Saturday, May 28, 2011

Monoprice 4x2 HDMI Matrix Switch

To accomplish the 1 Astro B·yond 3 TV mission, the most basic stuff I need is a 1x2 HDMI splitter, to at least split the HDMI out (of Astro Byond decoder) into 2, one to connect to the TV, the other is to the projector. I think a little ahead, I have a media player and coming soon Unifi IPTV (I wish Astro IPTV could offer the service here!!), so total of 3 input sources to 2 output displays. I do think I might end up with a third TV in my bedroom, but the likelihood is kinda low for this moment.

So, I need a 1x2 splitter as basis, or 3x2 switch (or 3x3 for future proof) if within the budget. I begun my online shopping and I needed to make my order asap to have a pretty lady to bring back from US (to save shipping cost) and finally I decided on this switch...






It has a power button cum input source toggle button for each output. It uses numeric label for input sources (1 to 4) and label the 2 outputs as A and B (Active A and Active B), quite a thoughtful one to avoid confusion to the consumers.

All the connections are hosted at the rear...


A power connector on the left, 4 HDMI inputs follow by 1st output Output A that is capable of splitting the digital audio through a digital coaxial for AVR connection. The 2nd output Output B does not have the digital audio out though. This enables users to use Output A for projector with AVR and Output B for simple TV connection. Since I am using only HDMI cable for audio and video, it doesn't really matter which output to use for my projector.

4 good things about the design:
  • The connectors are clearly and precisely labeled to ease non-techie.
  • All connectors are distantly placed to allow sufficient clearance between cables.
  • All HDMI connectors are gold plated.
  • A reset button to avoid power cycle when the unit goes haywire.

This switch is also equipped with a remote controller...


That allows me to conveniently and lazily stick my butt onto the sofa the whole day watching Astro channels and switch to media player for some movies w/o moving my butt at all! :)

One thing worth mentioning here, is most of the switches only allow one input source to be displayed to all displays, whereas a matrix switch allows you to output different input sources to different output displays. For instance, this 4x2 matrix switch allows you to select Input 1 to be displayed on Output A and Input 2 to be on Output B simultaneously. If it's a normal 4x2 switch, you would only be able to watch Input 1 on Output A and B, no Input 2 simultaneously.

One last thing but is also the most important element, the power adapter...


Yoohoo! It's a universal power adapter that support UK power rating! This is always my worry when buying gadgets from US online store. I did check with Monoprice online support before my purchase...


My 2 questions were what is the HDMI specification the product complies with and does the product come with UK power adapter (which is Malaysia's power spec too). So now I just need to get a multi-region adapter instead of buying a local power adapter. Excellent service from Melissa B and Steve B!

I recommend Monoprice if you are looking for some advance AV tools 'cause Monoprice also ship to Malaysia (I did not try that though). Check out the photos on my previous post and compare the price of this product below. I believe most likely you would get better quality product at lower price inclusive of shipping cost. The only concern is on warranty, I guess it should be good with a 30 days return policy. Perhaps my next visit would be a HDMI extender for broadcasting HD contents to my bedroom (if local price is killing) ;)

One thing to share here is if you're paying using Paypal...


Don't panic when you see "payment required" after your Paypal payment. Click on the order number...


There you go. So check back the Order page one hour after their business hour (in UTC-8 Pacific Time).


With all the tools ready for action, I shall have enough time setting it up and host a beer session with my gang for Champions League Final - MU vs. Barcelona in 4 hours time! ^.^V

p/s: Check out my old post on the yellow HDMI cables if you're curious about the cables. I will get back here later with some test results on the switch as well.

1 Astro B·yond 3 TV Preface

While the 1 Astro B·yond 2 TV mission has fulfilled my mom's desire of watching her favorite AOD channels in living hall and bedroom, I have not spoilt myself for able to watch sport channels on my big screen, and most important in HD. Getting a solution for sharing SD content is easily achievable and affordable with widely available tools. But it's opposite for HD content (at least in BullehLand here), and it usually costs a bomb if you manage to source one. Perhaps many in Malaysia still regard such thing as "rich man's hobby" and markup the price, but in actual it's not that expensive if you do a little homework before taking out your wallet.

For my case, the Astro Byond decoder comes with single HDMI out. Splitting the HDMI source into 2 is the ultimate mission if I want to be able to watch HD content on 2 different TVs. Heading out to IT store, you might (most likely not) find some of these products on the shelf...



HDMI switcher and HDMI splitter. As its name suggests, a switcher is to switch between multiple HDMI sources to be displayed on X number of screens. A 4x1 HDMI switch is a switch that is capable of switching between 4 different HDMI sources and output to a single display. This is useful if your TV has only limited HDMI inputs, say only 2 HDMI inputs but you have Astro Byond satellite TV, Unifi IPTV and a Bluray player.

