R.I.P DVD 1995-2014

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Technology can be a blessing or maddening. It changes all too often for some of us who are just getting used to one device when another hits the shelves. Some people just can’t resist the latest smart phone, tablet, or flat screen TV in principle. They want to brag about it! If that sounds familiar, you better be flexible these days, particularly in the world of entertainment. If you are like most, you didn’t catch the latest movie or TV show when it first appeared and are now craving to see it. You used to buy DVDs or rent them at Blockbuster (who?). Well, they have gone the way of beta tapes, cassettes, and other obsolete gadgets whose names we can’t even remember.

You might not even recall the groundbreaking appearance of a new invention in 1995 thanks to Phillips, Panasonic, Sony, and Toshiba (was there a mole that leaked info to competitors?). Known as digital optical disc storage (DVD), it solved the problem of the fragile tape cassette. It was an extension of the CD with enhanced capability, although it did require a specific player that you didn’t yet have. We all ran out and bought them of course! They had better data lifespan and were even interactive. It was all about high quality at your fingertips. Then came the DVD-R and a new player to boot! And so it goes on.

It was thrilling. No more broken tapes or damaged playback as with VHS. They were smaller and easy to stow away on a shelf.  They were better than CDs. Players were more streamlined and you could use your computer if it was up to date (or you ran out and got a new one). It was a magical time! You were in charge. Then came Blu-ray and you had to toss everything (at least those obsessed with keeping up). One thing always supersedes another!  Sony gets the credit for this advancement in 2000 (although it was officially released closer to 2006) that boasted of even higher definition than the DVD.

Well sooner or later, there is something else on the horizon, something new to covet in fear of becoming obsolete. Now you can sign up for Netflix, use On Demand, or simply download what you want. There is Hulu and other services to view TV episodes as well.  You can pay for them on Amazon Prime. I must say it is getting easier all the time with online video. Data shows a rise in usage with these platforms with billions spent in the process. It’s a free-for-all out there!

Don’t incinerate those DVDs just yet my friends. You can still use them to burn stuff. They may even become collectors’ items if they stop making them! Kids still use them and people who can’t be bothered with learning the new resources available. However, most will want to opt for dish installation, subscription services, cable programming, and other assorted modalities to be in the know and up to speed.

Strange Documentaries

Sometimes life is just too darn shocking. You don’t want to see everything odd and alien in the world, but then on the learning channel or PBS there is a story about Siamese twins or a child born with no face. You groan at the rare diseases and rare ailments that you are sure you will get. You shy away from the untold truth. You turn the channel, but you see online a whole slew of DVDs about strange medical conditions like the body turning to stone or infants that are aged at birth. Some people are drawn to these conditions, perhaps grateful they are healthy and unscathed. Others dwell on the darker side of life. They are gothic in nature. There are plenty out of these people out there to fill the need, whatever it may be.

I don’t gravitate to this sort of thing. However… I have made an exception recently. I suffer from toenail fungus believe it or not. I hate that dark yellowish nails that has dug in for the duration under my nail beds. It is a menace that can’t be abolished, and lord knows I have tried with countless useless dollars spent on bogus potions and magical miracle medicines that don’t work. I don’t care what Dr. Oz says is the best treatment. My dermatologist claims that prescriptions like Lamisil or Sporanox are fine for some but would be bad for my liver as tests already show a modest elevation of enzymes. So I am stumped at this juncture.

I went out and purchased a DVD about laser treatments. All sorts of new medical applications are shown. I was fascinated with, but could pass on, the cosmetic uses for anti-aging as well as the surgical advantages when cutting tissue in the body. Wow. It zaps gallstones and tumors. But then I came to the new toe fungus pat. Laser as a remedy is still being evaluated, but the program gave a promising overview of this next generation concept. With the correct usage of an FDA-approved device, the ubiquitous nail spoiler can be eradicated, sometimes for good.

