The Device that Saved my Home Theatre

I enjoy movies and TV immensely, I have since I was a kid. As a teen I used to stay up till 4am on fridays and saturdays watching old school films on the local channel. If I ever have an hour or two of free time it’s a coin flip between video games, TV show or a Movie. I live in a 3 story apartment building, and I’m positive that my neighbours must hate me by now. I crank the shit out of my volume, on a 0-100 volume scale I hover around 65, and 75 if it’s action packed and full of awesome effects. My go to movie for testing sound effects is the first 20 minutes of Star Trek First Contact, I’m sure there are better movies out there for testing audio system setups but Star Trek holds a special place in my heart.

Home Theatre

The entire setup, sans the rear surrounds.

My Home Theatre setup is as follows. The TV is an LG 60” Smart TV, beautiful picture except for the fact that mine was shipped with a defect in the panel. I am in the process of getting it replaced but since it is the time of year where manufacturers are switching to their new product line LG has no stock of 60” TVs at the moment. Funny fact, when the repair guy showed up at my place to have a look at the TV and opened it up, the label on the LCD panel inside read SHARP. He also said he has never seen a panel with the issue that I have. Smart TVs are nice having the option of netflix right on the TV is a nice add on, and the LG magic remote is a pleasure to use it is similar to the likes of the Wii remote if you’ve ever used one.

Panel and Problem

Panel defect, top left, dark pixels. Sharp panel on the inside.

Harman Kardon AVR 2650

Harman Kardon AVR 2650

The receiver is a Harman Kardon AVR 2650, 7.2 surround, 3D support and in general just beautiful sound. It is capable of plethora of audio codecs, as well as DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. I have yet to get the Audio Return Channel to work but whatever, modern TVs have optical output, so really it is not a dealbreaker for me. Also a device connected to my receiver does not allow ARC, but we’ll get to that later in the article, essentially this limits my options with ARC. It also has network connectivity which allows music streaming from internet radio or a local DNLA server. Yes, I could have went with other receivers that have better on screen display, and more features, however I was not willing to sacrifice the audio quality that Harman is known for just to get a few extra bells and whistles.

The JBL loft series speakers are connected to my receiver, and a Polk Audio subwoofer. I have 2 Loft50s for fronts, a Loft20 center speaker, two Loft30s for surrounds, and a Polk Audio PSW10 subwoofer. This setup is nothing special, but it does the job. In the future I hope to upgrade to an Axiom setup, drool… http://www.axiomaudio.com/. Now I had no idea JBL was owned by Harman until I bought them, so I assume I matched up the setup quite nicely. I got a really good deal on these speakers too, boxing day is a blessing. I pretty much got a good deal on most of my equipment, I’m a bit of a frugal man so I save where I can. Sound reproduction is excellent. At first when I bought these speakers I had trouble finding the appropriate crossover settings and reading online yielded only suggestions and no exact settings for this option on my receiver. At first I was running the receiver at default settings, which was I believe was 100 for all speakers, boy was I ignorant. Is sounds so much better with the right settings. It’s like night and day.

So what is crossover? Crossover frequency is the frequency point you set at which the speakers start to feed their information to the subwoofer. This is set by the room acoustics, speaker frequency range… etc. There are a lot of factors involved in this measurement, and this is why I could not find an exact metric for my setup online. You kind of have to calculate/quess it. I found a good article explaining this crossover feature on Cnet, check it out it really goes into depth of crossover http://forums.cnet.com/7723-7596_102-308924/what-is-crossover-setting/. This is where the EZset/EQ swooped in to save the day, it pretty much took all the guesswork out of the equation for crossover. Set it and forget it. Well not exactly, after the EZset setup my crossover frequency I went in the menu and tweaked the distances and levels of the speakers. This involved a measuring tape and listening to music in 5 channel stereo. No this is not the device that saved my Home theatre, this is the device that helped me get the most out if it.

Finally I have all this connected to my network which hosts a home server sporting the Linux UnRaid distribution, with movies, TV, and my Music on it which is all reachable directly on a SAMBA share or via a DNLA server of the Plex flavour. Actually a friend of mine turned me onto this server OS and I couldn’t be happier with the switch from Windows to Linux. Check it out both UnRaid http://lime-technology.com/ and Plex Server http://www.plexapp.com/. Plex is nice because it does transcoding for PS3 and Xbox 360, and can be installed on WIndows, Mac, or Linux. I also have a PS3 an Xbox 360, HTPC, Gaming Computer, and a Bluray/DVD/HDDVD player connected to the receiver.

The Problem

Some call it video stutter, audio drops, there are so many names for it. I call it, bad programming, however before I continue I need to explain to you what EDID is. EDID stand for Extended Display Identification Data, EDID id is how an Xbox or PS3 tells a television set that it is connected to to the display, that it exists, and what resolution it is capable of. And the communication goes something like this…

EDID

Anyways the problem I encountered was one that i really did not notice until I got my new LG TV. I upgraded from a 5 year old 46” Samsung LCD to a new 60” LG Smart TV.

When I had my Samsung connected to the receiver I had the occasional video flicker, mostly on my HTPC. My gaming and other video devices didn’t really cause any problems.

