Evans Above

Aug 25, 2015

Roku 3 media player review: powerhouse streaming in a compact device

As I’ve mentioned before, I cut the cord back in the spring of 2011, instead getting my broadcast TV channels via an over-the-air (OTA) antenna. Still, as a pop culture pundit I needed to be able to look at some of the streaming options and Netflix was top of my list. I had a Blu-ray player with a built-in Netflix app, but frankly it was pretty terrible at it, stopping shows to buffer video, exiting unexpectedly, or sometimes just refusing to launch.

Roku 3

The Roku 3 media player.

Enter the Roku 3. Depending on your level of physical activity, it’s either the size of a hockey puck or an ice cream cookie sandwich. The only way installation could be easier would be if it jumped out of the box and did all the connections for you.

No really, it’s that simple. You attach the Roku 3 to an HDMI port on your TV (HDMI cable not included). You plug the power cord into the back of the Roku 3, plug it into an outlet, put the included batteries into the remote and follow the onscreen setup instructions which include choosing either 720p or 1080p HD output and setting up your internet connection.

Speaking of internet connections, you can either use the Roku 3’s internal Wi-Fi adapter, or, if your router has a spare port available and you have a network cable, you can use the Roku 3’s ethernet port to wire it into your home network. I’d always recommend the wired option over the Wi-Fi one as it just makes for a faster connection with less lag. Once you’ve made your internet connection, you’re instructed to go the Roku site and make an account, which will then be mated to your Roku 3 unit. Since some of the Roku channels are of the pay variety, a credit card is required to setup the account, but nothing is charged to your card unless you use any of the options that require payment.

From taking it out of the box to watching my first Roku screen on the TV took me less than ten minutes. Seriously, the coffee I made before beginning hadn’t even started to cool. The remote in Canada has handy one-step launch buttons for Netflix, YouTube, Google Play and rdio, while U.S.-targeted units have launch buttons for Netflix, Amazon, rdio and Hulu. Before exploring other channels (Roku’s TV-centric name for their apps and video gateways), I decided to give the Netflix channel a try.

Again, setup was dead simple. I simply linked my Roku 3 to my Netflix account and I was in. Unlike my Blu-ray player, the Netflix playback was smooth as silk, the fast-forward and rewind options were great, and it was easy to access the closed caption and language controls. Top marks for using Netflix on the Roku 3.

Next up, I checked out Crackle, an ad-supported streaming site that is most famous for being the home of Jerry Seinfeld’s web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Setting up a free account on Crackle.com meant I could be elsewhere and add programs to my watch list and they’d be easily accessed on the Roku 3 when I got home. This sort of sign in and link the player feature was also available for YouTube and various streaming music sites.

The remote has some great features too. First of all, it’s actually a Wi-Fi device, not an infrared transmitter, so you don’t even have to be in the same room to control the Roku. Okay, I’m not actually sure why I’d want to control a TV-connected device if I’m in another room, but I’m sure I now sleep better knowing that I could if I wanted to. Secondly, the Roku 3 comes with a set of ear buds. Plug them in to the remote and it mutes the TV, which is great if you want to watch Netflix at 3 a.m. without disturbing other people in the home. Thirdly, you can press the Search button on the remote and speak into it and speech recognition software will take your search term and scour multiple channels. So say “Jennifer Lawrence” and it will show you what Roku channels her films can be found on. The speech recognition is pretty darn accurate, though I suppose if you’re bored you can give it really complex names and try and trip it up.

While most of the Roku channels are free, there are some pay-per-use or subscription channels. Obviously, using the Netflix channel requires that you have a Netflix account. If you’re in the U.S., the same goes for Hulu. There are also sport subscription channels for oodles of MLB, NHL, MLS and NFL action. Some of the pay options are limited in Canada, but obviously my U.S. readers have no issues signing up for Hulu, HBO on the Go, etc. There are also some free (and some pay) game options and yes, I found myself playing the poker one occasionally. Several TV stations also have Roku channels showing news broadcasts, so if you’re an OTA TV user who misses out on 24 hr news when you’re away from your computer, you do have a few options to grab the headline-grabbing stories.

There are also many specific, very niche, private Roku channels out there. A private channel is one that isn’t listed in the official Roku directory, but can be added to the Roku 3 by entering a link code. If you’re the creative type, you can also sign up for a developer’s kit and create your own Roku channel.