Apparently, according to the DVD, you need a few sessions with a professional, about 40 minutes each for all ten toes. It is not cheap but has been shown to be effective, up to 80%. That means a slight possibility of defeat in my case, but I am willing to take a chance and will soon book an appointment. I know it is painless and can take up to a year to fully clear the affected toenails. I know it is not particularly risky like the pills and not ineffective like an external lacquer. All in all, am pretty optimistic.

It is amazing how much is available on DVD on just about any subject. Who knew that toenail fungus would find a place on a respectable medical video probably meant for doctors more than prospective patients? The world of knowledge is at your fingertips. You don’t have to surf the Internet for everything except titles.

What a Bore: a 2 Day Power Outage

What is your worst home nightmare! You have friends coming over and the power goes out. (For me, last time this happened, it was two days of darkness in hell.) Or maybe you are alone and you can’t go without your TV routine for one thing, not to mention the refrigerator and coffeemaker. It is a survival crisis of the worst kind! You are at the mercy of the elements and the power company.

If this has happened a few too many times, you may want to consider a backup generator to solve the problem. In most areas of the country, it can really come in handy as a rescue mechanism. It is a bit expensive as you may think but is well worth the outlay. They are state-of-the art lifesavers, superior in construction and operation. Your laptop has a battery, of course, but there are vital services your appliances provide that will benefit. No one wants the food in the freezer to rot – especially those expensive steaks you just bought or the litres of your favourite ice cream.

I, for one, can’t live for long without the TV. I am addicted. I don’t relish the thought of resorting to the tiny screen on my smart phone. My decision to purchase a generator was easy after the last brown out. For me, boredom looms large when I can’t watch the boob tube. I went in search of a good unit. I scoured the Internet and the local builder’s emporium–lots of models with lots of tricks. With too much to consider on the web, I opted for the brick and mortar store to avail myself of expert help. I was told I should spend about $2,500 and up for my alternate power solution. I have an average home with average usage. My need is therefore quite mid-range. Nothing out of the ordinary or exotic.

We are not talking about a carry-it-with-you camping device or an on the job site power source for tools, but something that could light up a single-family home without much ado. It will stay put outside the exterior wall (18 inches) and work its magic in the event of a dreaded outage. I was shown an impressive compact Generac Guardian 22kw air-cooled wizard on special. It is a pricey model but had the all-around features any homeowner could want. It is cost efficient relative to other choices and does its job for days and days. This sounded ideal as preventative protection. Furthermore, it has a remote monitoring system and comes with free customer support and a 5-year warranty.

They promised easy installation, so I went for it. Plus they boasted of a whole house transfer switch—what they called smart power management to handle circuit overload. With this purchase (well beyond a basic unit), boredom will be an obsolete word. It’s quiet and the neighbors won’t even know it’s there. I fully expect another power outage sometime soon. If not, my good intentions may have been in vain – but I doubt it!

The Magic of Surround Sound

Mohamed Habib, frequently seen on the Housewives of Beverly Hills (he was, in fact, married to one of them), has spent two million dollars on a lavish, beyond-comprehension home theater compound recently. It is as big as the average middle class home.  No words can describe the luxury–mostly to be used by his young adult daughters and their friends no doubt. It is all part of his palatial estate and indicates the popularity of the trend. Sophisticated systems are not uncommon in this area of Los Angeles, but his surpasses even the most opulent.

Surround sound is a feature of Mohamed’s special space (architecturally designed from scratch for concert hall acoustics) that also includes an enormous 3D TV with response time in the milliseconds (we are not telling if it is the diamond studded panel model by Yalos or the 152 inch Panasonic at 500K), state-of-the art symphonic quality speakers for maximum multi-channel surround sound, and more. This is just to make you drool. In actuality, however, many “average” Joes are getting home theater installations with an extraordinary capacity for high quality sound.

