. The sub is in the front near one corner of the room. I plan to add a second identical sub near the back wall.

When you first turn on the Denon, the on screen instructions walk you though the setup. The room calibration has you plug in an include microphone and set it in up to 6 positions around the room where your head may be while watching movies or listening to music. It then runs through a series of tones in each speaker and calibrates the equalization for best sound. This auto calibration take some time but was well worth the results.

When my wife first heard a movie with the newly calibrated room, she commented on how the sound no longer comes from the front, but seemed to come from everywhere, as it does in real life!

As a typical user, I have found all of the important remote controls are handled by my Harmony 880 universal remote. There is a bit of work setting up the remote via USB and the Internet, but once it's set up, it WORKS. We have tried numerous reasonably prices remote and haven't found anything that came close. Case in point, my wife never use the theater before I added the 880 remote because all the remotes was just to much effort to watch a movie.

There are a ton of inputs for audio and video and they all are able to be combined appropriately for the required inputs. For example, I added the Vudo box via component and optical, playing with the receivers' auto function to finally get both A/V under a DVD button. The same worked from the PC and Xbox. I also ran and optical out from the RPTV to the Denon to support NTSC, ATSC and DirecTV audio via the receiver. Once set up, we can use the 880 remote to chose DirecTV, OtA TV, PC, Vudo or Xbox, all by pushing one button on the remote.


Since I am not sure how to organize this little commentary, I decided to walk you through the coolest equipment first. Today we'll look at the Vudu video on demand over the Internet box (

A good friend of mine sent me an invitation to join the “evangelist” group for Vudu. I applied and was quickly accepted. I paid a small amount, credited against movie rentals/purchases, and was sent the very small STB. Setup was very easy, even with my ancient component input only HDTV system in the theater. It is similar to the video on demand (VOD) you get from cable or satellite, with the latest movies, but over 5000 older movies as well. All of the movies are available immediately over the Internet if you have a reasonable connection. Think Netflix meets PPV. I read today that they save a small amount of all movies on an internal drive so there is no delay playing the movie. Brilliant!

The only modifications to my theater before starting up the Vudu box was getting it an Ethernet connection. Prior, I just had a single connection to the Vista PC. So I added a spare Netgear 10/100 router, configured as a simple switch. Configuring should be another complete topic. For those interested in using old routers as switches, try a Google search as I did.

After adding the 4 port switch, I was also able to finally add Internet radio capability to the Denon receiver, another story as well.

So, first I tried an HDMI cable from the Vudu box to the Denon, but because of the content owners, the Denon won't switch from HDMI to component, which my RPTV is driven by. After locating a spare cable, I routed component from the Vudu box to the receiver, using optical audio as well. The receiver switches the component inputs from the PC, Vudu and spare Xbox connections to the RPTV. (also switched the optical digital audio).

As a typical consumer, I didn't read the instructions right at the top of the box. Instead, knowing everything, I hooked up the Vudo box as I thought it should be. What I missed by not reading the instructions is that the included remote is RF, so the antenna in the box MUST be connected. I thought the antenna was for WiFi and since I was wired, I didn't connect it.

Upon booting, the Vudu has a consumer friendly set up. It used both audio and video to walk you through the set up. Initially, I could hear the Vudu setup asking to confirm if I could both hear and see the introduction screen. With HDMI I could not see the picture, but could hear the voice. After switching to component, I was able to see and hear the introduction screen. What I couldn't do was use the remote to get to the next step. Fortunately, Vudu has an online forum, and I am not the only idiot. Another user had problems with the remote and others suggested checking the RF antenna. I added the antenna and everything worked! The remote is a small device with a scroll wheel like most PC mice. It has a power button, a Vudu button, a xx button and a back button. The remote is very intuitive and the setup screen walks you though it's functions.

After registering, we could browse the video on demand movies. The most unexpected but exceptional features was the ability to view movie trailers before either purchasing or renting! My wife and I watch a lot of movies, both at home and at Alamo Draft House (where you can have dinner and wine while watching the movies). We base our choices on the trailers we have seen, either on TV or in the DVD previews. We watched a number of trailers on Vudu before deciding what to watch. The movie started immediately and was of good quality.

My only pet peeve, not the fault of Vudu, but the content owners (surprise, surprise) is the lack of HD over component video. Using component video, I can only get 480p instead of the 1080i that my RPTV displays! As if someone would go to the cost of purchasing a professional component video encoder card for $10K instead of ripping an HD DVD or Blue-Ray DVD for free? Keep up the stupid restrictions and no one will watch movies anymore.

Obviously, after all the trouble I have had with component video on the Proscan HDTV RPTV, I am working to justify the expense of trading up to a 1080p projector. (anyone want to send me one??). What I can't get past is that I was an early adopter stuck with a very expensive HDTV that doesn't work with the latest input devices. All because the content owners don't understand technology. If they spent half as much on a CTO as they spend on dinner, they would understand.