The Roku 3 also has a slot for a MicroSD card and a USB port. Adding a MicroSD card allows you to store more channel or game play information on the Roku, while the USB port allows you to connect either a USB stick or even a full USB external hard drive, giving you access to your own collection of photos, videos and music to enjoy on your TV.

If I had one quibble with the Roku 3, it’d be the bright white LED light on the front that illuminates while the unit is accessing the ‘net. The light is bright enough to help ships navigate stormy seas, so if your Roku 3 is sharing your bedroom with you, it might be a good idea to find a way to cover the LED, unless you like a night light.

Dead simple to set up, easy to operate, and cute to boot, I can’t find any reason not to recommend the Roku 3.

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Aug 18, 2015

The Blacklist Season 2 Blu-ray review

Fans of the always intriguing Raymond “Red” Reddington can now binge-watch more of his activities as Sony Pictures Home Entertainment releases a 5 disc Blu-ray of the second season of the hit NBC series The Blacklist.

To catch you up, James Spader plays Red, a criminal mastermind who turns himself into the FBI in exchange for immunity. He offers up a way to go after a list of the most dangerous and corrupt criminals, terrorists and politicians. All he asks in exchange is to work with a rookie FBI profiler, Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).

Critically-acclaimed and a bona fide hit for NBC, the second season began airing on September 22nd, 2014 and NBC even aired an episode in the coveted post-Super Bowl slot.

So is the video and audio presentation worthy of a touchdown? I’d say so. The video, which is in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, is transferred from material shot on Sony’s PMW-F55 4K cameras. The results are beautiful. The images are crisp, details like clothing and other materials are sharp, and the black levels are extremely satisfying. Some of the CGI effects look a bit off, but the viewer has to remember that this is being shot on a TV budget.

On the audio end, we have an English and dubbed French 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack as well as subtitles for English, English SDH, and French. The discs give us a good level of immersion, with good use of the rear tracks and low-frequency moments during explosions and gunshots. Dialogue is crisp and understandable.

Extras on the discs include deleted scenes, four featurettes interviewing James Spader and members of the production staff, and commentary from series creator Jon Bokenkamp and executive producer John Eisendrath on a couple of the episodes.

If your FBI profile says you’re a fan of The Blacklist, you’ll want to add this set to your home entertainment library.

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Lambert & Stamp Blu-ray review

Director James D. Cooper brings us the documentary Lambert & Stamp, which tells us the story of two fledgling filmmakers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. They figured if they could find a band to make a doc about, it might lead to bigger film work. The band they found for their project became The Who, and Lambert and Stamp’s management was so instrumental in their success that Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey often refer to them as the band’s fifth and sixth members. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has just released a Blu-ray of this music documentary.

Cooper’s documentary shows how the two managers helped shape the band, teaching them the importance of stage presence that turned them into the larger-than-life band we know. As is the case with so many music stories, we see the rise of Lambert and Stamp from two guys with an idea, to heady success, and the destructive spiral of excess and personal politics that ended their affiliation with The Who.

Lambert & Stamp is presented in a 1080p 1.85:1 aspect ratio, though the archival footage often takes us below that ratio. Keith Moon died in 1978, Kit Lambert in 1981 and John Entwistle in 2002, so the most recent footage comes from Daltrey, Townsend and Stamp, who died in 2012. As we’re dealing with mostly old film footage, we are of course dealing with grain and scratches and other issues of transferring old, not necessarily pristine, footage to a high-def medium.

This is also an interview film, as opposed to a remaster of concert footage, so the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is mostly there because, well, the technology’s there, but your surround system is not going to get a workout. The archival footage still has its pops and crackles. Subtitles are available in Czech, Hindi, Russian, Slovak, French, Polish, Estonian, Croatian, Korean, Slovene, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Mandarin Chinese, Indonesian, Romanian, Thai, English, Ukrainian, and Serbian.

None of that will stop me from recommending Lambert & Stamp, a great look at two of the figures responsible for one of the greatest bands in history. If you’re a fan of The Who, you’ll love Lambert & Stamp. If you’re not a fan, well, what’s wrong with you?

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Jun 16, 2015

A trio of Disney Blu-rays: McFarland, Spirited Away and The Cat Returns

I quite enjoyed McFarland when I saw it in theaters and now you have a chance to take this inspirational film home with you as it gets released on Blu-Ray. I actually just got back from an Alaskan cruise and this film played on the ship to a warm reception.