What exactly is surround sound? It is simply a stereophonic system with three or more speakers (many more are actually used today). It creates an amazing realistic effect as if sound were surrounding the listener from the perspective of 360 degrees. The speakers or channels go I front and behind. Most people are familiar with Dolby Digital, one of the reigning formats. Don’t worry about full- bandwidth, low frequency effects, and matrixes (for encoding separate sound signals from a stereo source) for now. The basic components include:

  • Home theater receiver (the brain of the system) and digital equalizers
  • Speakers and a subwoofer (don’t mix brands)
  • Power protection, cables, universal remote (don’t skimp on quality)
  • Internet and component connections
  • AV setup: speaker stands/brackets, etc.

The average person cannot afford the very same components, but they can enjoy the best that surround sound has to offer at various prince points from $10,000 to $100,000 or more.  Each system has its selling points and the one selected should not only suit one’s budget, but the optimal placement, purpose, and likely users. Whether a home theater and or sound system will be operated by adults or children makes a difference in making the right choice. Surround sound systems can be in a den, living room, basement rec area, or special designated space in the home or an adjunct structure. The level of quality will reflect price and brand models. It is best to consult the experts, listen to various options, and make your decision. Warning: starting with the best will surely color your view of lower-priced units.

Surround sound goes with the home theater territory but a true audiophile will appreciate the specific benefits of a quality system. Our eyes have gotten more sophisticated in line with music industry recording processes and what we hear at the cinema. Good sound is essential to great movie viewing wherever you are. But remember that it takes research and planning to do it well for a fair price.  You don’t want to mix connection types and get muddled sound. You need to know how much power for your speakers and your amp to suit room size. Placement is a consideration far too often overlooked. If you are still nonplussed, try Home Theater in a Box.

How To: Home Movie Projector

You are an inveterate bachelor and love to entertain the guys, particularly on those lazy, boring Sunday afternoons. You could use the rec room in your condo building, but you would have to share it with dozens of other tenants and their noisy guests. Besides, you don’t want to share the gourmet popcorn and imported beer.  So you decide to get a digital projector and turn your biggest wall in the living room into a permanent screen. Your DVD collection is just waiting for exposure. As for gaming, bring it on!

In the absence of a basement or spare room home theater, a great solution is to use existing living space to show videos and project programs larger than life. Even if you are a family man with a nice suburban spread, you can enjoy the benefits of your mini system for a modest outlay. All those great videos of kids’ birthday parties, Uncle Joe’s sixtieth birthday, and your trip to Hawaii will come to life with a few effortless steps. Operating the simpler projectors is so easy, a child can do it! They no doubt will use it for their favorite Disney films and cartoons. Whatever the purpose, hours of fun are in store.

Home movie projectors come in all shapes and sizes. Pick your price point and start looking at available models. Check out the features: what can’t you live without? Most people want 1080p resolution and full 3D capability. This is your special treat and you deserve it. Sony and Panasonic make good projectors. You can spend $600 to $13,000. If this is overwhelming, take a look at a few recommended options.

  • Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2030: This full HD 3D unit sells for around $875 and is perfect for living room use.  In addition, it can access content from smart phones and streaming video from other services. With good image quality, it does not have the highest power or longest zoom lens, and high contrast ratio, but you can’t beat it for the price. For a more professional model, go for the Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 6030UB at a pricey $3,500.
  • BenQW1500: At $1,500 it is a mid-range projector with superior image quality, a flexible zoom lens, wireless HDMI, and produces over 1700 lumens. A great all around choice.

Tips and tricks

There are a few buyers guides on line to help you sort through the maze of options if you want to look further. You need to be concerned about:

  • Brightness
  • Native aspect ratio (related to source material)
  • Lamp life
  • Image quality and resolution (pixels)
  • DEEP color and frame interpolation
  • Do you want 3D?
  • Where and how to mount the projector
  • Sound system with speakers

It is imperative to know what mode to use on your projector for best results with Blu-ray, DVDs, and HDTV signals. A little knowledge goes a long way in helping you enjoy your purchase to the maximum. It can get pretty complicated so never bet ashamed of using a consultant or a trustworthy online guide.