On the other hand, a splitter is to split (or clone) 1 HDMI source to X number of similar sources. For instance, 1x2 is a 1 to 2 splitter where you get 2 display connections from the splitter. Splitter is useful if you want to watch the same content on different displays, this is exactly what I wanted to accomplish - split the Astro Byond source to 2 displays over a short distance.

However, I am very skeptical to such products, whether the manufacturers submitted the products for HDMI certification or do they produce the products according to the HDMI specifications? You would hit into problem such as no sound, distorted display etc especially Bluray that requires high bandwidth, means high quality of cable and all interconnection that are compliance with HDMI specifications.

I stumbled upon this unit in few Best Dengki stores in KL...


The Abtus 1x2 splitter. I thought this model should be compliance (of HDMI specification) after a visit to their website, unfortunately a high price tag of RM600 caused me to hold my decision and survey further.

All above requires cables, namely HDMI cables. What about wireless solution? Then I came across this product in Amazon...


The brite-View Air SyncHD with a USD$230 tag. Looks promising but reading through the reviews changed my impression on the product. 19 out of 58 reviews rated 1 and 2 star, that is > 30% of dissatisfaction. Well some could be due to user problem but I rather not to take any risk especially it would be hassle for me to get a refund. Probably the company has found the flaw and improved with the new 2011 edition. Worth a try.

Let me show you something I found in local market here...


Look identical to brite-View Air SyncHD right? But indeed it's a different brand, look more like a rebadge. That's the Giraffe™ WAVE by a local company PCOM. I called up the company and was offered a free personalized installation and liability free if the device doesn't work for my setup. I must say I am impressed with the service, it's extinct to get such a good service from a local company but the price tag really turned me down. Would you willingly be slaughtered for RM1899 for a toy when you knew it only cost USD$230 or RM700? Not me! Nonetheless, it seems to be a good product. I would recommend you go for a try if the price is not a matter to you.

Anyway price is only one of the factors, I am not buying in the idea of transmitting HD content wirelessly at this point of time. IMHO, the technology is still developing and there are many variations, WHDI, WirelessHD and Wireless Gigabit. Probably it's just like HD DVD vs Bluray in the past few years, we as consumer just have to wait to spectate who wins the war.

That sort of set my mind on what I need to buy to achieve my goal. Next, it's going to be a showcase of the result of my shopping ;)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

1 Astro B·yond 2 TV, Panny Plasma

While I have the secondary TV, the old SDTV successfully setup for Astro B.yond in my mom's room, I have a 42" Panny non-3D Plasma as my (well, in fact not me but my mom's) primary TV...



The Panasonic P42V20K 42" non-3D Plasma TV connected to the HDMI out of Astro Byond decoder showing non-HD AOD and ESPN HD channels.

I just realized that the default mode of the Astro B.yond decoder is 1080i or the installer set that for me. I should have set it to 720p as I watch sport channels in HD most of the times. Some of you might have a question, 1080 > 720, so isn't 1080i better than 720p? I think this video provides a good layman answer...


But either 720p or 1080i is still dependent on the source, so I went to Astro website to find the answer...


That doesn't help to decide which setting to go. I went on with some tests and found out that SD channels look better on 1080i (than 720p) whereas HD channels appear sharper on 720p. The result seems logical to me (it's a long explanation, I make a pass here), that's my personal observation though. You might want to check your TV setting and decide what is best for your viewing experience.

Here's where you change the HD setting on the decoder (you need the installer code, default is 0000)...


I highlighted in my previous post and this plasma TV does not support decoding and downmix of Dolby Digital to stereo, so you have to change the audio setting of the decoder...


Back to the TV. These are the connection options at the rear...



That's not all, you have some options at the side for easy connection, camcorder for example...


2 USB for wifi dongle and Skype camera...


It's a HD camera capable of 720p with 4 mics (so that you don't have to sit close to the TV when Skyping). And you must hook it up to internet either through a certified wifi dongle or its Ethernet port to gain access to the Skype program in Viera Cast...


You can press on the big green button or the Viera CAST button right above it...


That brings you to the menu...



Other than Skype, YouTube, Twitter, Picasa, Bloomberg, Weather.com and WoW TV are available. Total of 20 applications (7 apps on each page minus one slot for Setup) can be added to the TV, but what I have on the screen is what is available now. Further bad news is Panasonic just launched a brand new App Store called Viera Connect. I don't know (but I doubt) if Panasonic is going to develop something that will be backward compatible with Viera Cast. Hold on your temptation if you plan to buy one, even the 2010 3D models (VT20 series) also come Viera Cast not Viera Connect. Bad move and certainly Panny will be losing some customers to Sammy with the latest launch of SmartTV series. Nonetheless, what is there is working quite well but a drawback is you can't type and display Chinese in YouTube. Some scree shots of each application except WoW TV which requires me to buy a subscription...







As mentioned, this is my mom's primary TV (mine is big screen ^^). One of the decisive reasons I bought this model is because of its Skype feature. Once you've properly configured the Skype with auto login whenever TV is on, it's just 2 press away on the OK button to answer an incoming call...