Once again, Disney has released it with the title McFarland, USA in the States and McFarland in the rest of the planet. Maybe Americans thought it was about a leprechaun without the geographical addendum?

The disc’s 1080p resolution transfer matches the theatrical release’s aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The colors are warm and while it may often look sun-bleached, this is intentional, as the heat and conditions these young men had to face was a bigger challenge than the teams they had to race against.

On the audio side, the disc features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track as well as Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Spanish, and Portuguese, while the Canadian version of the disc has a English and French tracks and subtitles, but not the other languages.. Dialogue is clear, This isn’t the most immersive 5.1 track out there, while the low frequency channel is well used for foot falls during the races.

The extras are a bit light, with the standard music video and behind-the-scenes packages.

An animated classic was also waiting for me, in the form of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, which won the Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards. The film tells the story of Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl whose parents are turned into giant pigs in an amusement park used by the spirit world to get a break from the earthly realm. The girl must work for a witch in order to free her parents.

The 1080p transfer features a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It’s a very nice presentation that’s lovely to look at. Colors are stunning, the contrast and black levels perfect. Every aspect of the animators’ craft is lovingly presented here.

On the audio side, the disc has DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtracks in both the original Japanese and an English dub, while the Canadian disc also has a French two track dub. The dialogue is very clear and the 5.1 tracks immerse you in the spirit world while the low frequency channel also gets a wonderful workout. Subtitles are available in English and French.

Extras on the disc include the story as told through the original Japanese Storyboards, a look at the animation studio and artists, a look at the work behind the English dub and a Japanese TV special interviewing Miyazaki and the rest of the animation team.

I also got a chance to take a look at The Cat Returns, another Studio Ghibli release from Miyazaki disciple Hiroyuki Morita. It’s the tale of a young girl, who saves The Cat King and then takes a journey into his Kingdom of Cats.

The 1080p 1.85:1 aspect ratio transfer is clean and crisp with good colors and contrast. The production level isn’t as high as Spirited Away’s — this feels more like a TV release rather than a cinematic masterpiece — but the quality of the transfer work is still good.

On the audio side, there’s English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks, while the Canadian release also has a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Subtitles are available in English and French. Dialogue is clear but the 5.1 soundscape isn’t as immersive as Spirited Away’s.

Extras include a look at the story through the original storyboards and a behind the scenes look at the English dubbing process.

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May 14, 2015

SiliconDust’s HDHomerun CONNECT makes adding OTA TV to your home theater a breeze

HDHomeRun Connect

I recently added SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun CONNECT a.k.a. the HDHR4-2US to my over-the-air (OTA) test setup.

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between the CONNECT and its older brother, the HDHomeRun Dual (HDHR3). The Dual is black with grey sides. The CONNECT’s grey with black sides. They both have network-attached dual ATSC/Clear QAM tuners.

The real difference lies under the hood and the improved tuners inside the CONNECT. As I’ve mentioned, my OTA setup is challenging, using reflected and side signals to get channels from both Toronto and Buffalo.

Though the HDHR3 handled this situation like a champ with most of the signals, some, like Buffalo’s WKBW and WNYO, did have problems with pixelation. However, these two stations are 83 and 79 miles away. So, given my odd situation and adding in that the Antennas Direct C2V is rated for about 50+ miles, means that the fact that the HDHR3 is grabbing them at all is a testament to the little tuner box.

I was eager to get my hands on the newer HDHomeRun CONNECT and see how the new kid on the block would compare to his older brother. It’s the Mark Wahlberg of tuners to the HDHR3’s Donnie.

The box it arrives in is small. About the size of a hardback dictionary. Safely packed inside, the HDHomeRun CONNECT is no bigger than a slightly wider pack of cards. How can something so small be so helpful to your home theater setup? But it is.

I checked it out with my reflected really-shouldn’t-be-working-but-it-does antenna config. I looked at SiliconDust’s configuration software, which includes details on signal strength, signal quality and symbol quality, The latter two show how clearly defined the digital data is and the amount of correct or corrected data over the last second. I could immediately see several improvements and those problem channels, WKBW and WNYO, were rock solid.

Antennas Direct had also sent me their DB4e antenna to check out. This beauty of an antenna, rated for 65+ miles was going to give the HDHomeRun CONNECT a different workout.