So I didn’t really think much of it. I bought a new TV, I wall mounted it, and started it up. At first it worked flawlessly. Yeah it worked, it worked until i restarted the television, this is where you should insert hours of cursing and troubleshooting. The only way the whole setup would work is if I turned it on in a specific order as per the receiver troubleshooting guide. Even then sometimes this did not help at all, and when I did manage to get video going there would be other issues I would experience. I would have to turn everything off for 5 min and try again. Check out my video on YouTube… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIFTPkttjrI

I blamed the receiver at first, as did hundreds of other people on Amazon. This is wrong, it is not the receivers fault, it is actually a combination of both receiver and the television set. Mostly however it is the television set and bad programming. But how do you know this Dave?

Well, this is not my first run in with an LG television and bad EDID communication. My first instance was about 2 years ago, I was setting up a Patriot Box Office in the basement and connecting it to an LG TV. Nothing, that is what I got on the television, no sound or picture. Now I knew this worked because as soon as I connected the PBO to my Samsung television, the PBO booted up and I was able to watch videos and listen to music.

The second run in was with my Fathers LG LCD. I was over at his place and I had my Dell XPS laptop with me and an HDMI cable. We decided we wanted to watch a movie where my laptop was the source. Once I connected the laptop to the TV I got a video but no audio. I tried several cables, and finally came to the realization that it’s not going to happen.

The third incident is in the form of my own Home Theatre. Oh man I was so livid when this first occurred, new TV, good surround but yet I can’t watch anything without audio or video dropping out. It also affected my Xbox 360 and PS3, the 360 would flicker really bad and I could not get any audio or video on my PS3. So came the hunt for my solution.

The Hunt

I spent hours on the net reading about the problem, searching, researching, reading, and then reading some more. Scratch that, not hours but days. Then one night at 1 am when I was looking at other receivers I stumbled upon this review on Amazon http://goo.gl/m8Na9. Whaaaaaaaa?!?…. yup… “Video issues like yours occur when HDCP or EDID information doesn’t sync properly between the receiver’s HDMI repeater and your TV.” Bells and whistles went off in my head, and I wanted to do Dance of Joy http://vimeo.com/6530632.

I found the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. Beer! Kidding, I had finally found my culprit, right there in black and white from experts was exactly what was going on. I kept reading reviews on the HDMI detective and EDID issues. Most users had the problems with their HTPC and Receivers, but it all seemed very familiar to me. I found a couple reviews and complaints about receivers in general and this problem was not isolated to just HTPCs.

I thought I found the solution but I wanted to make sure. So I kept digging and reading, trying to find weather or not this EDID issue could be resolved by a device one of the posts mentioned. Nothing concrete, but I said “Screw it!” I’m going to pick one up anyways and give it a try. Worst case scenario I can send it back, with Amazons amazing customer service this will be a non issue.

Gefen HDMI Detective Plus

Gefen HDMI Detective Plus

The Solution

This is where the Gefen HDMI Detective comes in. http://goo.gl/gbW4r . Like a superhero swooping in to save a damsel in distress, the HDMI saved the day. I bought mine from Amazon. It was very easy to setup, literally it took less than 5 min.

Gefen HDMI Detective Plus in action.

Gefen HDMI Detective Plus in action.

The Gefen HDMI Detective Plus attaches to the HDTV display’s HDMI input connector for initial programming. Power is applied and the HDMI Detective Plus reads and stores the attached displays EDID to the internal memory. Then the HDMI Detective Plus is attached to your source HDMI output and it will never lose EDID again.

The HDMI Detective Plus includes 5 built-in selectable generic EDIDs that can be used for meeting standard home theatre setups. They can be selected by moving the dip switches between the different settings. I used one of the preset settings that come pre programmed with the device.

EDID

EDID 5 was my preset of choice, it can handle DTS, Dolby and 1080p is its native resolution. This was good enough for my Home Theatre setup and, 3 months later it is still up and running no more video or audio drops.

Conclusion

At the time of writing this, one of these devices will set you back about $130. You can find them for cheaper but rarely. If you’re like me this does not even cover the cost of cabling and shelving I had to buy for my system.

All in all this is a must have device for any Home Theatre, most setups have an HTPC if that is the case this device can save you a head full of ache. I paid the $130 and didn’t even look back, I’ll have this for the life span of my system and it is a small price to pay for a piece of mind.

Side Notes

For those of you that have EDID problems with your PC and a TV set check out this thread in the AVS Forum about changing the EDID on your video card driver. Otherwise you will need the Gefen HDMI Detective. http://www.avsforum.com/t/1091403/edid-override-thread

Update

Just a quick update.

I wanted to mention a few things about the receiver I have, mainly the crossover frequencies and an observation.

The crossover fq settings are as follows:

Front: Large

Centre: 60 Hz

Surround: 40 Hz

Subwoofer: Present

Mind you, these are based on my room size, device, and speakers. JBL, Loft 50, 30 and 20.

Update 2

Since writing this I am on my second H/K AVR 2650 receiver. The HDMI board on it blew last week. I have decided to return it to Amazon, who by the way has the most excellent customer service . I’m really pleased doing business with them and will continue to do so. I have decided to buy a Pioneer VSX-1123-K receiver from Amazon, or a local retailer if I can find it for a similar price.

Update 3

Both HDMI boards were bad on the two Harmon Kardon receivers. With my new Pioneer I no longer need this device, and it sits collecting dust in a box somewhere. Since this issue I have learned to avoid Harman Kardon hardware. The consensus is that since 2009 and the move of all manufacturing and design to China these devices have drastically dropped in quality.

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