That's pretty intuitive for my mom who knows nothing about IT but she is now able to video chat with her lovely granddaughter and new born grandson in Singapore sitting comfortably in front of TV screen.

The other feature that I often use is the DLNA feature...


It streams the supported media files directly from my NAS, such as avi, dvix etc. No MKV support though. You get better support on media formats (i.e. MKV) from Sammy and LG.

After all, it sounds like Panny is not the best (and not cheap too!) but why I still buy it? Few reasons:
  • Skype.
  • I don't buy Korean products due to bad experience.
  • I am a fan of plasma (especially Pioneer Kuro).
  • No LED for now. IMHO LED is still immature, I still see comet shadow tailed the ball on Beckham's kicks.
  • Like I mentioned in my old post, I trust my eyes and they love the color reproduction of this model compared to the others. Very soothing.
  • I got a good deal.

And how good was the deal? I grabbed it at RM2999 with free Skype camera (RM600+ RRP) and 5 years manufacturer's warranty while it was still tagged at RM4200 RRP. Thanks to my buddy who introduced me to the shop that was having promotion! I think this model is no longer selling in the market now. The 50" VT20 3D plasma series is selling at RM5000+, used to be RM15000+ in package or RM9000 in sole unit. I would suggest wait for 2011 model (for its Viera Connect feature) if you don't buy Korean products like me or go grab a Sammy's SmartTV if you can't wait.

This completes my 1 Astro B·yond 2 TV mission. Next, 1 Astro B·yond 3 TV!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

1 Astro B·yond 2 TV

It's very common that most people have more than one TV in their house, one at living hall and one in the room. As a result, very often people like to watch a single cable or satellite TV subscription over a second or third or even more TV. This is quite simple and cheap to achieve with a RCA composite splitter or a TV coaxial RF cable (or commonly known as TV aerial cable). Alternatively, a wireless AV extender can also be used to wirelessly transmit the signal to the second TV, like the image shown after the break...


Astro, the only legal and pay television service provider in Malaysia (there are others but the offered channels do not justify the fee). You get a new decoder if you subscribe to the new HD service...



The new decoder comes with a digital HDMI out, analog component out (I wonder who is still using this?) and RCA composite out. Unlike the old decoder, this decoder does not come with TV aerial output and therefore you will not be able to broadcast the channel to a second TV using TV aerial out with coaxial RF cable (this was the method I used in my old house). Since my objective is to share the broadcast to a 21" CRT TV in my mom's room, thus HD or not is not a concern and the RCA composite out is good with a wireless AV extender...


The extender usually comes in pair, one being transmitter and the other a receiver...


The usual connectivity option you get is the RCA composite. This model also offers S-Video...


The Remote Out (the transmitter on the left) enables total control over the decoder remotely from the second TV. In other words, you can change channels (using the same Astro remote controller) remotely from the second TV just like sitting in front of the first TV.


Since it rides on 2.4GHz frequency band (similar to most wireless router, cordless phone etc) the extender usually packs with a channel switching feature so that you can switch to a clean channel if there's interference. This unit features a 4 channels switching option as shown above. Perhaps it's better to fork out a bit more to get a 5GHz extender if your house (and your neighbor) is full with wireless devices (note that new wireless N routers operate on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz). Google wifi scanner and use the free tool to check the house surrounding if you want to be certain.

Get it up is as simple as ABC (assuming you already have the decoder setup properly on the main/first TV)...


Connect the transmitter using RCA composite cable to the decoder by matching the colors. Repeat the same on the receiver with the second TV.

Now come to the meat for new and to-be Astro b.yond subscribers, the most frequently asked question - can the new decoder output both digital (via HDMI out) and analog (via the composite out) simultaneously?

The answer is...


Yes. On the left is my HP monitor connected to byond decoder's HDMI out and on the right is obviously the old TV via the composite out.

And to get effective IR transmission (remote controller) from the second TV...


Stick the IR extender to the left of smart card slot.

3 things to note here:
  • You will see black bars if the aspect ratio of both TV is mismatched. EG: 16:9 vs 4:3 as shown above.
  • Dolby Digital is not supported over composite out. You will not get audio on the second TV (connected via composite) when watching HD channels. You have to change it to stereo in the Setting.
  • No HD quality on composite out.

Last thing to highlight is to take caution on the range the extender offers. The unit shown above was the first model I bought, unfortunately the range was not far to reach my mom's bedroom. I have to exchange with the shop for another model...


It's still a 2.4GHz extender and I couldn't find one operates in 5GHz in Klang Valley, anyway this second model works well for me though. The price was RM290 and I learned that it's ranging RM200-300 for such extender. You might get charged RM350 or more if you ask the Astro contractor to setup for you.

I only complete part of the project. Coming up next is how do I maximize my ROI (of Astro subscription) to output the HD channels to a second HDTV?

p/s: if you're looking for a second Astro b.yond remote controller, you can get it from Pineapple Computer Store in 1U. Exactly like original, RM40 for one.