I decided to aim the DB4e southeast, pointing at Buffalo and Rochester. Again, this was going to be a challenge for any setup. As I mentioned here, by balcony is not facing south toward any of the Toronto or Buffalo towers. I’m facing east. So aiming southeast toward Buffalo meant that the antenna was pointing through a window on my balcony, through a curtain, into the dining area, though another curtain and finally another window. Grabbing signals this way would be a job for Harry Houdini.

Or it would be a job for the SiliconDust HDHomeRun CONNECT and the Antennas Direct DB4e. My Buffalo signals came in even stronger and rock solid. The closest one is 52 miles away. I was now solidly getting WPXJ in Batavia. It’s 89.3 miles away and is classified at my location as 1Edge, which means the signal is not line-of-sight but has a single edge diffraction on its way to my place. Previously, I would only get it on the warmest days due to a phenomenon known as tropospheric propagation. The HDHomeRun CONNECT locked it in steady and i’s now a regular in my channel lineup. With the southeast-facing setup, the Toronto signals are due south through the aforementioned glass and curtains, a wall, one more apartment unit and another wall. All but one of my Toronto signals were reachable with this setup.

I’ve been testing it for a few weeks now and the HDHomeRun CONNECT and its DB4e partner have even been close to locking in WBXZ and that’s even on cold spring nights when tropospheric propagation isn’t really a factor . It’s a low power 15kW station that’s 62 miles away and like WPXJ, a 1Edge. Very few people in Toronto get it on a regular basis. The fact that the HDHomeRun CONNECT is this close to locking into it — through two sets of glass and curtains — gives you an idea about the tuners.

So in both the reflected and obstructed southeast-facing setups, the HDHomeRun CONNECT was an improvement over the HDHR3, which is by no means a slouch in any category either. The HDHomeRun CONNECT is a champ at locking in previously troublesome stations, with measurable improvement in signal and symbol quality.

Why is the HDHomeRun family so good for OTA setups? There are tuners available that can be inserted into your computer, just like you would insert a video card. This means that you have to run the coax cable from your antenna all the way to your computer. There is a loss of signal quality over long lengths of coax. In the case of the HDHomeRun series of OTA tuners, they are network devices just like routers or print servers. So you can place the HDHomeRun right at the point where your coax cable enters your home. This means you can get the shortest run of coax possible, reducing the amount of signal loss. The HDHomeRun then converts the TV signal into one that can be transferred over your home network and there’s no loss of quality at that point. Being a networked tuner also means that depending on the software, you can watch the TV signals on a variety of networked-attached devices in your home. The HDHomeRun EXTEND, also adds in transcoding, which makes the resulting signals easy to stream wireless to, say, someone sitting on the couch with a tablet. SiliconDust is also working on their own PVR software. Finally multiple HDHomeRun’s can also be used to increase the number of tuners available to record or watch TV.

As an Antennas Direct Ambassador, I’ll be testing their new antennas as they come out. The HDHomeRun CONNECT is a great addition to my test bench and I highly recommend it for anyone looking to add over-the-air TV to their media center setup.

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May 06, 2015

The Wedding Ringer and Mr. Turner: from the ridiculous to the sublime

Today’s reach into the mailbox goes from the ridiculous to the sublime as I get a chance to look at the comedic talents of Kevin Hart in The Wedding Ringer and the Academy Award nominated cinematography of Dick Pope in Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. We were sent DVD review copies of these titles by Sony.

In The Wedding Ringer, Kevin Hart plays Jimmy Callahan, a best man for hire, a niche job that helps the less socially connected groom come off as a star on his big day. In this raunchy comedy, Hart gets hired by Doug Harris (Josh Gad) who is getting ready to marry Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting). Along the way, Callahan actually befriends Harris, just as Harris begins doubting his bride-to-be is actually “the one.”

First time director (and co-writer) Jeremy Garelick intersperses the predictable physical gags with some glimmers of chemistry between Hart and Gad, manages to set Cloris Leachman on fire and tosses Cuoco-Sweeting on to the pile of forgettable bridezilla roles that could have been played by anyone other than The Big Bang Theory star.

While The Wedding Ringer may be an OK diversion on a rainy day, it’s probably not a must have for your home entertainment library.

From there we swing over to Mr. Turner, director Mike Leigh’s look at the life of eccentric British landscape painter J. M. W. Turner, played here by actor Timothy Spall.

Turner’s a larger-than-life character and while Spall handles the chore of portraying the man, cinematographer Dick Pope handles the task of showing off the man’s work and he handles the task of showing off the artist’s explorations of light and color with such skill that it earned him an Academy Award nomination.

