Gear

I created this list because:

  • I’m frequently asked for technology recommendations and decided to keep a consolidated and updated list.
  • I wanted to speed-up my software download/install process when setting up a new computer.
  • I’ve personally tested everything on this list and feel all of it offers the best performance for the price.
  • Many of the software products are free and open source; the developers deserve more recognition than I can give them this is a start.

Home Theater Hardware:

  • High-End Video Projector: Anything from the JVC D-ILA line. Unsurpassed black levels, extremely bright, amazing picture detail.
  • Budget Video Projector: Epson Home Cinema 8350 or 8700UB.
  • Projection Screen: Carada Criterion series screens offer great performance at a reasonable price.
  • Purchased Subwoofers: SVS Subwoofers are amazing, especially considering the price. I recommend the PB12-NDS model for budget-oriented systems or two of the PB13-Ultra models for the ultimate setup.
  • DIY Subwoofers: If you have the time and skill, you can build an amazing subwoofer system that surpasses commercial offerings, but they require building large or special enclosures. Infinite Baffle subwoofers offer the best low frequency response; Horn-loaded subs offer the highest output (highest efficiency.) Search on Google for more details.
  • High-end Home Theater A/V receiver: Denon AVR-X4000. I’ve tried the ultra-high end gear that costs several times what this Denon receiver does. While there are some small gains in sound quality, there are big drawbacks in usability and reliability, especially when it comes to HDMI synching/switching and firmware updates. The tiny improvement in sound quality just wasn’t worth the constant reboots required to get my Anthem D2V to sync HDMI video or audio every time I changed sources or video formats. The Denon is bullet-proof, reliable, and is pretty much indestinguishable from my previous equipment. The Audyssey XT32 room correction does a great managing multiple subwoofers and correcting the sound for the room in general. Plus, it has an Ethernet port and handles every format I can throw at it.
  • Budget Home Theater A/V receiver: Which ever Denon A/V Receiver fits your budget. I highly recommend that it at least have HDMI v1.4 switching, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding. I also recommend an Ethernet port and Audyssey room correction.
  • Universal Remote Control: Logitech Harmony Smart Control. I like that it is a remote with physical buttons that click, has an RF base station so you don’t have to aim it at components, and it also has an iOS/Android app that offers the same features as the dedicated remote.

logitech_harmony_smart_remote_control

 

  • Surge Protection: Panamax surge protectors are the best for both computer and home theater. One nanosecond response time to incoming surges; protection for every type of cable entering your house – enough said.
  • Home Network Music Player: Sonos Music Player because it is so simple to use, has every features and music service you could want, and sounds fantastic.
  • DVR / Movie Player: I no longer recommend HTPCs because they require too much time to maintain.  They are very flexible, but not all that reliable.  My recommended setup is a Windows computer running SageTV media center DVR software somewhere in the house with a SageTV HD300 client at each TV. I use MyMovies for Windows to catalog my movie collection on the Windows PC.  (Unfortunately, SageTV was acquired by Google, but you can buy the hardware and software used from the SageTV forums and Ebay.)SageTV HD300 client
    • Stand-alone Digital Video Recorder (runner-up): TiVo Roamio with off-the-air antenna.  It just works.  The advanced features that SageTV has simply aren’t there; very little functionality has been added over the past few years. But if you just want something that works and records your TV, TiVo is hard to beat.
    • Stand-alone Digital Media Player (runner-up): Apple TV or Roku 3. They play Netflix streaming. You can rent movies from iTunes (Apple TV) or Vudu/Amazon (Roku). You can play movies from your computer. If elegance, simplicity, an ease-of-use are your priorities, one of these is the answer.

Mobile Phone:

  • Apple iPhone: I prefer the simplicity and integration of the iPhone to the flexibility and variation and lack of consistency of the Android phones, but you can’t go wrong with either.
  • Headphones for iPhone: Klipsch Image S5i RUGGED headphones ($129) because they have a microphone and control buttons (for play/pause/next/previous, volume up/down) and great sound quality. Also, they are sweat-proof! (I tried bluetooth wireless stereo headsets and found the poor audio quality to be intolerable.) Unfortunately, the microphone/control buttons are a little low on the cord, but I like them otherwise.

