Being the story of how I stumbled into buying one, and why you might want to also. If you’re any kind of Home-Theater weenie you’ve already had one for a decade or more and you can safely skip this. On the other hand, if the collection of boxes plugged into the big TV has grown like fungus and the rat’s-nest of wires behind it has become intimidating, read on.
In related news, since I’m a deranged two-channels-should-be-enough audiophile, I decided I didn’t care about that surround-sound crap; so I’d been driving the decent little speakers and subwoofer, all from PSB, with an elderly but pleasing NAD integrated stereo amp.
Probably the single best improvement in recent years was a Logitech Harmony universal remote, which is that rare thing, a truly great TV-related consumer product.
So, as this particular story begins, the TV (for video) and NAD box (for audio) were talking to a cable box (some Motorola thingie), a Roku, a DVD player, and a Wii.
First-World Problems · Life, however, wasn’t perfect.
It’s hard to watch YouTube. The current setup is pretty jury-rigged. But hey, that problem will end soon, courtesy of Chromecast, right? Except for I’m already using all the HDMIs on the TV except for the one on the front, and I don’t think the Chromecast will work with our decor.
Because everything had to have wires running separately to the TV and the amp, the tangle behind the cabinet had become soul-destroying. Setting up the Roku cost 45 minutes of my life refactoring it all; the only sane way to change anything is to unplug everything and start again. Doing this hurts; I end up snarling at my children and cats.
The Logitech Harmony works really well with everything except for our TV. It just can’t manage to switch between inputs, which is not surprising because the TV’s remote-switching is a stateful maze of twisty little passages.
I generally disapprove of monopolies but am beginning to think that nobody should ship consumer electronics that don’t work with Harmony remotes.
AV Receivers · The notion is, you run an HDMI from each device into the receiver, then one HDMI from the receiver to the TV, and wires from the receiver to the speakers, and it takes care of all the switching. There are a butt-load of receivers out there, the features list is horrendously confusing, there’s little standard nomenclature, and you can end up paying way too much money.
In my case, life is a little easier, because we don’t have room for a really big box and I don’t care about the klunky networking these things offer; anything remotely useful will be done better by AppleTV or Chromecast.
[Sidebar: Linking to products] Linking to something like that Marantz is a trail of tears. The manufacturer’s page is unlikely to survive next year’s product refresh and the CNet review feels awfully non-canonical. So I ended up linking to the Amazon buy-one-of-these page, which I bet survives both of them. And [Disclosure] I put in my affiliate code, so this may end up helping me sell underpants.
What’s Good · Generally, this has been a big success:
The number of audio and video cables I discarded was astounding. It’s still pretty busy behind the cabinet, but no longer makes you want to puke then run.
We used to have 4 HDMI inputs on the TV. The Marantz has 6 and there are 3 left over on the TV. If I ever start saying that I need more HDMI inputs, take me out and shoot me.
The Harmony remote works brilliantly with the new setup, since it no longer has to try (and usually fail) to switch TV inputs.
Modern devices, like the cable box and the Roku, wake up when you select that input on the Marantz, and eventually go to sleep when you turn it off. Win! On the other hand, neither the TV nor the ancient DVD box can manage that. But it’s OK, the Harmony turns them on and off as required.
Not So Good · This technology should hardly be considered bleeding-edge any more but, amazingly enough, some aspects remain imperfect.
We still have to fiddle with the TV-screen zoom, but only between HD and non-HD. Presumably an HD-savvy box should be able to look at what’s coming in and tell the TV what to be ready for already?
The audio sounded like shit till I figured where in the klunky Marantz menus to tell it that I have left and right speakers and a subwoofer, but no center speaker nor back channels.
[Update: This used to say the Logitech would’t work with the Roku, but then it started working just fine.]
Next Steps ·
We have no Blu-Ray. Buying a standalone player at this point feels silly, and I was going to get a PS3 so I could have one and play Journey, but now there’s a PS4.
Also, we need to play DVDs from Australia and Europe which means ignoring the “region” bullshit. Not obvious what to do.
We have no center channel and that’s OK, because I’ve never believed they’re useful except for severely-off-axis listeners, and our room isn’t wide enough. But the room would be perfect for rear-channel surround, if I could only figure out how to run wires from the TV cabinet to the back of the room without having them exposed to view. Major engineering creativity is called for.
Of course, in the near future I expect to wave my hand idly at the nearest wall and have it start playing music with distortion below the threshold of human perception, infinite dynamic range, and it’ll be the Music of the Spheres augmented by the tunes in my head. And the video will be mostly Miyazaki.