This critically-acclaimed film is definitely worth getting your hands on. Sadly, I only got a DVD review copy. If you really want to see Dick Pope’s cinematography in all its glory, go grab the Blu-ray version.

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Mar 27, 2015

Antennas Direct Ambassador

Ian Evans: writer, photographer, pundit, host, over-the-air (OTA) TV enthusiast, and ambassador.

Ambassador?

Let me explain. I’m writing this as full disclosure that I’ve agreed to join the Antennas Direct Ambassador program starting this month. Besides my regular Twitter media account (@digitalhit), I also have a personal account I use as a cord-cutting over-the-air (OTA) TV enthusiast: @TorontoOTA

My first antenna was a small Terk and it served me well until the fall of 2014, when I was able to get my hands on an Antennas Direct Clearstream 2V antenna. I loved it. It fixed many of the issues I was having. In my @TorontoOTA Twitter timeline, I often found myself boosting the products and advice offered by Antennas Direct or retweeting interesting OTA links they had found. I did this freely because I truly liked their product.

OTA isn’t just they way that I get TV, it’s a bit of a hobby too. Enthusiastic OTAers are quite often tweaking their set-ups or seeing what distant signals they can get during special weather events. So it’s a hobby – some might call it an obsession – but it keeps me off the streets.

So when I write about OTA TV, it’s personal. It’s not part of my journalistic beat. I cover movies, TV shows, film festivals and celebrity news minus the gossip. It would be wrong of me to become a brand ambassador for a film studio. Since I do not cover cord-cutting professionally, I do not see any conflict touting a company — Antennas Direct — whose products I believe in. As an “ambassador”, I’ll get a chance to try out some of their products before the public. I’ll tweet about events they’ll be holding. I’ll offer…and they’ve asked for…constructive criticism. If I talk about their products on this site, it will be in my column, Evans Above, and I will link to this disclosure post each time that I do.

Thanks.

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Mar 23, 2015

Into the Woods now available on Blu-ray

The casting was the big reason I enjoyed the theatrical release of Into the Woods and now with the Blu-ray release, you can take that magic home with you.

The production’s 1080p 2.39:1 aspect ratio transfer will make your eyes dance. Okay, got my musical theatre reference out of the way. The colour palette is dazzling. The disc easily goes from the dazzling red of Riding Hood’s cloak to the darkest shadows of the forest. Misty scenes and sunlight hair also show the palette’s range. Details are sharp from the clothes on the characters’ backs to the rustling leaves of the forest.

It wouldn’t be a musical without an audio side and that end of things is a song to your ears. The disc comes with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. On the subtitle side, there are English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Korean, and Mandarin captions available. Vocal tracks are a clear as the woods are dark. Low frequencies give the production some oomph, and the surround tracks immerse in the adventure taking place.

The Witch conjures up a selection of extras as well. From audio commentary by director Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca to the expected behind-the-scenes featurettes. The film also has two sing-a-long features that give the viewer karaoke-style lyrics for either the whole production or individual songs.

I’d recommend adding Into the Woods to your home library. It will cast a spell on you.

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Mar 09, 2015

Reviewing Antennas Direct’s Juice amplifier and ClearStream 2V antenna

Antennas Direct Juice Amplifier

The Juice™ Amplifier from Antennas Direct.

I was recently given a chance to review Antennas Direct’s ClearStream™ 2V Long Range UHF/VHF Antenna and their Juice™ UHF/VHF Amplifier. More on them in a second, but first a little background.

I cut the cord back in the spring of 2011. I was paying $100+ a month for cable. One day, I realized that most of the shows I watched weren’t on cable-only channels but on the main U.S. and Canadian over-the-air (OTA) broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS as well as their Canadian counterparts CTV, Global, City and TVO.

Look at some of the top shows out there: The Big Bang Theory, CSI, NCIS, 60 Minutes, The Voice, Empire, Madam Secretary, Letterman, Fallon, Kimmel…The Super Bowl. Those shows, and in fact about 80% of the most viewed shows in North America, don’t require a cable subscription or even a Netflix account.

I realized that I barely watched the cable-only channels. So if I was paying $1200 a year for channels I could get for free, I was basically throwing money away on channels I wasn’t watching full of self-absorbed reality stars, over-sized families, battling housewives and long-haired bounty hunters. I picked up an antenna, set it up on my balcony and started watching free, legal TV.