General Computer Hardware:

  • Home Network Router: Apple Airport Extreme.  I spent hours configuring my Linksys routers with various versions of DD-WRT custom Linux firmware. The features it promised were impressive; the amount of work it required to get them configured was immense; the reliability that resulted was poor. I finally gave in and purchased an Apple Airport Extreme and was shocked when my wireless throughput on my Macbook Pro doubled and the battery life on all my portable WiFi devices improved dramatically. Plus, configuration was quick and easy. The Apple routers cost more, but the ease-of-use and performance benefits are worth it.
  • General User Laptop: Apple MacBook Pro or MacBook Air with whatever price/screen size is most appropriate for you (I recommend the 17″ anti-glare screen version because I choose screen size over portability)macbook_pro_17
  • Computer Monitor: The largest Dell LCD widescreen you’re willing to afford: 20″, 24″ or 30″ widescreen (or if great industrial design is more important than low prices, go for an Apple cinema display)dell_monitor
  • Ergonomic Mouse: I recommend this only if you have wrist/joint pain in your hand! 3M Wireless Ergonomic Optical Mouse (medium/large hand size, small hand size)3m_ergonomic_mouse
  • Surge Protection: Panamax surge protectors are the best for both computer and home theater. One nanosecond response time to incoming surges; protection for every type of cable entering your house – enough said.
  • Portable Music Player: Apple iPod Touch

Digital Camera / Photography Hardware:

  • Compact Point-and-Shoot Digital Camera: The Canon PowerShot S95IS is an amazing point-and-shoot camera because it is very small, very fast, and has great low-light (ISO 12,800) sensitivity. Also, it has image stabilization and a 3.8x optical zoom. It can even store images in the original, uncompressed RAW format, in addition to standard jpeg.
  • High-end Digital Camera: Any Digital SLR is almost certain to be an improvement over a point-and-shoot. I recommend the Nikon D90 because of features including: HD movie recording, great ergonomics, easy to use. The Nikon D40 is a great starter Digital SLR. For lenses, the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR DX Zoom-Nikkor Lens has a very useful zoom range and the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM Lens is great for portrait photo of the kids, especially in low light and blurred background (aka bokeh) photos, and is the lens I use 90% of the time.
  • Digital Photo Frame: Kodak Pulse 10″ Touchscreen digital picture frame. There is a cheaper 7″ version as well.
  • Picture Software: For Windows users, I’ve found the FastPictureViewer raw codecs to be very useful, especially if you run a 64-bit version. xnView and Picassa are also great for organizing images and editing the tags.

7 Taskbar Thumbnail Customizer

Written by on 2006-Jul-30, Last updated on: 2014-April-09 in: |

23 Comments »

  • Frank Mayeda says:

    Nice site- ran into touble with a new remote and your site googled in. Can’t get the Dish reciever code – suggestions?(have 3 recievers,each reprogramed w/seperate 2 digit code)
    Also unable to decrypt Descent- do you use VobBlocker?
    Where is DVD Profiler – is it still freeware?
    You must use some sort of backup/network server- interested in what you use.(running my 2nd Buffalo NAS).
    Sorry for so many qustions – very similiar interests, not many resources. Also a diver. Frank

  • Carlton Bale says:

    Frank: I recommend using AnyDVD to decrypt/backup movies. It is update very frequently (at least once a week it seems.) If you have a problem with a DVD, the developer will work with you get the problem figured out and release a new version.

    DVD Profiler is still available as freeware, although I recommend upgrading to the commercial version. http://www.intervocative.com/Downloads.aspx

    My file server is also my desktop PC. I’m running Ubuntu Linux 6.10 and have a 12-port Areca hardware RAID card, currently with five 500GB Seagate SATA hard drives. I was using Windows Server 2003 but recently converted over to Linux and have been very please with the improvement in file serving and stability.

    Great to hear from another diver! Unfortunately, it’s been almost a year since I was under water. . .

  • Marcelo Susevich says:

    Carlton,

    Great site. I congratulate you for the time you take to reply all comments. I read most of you articles and enjoyed them a lot.
    Regarding your technology list, I’m surprissed I’ve not seen a media center extender or any other device capable of feeding your HDTV from programs stores in your computer, I was hoping to get some advice as I need to buy one. I’ve tried the Buffalo LinkTheater DVD but I’ve sold it because it didn’t pleased me the software nor the video quality.
    Regards, MS

  • Carlton Bale says:

    Marcelo: I feed my home theater projector with a computer running Windows Media Center. I have a Linux-based server that stores all of my media (currently 2.5 TB worth.) I also have an Xbox that has been modified to run third-party software and I use Xbox Media Center to play movies / music on my other TV. This takes a lot of work but the results are fantastic see this thread on AVS Forum for more details.

    If you are looking for a device you don’t have to spend too much time to configure or modify, I’d suggest looking at a TviX from Dvico. The M-5000 model is the best media extender out there from everything I’ve read – and I’ve read quite a bit. If you can wait a couple months, the M-4100 and M-5100 models will be out and they offer about everything you could possibly need: H264 codec support, HDMI audio/video output, and SATA drive support.

