Tuesday, August 31, 2004

One of those days (Pt 2)

[ This is a continuation of One of those days (Pt 1), where I had one of those days where nothing seems to go right ]

After waxing and washing the car, there was one other thing I wanted to get accomplished on my day off: Fixing the wiring mess that I had made of the home theater/video game cabinet.

Now there wasn't anything wrong with the wiring per-se, it was more a problem with the TV.

You see, my TV is nice enough, but it is 5-6 years old now. And one of the things I skimped on when picking it out was the number of inputs. I got a bigger TV (32", back when 32-36" was as big as TVs got unless you wanted to plunk down 5,000), but it only has 2 composite inputs and a single S-video input. The theory was that soon I would be buying a fancy receiver with dozens of inputs, which could switch all the various connectors and I would only need one thing connected to the TV (well, maybe two if the receiver didn't upconvert from composite to S-video).

6 years later, that fancy receiver is nowhere to be found. So we've been limping by with an 8-year old Dolby Pro-logic Aiwa receiver (it used to play CDs but like everyone's Aiwa of that era the CD player broke about 91 days after purchase). Anyways, the few inputs on the TV have been enough to hook all seven consoles, a DVD player, a VCR, and the cable box up with some judicious use of a switch box and the various pass-through inputs on other equipment. Except that lately the TV started acting up a bit.

In theory, the manual says not to use the S-Video plug at the same time as the second composite video input. In my mind (and need for as many inputs as I could get) that meant, just don't have signal coming into both at the same time. And this worked just fine for a long time (except for some minor color banding on the video games, but nothing noticable to anyone but me).

However, for about the last month, the TV started acting up whenever both plugs were even just attached, regardless of if the DVD/video games were on. If the S-video was playing and the compsite was attached, everything was black&white. If it was the other way around, everything was orange. Yes, I know, bizarre.

We were able to get by, by disconnecting the not-in-use plug, but this was a big pain . Not to mention that S-video cables are impossible to get lined up and plugged in when reaching around a TV and not really being able to see what you are doing.

So when I went to Best Buy on Monday, it was with the intention of picking up the XBox S-video output cable, and DVD remote. The theory being that I could then get rid of the old DVD player (which is making an annoying whirring sound that apparently only I can hear), and reduce the number of inputs I need on the TV.

The S-video cable for the XBox turned out to be a full-on AV break out box. It included a digital optical output connector. Looking at this, I excitedly recalled that my crappy old receiver had optical connectors as well. I've never used it, but there is a little black plastic dust cap on the back of the receiver that falls off everytime you move it. Then I pick it up and go "WTF is this thing", followed shortly by "Oh yeah, that is for the optical connector.

So now I was excited, not only could I reduce the number of inputs I needed on my TV, but I could improve the audio while I was at it.

After picking out an outrageously priced 6' optical cable ($25) and the XBox AV kit and XBox DVD Remote, I was all set to fix up the home theater wiring.

I shuffled the various consoles around, re-snaked all the wires to the correct places, hooked up the XBox AV kit, and ran the optical cable over to the receiver.

Everything was going well to this point. Until I pulled out the receiver and looked at the optical connection only to realize it was labeled 'CD Digital Out'.

Yep, that's right, the only optical connection on the receiver is in fact, an output, not an input. Thus completely and totally worthless to anyone who has ever owned this receiver.

Looking in the manual, the optical output is explained as being for 'hooking up your DAT recorder'. As if anyone has ever hooked up a fricking DAT recorder to a Pro-Logic Aiwa receiver with like 1% THD.

Now, as Brenden can tell you, I never get bitter.

But I will admit that I might have been a bit bitter as I re-did half the wiring to accomodate the fact that I didn't need to have the XBox wasn't going to be separately connected to the receiver via optical. It's a bit hard to explain why this was necessary, and this post is plenty long enough, so rest assured it was necessary.

Eventually I did get everything hooked up, and I think the XBox is minor improvement over the 5-year old Sony DVD player we were using, even with out any fancy audio connections (it is progressive scan, if nothing else).

So the whole project wasn't a total loss, but it took about 3x as long as I thought it was going to.

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