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| Avoiding the PC-to-TV Pitfalls (3 comments )|
by: evernight (6) | Posted in cluster FiringSquad Editors Challenge Round 1 Prelim 1
Posted 76 months ago in category DEFAULT
“When are we going to get jet packs?” Jon Stewart asked a Vista-pimping Bill Gates on a recent Daily Show. While that particular dream is still a long way off, a less ambitious vision of future life has come true for yours truly. I’m now equipped to watch WMVs, play MMOs, and speculate as to which American Idol reject with a YouTube account is really bringing sexy back on the same HDTV that brings me weekly doses of 24. My road to digital freedom was not without pitfalls, however. In the following article, I’ll detail a few of the lessons that would have saved me time and money had I known about them up front.
First off, if you’re not already familiar with bluejeanscable.com, take a moment to add a bookmark now. The company is well on its way to legendary status among AV aficionados. I bought a Nintendo Wii and a DS in 2006, and they barely beat out the 15’ DVI-to-HDMI cable I snagged from Blue Jeans for a tidy $36.50 as my Purchase of the Year. Part of the appeal is that the DVI-to-HDMI cable replaced a VGA extension cable that ran between my PC and a special port on the back of my Sony Grand WEGA. The VGA worked, but (by design) it would only support resolutions up to 1024x768, and (not by design) it flickered like a broken garage door. Enter my DVI-to-HDMI, and I’m now running rock solid at 1920x1080i…though not without some tweaking. Incidentally, if you’re running an older or budget video card without DVI support, it’s time for an upgrade. You can buy Radeon 9550 or GeForce 6200 for under $80 and $60 respectively, and serve HD content from either.
So Lesson #1 is, choose the right cables. Go digital, either DVI-to-HDMI, DVI-to-DVI, or HDMI-to-HDMI. Be careful if you go with a DVI solution, by far the most likely your video card will support. There are at least two flavors of DVI connections, DVI-I (analog/digital) and DVI-D (digital), that you’re likely to encounter, with the slight chance of DVI-A (analog) on older or specialty video cards. Either digital version will deliver the goods, but you’ll want to look carefully at the socket on your video card to make sure it accommodates the cable. Blue Jeans has a nice write up here: http://www.bluejeanscable.com/store/dvi/index.htm. The key is plug design. If your video card supports DVI-I, the socket will include holes for four extra pins, two above and two below the wide, rectangular pin that features on both versions. A DVI-D socket will have no such pins. Translation? DVI-I plug + DVI-D socket = no go. There are other combinations where a mix-and-match might work, but as the cables run roughly the same price for similar lengths, it makes better sense to match like with like.
Once you’ve settled on the right cable, it’s time for the real work to begin. In a perfect world, Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, et al, would offer driver file downloads for their HDTVs online. Alas, this is not a perfect world. You basically have two options for choosing the right driver. Choice #1, which I recommend you try first, is to pick a high-end digital (read: flat-panel LCD) monitor driver that supports resolutions up to 1920x1080. There’s a real need for caution here, especially if your HDTV is not an LCD device. If you set the refresh rate from your video card too high, it could damage your display. An LCD with the refresh rate set too high usually will simply not display an image, but it’s not worth the risk to find out. Instead, do a little research. Flip through your manufacturer’s handbook to find the maximum recommended refresh rate. On a non-1080p set, it’s almost certainly 30 Hertz. If you can find a driver file that supports 1920x1080 at 30Hz, that’s probably a good place to start. But again, check and double-check your manufacturer’s handbook for any warnings about your particular model.