My setup was good but I knew I could do better. I acquired an Antennas Direct C2V antenna and when given the opportunity to test out the Juice™ amp I jumped at the chance. My setup would be a good stress test for these two items.

Why a stress test? Toronto’s in a great location for getting OTA TV signals from multiple cities. With the right configuration, Torontonians get signals from the CN Tower downtown as well as from stations in Hamilton to the southwest, and Buffalo and Rochester to the southeast. It’s an embarrassment of TV riches. Notice I said the right configuration. This is my situation: I live in a midtown apartment building with a glass-enclosed balcony. The CN Tower and its transmitters are a hair southwest down by the lake. My unit faces east. So to aim at the Toronto signals, I’d be aiming through other units south of mine as well as several feet of concrete.

The good news is that there is a curved building northeast of me. TV signals reflect. Pointing my antenna at this building was like pointing at a dish reflecting the signals back at me. Toronto was fine on my first antenna except for one station. Buffalo was fair. Some of the channels came in fine, but a few were prone to pixelation and breakups.

I acquired the C2V antenna in the fall of 2014. It’s a compact UHF/VHF antenna that measures 50.8cm high, 30.5cm wide and 12.7cm deep. (20”H x 12”W x 5”D) It can be used indoors, in an attic, or even roof-mounted. It’s rated for signals 50+ miles away and is obviously at its strongest when picking up signals in front of the grid reflector.

As I said, my aiming situation is a bit out of the ordinary, aiming at a building northeast to get Toronto signals slightly southwest of me. The Buffalo signals aren’t helped by this building at all, so the Buffalo signals are actually coming in from the back right side of the C2V. With the C2V, the Buffalo channels were close to perfect, except for a couple that still had some breakup issues. As I said, the C2V says it’s good for about 50+ miles, but my Buffalo stations are 52 to 83 miles away. I’m obviously helped by the fact that I’m 100+ feet up, but let’s be clear, the C2V should be called the Sponge, as it’s sucking up signals from the south, southwest and southeast. Once again, I’m in a glass-enclosed balcony grabbing both reflected and backside signals and my experience with the C2V is close to perfect. If I was south-facing, I’d have to be looking for superlatives greater than perfection.

Time to add the Juice™ amplifier to the mix. The kit comes with a small low-noise amplifier, a low-loss power inserter and couple of 36 inch coax cables and a 12V DC power supply. The amp adds up to 17.5 dB to your VHF signals and 19 dB to your UHF signals. As I have signals that are both 4 miles away and 83 miles away, it’s good to know that the Juice™ has excellent overload protection that stops the close signals from overpowering most TV tuners.

Installing the Juice™ only takes a few minutes. You attach the Juice™ close to the antenna, while the power inserter is at the other end of your coax by the TV tuner. When I attached the Juice™‘d up configuration directly to my LG TV I had zero issues. All of my Toronto and Buffalo signals were 100% stable and I even added another channel 67 miles to the northeast.

I don’t, however, connect the antenna directly to the TV. I use the open-source MythTV PVR to record programs, so my antenna is a hooked up to Silicondust’s HDHomerun networked tuner. I have the third generation model, the HDHR3, and unfortunately its tuners are more sensitive to strong signals than the LG TV.

Here’s how the C2V and the HDHR3 fared with signals before the Juice™ was attached:

RF Strength Quality Symbol Virtual Name
9 100 80 100 9.1 CTV
14 80 67 100 29.1 FOX, ZUUS Country, Grit
15 100 81 100 11.1 CHCH-DT
19 100 56 100 19.1 TVO
20 100 60 100 5.1 CBC
25 100 86 100 25.1 CBC French
32 100 82 100 23.1 The CW, Bounce
33 88 75 100 2.1 NBC, Antenna TV, Justice
35 67 47 100 35.1 CTV 2
36 100 77 100 36.1 Yes!
38 94 79 100 7.1 ABC
39 90 68 100 4.1 CBS
40 94 68 100 40.1 OMNI 2
41 98 64 100 41.1 Global
43 89 72 100 17.1 PBS, World
44 90 65 100 57.1 City
47 92 72 100 47.1 OMNI 1
49 80 59 100 49.1 MyNetworkTV, GetTV

CHCJ, WNYO and WKBW all had various issues with pixelation or a disappearing signal.