    The Apple TV is another alternative, but I don’t recommend it unless you plan to modify it. Out-of-the-box, it only supports some very specific Apple file formats. Support for other formats can be added but you have to do quite a bit of modification (remove hard drive, install special software, etc.)

    You might want to spend some time on the AVS Digital Media Servers & Content Streamers forum to get more opinions. Hope this helps – enjoy!

  • Paul Valente says:

    Following on the previous comment . . .

    Yes, the TVIX Box is a simple digital media solution. I work for TVIX Box and we have been selling a lot of these units for the past couple years. They keep getting better and the feedback has been great. Here is the real simple breakdown:

    1) TVIX Box M-3100: This player is NOT HD and is NOT networkable, but if you want to get your digital media to your TV with out a lot of investment or hassle, this is the way to go.
    2) TVIX Box M-4000: This has all the same specs as the 5000 mentioned above which has been the gold standard for about a year now, but it is about 100US less, due to recent manufacturing innovations. It is HD and has a built in Ethernet as well as optional Wi-fi access.
    3) TVIX Box M-5000: Same as 4000, but in an innovative cylindrical shape and about 100US more.
    4) TVIX Box 4100 and 5100 series: Not yet available, but all the features of the 4000/5000 plus 1080 support and H.264.

    Good Luck!

    Paul
    TVIX Box Multimedia Players

  • Andrew says:

    HI

    Great site and I love the technology list, especially the photography and software sections (there are a few there I will be taking a closer look at.

    As for the photography, I have a Nikon D70s and its a superb piece of kit and travels everywhere with me. I also bought a Digital Frame recentlyfrom these guys http://www.udiggit.com I ended up buying a 15″ Acrylic one from their Pictorea Ramge and so far have found it very easy to use and displays my photos a treat.

    Andy

  • Lisa says:

    Is this list up-to-date. I just want to be sure because I noticed your last post was in 2007. Thanks!

  • Carlton Bale says:

    Yes, it’s up to date. The footer at the bottom of the page indicates the date of last modification, which was 18-Sept-2008 as of today.

  • Faisal Shah says:

    Hi Carlton,

    I just somehow ended up on your blog and really impressed with it. Coincidentally, I am going through the same phases you went through. I did comp sci, and have been working in a telecommunication industry for the past 5 years, and now feeling the itch to pursue my MBA, and also will be setting up my first Home theater in a new house. Love the technology list, and after reading numerous forums, my head is starting to spin, so your website is a sigh of relief. Great site

  • Paul says:

    Hi,

    I am looking for a Philips 9FF2M4 digital photo frame but am currently struggling to find one anywhere, or to find anywhere that has a good review. Do you know anywhere you can point me to that will provide one of these please?

    Many thanks

  • Hi Carlton,

    I love your home-theater setup, it looks great! Actually, my friend and I decided to invite ourselves over for a movie weekend. We figure, start out friday with a Star Wars maraton. Saturday we do Terminator and Transformers and Sunday with a Harry Potter maraton.

    Oh, what’s that, you’re not in Europe? Too bad, rain check then, I suppose :)

  • -Keith says:

    Carlton,

    Great site! I found it (like others, I daresay) doing research on building a theater.

    I have downloaded and installed My Movies to play with, but do not have a media extender for it at the moment. I actually stream all my media from my main PC downstairs to my PS3 using a program called PS3 Media Server…go figure.

    My question for you (I have many, but will only post 1 for now) is this: When you rip a DVD or Blu Ray, what format are you ripping to? My thought is that when running through a 1080p projector, a low quality file will look absolutely horrendous, but doing a full quality rip – particularly on BR – is going to make for some huge files.

    Thoughts?

    Thanks!

    Keith

    • Carlton Bale says:

      Keith,

      I’m a purist and want the best picture quality, sound quality, and all of the menus and features on the original disk. So I don’t transcode to a different format or container.

      I copy from the original disk to folders. DVD are in MoviesTitlevideo_ts structure and Blu-rays are in the structure MoviesTitleBDMV and all of the files from the original disc are within these folders.

      The downside is that most media players don’t support this playback structure. Windows Media Center PCs do (Arcsoft Total Media Theatre is required for blu-ray playback.) The Popcorn Hour C-200 also supports both formats. But you’re out of luck for Xbox 360 or PS3 support.

      The Collection Management application within My Movies is the best I’ve found for providing the correct cover art, movie details, and other metadata.

  • Mike says:

    What if any addins do you use for WHS?