If you can’t find an appropriate driver file, you’ll need to create a custom “tweaked” video driver. Even if you do come up with a driver that works, you may wish to give this a try, as quite a few of the drivers out there do not properly compensate for an HDTV screen’s physical dimensions, or the fact that some of the 2,073,600 pixels that make up your display appear to be hidden under a half-inch or so of plastic frame. Personally, I started down the path I’m about to describe, quickly back-peddled when I discovered the amount of nitpicking involved and returned, after two months watching content at sub-1920x1080i resolutions, to tweak again. One test I have not been able to conduct, since I don't have a TV-tuner for my PC, is displaying the same HD content on my PC-to-TV input as I am able to view via cable and over-the-air antenna. So I can’t say for certain whether my PC is cropping images according to its own unique idiom, or if all the content I’ve been used to watching on cable/OTA is similarly cropped. I suspect the latter is the case. Still, that’s why we’re PC-people, right? We want the big picture, whatever skills we have to learn to get it.
The tweaker’s weapon of choice is PowerStrip. It’s a shareware program to derive video drivers visually and in real-time, or by formula from expert-user sites, ergo AVSForum. All the links you need are in this guide from Ram Electronics: http://www.ramelectronics.net/html/powerstrip.html. Note that there are other programs out there that allow you to tweak driver settings, such as ATI’s own Catalyst software suite, but these usually restrict you to tweaking size and refresh rate, not screen position, which makes PowerStrip the killer app. Also, please, please read all the cautions in your manufacturer’s handbook again before using PowerStrip. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the tweaking process and send a potentially harmful refresh setting to your display. Lastly, make sure you know how to boot your OS in what Windows calls “safe mode” – with minimal device support – just in case you’re as gifted a screw-up as I am and manage to set both your HDTV and your backup monitor to undisplayable resolutions. For Windows 2000/XP/Vista users, this means clicking F8 before Windows boots up.
Following the advice above will hopefully steer you to a workable PC-to-TV video solution. Now how about that audio? Here we leave my area of expertise. I have yet to upgrade my soundcard to take advantage of 5.1 surround sound. I can tell you what not to do, however. Do not invest in 1/8th” mini-jack extension cables. 1/8th” mini-jack sockets are standard on most soundcards, and they work for what the soundcard was designed to do, namely power a set of computer speakers at a maximum distance of about four feet from the PC. The problem with adding extension cables is that these tend not to be well shielded, so whatever audio you do hear will be obscured by layers of buzzzzzzzz. To reduce the buzz, hit up Radio Shack for a mini-jack to RCA converter and cross the distance with standard audio cable.
Notice I said, “reduce.” In my experience, the standard outputs from a soundcard are so far from ideal that killing the buzz altogether is impossible. You can compensate by turning up the volume on your card and the content to maximum levels, allowing you to minimize levels on your AV receiver, but this is a work-around, not a solution, and it works better for big, booming movies than movies or games with lots of quiet moments. What you want – and by “you” I mean “me” – is a decent midrange soundcard with S/PDIF RCA or TOSLINK digital out. Given the paucity of content I own that serves 5.1 stereo and is not playable on my DVD player, I resolved months ago to content myself with low-buzz analog stereo. But it nags at me. It’s like a fish nibbling on my finger. I know it can’t really do me harm, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “This fish wants to eat me!” So bear with me, gentle readers. I’ll crack before the week is out, and return with my impressions on at least one, if not several failed and one successful, digital audio solutions.
|3 User Comment(s) • 2 root comment(s)|
| geomaster (8) Feb 15, 2007 - 09:13 pm|
|Can't agree with you on the argument of using spdif out of a sound card. If you are gonna use spdif why did you buy an expensive sound card (think x-fi) with a dedicated DSP to process the audio--so that you can basically pass it through the sound card, completely undecoded (might as well use the onboard audio-would hardly make a difference), leaving your speakers to do the work and that's only if your speakers even have that capability. Also there's no way to send the EAX multichannel sound from a game to your speakers through spdif (only exception was nforce2). So I advise you and others, use the analog out connections from your dedicated sound card, unless you like stereo sound|
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| evernight (6) Feb 16, 2007 - 08:28 am|
|That's why I put the disclaimer in about my not having gone down this path yet. That said, I don't plan on buying a high-end sound card, more something in the Audigy line, and I'm basically looking to get 5.1 out of my DVD playback, though games are somewhat a concern. I'd be glad to get more advice.|
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