While attaching the Juice™ made everything perfect with the LG TV, the HDHR3 has two tuners connected to an amplified splitter. According to Silicondust, trade-offs between loss from their splitter, gain from their internal amplifier and limits in the dynamic range hurt things when directly connected to the Juice™. I was knocked down to about four frequencies.

That’s when Antennas Direct support came to the rescue. They suggested I use their variable attenuator as it would allow me to reduce the strength of the signal coming from the Juice™ a little bit at a time until I hit the sweet spot that would strengthen the weakest signals while not overpowering the HDHR3 with the strongest ones. When I was able to test Antennas Direct’s variable attenuator, it took only a few minutes to find the sweet spot. The signals coming into the HDHR3 looked like this with both the Juice™ and the variable attenuator in the configuration:

RF Strength Quality Symbol Virtual Name
9 100 77 100 9.1 CTV
14 89 69 100 29.1 FOX, ZUUS Country, Grit
15 100 84 100 11.1 CHCH-DT
19 100 61 100 19.1 TVO
20 100 59 100 5.1 CBC
25 100 87 100 25.1 CBC French
32 100 88 100 23.1 The CW, Bounce
33 90 67 100 2.1 NBC, Antenna TV, Justice
35 72 44 100 35.1 CTV 2
36 100 80 100 36.1 Yes!
38 97 75 100 7.1 ABC
39 92 65 100 4.1 CBS
40 100 68 100 40.1 OMNI 2
41 100 64 100 41.1 Global
43 95 77 100 17.1 PBS, World
44 98 68 100 57.1 City
47 97 68 100 47.1 OMNI 1
49 80 57 100 49.1 MyNetworkTV, GetTV

I went from seven frequencies at 100% strength to nine out of eighteen total. Even though I had used the attenuator to slighty reduce the effects of the Juice™, my signals were now all rock solid. The Juice™ cleans up the signal with an integrated LTE filter which removes cellular signals. A few of the buildings nearby are bristling with cellular repeaters on their roofs. Any signal problems that I had before the Juice™ caused by all these nearby signals have now been cleared up.

For a quick experiment, I decided to turn the C2V and Juice™ away from my reflecting building and point it southeast. Suddenly, I was getting signals from Rochester. I’m sure that with a newer tuner like the one in the next generation HDHR4 my setup would be even better. In the future, I’d probably add a second tuner, Juice™ and antenna (perhaps Antennas Direct’s well-respected DB4e) and point that one directly toward Buffalo/Rochester, while my original setup remains for Toronto. Or I could add an Antennas Direct C5 to chase some of the VHF channels in Buffalo and Rochester that I’m currently not getting. If I change my setup like that, I’ll let you know. I’d also love to see Antennas Direct take a crack at creating their own networked tuner.

I can’t recommend the Juice™ and C2V enough. Toronto can be an interesting testbed with both local and distant signals that you don’t see in too many other cities. Toss in the fact that my reflected signal setup isn’t exactly normal and I was using an older tuner, yet the pair still passed with flying colors, and you can imagine how great they’d be in standard settings as well. Plus the whole Antennas Direct team are great cheerleaders for cutting the cord and saving you money and you just can’t go wrong teaming up with them.

Full Disclosure: After this article was written, I agreed to become an Antennas Direct Ambassador. I’ll still be brutally honest, but here’s my disclosure statement.

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Feb 23, 2015

Big Hero 6 Blu-ray review

I really enjoyed Big Hero 6 when I saw its theatrical release and you can take this Oscar-winning animated feature home with you. Let’s take a look:

The 1080p transfer with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio is about as close to flawless as can be. Though there’s occasional minor banding, it does nothing to take away from this transfer. Black levels are deep, the colours pop in the bright scenes and don’t wash out in the darker ones. Details are finely-tuned with fabric, hair and background elements having real texture and clarity to them. Simply said, Big Hero 6 looks great.

On the audio side, your ears are treated to an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. The atmospheric elements make great use of the surround sound tracks to place the viewer into the experience. The music supports the story but never overpowers it. On the subtitle end of things, we get English, English SDH, French, and Spanish captions. So not only does it look great, but sounds great too.

Now Baymax the robot may be a rotund hero, but his Blu-ray extras are a little lean. One jewel is the Oscar-winning animated short Feast, about a little dog with a big appetite. There’s a look at the origin of the film going back to the original Marvel comic, a roundtable discussion with the animators, deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer.

Big Hero 6 is a worthy addition to your home library.

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