    • Carlton Bale says:

      The Windows Home Server Add-Ins I’m using are Windows Home Server Disk Management, Keepvault Backup, and My Movies for Windows Home Server. I’ve tried a few others but didn’t find them useful enough to keep.

      Instead of enabling remote access the WHS console, I installed LogMeIn to allow access to everything (desktop and therefor console as well.)

  • Itya says:

    Hi,
    I am looking for a way to connect my HTPC by wifi (802.11G/N) to distant Speakers.

    The solution can be either a 802.11G/N Audio amplifier that will be connected directlly to the speakers, or prefrably some kind of small module attached to the speakers with power supply, streaming the music from the computer via 802.11G/n

    Ideas?

    • Carlton Bale says:

      Sorry, I don’t know an exact solution for you, but can give you places to start looking. I think the Apple AirTunes/Airport Express has been hacked to add features, and may do what you’re looking for. Another option might be a Logitech Squeeze Box or Sonos set to stream the live input. There are also IP speakers that might work, but I think most are not wireless: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IP_speaker

  • Carlton Bale says:

    Here’s a list of other gear I like, but don’t list on this page:

    Windows Computer Software

    Backup:

    • Windows Home Server for Windows users
    • Apple Time Capsule for Mac users
    • CrashPlan peer computer backup (free) + online backup (unlimited for $3.50/month) works on Windows, Mac, Linux.
    • Mozy online backup (unlimited online backup for $4.95/month)

    Web Browsing/Email:

    General:

    • Office: OpenOffice (free + open source) or Microsoft Office (commercial)
    • Finance: Quicken (commercial)
    • PDF Viewing: FoxIT PDF Reader (free)
    • PDF Creation: PDFCreator (free + open source)
    • Genealogy: Genealogy Finder? Still not sure about this one.
    • Mapping: Google Earth
    • Clock / Alarm Clock: Qlock (free)
    • Text Editor: TextPad (free commercial demo) or Notepad++ (free + open source)
    • Note Taking: EverNote (free or enhanced commercial version) – fast, easy, and free, EverNote allows notes to be stored in many formats, has categories, and built-in security.

    Music:

    • Music Editor: Audacity (free)
    • Music Ripper: Exact Audio Copy (free) or dbMusicConverter (free or enhanced commercial version)
    • Music Format Converter: dbMusicConverter (free or enhanced commercial version)
    • Muisc Storage format: FLAC (free + open source)
    • Music Player: MediaMonkey (free or enhanced commercial version)
    • Music Tagger: MP3Tag (free) and/or TagScanner (free) and/or MediaMonkey (free or enhanced commercial version)
    • Podcast Downloader: iTunes seems too be the best but I’m still looking for something better.
    • Muisc Lyrics: EvilLyrics (free) – Automatic lyrc downloading – supports about any music player software you can imagine: Winamp, WMP 9, iTunes, MusicMatch, Foobar, MediaMonkey, Real Player, QCD, Y!Music, XMPlay, AlbumPlayer, etc.
    • Apple iPod Audio Book Converter: MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter (free + open source) takes *.mp3 files and converts/merges them into one single *.m4b file that is recognized as an audio book by iPods, so it can be bookmarked. I also use MediaJoin to combine WAV files from multiple CDs into one large WAV file and the use dBpoweram Muisc Converter to convert to a *.m4b; this results in better audio quality due to only 1 compression stage (wav -> m4b instead of wav -> mp3 -> m4b).

    Video:

    Pictures:

    Utilities:

    Web Applications

    Web/Server/Developer Tools

    • Server-side CMS: WordPress
    • CSS Editor: TopStyle Lite (free) or TopStyle Pro (commercial)
    • Server-side Webpage Editing: UltraEdit (commercial)
    • Webserver: XAMPP is a very easy-to-install Apache Distribution for all operating systems and includes MySQL, PHP, Perl, an FTP server, and phpMyAdmin.

    External References

    7 Taskbar Thumbnail Customizer

  • Charles says:

    Great site. Just wondering if you could offer a little info about the rack system that you have set up…
    1) where did you get it
    2) how is the equipment cooled
    3) recommendations on setting it up
    4) etc.

    Thanks,
    Charles

  • Todd says:

    Carlton,
    Basement home theater room with no ambient lights. The room is 19 x 14 and I’m installing an Epson 8700UB. I’m going to go with a 110″ screen and I’m wondering if I need High Def Gray or Bright White. Most viewing will be sports and movies. Your insight is appreciated.

  • […] the lacking feature set and the deceptive and unethical practices of X10 Wireless Technology Inc, I maintain my recommendation of the Logitech Harmony Remotes — over the X10 universal remotes and pretty much any […]

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